Wednesday, October 18, 2017

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2017 Season

We are getting closer to the sharp end of the IndyCar grid and as we have entered the second half of IndyCar team reviews, we have reached one of two teams that had multiple drivers win a race this season. Andretti Autosport also had three drivers finish in the top ten in the championship. Unfortunately for this team, it did not have a driver finish in the top five in the championship for the fourth consecutive season.

The stud everyone in IndyCar is falling for: Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi
His sophomore season began with a lackluster result in St. Petersburg. Rossi started eighth but the debris caution during the first round of pit stops shuffled him back and he could only finish 11th. He made the Fast Six for the first time in his career at Long Beach and he started fifth. He was running at the front the entire race and he was looking to at least have a podium finish before an engine failure ended his race after 62 laps. Barber did not start any better and he was 18th on the grid but two consecutive stints on alternate tires got him up to seventh and he finished fifth. A brush with the wall ended his night early at Phoenix.

He had a solid eighth place finish from ninth on the grid in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and it set him up nicely for Indianapolis 500 qualifying. He was fifth fastest on the first day of qualifying and improved to third on the second day of qualifying. Rossi was at the front for most of the race and it appeared his chances of going 2-for-2 were going to stay alive right until the very end but one botched pit stop dropped him to the back and he had to settle for a seventh place finish. He kept up on his good form at Belle Isle with finishes of fifth place and seventh place.

An apparent tire failure caused Rossi to be the first retirement of the night at Texas after starting third. Rossi was one of the first drivers to go to the four-stop strategy at Road America after starting 15th. It appeared it might have been good enough to get him into the top five even with the cautions. However, he suffered a front wing failure and he had to limp home to a 14th-place finish. This was followed by a mediocre day at Iowa in 11th. Things picked up when he crossed the border. He started eighth at Toronto and fortunate timing for his pit stop put him in fourth. He then passed Charlie Kimball and Ed Jones to get up to second but Josef Newgarden was gone and Rossi had to settle for second best. He was in podium contention at Mid-Ohio but his alternate tires fell off earlier than most in a stint and he settled for sixth.

The second 500-mile race of the season at Pocono was another race where Rossi was up front all race and in this one he was arguably the best driver all day. He started sixth and led 44 laps but Team Penske driver Will Power and Josef Newgarden jumped him in the order and Rossi could do no better than third. At Gateway, Rossi ran in the top ten all race despite Honda being at a deficit and he finished sixth. He took his first career pole position at Watkins Glen and despite losing the lead after a bobble on a wet spot, Rossi had the superior car and drove away from the field and held off Scott Dixon after the final restart to take the victory. His season would end prematurely as a mechanical issue hampered his race and he had to settle for a 21st place finish.

Alexander Rossi's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 7th (494 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 10
Laps Led: 99
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 8.647
Average Finish: 9.529

It will never get better than this for Takuma Sato
Takuma Sato
His first race with Andretti Autosport was surprisingly competitive. Not only was he the top Andretti Autosport qualified but he also started fifth and ran at the front the entire race. He was overtaken by his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay in a drag race to the line for fourth but it was an encouraging start. He was just one of four Andretti cars to bit by a sick Honda at Long Beach however he followed that up with a solid ninth place finish at Barber. Unfortunately for Sato he could only make it to the fourth race before his first accident in a race and that occurred at Phoenix.

He had an unenthusiastic 12th place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he qualified fourth for the Indianapolis 500. Sato was at the front with Rossi and teammate Fernando Alonso and to be honest, I never took him seriously when he was apart of that trio. I figured if there was an Andretti car to fade it would be Sato but when Hunter-Reay and Alonso retired and Rossi fell back Sato was there and not only was he there but he was aggressive and for one glorious day in May it didn't bite him. The man who had a Indianapolis 500 slip through his hands five years earlier grabbed onto this one and never let go.

Even better for Sato was he didn't have a slump at Belle Isle and finished eighth in race one, won pole position for race two and came home in fourth in that race. His first arguably bonehead move of the season came at Texas with five laps to go when he dropped his tires into the grass and slid into Scott Dixon, ending both their nights while both were in contention for the victory but he was still able to be classified in tenth and head into summer third in the championship. He was dealing with a stiff neck at Road America and finished 19th. Sato didn't have the car at Iowa and he finished 16th.

Contact with Spencer Pigot forced him to change his front wing at Toronto and he picked up another 16th place finish. He followed that up with a fifth at Mid-Ohio and he won pole position for Pocono. However, he dropped like a rock in that race and had to settle for 13th. He had nowhere to go when Will Power spun at Gateway and his race was over early. A wastegate issue caused him to be off the pace at Watkins Glen and he had a spin. An engine failure at Sonoma ended his season early.

Takuma Sato's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 8th (441 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 41
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 8.588
Average Finish: 12.352

Ryan Hunter-Reay did well but 2017 could have been better
Ryan Hunter-Reay
The 2012 IndyCar champion started 12th for the season opener at St. Petersburg and he worked his way to the front and made a late pass on Sato to be the top Andretti finisher in the first race of the season in fourth. He started third at Long Beach and had the car to beat leading 28 laps. James Hinchcliffe jumped him in the order when the second caution came out but Hunter-Reay would be right behind the Canadian. Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay's race ended 23 laps early due to an electrical issue. Things didn't get better in the next two races as he finished 11th at Barber and brushed the wall one too many times at Phoenix.

Hunter-Reay had an improvement in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He started eighth but made a fair share of passes and finished third. He was unable to make the Fast Nine in Indianapolis 500 qualifying but he topped the first group of Sunday qualifiers and started tenth. It took him no time at all to be at front and content for the victory. He led 28 laps and his engine let go while running in the top five after completing 136 laps. Things didn't get better at Belle Isle. He was not a factor in race one and finished 13th and despite starting second in race two he fell like a rock after slight contact with Hélio Castroneves and finished 17th. Any progress was stunted at Texas when he was caught up in the lap 152 accident.

He was in position for a top ten at Road America but like his teammate Alexander Rossi, front wing damage bit him late and he had to settle for 14th. It finally started to turn around at Iowa. He was in the top ten all day and his car improved over the course of the race. He was the top Honda when it was all over in third position. He caught a break with Tony Kanaan's caution at Toronto and he lost a tough battle for fifth with Simon Pagenaud but sixth was a well-earned finish. Mid-Ohio was nearly a disaster after he spun due an incident with Rossi while both were in contention for top five finishes but Hunter-Reay kept going albeit he slipped to 12th after the incident. He made a handful of passes and finished eighth.

A hard qualifying accident at Pocono led to a trip to the hospital and questions if Hunter-Reay was going to race. Despite a slight hobble, he charged to the front and even led 12 laps before sliding back to an eighth-place finish. He started seventh at Watkins Glen and was in the top five for most of the race. He even led four laps when Rossi had to make an early pit stop. He wasn't able to challenge his teammate once Rossi retook the lead but he did manage to finish third. Bent suspension after kissing the wall exiting turn two at Gateway ended a top ten run and he started seventh and finished eighth at Sonoma.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 9th (421 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 72
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 10.705
Average Finish: 11.117

Things were better for Marco Andretti in 2017 and he got married!
Marco Andretti
After starting 15th at St. Petersburg, his speed came out in the race and he started the season with a seventh place finish. Unreliability bit Andretti the hardest this season among the four Andretti Autosport cars. He was the first of the four to go at Long Beach and he was running in the top ten. At Barber, he had to stop in the pits coming to the green flag because of a gearbox issue. By the time the issue was corrected he was two laps down and never had a shot for a respectable finish. Andretti had nowhere to go when Mikhail Aleshin spun at Phoenix and his race was over before lap one was completed.

The month of May started with him in the 11th position on the grid for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he was penalized on lap one for contact with Tony Kanaan and he had to settle for 16th. He had a solid car on the oval and started and finished eighth. He didn't do much at Belle Isle and finished 12th and 13th in the respective races. Andretti got a sixth place finished at Texas through survival. He started eighth at Road America but lost a lap because he had to fix his car to prevent his throttle from sticking and he finished 18th.

Andretti had a horrendous day at Iowa, starting 20th and finishing 18th but he led seven laps through a pit cycle. He may have benefitted from the Tony Kanaan caution at Toronto but he was competitive prior to that. He had a solid run to a fourth place finish, his first top five finish in over two years. He was mid-pack all race at Mid-Ohio and finished 12th.

At his home race of Pocono, Andretti started 16th but spent a fair amount of time in the top ten. He led nine laps after stretching his fuel as late as possible and a stop for a splash of gas took a little longer than it should have and he finished 11th. He had an uneventful day and finished 14th at Gateway. He had a top ten run going at Watkins Glen before losing positions late and settling for 16th. A top ten finish did not slip from him at Sonoma where he finished seventh after starting 11th.

Marco Andretti's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 12th (388 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 16
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 13.117
Average Finish: 12.941

It was a solid year for Andretti Autosport when you consider it had drivers seventh, eighth, ninth and 12th for the championship but these results are also unacceptable when you consider Andretti Autosport is one of three four-car teams and it hasn't had a driver alive for the championship entering the finale since 2014. This team should expect more and I think deep down they are all a little disappointed the team didn't accomplish more.

Rossi is the sexy pick for 2018. Don't think you are special if jumping on his bandwagon. It is more crowded than it appears. Part of it is rightfully so. He only looked better after every race and enough people were cast under his spell by his Watkins Glen performance. He is the championship sleeper to 99.9% of experts. No pressure kid.

When you look over the results, Sato rarely put a wheel wrong and for the better part of five years I have been saying we know who Sato is and he isn't going to change. However, he had only three retirements this season due to accidents and one of those was not his fault. Last year, he had only two retirements due to accidents. I am not saying the best is yet to come but I think Sato could have another solid season or two in IndyCar at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Something has been bugging me about Ryan Hunter-Reay and more specifically it is something someone wrote about Ryan Hunter-Reay. Jeff Gluck covered the IndyCar finale at Sonoma and while writing about Josef Newgarden's championship he mentioned that Hunter-Reay's championship in 2012 did not revitalize IndyCar and he speculates part of that is because Hunter-Reay has not finished in the top five of the championship since he won the title.

I like Jeff Gluck. I think he is a good writer and I admire what he has done to make it as a journalist and I recommend donating money to him. Hunter-Reay hasn't finished in the top five of the championship since 2012 but that doesn't tell the whole story about Ryan Hunter-Reay. It is one of those sports oddities like the fact Walter Payton never scored a touchdown in a Super Bowl or Ernie Banks never played a postseason game. When you consider where Hunter-Reay was ten and a half years ago and the era of IndyCar racing he came up in the fact that he is full-time in IndyCar in 2017 let alone a champion, an Indianapolis 500 winner and a regular top ten driver in the championship is outstanding. His career was over at the start of 2007. He lost his Champ Car ride the year prior, he had no sponsors to get him back on the grid and he could have been another American driver who couldn't make it in open-wheel racing and had to settle for sports car options.

Hunter-Reay might not have finished in the top five in the championship the last five seasons but he does have an Indianapolis 500 victory and he was fourth in the championship entering the 2014 season finale at Fontana before a spin exiting turn four put him a lap down and double points dropped him to sixth in the final championship standings. He has also had some incredible races, most notably his Iowa victories in 2014 and 2015 and he had a stunning drive at Pocono last year to go from 12th to third in the final 20 laps after going a lap down due to an electrical glitch in 2016. Even this year's Pocono race was incredible considering he wasn't 100% after an accident the day before. I am not going to say Hunter-Reay is one of the ten greatest American IndyCar drivers of all-time but he has been a respectable driver for a decade and he hasn't won the last two seasons but it hasn't been without his fair share of quality races and heartbreaking misfortune. He is bound to win a race again and it will likely come in 2018.

I think Andretti Autosport expects to pick up the results next year with the new aero kits. The team might be slightly behind on paper considering four teams have tested the universal aero kits and Andretti Autosport wasn't one of them but Andretti Autosport was the test team for Honda's aero kit and that caused nothing but problems heading into the 2015 season. The team is bringing in Zach Veach and I don't think he will be able to match the results of Sato but Rossi is on a tear, Hunter-Reay ended the season strong and Marco Andretti improved from 2016. This team is bound to rid itself of the misfortune that has snuck up on it the last three years and 2018 might be that season.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: We Need to Talk About COTA

Fourteen drivers finished the NASCAR race from Talladega. MotoGP had a titanic battle in the wet at Motegi and that championship is getting tighter. Rain caused a hectic end to the World Endurance Championship at Fuji and the race was eventually called early. The same thing occurred in China for the WTCC race and Argentines swept the weekend. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship came down to the final race and it came down to one of four Audi drivers taking the title. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

We Need to Talk About COTA
Formula One makes its sixth visit to Circuit of the Americas this weekend and where have six years gone? The days during the recession when it seemed there was no way a racetrack worth a couple hundred million dollars still feel like yesterday. It felt like another American Formula One pipe dream that would never come to life. It did but the first FIA Grade 1 circuit built in the United States has had anything but the rosiest six years.

Formula One has had its trouble and though things seems to be ok, it wasn't that long ago when it appeared Austin was going to lose the Formula One race. It appears we are beyond that now but you can never tell with the world of Formula One, even now with Liberty Media in control. Austin has Formula One for now and outside of that, it doesn't have much. That is a concern to me.

Circuit of the Americas has become the hotspot for international motorsports in the United States. Besides the Formula One race, COTA is host to the only MotoGP race in the United States. The track even added a 24H Series race for November with this year's race being a non-championship round before being the season finale in 2018. However, things are changing and the track is losing key rounds.

The World Endurance Championship will not be returning to the track next year. IMSA is not returning either. Both series tried to run on their own weekend after a few years of doing a doubleheader and it came out for worse for both series. Outside of Formula One, MotoGP and 24H Series, the only series slated to run at Circuit of the Americas next year is Pirelli World Challenge and that is the only domestic series to go to the racetrack.

We are five years into the existence of Circuit of the Americas and the track should be hosting more domestic series. The Formula One race and MotoGP race provide really good crowds for the racetrack but two big rounds aren't good enough. WEC and IMSA left because of small crowds, mostly I think because of poor date choice and running on a Saturday during college football season and only a few miles away from the University of Texas. To be fair to COTA it takes more than five years to develop a regularly attending fan base. When COTA was first announced, I think I wasn't the only one a little surprised about the idea of a racetrack outside of Austin, Texas. Austin didn't have a connection to motorsports. It wasn't Indianapolis or Charlotte. It was the cliché "untapped market" that got a racetrack. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe an "untapped market" will never get it and never be able to create a regularly attending fan base but the only way to develop a motorsports fan base is by having races to attend and having two weekends when you hope to draw people out isn't enough.

Circuit of the Americas is in a dangerous position and one that it should have gotten out of by adding domestic series. If Formula One and MotoGP decide to leave Austin the track will likely be on the verge of collapse. It has got nothing beyond those races of substance that draws people, sponsors and potentially make money. The track has expressed interest in hosting a NASCAR race, which is harder to get than it sounds and something Eddie Gossage and Texas Motor Speedway would do everything in its power to block. IndyCar doesn't appear to be on the track's radar and while IMSA said it was open to returning I don't see the series going back to Texas any time soon.

Without races, the track is hoping to make money through other avenues. The track's amphitheater hosts concerts throughout the year and the track is even building a soccer stadium on the property but I want to see Circuit of the Americas succeed at what it decided to put in its title, as being a circuit. It is a really nice racetrack; one that is under appreciated in this country and more series should go there. Besides hosting Formula One and MotoGP, the series should go out there and add a NASCAR race and add an IndyCar race. While concerts and soccer games both attract a crowd, the venue needs to use the racetrack to stay alive and it would be a shame in five years all we will have is a 3.4-mile ribbon of asphalt collecting dust.

Champion From the Weekend
Réne Rast won the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship by three points over Mattias Ekström.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about René Rast but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso beat Marc Márquez in a tussle in the wet in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi. Álex Márquez won in Moto2, his third victory of the season. Romano Fentai won in Moto3, his third victory of the season.

The #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson won the 6 Hours of Fuji. The #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca of Bruno Senna, Julien Canal and Nicolas Prost won in LMP2. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won in GTE-Pro, their second consecutive victory and their third in the last four races. The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Miguel Molina won in GTE-Am.

The #44 Magnus Racing Audi of Pierre Kaffer, Kelvin van der Linde and Markus Winkelhock won the California 8 Hours.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Parker Kligerman won the Truck race.

Jamie Green and Marco Wittmann split the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters races from Hockenheim.

Esteban Guerrieri and Néstor Girolami split the WTCC races from Ningbo.

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix.
Supercars ends the endurance section of the season at Surfers Paradise.
MotoGP takes the title battle to Phillip Island.
World Superbikes will be at Jerez.
Suzuka hosts the final round of the Super Formula season.
Portimão hosts the final round of the European Le Mans Series season.
Kansas hosts the final race of the second round of the NASCAR Chase.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Five: Laguna Seca, Hockenheim, Fuji, Motegi, Talladega

A champion will be crowned in Germany. A manufacture defends its turf in Japan and that isn't the only major motorsports event in Japan. Meanwhile, the United States hosts an inaugural endurance race at a familiar racetrack and NASCAR heads to the biggest racetrack on its schedule.

California 8 Hours
The inaugural California 8 Hour marks the penultimate round of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge and the 20-car field features teams from Pirelli World Challenge and other top teams from around the globe. There are eight GT3 Overall entries, two GT3 Pro-Am entries, one GT3-Am entry, seven GT4 entries and two invitational entries.

Christopher Haase leads the IGTC drivers' championship with 26 points thanks to victory in the 24 Hours of Spa and pole position for the Bathurst 12 Hour. Haase will drive the #29 Land-Motorsport Audi with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies. De Phillippi and Mies won with Land-Motorsport last week in the GT Daytona class at Petit Le Mans. Mies has scored 11 points in the IGTC this year.

Audi leads the manufactures' championship with 44 points and three other Audis are entered for the California 8 Hours. PWC regular Magnus Racing will contest the #44 Audi for Pierre Kaffer, Kelvin van der Linde and Markus Winkelhock. Winkelhock was one of Haase's co-drivers for Spa. M1GT Racing is another PWC team and it has entered the #23 Audi for Jason Bell and Lars Viljoen, the lone GT3-Am entry. Blancpain Sprint Cup champions Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard will share the #11 Audi for Audi Sport Team WRT with Jake Dennis.

Bentley is second in the manufactures' championship on 35 points but has not entered a car for the Laguna Seca round.

Porsche sits on 30 points and the German manufacture has four entries, all of which will be run by PWC teams. Patrick Long and Wright Motorsports are fresh off taking the overall PWC GT Championship and Long will run the #58 Porsche with Jörg Bergmeister and Romain Dumas. GMG Racing has entered two cars with the #17 Porsche for Alec Udell and Wolf Henzler in partnership with HGK Racing and the #77 Porsche for Preston Calvert, Andrew Davis and Michael James Lewis in partnership with Calvert Dynamics. Black Swan Racing has entered the #54 Porsche for Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen and David Calvert-Jones.

RealTime Racing has entered two Acura NSX GT3s. Ryan Eversley, Tom Dyer and Dane Cameron makes it an all-American line-up in the #43 Acura. Jules Gounon, who won the 24 Hours of Spa with Haase and Winkelhock will be in the #93 Acura with Peter Kox and Marks Wilkins. The only McLaren entered is the #9 K-PAC Racing McLaren for Álvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Ben Barnicoat.

The GT4 class features three Aston Martins, three Porsches and one Ginetta. TRG has entered two Aston Martins with Craig Lyons, Kris Wilson and Thomas Merrill in the #3 Aston Martin and Greg Milzcik, Brandon Davis and Derek DeBoer in the #4 Aston Martin. Creventic 24H Series regulars Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub will drive the #99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin with Eric Lux.

GMG Racing has partnered with HGK Racing to enter the #8 Porsche for Carter Yeung and Andy Lee. Rearden Racing has entered the #26 Porsche for Jeff Kearl, Sean McAlister and Jeff Westphal and the #117 Porsche for Hutton McKenna, Vesko Kozrov and Daren Jorgensen. Ian Lacy will drive with Frank Gannett and Drew Staveley in the #12 Ginetta for his own team.

MARC CARS Australia has brought two Marc Mazda 3 V8s to the United States. Jake Camilleri and Nicholas Rowe are entered in the #193 Mazda and Keith Kassulke and Morgan Haber are entered in the #194 Mazda.

The California 8 Hours will begin at 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

DTM Finale at Hockenheimring
The 2017 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season heads to the final round of the season with six drivers still eligible for the championship.

Audi driver Mattias Ekström leads the championship with 172 points and the Swede is looking for his third DTM championship and first since 2007. He is looking to tie Klaus Ludwig for second-most DTM championships. Ekström picked up his first victory of the season in the first race of the most recent round at Red Bull Ring. He has won four times at the Hockenheimring, including the 2014 season finale at the track.

Ekström holds a 21-point lead over fellow Audi driver René Rast, who picked up his third victory of the season in race two from Red Bull Ring. Prior to that victory, Rast had failed to score points in three of the previous four races. Jamie Green won two of the first four races but he has only stood on the podium once in the last 12 races. Green trails Ekström by 35 points. Green has finished in the top three of the championship the last two seasons.

Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Wittmann are tied on 134 points but Rockenfeller holds the tiebreaker with his victory at Zandvoort while the defending champion Wittmann has yet to win a race despite being on the podium in four of 16 races. Audi drivers make up the top four in the championship and Audi has not had a driver win the title since Rockenfeller in 2013. Rockenfeller is also the most recent DTM champion who failed to win a race while defending a championship. Lucas Auer is the only Mercedes-Benz driver eligible for the title. The Austrian trails Ekström by 41 points with 56 points left on the table.

The penultimate DTM race of the 2017 season will take place 7:28 a.m. ET on Saturday October 14th. The finale will be at 7:53 a.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

6 Hours of Fuji
The FIA World Endurance Championship has its first round in Asia for the 2017 season and Fuji Speedway hosts the series for a sixth consecutive year.

The #2 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber have won the last four races and they have a commanding championship lead with 159 points. The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima trail the #2 Porsche by 51 points. Toyota has won four of five 6 Hours of Fuji. Bamber and Bernhard were responsible for the lone non-Toyota as they and Mark Webber won at the track two years ago. Anthony Davidson returns to the #8 Toyota after missing Austin for personal reasons.

The #1 Porsche of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy have finished second in the last three races and they trail the sister Porsche by 76 points, giving the Swiss-German-Anglo trio a slim shot at the championship. Mike Conway and Kaumi Kobayashi won last year's Fuji in the #7 Toyota and José María López joins those two in the car.

The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca leads the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers with Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent having scored 130 points from the first six races. The #31 Vaillante Rebellion of Bruno Senna and Julien Canal trails by 20 points despite having finished on LMP2 podium five times this year, including a victory at Mexico City. American Gustavo Menezes is trying to defend his LMP2 title and he is 28 points behind the #38 Oreca. Menezes won at Austin in the most recent race with Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão in the #36 Signatech Alpine and that car has finished on the podium in the last three races. 

The #67 Ford of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell lead the GT World Endurance Drivers Championship with 102 points. The British duo won the Silverstone season opener but their only other podium finish this season was second at Le Mans. Priaulx and Tincknell won at Fuji last year. Richard Leitz and Frédéric Makowiecki trail the #67 Ford by six points in the #91 Porsche despite having yet to win this year. AF Corse driver Davide Rigon is a half-point back of the #91 Porsche with teammates James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi sitting another half-point back. Calado and Pier Guidi have won two of the last three races, including Austin, in the #71 Ferrari. Rigon will drive the #51 Ferrari with Sam Bird. Bird sits on 95 points because he missed the Nürburgring round due to Formula E commitments.

Fourteen points cover the top three teams in GTE-Am. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda has 130 points after picking up their second victory of the season at Austin. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli trail the #98 Aston Martin by four points. The #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok sit on 116 points. The #98 Aston Martin and #77 Porsche has each finished on the podium five times while the #61 Ferrari has four podium finishes. Dalla Lana, Lamy and Lauda won last year at Fuji.

The 6 Hours of Fuji will start at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday October 14th.

MotoGP's Japanese Grand Prix
Last year, Marc Márquez clinched the MotoGP championship with a victory at Twin Ring Motegi. This year, five riders enter with a shot at the tile and Márquez holds onto the championship lead.

The Honda rider has won the last two races and he has extended his championship lead to 224 points. Márquez has not won three consecutive races since he won ten consecutive races to start the 2014 season. He is 16 points clear of Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. Márquez's victory last year at Motegi was his first in MotoGP and his first at the track in four years. Dovizioso's lone Motegi victory came in the 125cc class in 2004. His best finish in MotoGP at Motegi was second last year and in 2010 when he started on pole position for Honda. An Italian rider has not won in MotoGP at Motegi since Valentino Rossi in 2008.

Maverick Viñales won three of the first five races but the Yamaha rider has not won in the last nine races. He finished third in last year's Japanese Grand Prix and he has stood on the podium in four of six starts at Motegi but he has yet to win at the track. Viñales sits on 196 points. Dani Pedrosa sits on 170 points in fourth and Valentino Rossi is two points behind Pedrosa. Pedrosa is tied with Loris Capirossi and Jorge Lorenzo for most MotoGP victories at Motegi with three. Rossi's 2008 victory is his only visit to the top step of the podium at the track.

The Japanese Grand Prix will take place at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 15th. 

There are six races remaining in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and this week Talladega hosts the second race of the second round of the Chase.

Martin Truex, Jr. picked up his sixth victory of the 2017 season last week at Charlotte and he has clinched a spot in the semifinal round with that victory. On top of securing his spot in the next round, Truex, Jr. leads on points as well with 3,106 points.

Kyle Larson is second on 3,072 points and Larson is 29 points to the good to make it to the semifinal round. Truex, Jr. and Larson are the only two drivers to finish in the top ten for all four Chase races. Kevin Harvick is three points behind Larson with Chase Elliott a further ten points behind Harvick. Elliott has finished second in three of the last four races. Denny Hamlin rounds out the top five, 13 points to the good.

Kyle Busch is a point behind his teammate after a 29th-place finish at Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson has three top ten finishes from the last four races but he is only eight points above the drop zone. Jamie McMurray's fifth-place finish last week was his first top five finish since Michigan in June and he sits on 3,044 points, one point to the good.

Matt Kenseth is one point on the outside after an 11th-place finish at Charlotte. Brad Keselowski is a further point behind Kenseth and Ryan Blaney is five points behind McMurray. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished 13th last week at Charlotte, his best finish since his Daytona victory in June. Stenhouse, Jr. trails McMurray by ten points.

Stenhouse, Jr. won at Talladega in May and he is one of eight remaining Chase drivers to have won at Talladega. Truex, Jr., Larson, Elliott and Blaney are the four drivers yet to win at Talladega in the Cup series. Keselowski leads all Chase drivers with four Talladega victories but only one of those came in the autumn race. Team Penske has won the last three autumn Talladega races with Keselowski winning in 2014 and Joey Logano having won this race the last two years. Five times has a driver eliminated from championship contention won the autumn Talladega race and McMurray won two of those races.

Toyota's only victory in the autumn Talladega race was in 2008 with Tony Stewart. The last driver to sweep the Talladega races in a season was Jeff Gordon in 2007. The last driver to win the second Talladega race in a season and the championship was Dale Earnhardt in 1993 and that race was held in late July.

The NASCAR Cup race from Talladega will be held at 2:20 p.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 320.5 laps completed in the California 8 Hours?
2. Over or Under: 129.5 points for Robert Wickens after the Hockenheim round?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 French drivers finishing in the top five in LMP2 at Fuji?
4. Over or Under: 6.5 being the top finishing non-Spaniard/Italian at Motegi?
5. Over or Under: 7.5 caution laps in stage two of the Cup race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There was one Global LMP2 car on the overall Petit Le Mans podium.
2. Under: There was only one New Zealander on the Bathurst 1000 podium.
3. Under: Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix by 1.211 seconds.
4. Under: The average speed for the Cup race was 138.8 MPH
5. Under: Four GT300 cars are eligible for the championship heading into the season finale.

1. A third different manufacture wins the third IGTC round of the season.
2. Mattias Ekström wins the DTM championship but does not win a race at Hockenheimring.
3. There will be a first time winner this year in at least one of the classes at Fuji.
4. Valentino Rossi is not the top Yamaha finisher.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes ahead of at least two of his teammates.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Team Penske finishes on the podium (Correct!Team Penske finished third at Petit Le Mans).
2. Both winning drivers in the Bathurst 1000 are first-time Bathurst 1000 winners (Correct! David Reynolds and Luke Youlden both got their first Bathurst 1000 victories).
3. Fernando Alonso finishes ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and in the points (Correct and Wrong! Alonso finished ahead of Vandoorne but finished 11th).
4. At least four top ten finishes from the May Charlotte race don't finish in the top ten this weekend (Correct! Seven drivers that finished in the top ten at Charlotte in May did not finish in the top ten last week).
5. There will be repeat winners in both GT500 and GT300 this weekend (Correct! The #37 Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy won in GT500 and the #51 Lexus of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi won in GT300).
Last Week: 4.5/5 Overall: 9.5/15

Thursday, October 12, 2017

2018 IndyCar Schedule Reaction

Twenty-five days have past since the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season concluded and today we saw the 2018 schedule released. It has the same number of race weekends and the same number of races as the 2017 schedule but there is one notable changes in venues.

Portland International Raceway will return to the calendar for the first time since the 2007 Champ Car season. The return of Portland comes at the expense of Watkins Glen International, as the track exits the calendar after two seasons.

St. Petersburg will host the season opener on Sunday March 11th. This will be the eighth consecutive season where St. Petersburg will be the opener and it will be the tenth time overall St. Petersburg has started the season. Phoenix has moved up a few weeks and it will lead off a three-week spring stretch of races. Phoenix will be Saturday April 7th with Long Beach following on Sunday April 15th and Barber caps off the stretch on Sunday April 22nd.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis once again takes place on the second Saturday in May, May 12th to be specific and the Indianapolis 500 remains Memorial Day weekend, Sunday May 27th. The Belle Isle doubleheader follows the Indianapolis 500 on Saturday June 2nd and Sunday June 3rd. Texas ends a stretch of five races in five weeks on Saturday June 9th.

The first race of summer will be at Road America on Sunday June 24th. Two weeks later, IndyCar returns to Iowa Speedway on Sunday July 8th. Toronto takes place a week later on Sunday July 15th. Mid-Ohio ends the month of July on Sunday July 29th. IndyCar will take a two-week summer break following the Mid-Ohio race.

There will three consecutive weeks of racing start with Pocono Raceway on Sunday August 19th. Gateway Motorsports Park will be the final Saturday of August, August 25th, and it will be an hour earlier than this year's race. Portland slots into the vacated Labor Day weekend and will race on Sunday September 2nd. Sonoma closes out the 2018 season on Sunday September 16th.

The only place to start is with the one change to the calendar and I am going to go more negative than most. I was really happy for 2017 because the schedule remained 100% intact from 2016 and that is something IndyCar had not achieved in a decade. I was hoping IndyCar could put together four or five seasons of 100% retention rate with an addition or two.

That didn't happen and I know Watkins Glen said it wasn't enamored with the Labor Day weekend date, even though the track president Michael Printup said he wanted a race in September, and I wish the series and the track could have worked something out. Watkins Glen is a proper race course and a track IndyCar should want to be at because it shows off how spectacular the car is on the racetrack.

Obviously 2018 was set but I would have hoped IndyCar and Watkins Glen could have held out for one more year and found a better date for 2019. I was thinking could Watkins Glen and Gateway flip to get Watkins Glen off Labor Day weekend and pair it with Pocono to reduce travel costs for the teams but that brings in another issue in moving the race a week closer to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen. There aren't many other places Watkins Glen could go. The track has the 6 Hours of the Glen in July. IndyCar is busy April through June. That narrows when Watkins Glen can be and it can't be in March and it could be pushed back to the end of September but IndyCar doesn't want to end the season any later than it currently does.

If there is one thing we should learn from Watkins Glen, and it is something we should already know, is that it takes more than two years for a race to be a success. I don't know what expectations were set for the Watkins Glen race but the 2016 race pretty much gets a pass because it was added at the 11th hour. This year should have been seen as a proper year one and then the race builds from here.

As for Portland, this seems a little out of nowhere considering there was a lot of talk about it at the end of last year, all went quiet through the 2017 season and in the last few weeks it came back up and here we are with it back on the schedule. We are all wondering what kind of reception IndyCar gets after abandoning the track a decade ago. When Road America returned to the schedule fans flocked to the racetrack. I am not sure Portland will have the same kind of euphoria surrounding the event. However, Portland is a race in the Pacific Northwest, a part of the country that hasn't had a race. It will be a race that hopefully attracts not only the citizens of Portland but people from the Seattle-area and maybe even from Vancouver.

I am skeptical that Portland will be a great success. Let's face it; we don't see the Pacific Northwest as a hot spot of American motorsports. It is the Midwest, the south and California. Portland had a long history with IndyCar but how many people are still hanging on a decade removed from the most recent race?

Mexico City was not included on the schedule despite the months of rumors of a potential return. However, a Mexico City race has not been entirely ruled out and there are two rumored dates. It has been linked to a race either in late-March between St. Petersburg and Phoenix or in early-August either the week after Mid-Ohio and creating a back-to-back or the week before Pocono and creating a four-week stretch of races from Mexico City to Pocono to Gateway to Portland.

If Mexico City were to be added to the schedule, I think it makes the most sense to add the race in March, as there is a three-week gap between St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

Overall, I don't think you can be disappointed in this schedule. Yes, it is tough to see Watkins Glen fall off the schedule after two good years in terms of what happened on the racetrack but we aren't seeing three races drop off and only two come on. A replacement was available and the schedule remains the same length. Now we wait on start times for races and all I can say is I hope they are all an hour, and in some cases two, earlier than expected.

With 2018 set, we can now look to 2019 and speculate if IndyCar ends on an oval and what oval could that be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2017 Season

We have reached the halfway point of the IndyCar team reviews and we have reached the slightly surprising team of the season, Dale Coyne Racing. The team retooled and it started off leading the championship for the first time in the team's three-decade history. It wasn't able to stay in the championship conversation for the entire season but it had a respectable showing.

Ed Jones won rookie of the year but the season ended on a downer
Ed Jones
The 2016 Indy Lights champion entered IndyCar as the only rookie on the 2017 grid and with a four-time champion as his teammate. That did not spook the Emirati driver. If it wasn't for Sébastien Bourdais winning the season opener from St. Petersburg Jones might have gotten a few more headlines, as he ran a fair amount of the race in the top ten and held on for a tenth place finish on debut. He made a big stride forward at Long Beach, missing out on the second round of qualifying by a position but finishing sixth and once again he was overshadowed with Bourdais finishing second. He made the second round of qualifying at Barber and started 11th, a position ahead of his teammate but fell back to a 16th-place finish. His oval debut at Phoenix saw Jones keep it out of the wall and despite finishing three laps down he came home in 11th.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis did not go as planned as he had to cut through the grass to avoid a spinning Tony Kanaan. An extra pit stop put him down to 19th position. Indianapolis 500 qualifying is where many sat up and started to take notice of Jones. He was one of the first qualifiers on Saturday and his time held up and appeared it might be able to make the Fast Nine session. Unfortunately, Jones got bumped down to tenth but he qualified 11th on the second day. In the race, Jones ran solidly all race but just outside the top ten for most the first two-thirds of the race. A timely pit stop before a caution put Jones into the top ten and at the front. Unfortunately, a hole in his nose made it difficult to get up with the leaders but he held off Max Chilton for a third-place finish, and Jones was the top finishing rookie in the 101st Indianapolis 500. He kept up the good form with a ninth-place finish the following Saturday in the first Belle Isle race and he was seventh in the championship at that point. Contact with J.R. Hildebrand ended his day early in race two.

Ed Jones' season went downhill from there. He was involved in the lap 152 accident at Texas when he was in contention for a top ten finish and possibly even a top five. He finished seventh at Road America in what was a very good race but that would be his final top ten finish of the season. Despite starting eighth at Iowa he finished 18th, three laps down. An oil pressure issue ended his race ten laps early at Toronto. He caused the only caution at Mid-Ohio and finished dead last. Pocono was a good day as he finished all 200 laps but he was the final car on the lead lap in 17th. He had another good day at Gateway, completing every lap and finishing 13th. He had another uneventful 13th-place finish at Watkins Glen and he ended his season with a suspension failure at Sonoma.

Ed Jones' 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 15th (354 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.352
Average Finish: 14.176

Sébastien Bourdais led the championship and broke his hip in the same season
Sébastien Bourdais
This offseason saw the Frenchman reunited with his championship winning engineer Craig Hampson but they could not have had a worse start to the season as a brake failure in qualifying caused Bourdais to go off course and cause a red flag, deleting his best two times and forcing him to start dead last for the season opener at St. Petersburg. He got up to 11th by the time he made his first pit stop and three laps later a caution came and Bourdais was second on the road of the cars that had already stopped. He restarted second and eight laps after going green Bourdais took the lead. He led all but five of the final 74 laps and took the victory.

The next race saw Bourdais start 12th and have to stop on lap two to replace a broken rear wing. By the end of the first fuel cycle Bourdais had cycled into the top ten and he caught a break when the second caution came out and he was ahead of Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden. He would move up to second when Ryan Hunter-Reay broke down and he made it two podium finishes from the first two races. He finished eighth at Barber but he lost the championship lead after being caught in the turn one lap one accident at Phoenix. He started sixth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he had an engine failure after three laps.

Bourdais was one of the fastest cars heading into Indianapolis 500 qualifying. His average through the first two laps of his qualifying run was 231.534 MPH. Unfortunately Bourdais suffered a massive accident exiting turn two. The Frenchman suffered multiple pelvic fractures and a hip fracture and he would be sidelined until early May when he returned to the car for a test at Mid-Ohio in August.

He was back in competition at Gateway and he qualified 19th but worked his way to the middle of the field and led a few laps during a pit cycle. He fell to 15th, the final car on the lead lap, when he did not pit on the first lap of a caution period but found himself challenging for a top ten late and took advantage of the final restart and moved up to tenth and held on. At Watkins Glen, he had a respectable day going until he had nowhere to go after Josef Newgarden slid into the pit wall exiting the pit lane. At Sonoma, he started tenth, ran in the top ten most of the race and he finished ninth.

Sébastien Bourdais' 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 21st (214 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 74
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 12.375
Average Finish: 11.0

Former Sauber and Haas F1 driver Esteban Gutiérrez made a surprise IndyCar debut
Esteban Gutiérrez
One of the midseason surprises was the introduction of Esteban Gutiérrez to the IndyCar grid in place of Bourdais. The Mexican could not have made his debut at a more physically demanding racetrack in Belle Isle. He started and finished 19th in the first race and he started 19th in race two but worked his way up to 14th. He was not cleared to race at Texas and he returned at Road America. He started 17th and was running well until front wing damaged dropped him to a 17th-place finish.

He made his oval debut at Iowa and he started 18th. Gutiérrez ran on the lead lap for most of the race and briefly led during a pit cycle but didn't cross the line to be credited with a lap led. He finished a lap down in 13th. At Toronto, Gutiérrez had a hard shunt exiting the final corner in qualifying and had to start last but finished 14th. He qualified 12th at Mid-Ohio but fell back and was a lapped car and kind of got in the way. At Pocono, Gutiérrez had a good start but brushed the wall exited turn three and his race and season was over after 23 laps.

Esteban Gutiérrez's 2017 Statistics
Championship Positions: 25th (91 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 17.0
Average Finish: 17.0

What could have been is the overarching narrative for Dale Coyne Racing's 2017 season. I don't think Bourdais would have been a championship contender into the season finale had he been able to contest a full season but when you look at Bourdais' average points score per race, he averaged 26.75 points, more than Takuma Sato, who finished eighth in the championship. Sato averaged 25.94 points per race. He might not have contended for the championship but Bourdais could have won another race or two.

I don't think it should be a surprised that Jones fell off in the second half of the season considering he was the lead driver in the team as a rookie. He likely wouldn't have finished in the top ten in the championship but had Bourdais been there the entire way I think Jones would have done better in qualifying and would not have ended the season with seven consecutive finishes outside the top ten. The one positive thing for Jones is he didn't tear up much equipment this season and the one notable accident he was in, at Texas, was not his fault.

I thought Gutiérrez did a good job considering he dove right into the deep end with no testing. He held his own on ovals. I am not sure if he will be back in IndyCar but I think IndyCar wants him back considering the series is trying to get a race in Mexico City. Where he lands remains to be seen.

Before we finish, I think we have to mention Tristan Vautier's run at Texas. He qualified fifth, led 15 laps and was running well before being caught up in the lap 152 accident. It seems likely Bourdais and Jones will be back for 2018. With Chip Ganassi Racing downsizing to two cars it makes an engine lease available if Coyne wants to expand to three cars so it is possible Gutiérrez could be back but I am not sure Coyne can take on the expense of expanding to three full-time cars.

This was a promising season for Dale Coyne Racing and I think things can only get better for the team in 2018.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: WEC's Future is Winter

Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari had another mechanical issue hamper their world championship hopes and Lewis Hamilton ceased the opportunity and won the Japanese Grand Prix. The Jolyon Palmer-era came to an end. James French and Pato O'Ward were not able to complete the perfect season in Prototype Challenge but those two had already locked up the class championship. Team Penske finished third in two endurance races happening on opposite ends of the world. A pair of champions were crowned in Jerez. NASCAR beat the rain in its own backyard. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

WEC's Future is Winter
It has been over a month since the FIA World Endurance Championship announced the 2018-19 "super season" with the series transitioning from the traditional spring to autumn schedule to an autumn to summer schedule with a season spanning two years and ending at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Next season will start in May 2018 with the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps before the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Silverstone has moved to August and Fuji and Shanghai will close out the 2018 portion of the calendar. The 2019 portion of the calendar begins with a new race in the United States in March. The lone race in the Americas will be a 1,500-mile race at Sebring International Raceway and it will take place a few hours after IMSA completes the 12 Hours of Sebring. The final two races of the 2018-19 season will be Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans before the 2019-20 season will pick up later that year.

This format has been floating out there for a few years but it seemed unlikely to be implemented when the FIA WEC hosting Audi, Toyota, Porsche and Nissan all in the LMP1 class. The series was going strong and it seemed to be growing to a higher level. However, Nissan lasted one race. Audi left after 2016. Porsche will say goodbye at the end of 2017. Toyota isn't committed for the long-term future. WEC is trying to stay alive and has to try something to keep the series going.

I don't mind the split calendar but there are plenty of questions when it comes to looking beyond the 2018-19 season. Next WEC season will only be six different races with Spa-Francorchamps and Le Mans being on the schedule twice at the bookends of the season. The series can't rely on six rounds in 2019 onward. There will have to be at least one more race added if not two races added and those will have to be scheduled sometime in winter or early spring. The schedule might have to even start a few weeks later with Silverstone moving to early September.

There is a four-month gap from Shanghai and Sebring. Something will have to fill that gap and that race will most likely have to be a southern hemisphere race or the Middle East, which is easier said than done. Interlagos didn't work for WEC. Outside of Kyalami, there isn't another option in Africa. The Middle East has a few options but Bahrain is off the schedule and I am not sure Dubai or Yas Marina would be better options.

There are Asia-Pacific options that could work. The Asian Le Mans Series has had well attended races at Buriram in January. I am not sure an ALMS-WEC doubleheader could work at Buriram but if WEC is looking for a crowd, it is a suitable option. Sepang no longer hosts Formula One and it hosts the ALMS finale in February. Then there is Australia but I can't think of a circuit that would be practical for the series. No, Mount Panorama is not practical. Maybe Phillip Island.

I do have a concern with the Sebring round and I would not be surprised if the 2020 trip to Sebring looks different for WEC than the 2019 race. First off, it makes no sense starting a race at 2:00 a.m. local time, anywhere in the world. Has WEC never watched How I Met Your Mother? Nothing good happens after 2:00 a.m. I think the weekend will be saturated. A 1,500-mile race is going to take close to 12 hours to complete. It will likely take about 28 hours from the start of the 12 Hours of Sebring to the finish of the WEC race and I think people will want to go home by 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

The Sebring WEC race doesn't have to be 12 hours or 1,500 miles or some distance that makes it stands out from the rest of the season. I think Sebring could be a six-hour race starting the Friday before the 12 Hours of Sebring at 3:00 p.m. ET and it would be a better time for everybody. It would start Friday night in Europe, it would end Friday night in Sebring and it could allow drivers to do both races comfortably instead of the risky proposition of running a 1,500-mile race a few hours after completing a 12-hour race.

The winter schedule is probably going to cause havoc with a number of other sports car races over the winter. WEC moved next season's Fuji race to avoid a clash with Petit Le Mans but WEC will also have to squeeze into a portion of the calendar that already features the Dubai 24 Hour, Bathurst 12 Hour and the 24 Hours of Daytona. Granted, two of these races are GT3-based races so those races won't lose teams from competing but some drivers will likely not be able to compete in some of these races they otherwise would be in because of scheduling. WEC will avoid scheduling head-to-head with the 24 Hours of Daytona but it might not be able to avoid the Roar Before the 24 test session.

One final concern I have with the future scheduling of WEC is ending the season with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. While some would argue it makes sense to end with the biggest race on the calendar, no motorsports series does that and there is a good reason for it. You don't want the race overshadowing the end of the championship. IndyCar tried ending the season with the Indianapolis 500 at the start of the Indy Racing League but it wasn't going to work.

You don't want the championship overshadowed by the race winners and that is going to be the case. The people rush the front straightaway and stand before the podium to celebrate the race winners. The champions aren't going to get that type of moment and they all deserve it. I am not sure this could be an easy fix though. Unless WEC is willing to add a season finale for early July then the series is going to be stuck ending at Le Mans and champions will be stuck not receiving the acknowledgement they deserve.

The switch to a winter schedule for WEC will cause its headaches. I am sure there will be a few situations that make us wish the series could go back to the schedule being the way it was for the first six seasons but I think we got to give it a chance as WEC tries to reignite the spark it had not too long ago.

Champions From the Weekend
The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor clinched the IMSA Prototype championship by starting Petit Le Mans.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García clinched the GTLM championship with a second place finish in Petit Le Mans.

The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan clinched the GTD championship by starting Petit Le Mans.

Charle Leclerc clinched the Formula Two championship with victory in race one from Jerez. Leclerc finished seventh in race two, which was won by Artem Markelov.

George Russell clinched the GP3 Series championship with finishes of second and fifth at Jerez.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton, Charles Leclerc and Artem Markelov but did you know...

The #9 Erebus Motorsport Holden of David Reynolds and Luke Youlden won the 60th Bathurst 1000.

The #2 Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan of Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Brendon Hartley won the 20th Petit Le Mans. The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Motorsports BMW of Bill Auberlen, Alexander Sims and Nick Castsburg won in GTLM. The #26 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca of John Falb, Tomy Drissi and Garret Grist won the final Prototype Challenge race. The #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi of Connor De Phillippi, Christopher Mies and Sheldon van der Linde won in GTD.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte. Alex Bowman won the Grand National Series race, his first career victory.

The #37 Lexus Team KeePer's TOM's Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy won the Super GT race from Buriram. The #51 LM corsa Lexus RC F GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi won in GT300.

Nirei Fukuzuma and Alessio Lorandi split the GP3 Series races from Jerez.

Kris Meeke won Rally Catalunya.

Gabriele Tarquini and Robert Huff split the TCR International Series races from Zhejiang.

Coming Up This Weekend
WEC runs the 6 Hours of Fuji.
MotoGP will be at Motegi for the first of three consecutive Asia-Pacific races.
Laguna Seca hosts the California 8 Hours, the penultimate round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship closes with a doubleheader at Hockenheimring.
NASCAR takes a trip to Talladega.
World Touring Car Championship makes it consecutive weeks with unnoticeable touring car races in China, as WTCC will be at Shanghai.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Five: Petit Le Mans, Bathurst 1000, Suzuka, Charlotte, Buriram

This weekend features a slew of races over Saturday night into Sunday morning and three of those five races could be won by Team Penske. One season ends with an endurance race though all the championship are pretty much signed, sealed and delivered. Formula One heads to one of its best racetracks. NASCAR has a homecoming weekend. Super GT makes its one international trip and then there is one of the greatest races in the world.

Petit Le Mans
The finale of the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be the 20th Petit Le Mans and all four class championships are pretty much locked up.

All Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor have to do to clinch the Prototype championship is start the race. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac won the first five races of the season and has finished on the podium in the last two races. The Taylor brothers won the 2014 Petit Le Mans with Max Angelelli as the third driver. Ryan Hunter-Reay joins the duo and this is Hunter-Reay's third time racing with Wayne Taylor Racing. He drove with Wayne Taylor and Angelelli at Miller Motorsports Park in 2006 and he finished second with Jordan Taylor and Angelelli in the 2013 24 Hours of Daytona.

While the Taylor brothers have the Prototype championship in their grasps, the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Filipe Albuquerque lead he North American Endurance Cup with 38 points, two over the #10 Cadillac. The #5 Cadillac finished runner-up in both Florida endurance races at the start of the year and won the 6 Hours of the Glen.

The #90 VisitFlorida Racing Ligier of Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande are third in the NAEC with 22 points, tied with the #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Misha Goikhberg, Stephen Simpson and Chris Miller.

This race sees the return of Team Penske to sports car racing and the team will run the #6 Oreca for Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. Rebellion Racing comes across the pond with the #13 Oreca for Mathias Beche, Nick Heidfeld and Gustavo Menezes. Rebellion Racing won two consecutive Petit Le Mans in 2012 and 2013. Mike Conway joins Dane Cameron and Eric Curran in the #31 Cadillac. Brendon Hartley is back in the #2 Nissan with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel with Bruno Senna back in the #22 Nissan alongside Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani. Jose Gutiérrez, Olivier Pla and Julien Canal will drive the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier.

This race marks the final appearance for the Prototype Challenge class in IMSA's top series. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French and Pato O'Ward has won all seven races this season and has already locked up the PC championship. French, O'Ward and Kyle Masson, who returns for Petit Le Mans have also locked up the PC title in the NAEC.  BAR1 Motorsports has entered two cars with Don Yount, Buddy Rice and Daniel Burkett in the #20 Oreca and Garret Grist and Tomy Drissi in the #26 Oreca.

The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García have to start the 20th Petit Le Mans to clinch the pair's second championship in the GTLM class. The Danish-Spanish duo has scored 302 points this year and Mike Rockenfeller joins the duo for this race. Second in the championship is the #67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, who are 19 points back. Briscoe and Westbrook have yet to win this year and Scott Dixon will be their third driver. The #66 Ford of Joey Hand and Dirk Müller are a point behind its teammate and Hand, Müller and Sébastien Bourdais are second in the NAEC on 30 points.

Bill Auberlen makes his 400th BMW start this weekend. He and Alexander Sims are fourth in the championship on 381 points in the #24 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW. Despite being fifth in the championship, Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner lead the NAEC standings with 32 points despite having finished seventh at both Sebring and Watkins Glen after finishing second at Daytona. Nick Tandy joins Pilet and Werner in the #911 Porsche this weekend. The #3 Corvette, #67 Ford and #24 BMW all have 24 points in the NAEC standings. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari won last year's Petit Le Mans. Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander return with Alessandro Pier Guidi as the third driver.

Like the Prototype and GTLM championships, the GTD championship will be clinched once the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan take the green flag. This will be the duo's second consecutive GTD title. Nielsen, Balzan and Matteo Cressoni lead the NAEC standings with 30 points. Jeroen Bleekemolen is second in the GTD championship and second in the NAEC standings. The Dutchman, Ben Keating and Mario Farnbacher all have 29 points in the NAEC standings and all three will be in the #33 Mercedes-AMG. Bleekemolen and Keating won Petit Le Mans last year with Marc Miller.

Despite not having a podium finish all season, the #86 Acura of Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and Jeff Segal are third in the NAEC standings with 27 points. Tom Dyer will be the third driver in the #86 Acura. The #93 Acura of Andy Lally and Katherine Legge has two victories this season and Mark Wilkins is back in that car for Petit Le Mans. Jens Klingmann, Justin Marks and Jesse Krohn will be in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW. Park Place Motorsports won Petit Le Mans in GTD two years ago and the team has finished on the podium in three of the last four races. Patrick Lindsey is the only holdover from that victorious team in 2015 and he is joined by Jörg Bergmeister and Matthew McMurry.

The 20th Petit Le Mans begins at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday October 7th.

Bathurst 1000
This year marks the 60th Bathurst 1000 and it is the 20th round of the 2017 Supercars Championships.

DJR Team Penske's Scott McLaughlin leads the championship with 2,334 points and he has six victories and 12 podium finishes from the first 19 races. Alexandre Prémat is McLaughlin's co-drver on the #17 Ford. Prémat finished second in last year's Bathurst 1000 while McLaughlin's best Bathurst 1000 finish is fifth. Jamie Whincup trails McLaughlin by 84 points and the six-time champion is looking for his fifth Bathurst 1000 victory. He was the first driver to take the checkered flag in last year's race but a 15-second penalty for causing an accident dropped him to 11th. Paul Drumbell is back as Whincup's co-driver in the #88 Holden for the sixth consecutive year at Bathurst. Whincup won the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this year with Craig Lowndes and Toni Vilander.

Fabian Coulthard makes it two DJR Team Penske drivers in the top three. His best finish was fourth in 2015. He pairs with Tony D'Alberto in the #12 Ford, 12 years after the two paired in what was D'Alberto's Bathurst debut. Chaz Mostert has four podium finishes in the last five races and the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner will drive the #55 Rod Nash Racing Ford with Steve Owen, who has twice finished runner-up in The Great Race. Last year's Bathurst runner Shane van Gisbergen has defending Australia Carrera Cup champion and runner-up in this year's Bathurst 12 Hour runner-up Matt Campbell join him in he #97 Holden.

Mark Winterbottom won the Bathurst 1000 four years ago and the driver of the #5 Prodrive Ford has not won in almost a year and he has only two podium finishes this year. Winterbottom's co-driver Dean Canto makes his 19th Bathurst 1000 start and his best finish was second in 2012. It has been six years since Garth Tander's most recent Bathurst 1000 victory and he shares the #33 Gary Rogers Motorsports Holden with James Golding. Craig Lowndes has not stood on the podium since last August at Sydney Motorsports Park. Lowndes could tie Jim Richards for second-most Bathurst victories at seven. His co-driver Steven Richards has four Bathurst victories including two of the last four.

Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway won the Sandown 500 three weeks ago. The last time a driver won the Sundown 500 and the Bathurst 1000 in the same year was 2013 when Whincup and Dumbrell took both races. Will Davison and Jonathon Webb won last year's Bathurst 1000 and they are back in the #19 Tekno Autosport Holden. Davison and Webb could become the first pair to win consecutive Bathurst 1000s since Lowndes and Whincup won three consecutive years from 2006 to 2008. Davison's best finish this season is fifth.

Ford and Holden have each won 22 Bathurst 1000s while Nissan has three Bathurst victories.

The 60th Bathurst 1000 will start at 6:10 p.m. ET on Saturday October 7th.

Japanese Grand Prix
One week after Max Verstappen won the Malaysian Grand Prix, Formula One heads to Suzuka for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton finished second in Sepang and he extended his championship lead to 281 points and 34 points ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Mercedes has won the last three Japanese Grands Prix and Hamilton is responsible for two of those victories. Vettel leads all active drivers with fourth Japanese Grand Prix victories with Hamilton on three and Fernando Alonso has won this race twice. Kimi Räikkönen is the only other active driver on the grid to win in Japan with his victory coming in 2005.

Valtteri Bottas sits 59 points behind his teammate, third in the championship. Bottas has scored points in his last three trips to Japan but his best finish is fifth. With 125 points left on the table, Daniel Ricciardo is the final driver with a mathematical shot at the championship. The Australian has 177 points meaning he will have to outscore Hamilton by four points this weekend to keep his championship hopes alive heading to the United States. Ricciardo has never finished on the podium in Japan.

Räikkönen rounds out the top five on 138 points. Verstappen is next in the championship on 93 points. His Sepang victory was only his second podium of the season and first since he finished third in the second round of the season in Shanghai. Verstappen opened the gap to Sergio Pérez to 17 points. Esteban Ocon finished in the points again at Sepang in tenth and he has 57 points. Neither Carlos Sainz, Jr. nor Nico Hülkenberg picked up points and they remain on 48 points and 34 points respectively.

Felipa Massa finds himself one point outside the top ten and his Williams teammate Lance Stroll is two points outside of the top ten. Romain Grosjean is still on 26 points while Stoffel Vandoorne's seventh place finish in Malaysia nearly doubled his points total as the Belgian is now on 13 points. Kevin Magnussen sits on 11 points with Alonso on ten points. Jolyon Palmer has eight points, Pascal Wehrlein sits on five points and the still sidelined Daniil Kvyat has four points.

The Japanese Grand Prix takes place at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 8th.

The second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Cup Series begins this weekend at Charlotte. Twelve drivers are alive for the championship.

After the reset, Martin Truex, Jr. leads the championship with 3,059 points. Truex, Jr. was one of two drivers to score three top five finishes in the first round. Eighteen points behind Truex, Jr. is Kyle Busch, the winner of the last two races. The only time Busch has won three consecutive races was in July 2015 when he won at Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis. Kyle Larson sits third on 3,034 points. Larson was the other driver with three top five finishes in round one. Brad Keselowski is fourth on 3,020 points.

Three points behind Keselowski is Jimmie Johnson, who finished third at Dover last week, his first top five finish since he won at Dover in June. Two points behind Johnson is Kevin Harvick, who has only one top five finish in the eight seven races while having five finishes outside the top ten in that span. Denny Hamlin has 3,013 points. Hamlin's 35th-place finish at Dover is his second-worst finish of the season. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. sits on 3,010 and he has not had a top ten finish since his victory at Daytona in July.

Ryan Blaney starts round two in the drop zone, two points behind Stenhouse, Jr. Blaney's best finish in round one was ninth at Loudon. Chase Elliott finished second at Chicagoland and Dover but he is tenth at the start of round one on 3,006 points. Despite having eight top ten finishes from the last 11 races, Matt Kenseth starts round two in 11th on 3,003 points. Jamie McMurray rounds out the dozen drivers on 3,003 points. McMurray finished ninth at Dover and he has alternated finishes in the top ten since Watkins Glen.

Last year, Johnson won this race and it was his fourth time winning the autumn Charlotte race. No driver has won this race more than Johnson. Toyota has won this race only once and that was with Clint Bowyer in 2013. McMurray is the only other active driver to have won the autumn Charlotte race multiple times. His 2002 victory came in his second career start and he won this race in 2010. Of the 765 laps Truex, Jr. has led at Charlotte, only four have come in the autumn race.

The NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte will be at 2:16 p.m. ET on Sunday October 8th.

Super GT heads to the penultimate round of the season at Chang International Raceway in Buriram, Thailand. Both GT500 and GT300 have seen six different winners through the first six races.

While there have been six different winners from the first six races, the GT500 leading #23 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli have not won a race this season but they have finished second in the last two races and sit on 59 points. The #37 KeePer TOM'S Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy won the first race of the season and are tied for second in the championship with the winless #6 Lexus Team LeMans Wako's Lexus of Andrea Calderelli and Kazuya Oshima, who have three podium finishes this season.

James Rossiter sits on 47 points in the #36 Lexus Team au TOM's Lexus. Rossiter and Kazuki Nakajima won at Autopolis in May. The Fuji 500km winners Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa round out the top five on 43 points in the #38 Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo Lexus. The defending champions Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate sit on 36 points and won at Sportsland SUGO.

In GT300, Haruki Kurosawa and Naoya Gamou took the championship lead after winning the Suzuka 1000km in the #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG with 52 points. The #4 Goodsmile Racing Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka won the season opener at Okayama and are two points back in the championship. Defending champion Takamitsu Matsui and Kenta Yamashita are third in the championship in the #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 MC on 42 points.

Björn Wirdheim and Katsuyuki Hiranaka make it three Mercedes-AMGs in the top four as the #11 Gainer Mercedes-AMG drivers have 38 points, tied with the #55 ARTA BMW of Shinichi Takagi and Sean Walkinshaw. Both teams have a win but the #11 Mercedes-AMG holds the tiebreaker with a second place finish at Fuji topping the #55 BMW's next best finish of third. The #51 LM Corsa Lexus of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi is sixth on 36 points.

The 300km race from Buriram will take place at 4:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 8th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 1.5 Global LMP2 cars on the overall Petit Le Mans podium?
2. Over or Under: 2.5 New Zealanders on the Bathurst 1000 podium?
3. Over or Under: 10.5 seconds between the winner of the Japanese Grand Prix and second place?
4. Over or Under: 145.5 MPH average speed of the NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte?
5. Over or Under: 4.5 cars eligible for the title in GT300 after the Buriram race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: British riders scored 125 points in World Superbike at Magny-Cours.
2. Under: Zero French riders finished on the World Supersport podium.
3. Under: Five Italians scored points at Barcelona in the Blancpain Endurance Series finale.
4. Over: Sebastian Vettel's fastest lap was 2.344 seconds quicker than Nico Rosberg's fastest lap in last year's race.
5. Under: The only "accident" was Jeffrey Earnhardt's spin entering the pit lane.

1. Team Penske finishes on the podium.
2. Both winning drivers in the Bathurst 1000 are first-time Bathurst 1000 winners.
3. Fernando Alonso finishes ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and in the points.
4. At least four top ten finishes from the May Charlotte race don't finish in the top ten this weekend.
5. There will be repeat winners in both GT500 and GT300 this weekend.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Jonathan Rea clinches the World Superbike title this weekend but does not sweep the weekend (Correct! Rea clinched the title, won race one and retired in race two).
2. P.J. Jacobsen finishes ahead of at least two of the four riders ahead of him in the championship (Correct! Jacobsen finished ahead of all four of the top four at Magny-Cours).
3. One of the overall Barcelona winners will have won at Barcelona before but in another series (Correct! Tristan Vautier won at Barcelona in the Blancpain Sprint Series last year).
4. Lewis Hamilton wins his fourth consecutive race (Wrong! Hamilton finished second).
5. The biggest story after the Cup race will be what happens on the racetrack (Correct? We aren't talking about anything off the racetrack).
Last Week: 4/5 Overall: 5/10