Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2020 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

Another January has brought us the 24 Hours of Daytona, the first major event on the American motorsports calendar.

Once again, this race serves as the season opener for the IMSA season and we have 38 cars entered for this year's race across the Daytona Prototype international, LMP2, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes. GT Daytona will be the largest class in this year's race with 18 entries with DPi following with eight entries, GTLM with seven entries and LMP2 has the fewest entries, five. Thirty-eight entries are the fewest in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Daytona is the first of 12 IMSA rounds this season with the 12 Hours of Sebring following on March 21st. Long Beach will be April 18th and this year's Long Beach race will include the GTD class along with DPi and GTLM. Long Beach will only count toward the WeatherTech Sprint Cup for the GTD class. All four classes will be back together at Mid-Ohio on May 5th.

Belle Isle will be May 31st and it will be the second Sprint Cup-only round for GTD while it will be the fifth round for the DPi class. The 6 Hours of the Glen marks the midway point of the season and it will feature all four classes on June 28th. On July 5th, DPi, GTLM and GTD will be at Mosport.

On July 18, GTLM and GTD will be at Lime Rock Park. All four classes will be at Road America on August 2nd before another GT-only round at Virginia International Raceway on August 23rd. Laguna Seca will host the penultimate round on September 13th. Petit Le Mans closes the season on October 13th.

This preview will look at all 38 entries for Daytona, give a few reasons why each entry could win their respective class, a few reasons why each entry cannot win its class and what expectations each entry can have for the 2020 season.

Daytona Prototype international
#5 JDC-Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
Drivers: João Barbosa, Sébastien Bourdais, Loïc Duval
Why this car could win: Barbosa and Bourdais won this race together in 2014. Barbosa has also won this race in 2010 and 2018. Bourdais won in the GTLM class with the Ford GT program in 2017. Duval was third overall with CORE Autosport in 2018. Duval has won at Le Mans, a World Endurance Drivers' Championship. Barbosa had the seventh fastest lap at the Roar with Bourdais and Duval ranking 11th and 13th.
Why this car will not win: While having the same, number and paint scheme, this is a new team. The Mustang Sampling program has moved from Action Express Racing to JDC-Miller Motorsports. JDC-Miller has been respectable in DPi competition. It won the 6 Hours of the Glen two years ago. There could be some growing pains in race one.
What to expect for the full season: I could say every DPi entry could win the championship. That is how good this class is on paper for 2020. Barbosa has won plenty of championships and Bourdais has been fantastic in his career between IndyCar and sports cars. A sports car title would give Bourdais some great hardware to an already decorated career. I worry early teething problems could set this car back. It could win a race or two but be too far in the hole to get out of it.

#6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud
Why this car could win: These are the defending Daytona Prototype international champions. Montoya has won this race three times before and he was third in the Roar. Cameron is stud and rarely puts a wheel wrong. Pagenaud is coming off a tremendous 2019 season that saw him win the Indianapolis 500 and two other IndyCar races on his way to finishing second in the championship.
Why this car will not win: It always seems like Team Penske cannot put together a complete 24 hours without any major hiccups. Penske has not won this race since 1969 and while the team has not been running it consecutively it has put together some pretty stout lineups and not broken through. Also, while Montoya was quick at the Roar, Cameron and Pagenaud were 24th and 27th out of 27 DPi drivers that participated.
What to expect for the full season: Cameron and Montoya should be up there defending their championship. A win at Daytona would be a great way to start a title defense and it could put the title out of reach on day one. These two could pick up another two or three victories and end up with a second title in as many years to boot.

#7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Hélio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi
Why this car could win: Because after going winless in 2018 while the sister car won the championship the #7 Acura needs to respond and this is the best way to do it. Add to it Taylor has won this race before and he was second fastest in the test. Castroneves is trying to do all he can to secure his place as a Team Penske Indianapolis 500 entrant and winning this race could give him some leverage. Rossi was great last year in this car and he has a knack for being quick and competitive in anything he jumps in.
Why this car will not win: Similar to the #6 Acura, Team Penske struggles to put together a successful 24-hour race and this car seems to be the one that loses out the most between the two entries. On top of that, while Taylor was second, Rossi was 12th and Castroneves was 23rd at the test.
What to expect for the full season: This car has to win at least one race but it really has to keep up with the #6 Acura. It can win one race but if it is mostly a consolation to a season with mostly fourth and fifth place finishes than it is not going to bode well for Castroneves and Taylor. I think those two can match Cameron and Montoya and they could finish next to each other in the championship with each car winning multiple times.

#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Renger van der Zande, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Kamui Kobayashi
Why this car could win: It won this race last year and while it lost Jordan Taylor and Fernando Alonso it picked up two-time Daytona winner and all-time great Dixon and brought in the ever-reliably Briscoe, who has won this race twice in the GTLM class. Van der Zande is aggressive and Kobayashi had an unheralded drive last year and he is coming off a strong year in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Why this car will not win: Too many changes and outside of Daytona, Wayne Taylor Racing struggled in 2019. Daytona was the team's only victory last season and its only other podium finishes were second at Sebring and second at Petit Le Mans, a great track record for the endurance races but a worrying sign across the board. Add to it this was the slowest DPi car at the Roar, granted within a second of the top time and van der Zande and Kobayashi were eighth and ninth overall.
What to expect for the full season: Last year still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and this team wasn't necessarily sold on van der Zande returning in 2020. I can easily envision a version of this season where the #10 Cadillac does not win a race and a lot of people saying this is the disappointment of 2020. This car can win but I am not sure it is going to be spectacular. Briscoe is a smart driver who can win races but he is not flashy. Briscoe isn't known for dominating in terms of pole positions and being the driver to watch. I think this car will win one race but this season could look a lot like 2019.

#31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Filipe Albuquerque, Mike Conway
Why this car could win: Derani and Nasr are a fantastic pair and adding Albuquerque and Conway makes this a four-headed monster that will be tough to beat. Derani won this race in 2017 and he just seems to have a way with endurance races. Derani and Nasr won at Sebring and Petit Le Mans last year. Nasr won the DPi title two years ago. Albuquerque won this race in 2018 with Action Express Racing. He also won the GT class in 2013. Conway has been remarkable with Toyota in WEC.
Why this car will not win: Nasr was fourth overall in the test but his three co-drivers were all outside the top twenty.
What to expect for the full season: Derani and Nasr will be in the championship fight. This car can win multiple races and I think it will lead the Cadillac collection.

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Why this car could win: Mazda is quick. Bomarito and Tincknell won twice in 2019. Hunter-Reay has had good runs in sports cars.
Why this car will not win: Mazda cannot find success in the long endurance races. Last year, Mazda did not score a top five finish at Daytona, Sebring or Petit Le Mans. Last year, Mazda had a dramatic exit from Daytona, one with a mechanical and the other with a fire.
What to expect for the full season: We do not know if Mazda will contest the full season. Team Joest will field the team through Sebring and after that it is unclear. Mazda is not rushing to announce a new customer team. If one does come up there is no guarantee Bomarito and/or Tincknell will be back.

#77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Olivier Pla
Why this car could win: This car was fastest again in testing. Pla set the fastest lap. Jarvis was tenth-fastest. Jarvis and Nunez won at Mosport last year.
Why this car will not win: Again... Mazda's unreliability. It can be fast for one-lap, 60 minutes or three hours but can it last a full 24 hours? We have yet to see Mazda do it.
What to expect for the full season: Since we do not know Mazda's plans beyond Sebring, I just want to say it would be fitting if this was the year everything clicked and Mazda won at Daytona. One, it would force Mazda to get on it and find a new customer program. Two, it would likely save the jobs of Jarvis, Nunez, Bomarito and Tincknell. It would be a popular victory.

#85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Chris Miller, Juan Piedrahita, Matheus Leist, Tristan Vautier
Why this car could win: It will be on the grid. Vautier has been one of the underrated drivers of the 2010s. Miller has been a good driver in DPi competition. Also, we may be due for a surprise winner. When was the last time we had a 24 Hours of Daytona shocker?
Why this car will not win: This field is too stacked for this car to win. It will require a lot of attrition and this car not experiencing any trouble.
What to expect for the full season: On paper, this is the weakest car in class. It is hard to see it winning a race but perhaps it could get on a podium at least once. It could have one race that goes its way.

#8 Tower Motorsports By Starworks Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Dalziel, John Farano, David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicolas Lapierre
Why this car could win: Starworks has a history of success. It has brought in two top drivers in Dalziel and Lapierre. Those two were second and third in class at the test. Farano and Heinemeier Hansson are two respectable amateur drivers. Both have had great levels of success.
Why this car will not win: It is a new team to the LMP2 class and this is a 24-hour race. It might have a great 12 hours but lose it in the final twelve.
What to expect for the full season: This car will only compete in the endurance races.

#18 Era Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Lewis, Dwight Merriman, Nicolas Minassian, Kyle Tilley
Why this car could win: Minassian is a veteran. Lewis is a quick driver.
Why this car will not win: Minassian and Lewis will not be enough and this is a new team competing against some tough competition.
What to expect for the full season: Minassian and Tilley will be full-time. I think they will be off the podium more times than not. There will be at least one race where Minassian is the best driver in class and carries this car to an impressive finish, perhaps a victory even.

#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Cameron Cassels, Kyle Masson, Robert Masson, Don Yount
Why this car could win: Cassels and Kyle Masson did a good job last year in the LMP2 class.
Why this car will not win: These four drivers were 11th, 17th, 18th and 19th out of 22 drivers that participated in the LMP2 class at the Roar test. This class is much more difficult than it was in 2019.
What to expect for the full season: Not as many victories and not as many podium finishes as in 2019.    With DragonSpeed full-time, Era Motorsports full-time, Starworks in the endurance races and PR1/Mathiasen still around I am not sure this car will win any of the six LMP2 championship races on the IMSA schedule.

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Gabriel Aubry, Nick Boulle, Ben Keating, Simon Trummer
Why this car could win: This team won the championship last year. Aubry ran some races and he is a strong prototype driver, same as Trummer. Boulle is good. Keating is attempting double duty splitting  this entry with a GT Daytona entry (more on that later) and he had a respectable pace in this car.
Why this car will not win: This will be contending for the race victory and Keating might have this planned out but perhaps this team hits a snag and either needs Keating or it gets to the point where if this car is too far behind Keating will focus on the GTD effort and this one cannot comeback.
What to expect for the full season: I do not know who the full-time drivers will begin this car and I think it will be competitive but this is not going to be a two-car class. There are going to be tougher days and weekends when this car is not going to be the fastest in the class off the truck.

#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Colin Braun, Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Harrison Newey
Why this car could win: This is the favorite. DragonSpeed comes in with a slew of LMP2 success in the European Le Mans Series and some in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Braun landed a ride and he knows this rodeo. Newey won the Asian Le Mans Series championship not long ago. Hanley was fastest in the LMP2 class at the Roar and Braun and Newey were fourth and fifth.
Why this car will not win: For DragonSpeed, it is tough to repeat. If we learned anything from last year it is the LMP2 class is a mixed bag and everyone will have at least one mistake. I think DragonSpeed has the lineup with the least chance of making multiple mistakes.
What to expect for the full season: I already said I think DragonSpeed is going to win this championship and win it handily. It is a new championship in terms of a full season for DragonSpeed but this team is coming in after running against the best LMP2 teams in the world and IMSA's LMP2 class is not up to that level.

GT Le Mans
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Antonio García, Jordan Taylor, Nick Catsburg
Why this car could win: García has won it before. Taylor has won it before. Catsburg has been successful in touring cars. Corvette is due for a victory.
Why this car will not win: This is a new lineup, while Taylor has been with this program before it has been a while and Catsburg is a late addition after Mike Rockenfeller's DTM schedule led him to be unavailable for the 2020 season. Add to it this was the slowest car in the GTLM class at the Roar test.
What to expect for the full season: I think Corvette is going to win this year and García and Taylor are going to figure it out. There are only six full-time cars in this class. A championship is possible and Corvette proved it does not need to win a race to take a championship. That seems likes a stretch for a second time in three seasons.

#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fässler
Why this car could win: Gavin, Milner and Fässler have plenty of experience together. These three won this race in 2016. Milner was third fastest in the test.
Why this car will not win: This is a new car and, since their 2016 victory, the #4 Corvette has not finished better than fourth in class in this race. Add to it the #4 Corvette has not had a podium finish since it was third at Long Beach last year.
What to expect for the full season: Last year was a rough year for Corvette across the board but it was especially tough for the #4 Corvette. One podium finish and it was eighth in five of the first six races and it had top five finishes in only two of the final five races. I think things will be better but a victory could still be out of grasp for Gavin and Milner.

Drivers: John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert, Augusto Farfus
Why this car could win: Krohn was fourth in the test. Farfus won this race last year in the sister car. Mostert has had some success in BMW sports cars around the globe and he had a good year in Supercars in 2019.
Why this car will not win: While Krohn was fourth, Edwards and Mostert were 20th and 22nd out of 22 GTLM drivers in the test. This car had two runner-up finishes in 2019 but it also finished outside the top five in seven of 11 races.
What to expect for the full season: Kind of like the #4 Corvette, last year was tough and things should be better. There are only six cars in class full-time. Both cars are going to get more top five finishes but it is hard to see this car going from bottom of the class to fighting for the championship.

Drivers: Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta, Bruno Spengler
Why this car could win: It won last year. De Phillippi is a competent driver. Spengler has had plenty of DTM success. Eng is coming off a good DTM season. Herta had a wonderful 2019 with two IndyCar victories to add to his 24 Hours of Daytona triumph in 2019.
Why this car will not win: This car won at Daytona and didn't get another podium finish until Petit Le Mans in 2019. It was sixth fastest in a seven car class at the test.
What to expect for the full season: Spengler is going to be full-time this year and these are going to be a lot of new tracks for him. I think this car will get more podium finishes in 2020 than 2019 but I think it could finish behind the #24 BMW because Spengler will be learning tracks while Edwards and Krohn will be fully up to snuff.

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: James Calado, Daniel Serra, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon
Why this car could win: It won Petit Le Mans as a one-off last October. It was fastest in the test with Calado taking the top time and Serra was fifth overall. This group knows each other very well from AF Corse's WEC program. Calado, Pier Guidi and Rigon were second at Daytona last year with Miguel Molina.
Why this car will not win: Pier Guidi and Rigon did not participate in the Roar test, which is not the end of the world but that testing could come in handy. This program is not full-time, which can be a positive but it could be a negative. It wasn't a problem last year at Road Atlanta.
What to expect for the full season: This car is only scheduled for Daytona. It would be great if it did all the North American Endurance Championship races. It would be better if it ran the full season. Everyone would love to have the Risi Competizione program back full-time.

#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-10
Drivers: Nick Tandy, Frédéric Makowiecki, Matt Campbell
Why this car could win: Porsche has been fantastic. Tandy is fantastic. Makowiecki might be new to this car full-time but he knows how this race goes. Campbell was the darling of 2019 and it has led to a factory shot in 2020. These guys were second, tenth and 11th at the test.
Why this car will not win: The sister car might be better and sometimes it just will not be your day.
What to expect for the full season: Multiple victories but looking across the garage to the sister car it is going to be really tough for the #911 Porsche to take the championship. It was second last year to the #912 Porsche and that very well could happen again.

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Mathieu Jaminet
Why this car could win: Defending champions. Bamber and Vanthoor were stellar in 2019. If the rain had not ended Daytona early last year this car could have won this race. Jaminet is a quiet, young driver. This team does not make many mistakes. At the test, Vanthoor and Bamber were sixth and seventh respectively.
Why this car will not win: In the other three NAEC races in 2019, the #912 Porsche had finishes of fifth, sixth and fifth. The #911 Porsche was quicker in the test and 2020 could be the year the #911 is best of the Porsches. Add to it the #62 Ferrari is looking ood.
What to expect for the full season: Repeating is hard to do but this car could do it. Bamber and Vanthoor are not going to have a season full of boneheaded mistakes. This car is going to win a few races. I feel like this could be another season of Porsche dominance with Corvette getting a win or two because somebody else has to win and maybe BMW wins one but I do not expect every entry to win once and this championship to be wild open heading into the final few races.

GT Daytona
#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Patrick Pilet, Zach Robichon, Lars Kern, Dennis Olsen
Why this car could win: Pfaff Racing has a strong 2019. Robichon was third in the championship and won two races. Olsen is coming off the Intercontinental GT Challenge title and he was second fastest at the test. Pilet moves down from the Porsche GTLM program but he can still hold his own.
Why this car will not win: Oof... that is a tough one. This is a tough class. We have seen it the last few years where one GTD team starts out strong and then in the race has one thing go wrong and cannot turn it around. This car was caught in an accident not of its making last year. That could happen again.
What to expect for the full season: This could be the championship winning car. Olsen will pair with Robichon for the full season. Olsen was tremendous in 2019 and it is a surprise he didn't get a call to drive with the GTLM Porsche program. If this car wins the championship or wins multiple races, which I think it will, I bet Olsen gets a promotion in 2021.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Albert Costa, Richard Heistand, Franck Perera, Steijn Schothorst
Why this car could win: This car has won this race the last two years, it also won at Sebring last year and this entry is running the NAEC races.
Why this car will not win: This is a completely new lineup compared to the last two yeas for GRT Grasser Racing Team. Perera was the fastest of this entry in 22nd.
What to expect for the full season: It is only running the NAEC races but I think there will be at least one race where this car is at the front.

#12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo, Aaron Telitz, Shane van Gisbergen
Why this car could win: At the test, Bell, Telitz and Montecalvo were 14th, 15th and 16th with van Gisbergen in 28th, a pretty consistent lineup. Bell has won this race before and he has plenty of sports car success. Telitz is a driver on the verge of a breakthrough. This team got a Supercars champion in van Gisbergen to come over from Australia.
Why this car will not win: While taking three consecutive spots in class, 14th, 15th and 16th is still a little off the top and this car might be quick but only quick enough for 5th in class. I think this car will do well but it could be a year where this car does nothing wrong all race but lacks that little bit of pace.
What to expect for the full season: Bell and Montecalvo had three podium finishes in 2019 but its best finish over the final five races was seventh. I think this car will win at least one race but just be outside of the championship fight.

#14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Parker Chase, Kyle Busch, Michael de Quesada
Why this car could win: Hawksworth might be the most underrated driver in IMSA. Busch did not take long adjusting to this car. De Quesada has won this race in this class before. Chase has been an emerging GT driver the last few years and this is his big break.
Why this car will not win: I am afraid this team might lean too much on Hawksworth. This is Busch's first endurance race. He might be quick but how will he handle being in the slowest class? That is a crazy question but could he be caught out of his element with faster cars around him? I don't think so but there could be something that bites him. Add to it Chase was 59th out of 69 drivers in the test.
What to expect for the full season: This car won two races this year but Richard Heistand has moved to GRT Grasser Racing Team. Hawksworth can win races and I think Chase will find the pace but I do not think this car will be fighting for the championship, at least not this year.

#16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Patrick Long, Ryan Hardwick, Anthony Imperato, Klaus Bachler
Why this car could win: Wright Motorsports has had plenty of success and Long is a veteran. Hardwick was ok last year in a partial season. Blacher has run Porsche SuperCup and some WEC. Imperato did well in GT World Challenge America last year.
Why this car will not win: This is a good but not a great lineup. There just are stronger entries out there.
What to expect for the full season: Long and Hardwick is a good pairing. Any entry Long is in I think can win a race. I do not think this entry could be in the championship discussion.

#19 GRT GEAR Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen, Rahel Frey, Tatiana Calderón
Why this car could win: GRT Grasser Racing Team has won this race the last two years. Legge was eighth in the test, Frey was 12th and Nielsen is a past champion.
Why this car will not win: This is the first time Frey and Calderón have run this race. Frey has endurance race experience but this is Calderón's first time out. In this class you cannot afford too weak of a weakest link.
What to expect for the full season: Legge and Nielsen are a great pairing. Last year with Meyer Shank Racing, Legge and Nielsen were not full-time together and that might be why the results were not terrific in 2019. I think Legge and Nielsen could win a race and be close to fifth in the championship.

#23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Ian James, Roman de Angelis, Alex Riberas, Nicki Thiim
Why this car could win: James has plenty of sports car experience. Riberas has GTD success. De Angelis won the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada championship in 2019. Thiim is one a world champion with a Le Mans victory and is leading the World GT Endurance Drivers' championship.
Why this car will not win: Of the four drivers, Thiim was the only one in the top 40 at the test and he was 40th. It is a return for the Heart of Racing Team. It is asking a lot to come out and win the first time back on track.
What to expect for the full season: Riberas and de Angelis will be the full-time drivers and this could be the sleeper of 2020. I am not saying this car will win three or four races but this car could be closer to the front of the grid than many are expecting.

#44 GRT Magnus Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Andy Lally, John Potter, Spencer Pumpelly, Marco Mapelli
Why this car could win: This is Magnus Racing. It has won this race before. It can win it again. Lally was sixth in the test.
Why this car will not win: There might be a few stronger entries. Pumpelly and Potter were 51st and 53rd respectively at the test.
What to expect for the full season: A typical Magnus Racing season, top five in the championship and I think this car will get more than two top five finishes, the total this entry got in 2019.

#47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Brandon Gdovic, Eric Lux, Johnathan Hoggard, Mark Kvamme
Why this car could win: It will be on the grid and Lamborghini has been one of the best manufactures in GTD the last few seasons.
Why this car will not win: This is the weakest Lamborghini in the field and Hoggard and Kvamme are refugees after the Rick Ware Racing LMP2 entry withdrew.
What to expect for the full season: This will not be a full-time entry.

#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Corey Lewis, Andrea Caldarelli
Why this car could win: Sellers and Snow won the GTD championship in 2018. Caldarelli is coming off a sweep of the Blancpain GT Series championships. Lewis has plenty of experience with the Lamborghini. Sellers was fastest in the test with Lewis in third.
Why this car will not win: This is one of the class favorites. I just wonder after all the games Lamborghini was playing and not using the correct gear ratios is going to cause a significant slap on the wrist before the race and that takes this car out of contention before the race starts.
What to expect for the full season: Sellers and Snow won the title two years, Snow stepped away in 2019 when he lost his silver-rating and I think these two will be back in the title fight.

#54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Trenton Estep, Sven Müller, Tim Pappas
Why this car could win: Bleekemolen is one of the best GT drivers in the world and he was ninth in the test. Müller is a promising Porsche driver. Estep won the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship in 2018.
Why this car will not win: Estep was 47th in the test with Pappas in 60th and Müller in 64th.
What to expect for the full season: This is not a full-time entry.

#57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: A.J. Allmendinger, Misha Goikhberg, Trent Hindman, Álvaro Parente
Why this car could win: Hindman is the defending GTD champion. Parente has won GT World Challenge America championship and he was fourth in the test. Allmendinger is still a talented road course driver. Goikhberg has plenty of experience in sports cars.
Why this car will not win: This is a class favorite but it is the first time this group of drivers has been brought together and it might not gel the first time out. While Parente was fourth, all three other drivers were outside the top 35 in the test.
What to expect for the full season: Parente and Goikhberg will be full-time with Hindman in the NAEC races. This car could win a few races and get the title. Parente is one of the best drivers in this class and Goikhberg is an IMSA veteran. I just wonder if Goikhberg will not be able to run a competitive pace to Parente's.

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Westphal
Why this car could win: MacNeil and Vilander were fifth in the championship last year. Vilander has won a world title and multiple times at Le Mans. Balzan and Westphal are Daytona veterans.
Why this car will not win: Amazingly, Vilander has never won this race before. There are a stronger entries in this race.
What to expect for the full season: MacNeil and Vilander did not win a race in 2019 but I think that will change in 2020, however, I do not think these two will improve their championship finish.

#74 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley with Robinson Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Lawson Aschenbach, Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson
Why this car could win: Keating and Fraga have established a great partnership. Aschenbach has GT World Challenge America championships. Robinson was a good in GT4 America last year.
Why this car will not win: Keating is splitting his attention between two classes. Aschenbach is not known for endurance race success.
What to expect for the full season: Aschenbach and Robinson will be full-time. I feel like this car will get one or two podium finishes but nothing spectacular.

#86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: Mario Farnbacher, Jules Gounon, Matt McMurry, Shinya Michimi
Why this car could win: Farnbacher is the defending GTD champion. McMurry is coming off an LMP2 title last year. Gounon has won the 24 Hours of Spa, is an ADAC GT Masters champion and won at Circuit Paul Ricard last year in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Michimi has been a Lamborghini Super Trofeo champion.
Why this car will not win: Testing pace was not encouraging and the sister car appears to be much stronger.
What to expect for the full season: Farnbacher could not have asked for a better new driver to join him in his title defense with McMurry. Defending is tough but I think Farnbacher will but up a respectable defense with McMurry with at least one or two victories and end up somewhere in the top five of the championship.

#88 Audi Sport Team WRT Speedstar Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Daniel Morad, Dries Vanthoor
Why this car could win: Bortolotti and Ineichen have won the last two years but with GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. Morad won this race in GTD in 2017. Vanthoor has won the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour and he won the 2019 24 Hours Nürburgring.
Why this car will not win: This is a one-off. Bortolotti was seventh in testing but the next best from this entry was Morad in 41st.
What to expect for the full season: This is a Daytona-only entry.

#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Dillon Machavern, Jens Klingmann
Why this car could win: Auberlen, Foley and Machavern ended the 2019 season strong with a Petit Le Mans victory. Aberdeen is tied with Scott Pruett for most IMSA victories, both having 60 victories and what better place to get the record than at Daytona?
Why this car will not win: Auberlen has not won a class in the 24 Hours of Daytona since 1998 and the law of averages would suggest that should change. Testing results were good; all four drivers were in the top 40 with Auberlen quickest in 13th. Maybe this will be Auberlen's year and 2020 will start with a record-breaking performance at Daytona.
What to expect for the full season: I think Auberlen and Foley could be a sneaky championship contender.

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Ross Gunn, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Andrew Watson
Why this car could win: Lamy and Lauda have experience with one another. Gunn is having a good year in the GTE-Am class in WEC with three podium finishes from four races. Watson has a GTE-Am podium finish this season. Watson will substitute for Paul Dalla Lana, who suffered an injury skiing.
Why this car will not win: It just seems like this entry never has a good one-off at Daytona.
What to expect for the full season: This is not a full-time entrant.

Practice for the 24 Hours of Daytona begins Thursday January 23rd at 10:05 a.m. ET. Second practice will take place at 12:45 p.m. ET with qualifying following at 4:15 p.m. ET. Night practice is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET.

Final practice is scheduled for 9:50 a.m. ET on Friday January 24th.

The 58th 24 Hours of Daytona will begin at 1:40 p.m. ET on Saturday January 25th.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Are We That Different?

After having zero Americans win in the first 41 editions of the Dakar Rally, Americans Ricky Brabec and Casey Currie won in the Bike class and Side-by-Side class respectively. In the Car class, Carlos Sainz picked up his third Dakar Rally victory. Ignacio Casale won the Quad class for the third time. Andrey Karginov won the Truck class for the second time. Brabec's victory ended KTM's streak of 18 consecutive Dakar victories and it was Honda's first Dakar victory since 1989. Elsewhere in the world of motorsports, the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Indianapolis will be on the road course, James Hinchcliffe has a sponsor for the Indianapolis 500 but not a team (his sponsor will also cover the Grand Prix of Indianapolis), Formula E returned from nearly two months off and made history. In other news, I read a book and here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Are We That Different?
Over the Christmas season I got some time to read The Limit by Michael Cannell, which tells the story of Phil Hill and Wolfgang von Trips over the 1950s into the 1961 season when the two drivers were Ferrari teammates and rivals for the World Drivers' Championship.

Though sold as telling the story of "life and death on the 1961 grand prix circuit," the 1961 season is a small portion of the story, which is fine, because the story of how Hill and von Trips got to that season paints a clearer picture of who these men were and also a clearer picture of motorsports during that time period.

Their careers sprout up during motorsports' most dangerous era, earmarked with the 1955 Le Mans disaster and continuing through the 1960s with funerals occurring at a regular rate and fatal accidents occurring from Formula One to Formula Two, IndyCar to sports cars and every series in-between.

In 2020, the era of Hill, von Trips and death is held in high regard as the gold standard. It was the era of Jim Clark, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Bobby Unser. It was the era of the roadster to rear-engine car, turbine innovations, wing sprouting and increased speed.

When put up against that era it is done to diminish motorsports in the 21st century. The lack of danger, the lack of consequence, the lack of innovation, the lack of career diversity, what we have today is automatically viewed as lesser, today's drivers as lesser to the those who raced nearly 60 years ago.

We get the old line "back when men were men."

However, The Limit paints a different image of how the time period was perceived.

Hill was traumatized seeing the horrors of motorsports. At the 1954 Buenos Aires 1000km, Hill made an effort to remove Eric Forrest-Greene from a burning Aston Martin. Forrest-Greene would die the following day from his injuries. Already suffering from heart flutters, Hill developed an ulcer early in the 1954 season and led him to step away from racing for most of the year. He would be back in 1955 and made his Ferrari debut at Le Mans later that year.

After the infamous 1955 Le Mans accident that claimed 84 lives, Mike Hawthorn was distraught about the accident. Phil Walters stepped away from racing after Le Mans despite having won at Sebring earlier that year and having an offer to drive for Ferrari in Formula One.

Spaniard Alonso de Portago had finished second sharing a car with Peter Collins in the 1956 British Grand Prix. Portago had also contested the Carrera Panamericana, a race that was known for its lethalness to not only drivers but spectators. He was also an Olympian bobsledder and had finished third in the two-man competition at the 1957 world championships. Despite these exploits, he had no desire to run the Mille Miglia. As he put it, "there are too many places where a car can go off the road and kill a dozen people."

Once signed for Ferrari, Portago had to run the Mille Miglia and his words would tragically come true, as he lost his life spinning off the road, severing his body in half and killing nine spectators as well.

After the accident, the public pushed back on the race. L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, wrote after Portago's accident:
The massacre which occurred this week confirms the responsibility of those who don't prevent other meant from exposing themselves to an atrocious death... There is an insistent demand that these racing exhibitions be prohibited because they are not necessary to the progress of the machine... All racing, which is a race to death, must be abolished.
Juan Manuel Fangio stated after the race, "I shall never run in the Mille Miglia in the future because it a race that is really too dangerous. I have tired it five times, and I have always seen that risk is too great."

Under public demand to abolish the Mille Miglia and the Italian government did so after the 1957 race.

Luigi Musso died after an accident in the 1958 French Grand Prix. L'Osservatore Romano published an editorial declaring racing "a ruthless idol that demands increasingly heavy sacrifices of blood."

Peter Collins would be killed less than a month later at the German Grand Prix. Prominent German commentator Horst Peets argued in an article for Die Welt that automotive improvements through racing could no longer justify the deaths:
A number of motor sports – mostly men who are in offices, or men who represent a particular sphere of this industry – make it sound like horsepower and cylinder pressure go together with death on the racetrack the way a collar-button fastens to the collar. They take this kind of death as a function: someone must be ready to die in order for us to live a little bit better...
After von Trips' fatal accident in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, which also took the life of 14 spectators, Pope John XXIII published a statement saying, "It would be criminal to allow absurd performances of death like this to repeat themselves."

Reading about the past and then looking at the present, a time when people are still debating the safety measures in motorsports, whether or not it is necessary for IndyCar to race on ovals and drivers express disinterest in racing an IndyCar because of ovals, it doesn't sound all that different.

There was always a limit, even for heralded legends Fangio. In the 1950s, it was events like the Carrera Panamericana and the Mille Miglia. Portago expressed nerves over the Mille Miglia. It is no different then what we see now from drivers and IndyCars on ovals. Jimmie Johnson and Lewis Hamilton are not going for it.

Spectators feel the same way. There is a contingent who no longer see the appeal of IndyCar at places like Pocono, Texas and so on but will allow the Indianapolis 500 because it has survived for over a century. It is hypocritical and understandable all at once.

The one difference is many of these accidents that were condemned included spectator fatalities and that is something that has greatly decreased to the point they have almost disappeared, especially in major motorsports series. When innocent lives are taken in a form of collateral damage and are in constant danger the level of displeasure and criticism is understood. As for deaths of competitors, it is still split.

Motorsports will always be dangerous and there is always a chance of fatality for all those competing. There will always be people who not accept people doing something that can get them killed. That is fine. It is understandable that people are not ok with other people dying. That isn't some 21st century, Millennial creation. It has always been there the only difference is what death is left occurs in a form of motorsport that was once tame in comparison to what existed in the so-called golden-era.

Yes, there was death in IndyCar, Formula One and sports cars and so on but individual driver fatalities paled in comparison when multiple people were killed at once. One driver dying was easier to swallow than when a half-dozen people, most of which were not even competing, were killed.

Take away the Le Mans tragedy, the Carrera Panamericana and Mille Milega, add fuel cells, HANS devices, SAFER barriers, catchfencing and better built race cars and we are left with what we have today: A motorsports landscape where we have very few fatalities, very few serious injuries, hardly ever any incidents involving fans and what is left gets just as much attention as the horrid occurrences from almost six decades ago.

The goalposts have narrowed. There are no longer city-to-city races with high-end sports cars doing 150 MPH on residential roads with the only thing separating a Ferrari from a pack of school children being a hay bale. Without those types of incidents, other incidents that kill spectators and with a decrease in driver fatalities across the board, an accident that claims the life of one person or an accident that significantly injuries one person gets a greater level of scrutiny than it would have 60 years ago.

Those incidents just happen to frequently involve IndyCar on an oval. Although, we still have the Isle of Man TT but that seems to live on its own little island and is free from this kind of attention.

Are we that different?


The golden-era was not a tougher time. People had just a strong disdain for the blood sport nature of motorsports as we have today. The heroes, who many claim no one can touch because of their fearlessness and desire to jump into anything, expressed fear and openly said what races were crazy and not worth participating in. Those drivers were just as shaken by what was happening around them as the people who spoke out against what was occurring.

Today's drivers are not weaklings. The writers are not being any more melodramatic than they were back then. The sanctioning bodies are not incompetent. The mind set is not really changing. It was always there. It is always going to be there. There will always be a crowd against activities that can take the lives of others the same way there will always be a crowd who can accept that men and women put themselves in danger doing such a thing as race automobiles and motorcycles.

What is different is motorsports is safer than it has ever been and that is a good thing. Though it is called the golden-era nobody is clamoring for it to return. Even the most brutish and stubborn of today's flock do not have the stomach for it.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Dakar Rally but did you know...

Maximilian Günther won the Santiago ePrix, his first career victory and he is the youngest winner in Formula E history at 22 years and 200 days old.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Anaheim.

Kyle Larson won the Chili Bowl.

Liam Lawson took the first and third Toyota Racing Series races from Highlands Motorsports Park. Yuki Tsunoda won the second race of the weekend.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 24 Hours of Daytona
Rally Monte-Carlo
Supercross will be in Glendale, Arizona.
Toyota Racing Series heads to Teretonga Park.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Predictions For the 2020s: NASCAR

NASCAR enters the 2020s with Kyle Busch coming off his second Cup championship, a new sponsorship model and the Grand National Series moving to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Oh boy, before we get into that let's look at where we have coming. When the 2010s started, Jimmie Johnson had done the unprecedented and won four consecutive Cup championships. Johnson immediately raised the bar and made it five consecutive titles. Martin Truex, Jr. had not won a race in the previous two seasons entering the decade and he was switching over from Chevrolet and Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to Toyota and Michael Waltrip Racing. Joey Logano was at Joe Gibbs Racing. Kasey Kahne was at Richard Petty Motorsports. Brad Keselowski had just joined Team Penske. Red Bull Racing existed.

Elsewhere in NASCAR, 2010 would see the introduction of Road America to the Grand National Series schedule. Montreal was on that schedule. Indianapolis Raceway Park had a Grand National Series and a Truck race. Justin Allgaier was a Team Penske development driver. Ron Hornaday had just won his fourth Truck title. Matt Crafton had one Truck Series victory. There was no dirt race and Narain Karthikeyan was the Truck Series' most popular driver?

NASCAR looks different entering the 2020s. In 2010, a race victory would get you as much as 195 points. Leading laps could get you bonus points. Now we have stages, the Chase has evolved into the Playoffs, has spread to the lower two national series and a victory, just one victory, in the regular season gets you a playoff spot pretty much regardless of how you do in the rest of the races.

NASCAR is pretty unpredictable or at least it is predictable it will do something insane. How can you ever make ten predictions over the course of a decade knowing that? We are going to take a crack at it.

1. There will be at least one tweak to the playoff format
This is almost a slam-dunk. NASCAR fools around with how it determines its champions more than a pubescent boy with his junk. NASCAR is constantly tinkering, chasing the ultimate high and never ending up satisfied.

Something is going to change. Either more drivers are going to be allowed in or fewer drivers are going to be allowed in. Or playoff points are going to be abolished or playoff points are going to be increased. Or there will be more rounds or there will be fewer rounds.

I don't know what is going to happen but something is going to happen.

Here are two wonky tweaks I have come up with:

A. If a driver sweeps a round in the playoffs that driver gets a bye. For example: If a driver sweeps round of 16 races that driver gets a bye through the round of 12 and is guaranteed a spot in the round of eight. If a driver sweeps the round of 12 that driver clinches a spot in the Championship 4. If a driver sweeps the round of 8 that driver is the champion.

Think about how much more meaningful winning would be if a driver knew winning three consecutive races would be a magic ticket to more. It would also bring back the possibility of the championship being locked up early. Instead of the winner at the first race in the round of 8 cruising for two weeks that driver could seal the deal a weekend early. That penultimate race of the season would see seven drivers trying to win and clinch a spot but possibly seven drivers trying to prevent one driver from making the finale a dead-rubber. That would be fun to watch.

B. The second tweak involves qualifying for the playoffs and I could see something where the final race of the regular season, race 26, being more of a play-in game. After race 25, all race winners and the however many drivers needed to fill the top 12 are locked into the playoffs. At race 26, every driver 13th to 30th after race 25 will be competing for the final four playoff spots. The top four finishers of those 18 drivers make the playoffs.

It sounds crazy but think about this entire playoff garbage to begin with: You could be 28th in the championship, fall ass backward into a victory in a rain-shortened race and all of a sudden have a shot to win the championship and finish no worse than 16th in the championship. If NASCAR is already doing that making the 26th race some sort of free-for-all where anyone 13th to 30th could make it and not even have to win the race but get in with an eighth place finish, that driver's first top ten finish of the season in all likelihood, is very possible of happening.

2. There will be a doubleheader weekend at a track other than Pocono
NASCAR is trying the doubleheader at Pocono this year and I think it is something we are going to see more of double the road to give teams additional weeks off. It makes more sense than mid-week races.

Let's consider the NASCAR Cup schedule for a moment:

There are 13 tracks that host two Cup races. Of those 13 tracks, only four of those tracks do not have playoff race. Those tracks are Daytona, Michigan, Dover and Pocono.

The other nine all host playoff races: Bristol, Richmond, Las Vegas, Talladega, Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Martinsville and Phoenix.

If a track is going to host a doubleheader it has to have two races and it is not going to take place in the playoffs.

Pocono already has a doubleheader and that leaves Daytona, Michigan and Dover.

Daytona is never going to host a doubleheader. It is going to host the season opener and the regular season finale until enough people are alienated and the race is moved back to Independence Day weekend like NASCAR did with the Southern 500 and Labor Day weekend.

That leaves Michigan and Dover and it actually makes sense for those two tracks to host doubleheaders.

Neither track has two overflowing weekends in terms of attendance. It could be argued Michigan and Dover are the two tracks where seat removal has been the most notable over the last ten years.

Dover could become a doubleheader in the spring, let's say May, you already have Pocono at the end of June and Michigan could become a doubleheader in August. That would give the teams two additional off weekends.

NASCAR could either leave those off weekends in June and August where the vacated Michigan and Dover weekends would be or NASCAR could leave one in the season and move the other to the offseason and moving the season finale into October or NASCAR could move both off weekends to the offseason and the NASCAR season could be over say on October 22, 2023.

Whether or not NASCAR goes to the lengths of having three doubleheaders in a season is up for question but I do not believe 2020 is the only time we will see a doubleheader and I do not believe Pocono will be the only track that tries it.

3. At least once will the Cup champion also be the most popular driver
This is hedging that Chase Elliott will do what Dale Earnhardt, Jr. couldn't do and win a Cup championship.

Elliott should probably win one championship in the 2020s. Hendrick Motorsports cannot stay down forever and Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske are not going to split all the titles (although they could).

If there Chevrolet had to choose one driver to bring Chevrolet back to the top it would be Elliott.

This is also taking into consideration that the 2020s could be the decade NASCAR fans start to think rationally and decide that rooting for a winning driver is better than rooting for a bloodline. This could be the decade where Kyle Busch wins two or three more championships, wins eight to ten races in the season in the process and does it all while continuing to be the largest personality in the series.

At some point there has to be an awakening and people have go to start pulling for winners in NASCAR. It might not be Kyle Busch. It could be Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex, Jr. or Christopher Bell, I don't know, but we are coming off two decades ago where Jimmie Johnson won four consecutive championships to close the decade and a decade where Busch, Harvick and Johnson were the top three in victories and none of those drivers were ever the most popular. Meanwhile, the most popular faces in every other sport was picking up hardware left and right. You see the problem with that and why others could stray away from getting interested?

4. NASCAR national series will visit at least four "new" tracks (tracks that did not host a race in the 2010s)
This is mostly because NASCAR is going to force it but also because in the 2010s NASCAR national series only visited three tracks that had never before hosted a national touring series race and only visited four tracks that had not hosted a NASCAR race in the 2000s.

The three new tracks were Mid-Ohio, Eldora and Mosport and the fourth track was Road America, which had not hosted a NASCAR national series race since in 1956.

That is disappointingly low but also kind of makes sense since the track-building boom ended with Iowa in 2007 and there were plenty of new inclusions to the schedule from 1993 to 2009.

NASCAR is going to try and make the Nashville Fairgrounds happen. That is one. The Fairgrounds hasn't hosted any national series race since 2000.

There is always the chance of additional road courses. You have Road Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas, Virginia International Raceway and now people are giddy over NASCAR potentially hosting a street course race.

I could see NASCAR going to one or two more dirt tracks with the Truck Series and maybe adding a dirt race to the Grand National Series calendar. The easy choices are the Truck Series moving races from the 1.5-mile ovals at Charlotte and Las Vegas across the streets or parking lots to the dirt tracks on those properties. I could see Knoxville being a big grab. I am not sure when it would fit with Iowa Speedway hosting a Grand National/Truck weekend, a standalone Grand National Series race and the Knoxville Nationals all between the second weekend of June and the second weekend of August but crazier things have happened.

There really isn't any new ovals on the horizon. Where is a new oval being built? That Fort Erie Speedway that was announced almost 15 years ago that Jeff Gordon was involved in? If that hasn't opened now it likely never will.

However, we have ten years. Who is to say come 2024 someone in a place like Little Rock, Arkansas or Tulsa, Oklahoma or Duluth, Minnesota decides to build a 3/4-mile oval meant to attract NASCAR and in 2027 there is a Cup race at that new facility? That is possible.

NASCAR is going to branch out a bit more this decade. It kind of has already pledged to do so.

5. Kyle Busch gets into the top five of all-time Cup victories
We start this decade with Busch sitting on 56 victories, ninth all-time and he now faces the gulf that is 20 victories between him and Dale Earnhardt in eighth.

The only active driver ahead of him is Jimmie Johnson, tied for sixth all-time on 83 victories with Cale Yarborough. The next closest active driver is Kevin Harvick on 49 victories but Harvick is ten years older. The next active driver after Harvick is Denny Hamlin on 37 victories with Kurt Busch on 31 victories and Brad Keselowski on 30 victories.

I am not sure there is an active driver that can out-pace Busch in victories in the 2020s to prevent him from reaching 84 victories, the number that needed to end up tied for fourth with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip or 85 victories, the number that would give him sole possession of fourth.

This will be a long decade and I am not sure Busch will run all of it. He would be 44 years old at the end of the 2029 season. I don't think Busch is going to entirely step away from racing at 38 years old or 39 years old but I could see him falling out of love with running the Cup Series at that time, decide to run big events such as Le Mans, the Indianapolis 500 and such and fill the rest of his schedule with Truck races and late model races.

Busch needs to win 29 races to get to sole possession of fourth. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, Busch has had at least four victories in a season nine times, including the last five seasons. He does have two seasons with only one victory in that stretch. He did win 40 races in the 2010s. In theory, he just needs to be 75% of what he was for the last ten years to get there.

If Busch does 40 victories again in the 2020s he is going to be third all-time on 96 victories and not only will he be sniffing the century-mark but he is going to be ready to pounce on the Silver Fox, David Pearson's 105 victories in second all-time. That is asking a lot. At the start of the 2010s if you asked me if I thought Jeff Gordon would reach 100 victories I might have said yes and Gordon ended up falling seven victories shy of that and retired at the age of 44, exactly where Busch will be at the end of the 2020s.

Busch ended the decade with 29 victories in the last five seasons. With an average of 5.4 victories a season I think we could be looking at Busch slide into the top five sometime during 2025.

6. Each manufacture has at least two drivers win a Cup championship
The 2010s saw seven different drivers win a championship, the most since the 1980s, but this didn't happen.

Chevrolet led the way. It started the decade with Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart each getting a title. Johnson added two more in 2013 and 2016 and Kevin Harvick won the title driving a Chevrolet in 2014.

Toyota had Kyle Busch win championships in 2015 and 2019 and Martin Truex, Jr. took a popular championship in 2017.

Ford only had one champion, Joey Logano in 2018 and before you say, "Brad Keselowski won the title with Team Penske in 2012," yes he did but he was driving a Dodge.

This is going to change because I believe the NASCAR field is too deep for one driver to win five consecutive championships and because I do not foresee any changes in regulations that will bring new manufactures into the championship. I think we are living with Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford until one of those three decides to drop out.

In the Toyota camp, we have Busch and Truex; both could win a championship again. Denny Hamlin was knocking on the door last season. Erik Jones is still young and promising and Christopher Bell is entering the fray.

Ford has Team Penske and two champions in Logano and Keselowski. Both could do it again. Ford has Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick could win a championship a second time but this time for the blue oval. Maybe Cole Custer or Ryan Blaney could rise to glory or maybe Chris Buescher could bring Roush Fenway Racing back to prominence.

Chevrolet once held all the great cards but has since fallen on hard times. It still has Hendrick Motorsports. Maybe Johnson can close out his career with an eighth title in 2020 but that seems unlikely. Either way the team still has Elliott and William Byron, both young drivers. Kyle Larson is still in the Chevrolet camp, for now, but he could piece together a championship season.

Prior to Busch's title in 2019 there had been five consecutive seasons with a different champion and Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford each won a championship in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I think the playing field is going to be rather level for a while.

7. No more than two Cup rookie of the year winners from the 2010s win a Cup championship
There were not many outstanding rookie of the year winners last decade.

Kevin Conway has not raced in the Cup Series since 2011.

Andy Lally has not raced in the Cup Series since his rookie of the year season in 2011.

Stephen Leicht won rookie of the year in 2012, made one Cup start in 2017 and that is it for him in the top division.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is not going to win a championship. Moving to JTG Daugherty Racing is a move in the wrong direction for a career.

Kyle Larson is a possibility.

Brett Moffitt has made a career for himself in the Truck Series and already has a championship down there. Maybe he can rally back to the Cup Series but that could be a stretch. Even if he does make it is questionable whether it would be in quality equipment.

Chase Elliott is a possibility.

Erik Jones is a possibility.

William Byron is a possibility.

Daniel Hemric... it is not going to be Daniel Hemric.

We have four possibilities but people already think the ship has sailed with Larson and Jones is already on the hot seat at Joe Gibbs Racing now that Christopher Bell is in the Cup Series.

Only three drivers that won rookie of the year in the 2000s won a title in the 2010s (Harvick, Busch and Logano). Matt Kenseth was rookie of the year in 2000 and won the title in 2003, the last time a driver won rookie of the year and a championship in the same decade.

Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart were the only drivers to win rookie of the year in the 1990s and win a Cup championship.

Rusty Wallace and Alan Kulwicki were the only drivers to win rookie of the year in the 1980s and win a Cup championship.

Dale Earnhardt was the only rookie of the year from the 1970s to win a championship.

David Pearson was the only rookie of the year from the 1960s to win a championship.

Rookie of the year is an unreliable predictor of future success. Add to it that Kyle Busch is likely going to be around for most of this decade, as will Logano, Keselowski and Harvick will be around for at least a little bit. It is going to be tough for all these drivers to breakthrough. A few will but not all of them and likely no more than two.

8. At least one Cup race will be in the rain
I am surprised this happened yet. The Cup Series has had rain tires for a while and NASCAR has even allowed Cup cars to race in the rain for a while but it has never worked out.

That is bound to change. The only real shot of it happening is Watkins Glen. It is not going to rain in Sonoma in June anytime soon but then again, as I write this, Australia is on fire so who knows what the weather will be like at Sonoma in 2028. We also have the Charlotte roval race, another possibility of racing in the rain.

I think the 2020s will see at least one or two more road courses/rovals/street courses add to the Cup schedule, only increasing the odds of a Cup race in the rain. It is going to happen, people are going to overreact to it and we will move on. At least some of us will move on. Others will bring it up every other day until it happens again.

9. Joe Gibbs Racing will win at least three drivers' championships in the second division
Surprisingly, the only Grand National Series drivers' championship for Joe Gibbs Racing in the 2010s was Daniel Suárez in 2016.

Christopher Bell likely should have had at least one title or perhaps two but it never worked out for Bell.

While Gibbs settled for one, JR Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing each had three titles, Richard Childress Racing took two championships and Team Penske took the only remaining title, it was 2010 with Brad Keselowski, the final year where drivers could be eligible for multiple national touring series championships.

The Grand National Series does have a problem in that teams are fleeing. Roush Fenway Racing is already out. Chip Ganassi Racing is out. Richard Childress Racing just won the title and will not have a full-time championship participant in 2020. Does Team Penske have any incentive to keep its program going after Austin Cindric makes it to the Cup Series? Will Stewart-Haas Racing continue into 2021 with Chase Briscoe?

NASCAR's second division is in a scary situation and the only two big teams that are dedicated to the series are Gibbs and JR Motorsports.

Both Gibbs and Hendrick Motorsports via JRM have an established pipelines and act like factories. They just keep pumping out drivers. Some are going to be studs and make it to the Cup Series. Others are going to be misses and fill out Front Row Motorsports.

Gibbs is not going to stop what it is doing and if teams keep withdrawing from the series it just means more chances for a Gibbs driver to win the title. Three might come easy in 2020.

10. There will not be a winless champion in any of the three national touring series
It happened twice in the 2010s, Austin Dillon with the Grand National Series championship in 2013 and Matt Crafton in the Truck Series in 2019.

It is not going to happen because either NASCAR is going to legislate that it not be possible when tweaking the playoff format or because it has only happened twice and both times were kind of flukey.

With less and less Cup driver participation allowed in the other two series we are approaching a time when all moonlighting will be prohibited. In that case, with only the championship-eligible drivers from each series competing the odds of a winless champion will decrease greatly. Winning is going to matter more. There are going to be fewer races where the top championship-eligible driver will finish third or fourth and that will be enough to extend a championship lead.

Let's consider that while there was one winless champion in NASCAR's second division over ten years the other nine seasons saw every champion win multiple times. In the Truck Series, six of the nine other champions won three races or more in a season.

The playoff format with the champion decided in the final race is always going to leave it out there for some funky result where a driver without a victory could end up in the final four, have the best race of the season while three other drivers have down days and win the championship with a second place or third place finish. Even with the format I do not think we are going to see a winless champion happen in the 2020s.

I feel like the 2020s are going to be different.

Three down, one to go. We have done sports cars. We have done Formula One. NASCAR is in the bag. The final predictions for the 2020s will be IndyCar and that will come next week.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Predictions For the 2020s: Formula One

Entering the 2020s, Lewis Hamilton has won three consecutive World Drivers' Championships, five of the last six and Mercedes-Benz has won six consecutive World Constructors' Championships.

At the start of the 2010s, Hamilton was one-year removed for a world championship with McLaren, Brawn GP was coming off a championship with Jenson Button but Mercedes-Benz was returning as a full factory team, taking over the Brawn operation. Mercedes brought Michael Schumacher out of retirement and Button joined Hamilton at McLaren. Fernando Alonso joined Ferrari. Kimi Räikkönen retired. Sébastien Buemi and Lucas di Grassi were both on the grid.

At the start of the 2010s, four teams were entering Formula One, Virgin Racing, Lotus Racing, Hispania Racing Team and USF1. Of those four, USF1 never made it to the grid. HRT would make it three seasons but its most notable accomplishment was having both cars fail to qualify for Australia in 2011 and 2012 and giving Daniel Ricciardo his grand prix debut when Red Bull had more drivers than seats. Lotus Racing became Team Lotus and then Caterham and never scored a point in five seasons. Virgin Racing became Marussia F1 and then Manor Marussia Racing before ending on Manor Racing. In seven seasons, the team had a ninth in Monaco with Jules Bianchi and a tenth in Austria with Pascal Wehrlein.

On the first day of 2010, I am not sure many saw the decade playing out the way it did and with no reason to be certain of anything that is to come over the next ten years we will make ten predictions on what we will see.

1. Lewis Hamilton gets 100 grand prix victories
Entering 2020, Hamilton has 84 victories, eight away from sole-possession of the all-time record and 16 victories from the century mark.

It seems inevitable Hamilton will break Michael Schumacher's record of 91 victories. It will likely come in 2021. Hamilton has averaged over ten victories a season dating back to 2014 and in the last six seasons he has never had fewer than nine victories in a season. Matching his worst season of the hybrid-era will not only give Hamilton the record for most victories but also likely level Hamilton with Schumacher on seven world championships.

The century mark is another animal. Sixteen victories in ten years does not seem like much but Hamilton just turned 35 years old. How many seasons does he really have left in him?

Drivers are better conditioned to go into their 40s and I do not think that will be a problem for Hamilton but it is a stretch to think he will run the entire decade and race until he is 45 years old.

I think 41 years old is the point Hamilton makes his decision to call it career. I think he could call it sooner. I do not believe Hamilton is in this to chase records. I do think Hamilton could get to 92 or 93 victories and then decide his goal is 100 but if he hits a rough patch and has one or two years where he only wins once or twice he may call it career without getting 100 victories but with nothing left to prove.

Becoming the first driver with 100 grand prix victories is something that will hard not to chase. From what Hamilton has shown us he is a determined driver. He does not lose much motivation. Things have gone well with Mercedes. We do not know what the 2021 regulations will bring. We do not know where Hamilton could go. Will he remain with Mercedes or switch to Ferrari at some point?

Hamilton is so close I think he will get there regardless of whom he is driving for.

2. A non-Mercedes driver will win at least four championships
Mercedes ended the decade with six consecutive World Drivers' Champions and six consecutive World Constructors' Championships. Mercedes is penciled in to take both in 2020.

However, no rainstorm lasts forever. Someone in different overalls is going to breakthrough and it is going to happen multiple times.

The previous decade started with Red Bull winning four consecutive championships with Sebastian Vettel. The 2000s started with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari winning five consecutive championships. The rest of that decade saw Fernando Alonso and Renault win in 2005 and 2006, Lewis Hamilton and McLaren win in 2008 and Jenson Button take a stunning championship with Brawn in 2009.

The 1990s had Ayrton Senna win the first two world titles with McLaren. Williams followed with Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. Benetton followed with Schumacher for his first two titles. Williams won two more with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. McLaren closed the decade with a pair of title for Mika Häkkinen.

There are too many promising young riders in Formula One and it will not take moving to Mercedes for all of them to win a title. Max Verstappen has locked up a spot at Red Bull through 2023. He could win one or two titles. Charles Leclerc is going to figure it out and he will likely figure it out with Ferrari. When the new regulations are introduced maybe it sees Lando Norris carry McLaren back to the mountaintop or maybe Carlos Sainz, Jr. is the one to do it. Maybe Esteban Ocon becomes champion with Renault or perhaps Daniel Ricciardo will have that honor.

Don't forget, if Lewis Hamilton does leave Mercedes and wins a championship for Ferrari o for someone else that would help fulfill this prediction. Hamilton could win in 2020 and come 2021 and 20202 win with Ferrari and all of a sudden we are halfway to this prediction being fulfilled.

Let's not forget the countless young drivers in karting that we are not talking about but who will be in Formula One at some point this decade. The 2028 champion could be a complete unknown right now. It could be a kid who sat in a go-kart for the first time this past Christmas. That driver doesn't even know he or she is eight years away.

3. There will be at least four different World Drivers' Champions
To piggyback off that last prediction, there are too many talented drivers that will have to win a world championship at some point.

The 2010s had only three world champions: Hamilton, Vettel, Nico Rosberg.

That is going to change. It was a fluke of sorts. Hamilton will probably win one more. Verstappen and Leclerc feel like certain champions. If Hamilton leaves Mercedes or just has one bad start to a year Valtteri Bottas could carry the Mercedes flag. I think Norris could do it. I think Ricciardo could do it. Perhaps Vettel has a resurgence in his career. There are seven possible champions right there.

Let's not forget that a future champion might not even be on the horizon yet. Someone is going to rise. In 2010, no one was singing the praises of Leclerc, Norris and Verstappen and here we are. We do not know who will be the future of Formula One but someone will step up and fill it and someone has to be champion.

4. Sebastian Vettel has another team change in him
And this will happen sooner rather than later.

Vettel and Leclerc had a rough first season together. That could improve but I do not think this is something that can last more than two more seasons. Vettel bolted from Red Bull after one year where Ricciardo beat him in the championship after having taken the title in four consecutive seasons.

Leclerc could easily be the top Ferrari again in 2020. Not only could Leclerc be the top Ferrari but he could thoroughly rout Vettel. The 2019 season ended with Leclerc up 24 points on Vettel and scoring double the number of victories. The 2020 season could be one where Leclerc is third in the championship with three or four victories while Vettel is fifth with zero or one victory if he is lucky. Vettel is not going to stick with Ferrari in 2021 if that is the case.

I do not think Vettel will completely walk away from Formula One after Ferrari. It has been rumored. Bernie Ecclestone voiced that is what he thinks will happen but at the end of 2020 Vettel will be 33 years old. He will have too much time on his hands.

Where would he go?

With Verstappen locked up at Red Bull until 2023 that possible reunion will have to wait a little longer. If Hamilton bites and goes to Ferrari then I think Mercedes is a possibility. A downturn in results might sway Mercedes away from Vettel but Vettel is a four-time champion and third all-time in victories. Mercedes may decide to take its chances.

The new regulations could bring an unexpected team forward. Alfa Romeo could take a swing at Vettel. Kimi Räikkönen is not going to be there forever. It might be the Ferrari B-Team now but in two years it might be fighting with Ferrari. You have to think with the grand prix history Alfa Romeo has it would like to be fighting for victories and fighting to add to that glory established seven decades ago. Vettel could be the driver that brings Alfa Romeo back to the top of the grand prix world.

5. Mark Webber's record for most races before first victory is broken
Webber set this record at his 130th race when he won the 2009 German Grand Prix.

Currently, three active drivers have more than 130 races and have yet to win a grand prix. Nico Hülkenberg and Sergio Pérez each have 179 grand prix to their names and Romain Grosjean has 166 grand prix.

Hülkenberg does not have a ride for 2020 and at 32 years old with a large crop of youngsters already in Formula One and with more waiting to break in he may never make it back but you never know. Even if he does it likely will not be with a team favorited to get victories.

Grosjean seems to be closing to out the door. Haas really doesn't seem in love with him but are keeping him because they have no clue where to turn. No one else is going to give him a shot once he is done with Haas. It likely will not be Grosjean unless he has a very fortunate day in 2020 with Haas.

Pérez could do it. He is the one driver in average equipment that has gotten on the podium regularly. He will be 30 years old at the end of the month. Pérez could have one more move to a big team in him. If Vettel is out at Ferrari after 2020, and Hamilton decides to stay at Mercedes, Pérez would be the veteran to pair with Leclerc. Pérez will take a race victory here and there to being Leclerc's wingman.

If Vettel retires and Hamilton moves to Ferrari, Pérez would be a wise choice for Mercedes.

Those three aside, Carlos Sainz, Jr. set the record for most races before a first career podium in 2019. He has entered 102 races and has yet to win, it does not appear likely he will win in 2020, which means entering 2021 he could be on 124 races without a victory and McLaren will be returning to Mercedes-Benz engines for 2021. It would not be crazy if Sainz, Jr. won a race in the middle of 2021.

Kevin Magnussen has been in one more race weekend than Sainz, Jr. Magnussen will most likely not win a race in 2020 and he seems far-fetched he could win in 2021 but stranger things have happened.

Daniil Kvyat is on 95 races. He has some work to do but he could hang on for another two seasons and late in 2021 steal a victory. Maybe he is Leclerc's number two after Vettel leaves Ferrari.

Maybe the 2021 season is Leclerc's coming out party and the Monegasque driver wins nine races with Kvayt consistently finishing third to fifth but once we get to the 17th round when it is clear Leclerc will be champion Ferrari decides this race will be for Kvyat and Leclerc can settle for a good points haul in third and maybe that race is... I don't know... in Russia and... maybe a prominent world leader is there to hand the trophy to the race winner... and that race winner just happens to be the Russian Kvyat... and it would look good in the host country and that host country would be feel a lot of national pride seeing such an event occur that it would almost feel scripted.

It is just a wild conjuring of the mind. I am not saying it will happen but who is to say it could not happen?

6. Non-Big Three teams combine to win at least eight grand prix
Eight is a low number but Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Red Bull have combined to win 139 consecutive races.

The last victory not by one of those three teams was the 2013 Australian Grand Prix with Lotus and Kimi Räikkonen.

There were 198 Formula One races in the 2010s. Teams not named Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari and Red Bull combined to win 21 of them. The breakdown was five in 2010, six in 2011, ten in 2012 and one in 2013. McLaren won 18 of those 21 races. Lotus won twice. Williams won once.

Twenty-one of 198 races is only 10.6%. That is very low. We are probably going to exceed 198 races in the 2020s. The 2020 calendar is made up of 22 races. Liberty Media is keen on a 25-race schedule. I do not know when we will get there but we probably will get there. Figure that we average 23 races a season in the 2020s and we get 230 races total, 10.6% would be 24.38 races. Eight races would be 3.47%. Since 2013, the percentage is 0.714%.

Like I said before, something is going to change. Something has to change. We can have three dominant teams. There have been plenty of periods where there were only three dominant teams in Formula One but Formula One cannot continue with three teams winning 99.28% of the races over seven seasons.

Don't get me wrong, Formula One cannot have three teams combine to win 96.53% of the races but it would be a start and it is a low bar to clear. It is the bare minimum Formula One has to meet this decade. It shows progress, not good enough progress, but progress nonetheless.

7. There will be a change to the qualifying format
Every decade there is a qualifying change and it doesn't mean there is something wrong with the format.

Formula One changed the knockout format for two rounds in 2016. It was only two rounds but Formula One still changed it.

Qualifying is an easy thing to change and it is low risk. Yes, the 2016 change did not work, but it was worth a shot. You can toy with qualifying in hopes of mixing up the grid and improving the racing. Ultimately, if a qualifying format change is made, even if it is hated but at the end of a grand prix on Sunday people are talking about how great the race was people would come around to the qualifying change.

The prime candidate to be the next qualifying format is a reverse grid race. It has been floating out there for a few years and was prominently out there in 2019. It was even proposed to use reverse grid races for three rounds in 2020. I think we will see it at least once. Formula One will try it. I am not saying it is going to stick. I am not saying it is going to make it a full season. I am not saying reverse grid races will be introduced at the start of 2021 and make it all the way to 2030.

I say Formula One will try it once and if it fails we will be back to the knockout format that is beloved and we will all move on with our lives.

8. A new engine manufacture joins Formula One
This seems like something Formula One needs to happen. The only manufactures to join in the 2010s were Cosworth and Honda.

Cosworth returned in 2010 after it exited following the 2006 season only to exit again after 2013 when its teams were Williams for two seasons, the Tony Fernandes-led Lotus for a season, the floundering HRT program for three excruciatingly painful three seasons and the Virgin/Marussia outlet for four seasons.

Honda withdrew from Formula One after 2008 and was back in 2015 with McLaren, where it had three tumultuous seasons, but it has been with Toro Rosso for the last two years and in 2019 it paired with Red Bull and won two races.

Let me be clear, new does not mean completely new. It means new compared to the 2010s.

I am not sure any completely new manufacture will come in. I think it is a little too late for Kia or Hyundai to make an attempt. It either were to join Formula One it would have been done with Toyota in the 2000s and it would have corresponded with the Korean Grand Prix.

I do not think we will see a Chinese manufacture like Geely get into Formula One but a decade is a long time. Let's see how the world changes.

What manufactures could return?

Ford? No. I think it is too much money and it would not want to be a factory program but Ford will not see a team worry partnering with.

BMW? Perhaps but I think it is in the Formula E boat firmly and is going in the opposite direction of Formula One.

Porsche? Porsche has always been the manufacture with Formula One pedigree but never in Formula One. Similar to BMW, I think Porsche is in Formula E but I think it is more likely to see Porsche join Formula One in the 2020s than BMW. That doesn't mean I think it will happen but if you said one of these two will be in Formula One at some point in the next ten years I would take Porsche.

Aston Martin? Now there is a strong possibility. It already has the Red Bull connection and Red Bull and Honda are good now but Honda has been on the fence the last few years. The program is making strides but if feels like more has to be done in 2020 for Honda to stick around.

The other possibility with Aston Martin is Lawrence Stroll is rumored to be purchasing Aston Martin. Stroll owns part of Racing Point. Racing Point is a terrible team name. Racing Point becoming a factory Aston Martin program would be better for everyone involved. That might be the answer.

Now, Stroll has to purchase Aston Martin of course. Stroll would not be the first wealthy man to be linked to an automobile company not to buy it. In the early days of 2020, it is the most likely possibility.

9. Formula One visits four new countries
And we are not going to count Vietnam, which debuts in April.

In the 2010s, Formula One visited South Korea, India, Russia and Azerbaijan for the first time. The decade before that had five new countries join the Formula One schedule, Bahrain, China, Turkey, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

We are going to be running out of countries. Thirty-three countries will have hosted a Formula One grand prix once Vietnam takes place.

What are the options?

Let's consider countries that have tracks. Qatar has the Losail International Circuit and already hosts a MotoGP round. The Middle East has two races but should Bahrain fall off or the series want to expand to three Middle East races then Qatar is the number one option.

Finland has the KymiRing, which opened in August 2019 and will host MotoGP's Finnish Grand Prix in July. Finland has a rich history of Formula One world champions. The last 20 years has seen Formula One move away from European races but you never know what country could step into the role.

Thailand has a new driver on the Formula One grid and it has the Buriram International Circuit, which already draws 100,000 people for the Asian Le Mans Series. I think Thailand will host a Formula One race sooner rather than later, especially if Alexander Albon wins at Red Bull. It could be paired with Singapore at the start of the final third of the season or it could be paired with Vietnam. Or it could be a rotating round in a few years with either of those places.

Returning to the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been throwing around a lot of money of late. It hosted Race of Champions not long ago, it hosted the Formula E season opener the last two seasons and it currently hosts the Dakar Rally. I think there is too much money around for this not to happen at some point in the next decade. The Reem International Circuit opened in the late-2000s and though it has not hosted anything major other than Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East it could be upgraded or an entirely new multi-billion dollar track could grow out of the sands.

What are some crazier options?

For all the motorsports success, New Zealand has never hosted a Formula One grand prix. This is a stretch but the home of McLaren, Hulme, Dixon, Hartley, McLaughlin and Richards should host a grand prix on motorsports success alone. It needs a circuit upgraded or a new one constructed. That is unlikely to happen but it would be nice to see and it would be a nice place to open the season with Australia.

Indonesia seemed possible when Rio Haryanto was on the grid for 15 minutes. I still will not rule it out because Indonesia has a lot of people and it has a circuit, Sentul International Circuit, which once host GP2 Asia Series, A1GP and hosted MotoGP twice in 1996 and 1997.

Denmark was not long ago rumored to be a potential host of a Formula One race in Copenhagen. Like New Zealand, for all the motorsports success Denmark should host a grand prix but it is a smaller country. It is tough to find the room for a 2.8-mile circuit and a street course would be the easiest option but I am not sure the Danish streets are that accommodating to great racing action.

Now that Bernie Ecclestone is no longer in charge I think it is safe to say North Korea, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia are off the table but you never know with Liberty Media.

10. There will be an American grand prix winner
This is more of a pipe dream.

As we sit here in 2020, the last grand prix with an American driver winner was on August 27, 1978, when Mario Andretti won the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

This drought will likely make it to 42 years. It is extremely unlikely any American driver will have a Friday practice run in 2020 let alone start a race let alone be in a car capable of winning a grand prix.

Something will have to change. Could we really go more than a half a century between American grand prix winners? There has to be one driver that will breakthrough. A lot of American drivers have gone to Europe and been moderately successful. There has to be one driver that can go there, win in Formula Three, win in Formula Two and get with the right team at the right time to win one grand prix.

I am not talking about Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel number of victories I am talking about one race. I am talking about Pastor Maldonado levels of victories. I would be ecstatic to see Giancarlo Fisichella levels of victories for an American driver.

There has to be one driver that will set his or her sights on Formula One and make it. We have seen drivers try and hit a wall and returned to the United States to run IndyCar and that is fine. Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi are making a living in IndyCar. Graham Rahal is doing the same. There has to be one kid who is just going to do it, who will not quit and will force a Formula One team to sign him or her and then make it hard for anyone to let that driver go.

This is a dream because if we are going into 2030 with 51 years since an American won a grand prix that is going to hurt. There have been plenty of talent American drivers in the last 41 years but Formula One was not on their radar. They could make a living and a great living running domestically. That is not going to change. The United States will continue to have a healthy domestic scene and it will be difficult for Americans to leave their comfort zone but I believe there will be one driver who will take on the challenge and not give up until he or she has stood on the top step of a Formula One podium.

Two sets of predictions down and two to go and, coincidentally, we will head to the United States for the final two sets of predictions. Coming up next will be the NASCAR predictions. Please check out the sports car predictions for the 2020s.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Red Flag Rules

Unfortunately, we begin this Monday with heavy hearts after the death of Paulo Gonçalves in stage seven of the Dakar Rally. Gonçalves was 40 years old. The Portuguese rider was participating in his 13th Dakar Rally. His best Dakar Rally result was second in 2015 and he had won three stages in his Dakar Rally career. Stage 8 of the 2020 Dakar Rally has been cancelled for the bike and quad class.

Rain and the flooding that followed ended the Dubai 24 Hour after only seven hours and 17 minutes. In doing so, the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG of Khaled Al Qubaisi, Hubert Haupt, Ben Barker, Manuel Metzger and Jeroen Bleekemolen claimed the victory, the third Dubai 24 Hour victory for Al Qubaisi, Haupt and Bleekemolen, the fifth Dubai 24 Hour victory for Black Falcon and the fifth Dubai 24 Hour victory for Mercedes-AMG. Elsewhere in the world, Americans are looking great in the Dakar Rally, Australia hosted the Asian Le Mans Series for the first time, bikes were in St. Louis and Roger Penske is now officially the owner of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Red Flag Rules
We are still over two months away from the first IndyCar race of 2020 but we are starting to see a few rule changes and other possible rule changes trickle out of the offices in Indianapolis. None of the rule changes are all that seismic. We are not seeing the Pacer Light system returning or a points system change or a playoff introduced (but don't worry, that will come in 2021), but we are seeing little things tweaked and one that caught my eye the most is a possible change to red flag regulations.

IndyCar may be looking to change Rule, which states "Unapproved work performed on a Car not related to INDYCAR approved safety issues while under a Red Condition will result in a minimum two (2) lap penalty, which will be enforced in a manner determined by INDYCAR."

The proposed change would prohibit any work to vehicles under red flag conditions and any work done under a red flag condition could lead to expulsion from the race.

The most notable instance of cars receiving work under a red flag occurred at Pocono last year when Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe each had their cars repaired after the lap one accident that brought out a red flag for about 45 minutes. IndyCar decided these drivers would receive a ten-lap penalty for the repairs. All three cars continued and ran to the red flag for rain that ended the race. Rossi had completed 39 laps and was 18th, Hunter-Reay completed 25 laps and was 19th and Hinchcliffe rounded out the top twenty with 19 laps scored.

At Texas in 2017, Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand both were involved in an accident and received repairs under red flag conditions but both drivers only received a two-lap penalty. Carpenter and Hildebrand would finish 11th and 12th respectively that night.

The one reason for IndyCar potentially increasing the penalty is fairness. There is a big difference between getting a car repaired after a red flag on lap one, two or three and a car repaired after a red flag on lap 159 of 248 or lap 75 of 90. At Pocono, Rossi, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay could have conceivably returned to action and not missed a lap at all. Now, none of them were ready to join the race when the red flag condition was raised at Pocono but down the line it could be possible at another event.

The other reason is safety, which is the laziest reason of them all. You can say any change is done for safety reasons but that doesn't mean it gets to be free of criticism. I get the argument that people do not want damaged race cars that might not be up to the same structural integrity on track but IndyCar decides whether or not a car is allowed to return to the track. If a car is not fit to return than IndyCar will not allow it on track. If IndyCar says a car is good to go then it returns. If a car is on track then IndyCar has deemed it meets its safety standards to race. End of discussion.

The one question the proposed changes raise is should working on a car under red flag conditions really mean expulsion from a race? Need I remind everyone IndyCar still does not have it regulated that a car that fails post-race technical inspection be excluded from an event so that means IndyCar has greater leniency toward a car that does not meet the standards of the regulations than teams trying to fix a car and return to competition, but I digress, it seems a little extreme to completely throw a driver and car out of a race for work done under red flag conditions.

There was always a rule in place to dissuade teams from working under red flag conditions and in some cases teams decided the penalty was worth it. They would take whatever lap penalty was given. Most times teams do not work on their cars when under red flag conditions. At Pocono in 2018 when there was a red flag after only 11 laps none of the teams involved made repairs. The five cars involved in the red flag causing accident did not attempt to return.

The biggest difference between 2018 and 2019 was championship implications. Rossi had everything to fight for. He needed to get every point he could and sitting in the garage and accepting an 18th place result was not going to be good enough. Rossi ended up 18th anyway but he had completed the same number of laps as Spencer Pigot and if the red flag had come one lap later he would have finished 17th with one more point to his name. If the race had gone the full 500 miles he may have been 16th with two more points after Colton Herta's accident.

Breaking the rules and accepting the punishment added a twist to the Pocono race last year. It sucked to have five quality cars taken out before completing two corners and it took away from the competition at the front but the championship picture was still at play. Rossi was trying to stop the bleeding and he only lost 19 points that day to Newgarden. It could have been worse.

When considering the red flag rules it has always been the case that work on cars was verboten but no one has ever given a good reason why that is the case instead of just allowing everyone to work on their cars. If the conditions are equal to everyone than what is the problem?

We are also living in a different time period. Look, 2020 is not going to be that different from 2019, 2014 or 2010, and in a time period when IndyCar is suffocated out because of 20,000 different things in every day life from other sports to films, television shows and social media, IndyCar should want as many cars competing in a race as possible. That doesn't mean stopping a race and waiting for a driver to be able to return and that doesn't mean there shouldn't be a penalty if a team works on a car under red flag conditions if the rulebook expressly forbids it.

It does mean disqualifying cars might be too much of a knee-jerk reaction especially when teams that choose to skirt the rules and run a race to completion will not face as harsh of a penalty. I get that other teams that were not involved in the Pocono accident last year might not have like that the teams of Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe got to work on their cars while the rest of them had to sit there on pit lane but IndyCar did punish those three cars. Those teams got ten-lap penalties.

Down the road, if one of those teams were on the other side of the pit wall during a red flag they could choose to do the same. They can weigh the consequences and decide whether or not it is worth it. Power to those if they decide the punishment is worth it and power to those who decide not to take a penalty and work when yellow flag conditions return.

This rule change is likely to happen and it will likely not be challenged. Teams will accept the stricter punishment. They will accept not being allowed to work under red flag conditions because disqualification is worse than waiting but IndyCar does not need stricter punishments especially when it seems the punishments in place are already working.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Dubai 24 Hour but did you know...

The #26 G-Drive Racing Aurus-Gibson of James French, Romain Rusinov and Léonard Hooenboom won the 4 Hours of The Bend. The #2 Nielsen Racing Norma-Nissan of Colin Noble and Anthony Wells won in LMP3. The #7 CarGuy Racing Ferrari of Kei Cozzolino, Takeshi Kimura and Côme Ledogar won in the GT class.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross race from St. Louis, his first Supercross victory since San Diego 2017.

Dakar Rally Update:

After seven stages, American Ricky Brabec leads the Bike class by 24 minutes and 48 seconds over Chilean Pablo Quintanilla.

American Casey Currie leads the UTV class by 32 minutes and three seconds over Chilean Francisco López.

Carlos Sainz leads the Car class by ten minutes over the defending Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah.

Ignacio Casale has a 36-minute and 43-second lead over Simon Vitse in the Quad class.

Andrey Karginov has a 21-minute and 12-second lead over fellow Russian Anton Shibalov in the Truck class.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Dakar Rally concludes.
Formula E is back for round two of the 2019-20 season in Santiago, Chile.
Supercross is back in Anaheim for the second time in three weeks.
The Chili Bowl is back with a slew of talented drivers from all forms of motorsports gathering in Tulsa, Oklahoma.