Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Five: Austin, Estoril, Talladega, Surfers Paradise, Phillip Island

Every thing is bigger this weekend. Three endurance races, a superspeedway and a grand prix take place this weekend. Two championships will be decided in Portugal. Teammates go at it in Texas and Queensland. Meanwhile, the fight is for second in MotoGP as its Asia-Pacific trip takes the series south to the home of Casey Stoner and Jack Miller.

United States Grand Prix
The two Mercedes drivers head to Circuit of the Americas as the final two drivers standing for the World Drivers' Championship. Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points over Lewis Hamilton after his victory at Suzuka. Rosberg's 2016 season has been a year of firsts as the German has scored his first victories at Bahrain, Sochi, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, Singapore and Suzuka. His victory at Melbourne was his second at the track and he won the maiden race in Baku. Rosberg has never won at Circuit of the Americas and has finished second from pole position at the track the last two years. He retired in the inaugural Austin race and finished ninth in 2013.

Hamilton heads to Austin as the winner of the last two United States Grand Prix and has won three of four races held at Austin with his worst finish being fourth. Hamilton has eight podiums in his last nine races with his engine failure at Sepang being the only blip in that span. Rosberg has seven podiums in the last nine races. Hamilton and Rosberg have both won eight pole positions this season but the British driver has started on pole position at Austin as all three of his victories have come from second on the grid and his worst starting position at the track is fifth.

With 100 points remaining on the table in the Formula One season, Daniel Ricciardo trails Nico Rosberg by 101 points and is just out of championship contention. After finishing on the podium in the 2014 race, Ricciardo finished tenth last year at Austin. He is 52 points clear of Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn has failed to score points the last two years at Austin. He missed the 2013 race due to a back injury and finished sixth in 2012. Räikkönen is five points ahead of Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel. Verstappen is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes while Vettel has finished on the podium in three of four Austin appearances.

Valterri Bottas sits on 81 points, one ahead of Sergio Pérez. Nico Hülkenberg sits on 54 points, 11 ahead of Felipe Massa, who sits tenth in the championship a point ahead of Fernando Alonso. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has failed to score points in the last six races but he is 12th in the championship with 30 points. Romain Grosjean leads Haas F1 into it's first home race having not scored a point in the last two races and two points behind Sainz, Jr. Daniil Kvyat trails Grosjean by 3 points and Jenson Button rounds out the top fifteen on 19 points.

Kevin Magnussen has seven points while Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne all have one points. Esteban Gutiérrez, Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Esteban Ocon are all looking for their first points of 2016.

The United States Grand Prix will be at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

4 Hours of Estoril
The final round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series takes place at Estoril and two of the three class championships are still up for grabs.

Mathias Beche and Pierre Thiriet of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan lead the three-horse race for the LMP2 championship with 92 points. Beche and Thiriet have three victories this season and finished third in the most recent race at Spa-Francorchamps. Ryō Hirakawa has run four of the five previous races in the #46 Oreca-Nissan after missing the teams victory at Circuit Paul Ricard and will be in the car this weekend for the finale.

Fourteen points behind the Swiss-French duo is the #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell. The Anglo-Dutch trio won the season opener at Silverstone and finished on the podium in the following two races but has finished fifth at Circuit Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps. Stefano Coletti and Andreas Wirth of the #32 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan are still alive for the title but trail by 24 points. They finished second at Silverstone and Circuit Paul Ricard. Vitaly Petrov returns for the second consecutive race as the third driver in the #32 BR01.

Two British teams are vying for the GTE championship.

The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith has won the last three races and finished fourth at Imola and led the championship with 93 points. Twenty points behind the JMW Motorsport Ferrari is the #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard. The #99 Aston Martin won the season opener at Silverstone but the teams only other podium was a third at Circuit Paul Ricard.

The LMP3 championship has already been locked up by the #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England. The #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Paul Petit, Eric Trouillet and Enzo Guibbert has won the last two LMP3 races.

The 4 Hours of Estoril starts at 8:27 a.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway marks the final race of the second round of the Chase. Kevin Harvick joined Jimmie Johnson in the semifinal round after the Stewart-Haas Racing driver won at Kansas. Johnson leads on points with 3,082 after finishing fourth at Kansas, his fourth consecutive top ten finish. He is eight points ahead of Matt Kenseth, who has finished in the top ten in all five Chase races. Kyle Busch has 3,072 points and like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth has finished in the top ten in all five Chase races.

Carl Edwards has 3,069 points after finishing second at Kansas. That second place finish was Edwards' first top five finish since he finished second at Kentucky in July. Edwards hasn't had consecutive top five finishes since he won at Bristol and Richmond in April. Kurt Busch has yet to finish in the top ten on an odd-numbered Chase race but he has 3,062 points and four points ahead of Martin Truex, Jr., who has yet to finish in the top ten in round two after winning two of the first three Chase races and finishing seventh in the other.

Harvick has 3,048 points and three points behind him are Joey Logano and Austin Dillon for the eighth and final transfer spot. Logano currently holds the tiebreaker with his third-place finish at Kansas over Dillon's sixth at Kansas. Denny Hamlin is six points behind Logano and Dillon while Brad Keselowski trails by seven points. Keselowski had three top five finishes and his worst finish was seventh in the first four Chase races before an accident ended his day at Kansas. Chase Elliott is 25 points out after two consecutive finishes outside the top thirty.

Keselowski leads all Chase drivers with four Talladega victory with his most recent coming this May and has the best average finish of the Chase drivers with at least three Talladega starts at 13.9. Elliott finished fifth in his Talladega debut in May from pole position. Dillon has never led a lap at Talladega but he scored his career best finish at the track in May when he finished third. Logano won last year's Chase race at Talladega but he had finished outside the top twenty in eight of 15 starts and he has finished outside the top thirty five times at the track. Kurt Busch leads all active drivers with most starts at Talladega without a victory. Kurt Busch will be making his 32nd start at the track.

The 500-mile race from Talladega will be at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

Gold Coast 600
Shane Van Gisbergen holds the Supercars championship lead with 2,524 points and the New Zealander and Alexandre Prémat have finished second in both endurance races held. Despite the two runner-up finishes, the Red Bull Racing Australia pairing does not lead the Enduro Cup standings as Tekno Autosports and Bathurst winners Will Davison and Jonathon Webb lead that championship with a third in Sandown on top of their Bathurst victory. Van Gisbergen and Webb won the first race of the Gold Coast 600 each of the last two seasons. Davison is fourth in the championship, 412 points behind Van Gisbergen.

Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell had their Bathurst appeal denied as the duo looked to have the 15-second penalty that dropped them from victory to 11th in the final race standings reversed. Whincup trails his teammate in the Supercars championship by 139 points. Craig Lowndes makes it a sweep of the top three for the Red Bull Racing Australia trio and he is 319 points behind Van Gisbergen. Lowndes and co-driver Steven Richards are coming off a 16th-place finish at Bathurst. Whincup leads all drivers with four victories at Surfers Paradise since the endurance-era began in 2009. Lowndes has one victory on the Gold Coast.

Scott McLaughlin trails Van Gisbergen by 440 points as the Volvo driver and his co-driver David Wall look to bounce back after their retirement at Bathurst. Defending Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom is 616 points behind Van Gisbergen. He and Dean Canto's best finish in the first two endurance race is 23rd. Winterbottom hasn't finished on the podium in the last six races. He has two victories at Surfers Paradise with the most recent coming in 2011. Chaz Mostert sits on 1,853 points as he looks for his first victory with Rod Nash Racing and Steve Owen joins him in the #55 Ford. Twenty-nine points behind Mostert is Tim Slade and Slade's co-driver will be Ashley Walsh.

Michael Caruso sits on 1,818 points and the Nissan driver shares his seat with Dean Fiore. Fabian Coulthard is 110 points behind Caruso and the Penske driver rounds out the top ten in the championship. He and Luke Youlden have finished sixth in both endurance races this season. Holden Racing Team drivers James Courtney and Garth Tander are the final two drivers mathematically eligible for the championship. Their co-drivers are Jack Perkins and Warren Luff respectively.

Race one Surfers Paradise will be at 11:55 p.m. ET on Friday October 21st. The second race will be at 12:25 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
Marc Márquez has already locked up the MotoGP world championship but the Spaniard looks for his sixth victory of 2016 and his second consecutive victory at Phillip Island. Should Márquez win in Australia, it would be his third consecutive victory in 2016 and it would be his longest winning streak since he won ten consecutive to start the 2014 season.

The battle for second in the championship will be between the Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi has 196 points, 14 clear of his teammate. Prior to his retirement at Motegi, Rossi had finished on the podium in four consecutive races. Lorenzo had finished on the podium in two consecutive races before his fall at Motegi. Márquez, Rossi and Lorenzo have won the last three Australian Grand Prix.

Maverick Viñales scored his third podium of the season at Motegi and the Suzuki rider sits fourth in the championship on 165 points. Viñales is ten points clear of Dani Pedrosa, who will miss the Australian round due to a collarbone injury suffered at Motegi. Nicky Hayden returns to the factory Honda team as Pedrosa's substitute. Hayden finished 15th at Aragón substituting for Jack Miller. Hayden's last race with the factory Honda team was the 2008 Valencian Community Grand Prix, where he finished fifth. All three of Hayden's podiums at Phillip Island came riding for Honda. He finished second in the 2005 race behind Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso finished second at Motegi, his third runner-up finish this season and he has 124 points, eight ahead of Cal Crutchlow. Pol Espargaró is ten points behind Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone has missed the last three races due to a T3 vertebra fracture and is ten points behind Pol Espargaró. Héctor Barberá rounds out the top ten in the championship with 84 points, two ahead of Aleix Espargaró. Barberá replaces Iannone on the factory Ducati for the second consecutive race.

The Australian motorcycle Grand Prix will be at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

1. Over or Under: 12.5 cars finishing on the lead lap in the United States Grand Prix?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 British drivers winning across the three classes at Estoril?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 cautions that involve Chase drivers at Talladega?
4. Over or Under: 15.5 lead changes between the two races at Surfers Paradise?
5. Over or Under: 14.5 on the starting grid for Nicky Hayden at Phillip Island?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Three riders were within ten seconds of Motegi winner Marc Márquez.
2. Over: The #67 Ford won GTE-Pro and completed 212 laps.
3. Under: There were two Toyotas in the top seven at Kansas (Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch).
4. Over: Marco Wittmann and Timo Glock finished in the top ten of the DTM championship.
5. Over: Nicky Hayden scored 26 points at Jerez.

1. Haas F1 scores points at its home race of Austin.
2. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan finishes ahead of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan in the race.
3. At least one driver outside the top twenty of the championship gets a top ten finish at Talladega.
4. Holden does not sweep the Gold Coast 600 for the third consecutive season.
5. A rider running in the top five falls in turn four at Phillip Island.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Marc Márquez does not clinch the championship but he increases his lead over Valentino Rossi (Wrong and Correct. Márquez did clinch and he increased his lead over Rossi).
2. A team gets its first victory of 2016 at Fuji (Correct. The #6 Toyota, #26 G-Drive and #67 Ford all got their first victories of 2016).
3. None of the cautions at Kansas involve Chase driver front on Chase driver rear contact (Wrong. Denny Hamlin got into the back of Brad Keselowski but it was intentional).
4. One of the three championship contenders wins a race at Hockenheim (Correct. Edoardo Mortara won the second race from Hockenheim).
5. Both World Superbike and World Supersport championships are clinched at Jerez (Wrong and Correct. Jonathan Rea fell two points shy of clinching the WSBK title. Kenan Sofuoglu did clinch the WSS title).
Last Week: 3/5 Overall: 9/20

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2016 Season

We covered one-fourth of the Andretti Autosport team on Tuesday. Here are the other three-quarters of the team.

Carlos Muñoz was the top Andretti Autosport driver in 2016 and his reward might be the door
Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian started his fourth season of IndyCar with an unimpressive eighth-place finish at St. Petersburg. Normally you say eighth is unimpressive if a driver was on top all weekend but Muñoz's pinball maneuver in turn three took out a few cars. At Phoenix, he had an accident in qualifying that forced him to start 21st and he would finish 22nd after an accident just prior to the halfway point. Long Beach was a good step forward for Muñoz as he started 10th and finished 12th. However, Long Beach was followed by a mediocre 15th at Barber.

An early spin in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis set Muñoz back but he recovered to finish 12th. On the oval, Muñoz started in the middle of the second row and while he didn't dominate the race like his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, he was up front all day and while some stretched fuel, Muñoz found himself as the front-runner of those who took a splash of fuel but he couldn't chase down Alexander Rossi and finished second in the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career. He followed his runner-up finish with another fifth-place start in the first Belle Isle race and he finished sixth. The second race he started 13th and finished 15th despite trying to go off-strategy.

He started and finished tenth at Road America, a race where he wasn't really a factor. At Iowa, Muñoz was just one of three Andretti cars mired in the back of the field but he finished 12th. He wasn't much of a factor at Toronto and a flat tire didn't help his day at all leaving him in 17th. After a rough July, Muñoz caught a break at Mid-Ohio where he pitted just before the Scott Dixon caution and vaulted himself up to the front of the field, where he would finish third.

Pocono was another really good day for Muñoz as he started fifth and ran in and around the top five all day but fell to seventh. He started on pole position for Texas and in June he led the first 37 laps but when the race restarted in August, Muñoz was never a factor but ended up finishing in seventh position. He didn't have the speed at Watkins Glen but went off strategy, led a few laps and ended up finishing 11th. He ended the season with an uninspiring 15th at Sonoma.

Carlos Muñoz's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (432 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 50
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.8125

The 2016 season was another rough one for Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American's 2016 season started much better than his 2015 season. He qualified fifth at St. Petersburg and ran at the front all day and ended up finishing third in what is his de facto home race. Phoenix doesn't look that great on paper as he finished 10th after starting 12th but he gained five positions on the start, made up two spots on every restarted and if it weren't for being caught on pit lane twice when cautions came, he would have had a top five and maybe a podium finish. At Long Beach, he qualified 11th but the setup sent him backward in the race and he ended up 18th. Ironically, he started 18th at Barber and finished 11th.

He went from 15th to 7th in the first turn at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis thanks to a few cars getting together and running wide. He ultimately settled for a ninth-place finish. Hunter-Reay was one of the top drivers the entire month of May and he started on the outside of the front row. He dominated in the race leading 52 of the first 120 laps but contact with teammate Townsend Bell while leaving the pit lane ended his hopes of a second Indianapolis 500 victory and he finished two laps down in 24th. He had a hard fought seventh in the first race at Belle Isle and he started second and finished third in the second race.

Hunter-Reay was around the top five all day at Road America and he was rewarded with a fourth-place finish. When the calendar turned to July, unlike 2015 where Hunter-Reay hit the ground running and made up ground, the bottom fell out. He had an engine failure at Iowa just a third of the way into the race. At Toronto, he started 18th, had contact with Charlie Kimball force a wing change, had to make another wing change and ended up finishing 12th. At Mid-Ohio, he started fourth, was in the top ten all day and the crew didn't get the car filled on the final pit stop, forcing Hunter-Reay to conserve and drop to 18th.

A practice accident at Pocono kept Hunter-Reay from qualifying and forced him to start 22nd. Despite the set back he charged to the lead by lap 49 and was a contender until he hit a glitch just within the final 100 miles of the race. He fell a lap down but a caution and a wave around got him back on the lead lap and he went from 12th to third in the final 20 laps. He was in position for a top ten at Watkins Glen but like Mid-Ohio had to save fuel and dropped to 14th. He qualified sixth at Sonoma and was in the top ten all race before finishing fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 12th (428 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 97
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.9375

Marco Andretti's 2016 season wasn't much to brag about
Marco Andretti
I am going to be frank on Marco Andretti because it wasn't a great year. It wasn't a terrible year and I am not a part of the mob who thinks Andretti should be banished from IndyCar because at 29 years old (yeah, he isn't even 30 yet) he hasn't lived up to a segment's expectations that he would be a mix of his grandfather and father.

He had a really good run at St. Petersburg as he went from 14th to eighth early only to lose it all in an ambitious move on Luca Filippi and that kind of set the precedent for his season. After that 15th-place finish in the opener, he started 11th and finished 13th at Phoenix as he couldn't break into the top ten and pass cars like Hunter-Reay. He finished 19th after starting last at Long Beach. He went from 19th to 12th at Barber.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw another 19th-place start and another 15th-place finish. In the Indianapolis 500, Andretti started 14th but was in the top ten for a good chunk of the race before a pit stop where the team put right side tires on the left side and left side tires on the right and caused him to fall like a rock as all he could do was hold on because the balance was off. He recovered for a 13th-place finish. He was not a factor in the first Belle Isle race as he finished 16th but went from 22nd to ninth in the second race.

Road America saw him go 21st to 12th. At Iowa, he started 19th and finished 14th and he went from 22nd to tenth at Toronto after being in the right spot when the caution came out for Josef Newgarden's accident. Mid-Ohio was another race where Andretti started on the 11th row and he finished 13th. He had three consecutive 12th-place finishes at Pocono, Texas and Watkins Glen. Sonoma was the location of his best finish of the season, eighth-place from 14th on the grid.

Andretti was running at the finish of every race and completed 2,062 of 2,070 laps.

Marco Andretti's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (339 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.5
Average Finish: 12.8125

This wasn't a great season for Andretti Autosport and I don't think the 1-2 finish at Indianapolis 500 makes up for it all that much. It wasn't a terrible season when you consider how poor Honda was and Andretti Autosport had three of the top four Honda drivers. Carlos Muñoz appears to be on his way out and while that is unfortunate, sometimes that is how sports works. How many times have coaches come off a good season or had a stretch of playoff appearances and still get fired? Muñoz has a place in IndyCar and in someway he should be at Andretti Autosport in 2017 but a move for him could be beneficial.

You have to think Andretti Autosport will rebound. It is hard to believe Ryan Hunter-Reay will go winless for a second consecutive season. The team has brought in some big names on the engineering side with Eric Bretzman moving over from Chip Ganassi Racing's NASCAR operation and Jeremy Milless moving over from Ed Carpenter Racing. They have also lost some big names as Craig Hampson reunites with Sébastien Bourdais at Dale Coyne Racing and Tom German might also be moving to a new team for 2017. It is a lame-duck season with the aero kit development freezing and the universal kit being introduced in 2018 but maybe the new technical team at Andretti Autosport can find the speed to get the cars to the front.

Who could jump in and get results right away for Andretti Autosport? Conor Daly had a good rookie season. Juan Pablo Montoya is still out there but I think he doesn't want to take his chances with a Honda team unless it is the familiar surroundings of Chip Ganassi Racing (remember, Andretti Autosport was reportedly the first team interested in bringing Montoya to IndyCar for 2014). Takuma Sato is out there but maybe you take a pass regardless of how much money he brings. J.R. Hildebrand has done nothing but jump into a car and gotten results since being dubiously sacked by Panther Racing in the middle of 2013, plus Hildebrand would probably have some experience working with Milless.

The key thing for Andretti Autosport is not to overthink it because that seems to be what the team has done the last two seasons.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti-Herta Autosport's 2016 Season

The midway point of IndyCar team reviews looks at the partnership between Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport. The 11th-hour, shotgun wedding got Alexander Rossi on the IndyCar grid. It ended up being a beautiful friendship and one of the few bright spots for a team that had a trying year and probably didn't get the results they were looking for.

Alexander Rossi's rookie year wasn't that bad
Alexander Rossi
The California-native moved to IndyCar from Formula One and Manor Marussia F1. His debut was a run of the mill debut. He started 18th but kept his nose out of harms way and worked his way to 12th, the top rookie finisher. Phoenix was his first oval race and he was in contention for a top ten finish until he had to stop to top off for fuel and then brushed the barriers exiting turn four to bring out the final caution of the race and dropping him to 14th. Long Beach was a terrible race for all the Andretti cars and Rossi was the worst of the four in 20th. He had a great start at Barber but faded to 15th.

His first month of May started with an impressive run in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Rossi forced Will Power into a mistake that caused the Australian to spin off track. He would finish tenth and pick up fastest lap of the race on his way to his first career top ten finish. We all remember Rossi's incredible conservation run to victory in the Indianapolis 500 but he was respectably fast all month and started 11th, he ran fastest lap in the race and probably ran the slowest green flag lap as well. The following week he needed to conserve fuel again just to finish tenth at Belle Isle. In the second race of the doubleheader he finished 12th.

Rossi was quick at Road America but a caution in qualifying forced him to start 16th and contact in the race forced him to change his front wing and instead of a top ten finish, he finished 15th. At Iowa, Rossi carried the Andretti flag and went from 17th to sixth with the help from some cautions. Toronto was a rough weekend for Rossi where he didn't feature much, started 19th and finished 16th. Rossi made the second round of qualifying for the first time in his career at Mid-Ohio but couldn't pick up the pace in the race and finished 14th.

He started seventh at Pocono and was running at the front until he, Charlie Kimball and Hélio Castroneves came together in the pit lane ruining all three of their races and ending Rossi's chance of doubling down on 500-mile race victories in his rookie season. Rossi's car was a bucking bronco at Texas but he held on and finished 11th. Rossi worked his way into the top ten at Watkins Glen after starting 15th and had to conserve fuel again but finished eighth. He had his best starting position on a road/street course at Sonoma in eighth and jumped into the top five early. He would have finished fourth had he not ran out of fuel coming to the start/finish line and only to drop to fifth but he was comfortable took the honor of Rookie of the Year.

Alexander Rossi's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 11th (430 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 23
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.375
Average Finish: 11.8125

If Andretti Autosport can pick up its game in 2017, I am really looking forward to seeing what Rossi can do. He did everything we expected from him in his rookie season. He had a handful of top tens, he had a few really good races, he ended up on the cusp of a top ten finish in the championship and he ended up winning the Indianapolis 500. He improved throughout the season and a second year on all these tracks in hopefully an improve car could see him definitely in the top ten of the championship if not in the championship discussion.

For a driver who expressed trepidation of racing on ovals, Rossi looked like a guy who grew up on them. He did really well at Phoenix and if you forget the victory for a second and just look at what Rossi did in practice and qualifying, he was easily the top rookie all month and one of the top ten drivers all month. He was a bit out of his element at Texas but managed and got a respectable finish. Iowa was a great for him and outside of the pit lane pile-up he appeared to be a contender for at least the podium at Pocono.

Rossi seems to have settled for life in the United States. Formula One may never call again but he had a good career in Europe. He won a handful of races across the top junior series. He got five Formula One starts and was respectable for a bad team in all five. He even got a Le Mans start. Rossi could still have a full career and be an IndyCar driver, the likes of Scott Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud are proof of that. He was in the rumor mill for a ride with Penske with Josef Newgarden. He already has everyone's attention in IndyCar. He could win at Andretti Autosport but it is good to know that the best are interested. I am not saying he could be on his way to re-writing the IndyCar record books but he seems to have found solid ground for what could be a long career in his native land.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is Anyone Working On It?

Marc Márquez clinched his third MotoGP world championship after victory at Honda's house while both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo fell while running second. Another team won in its own house. A Turk won another title. A German won another title. A Frenchman won another title. A Welshman is on fire. Alex Zanardi won the finale of the Italian GT Championship season in his return weekend to racing after taking over a year off to focus his training for the Paralympics. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is Anyone Working On It?
The fifth anniversary of the death of Dan Wheldon passed this weekend. It is an accident that will go down as a marker in IndyCar history of when pack racing on mile-and-a-half ovals had to be addressed after almost a decade of finger-crossing and sighs of relief when the likes of Kenny Bräck and Ryan Briscoe survived flights though left race track in ambulances.

That day seemed to last a week and that week seemed to last a day. The accident happened so early that we waited and we waited and we waited. The championship was already decided after Will Power was involved but 188 laps remained in the IndyCar season and in the single-engine, IR07-era and there were still about 20 cars with all four wheels intact. It just seemed inevitable the race would never be restarted even though a façade was erected saying otherwise. After the announcement and the cancellation and the tribute laps and the sunset, it is all kind of a blur. It ended up being the final IndyCar appearances for Danica Patrick, Davey Hamilton, Vitor Meira, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, Alex Lloyd and Buddy Rice. Some drivers had to go to Australia. Some drivers were planning to go to a funeral. Some drivers decried IndyCar racing on ovals and most of those drivers didn't race in IndyCar. Some drivers decried the catch fences.

We all wondered what could have been done to prevent the accident. How could packs be broken up? How could the cars be kept on the ground? How could driver protection improve? How could catch fences be made better?

Breaking up the pack wasn't that difficult as all it required was different aero regulations and a degrading tire. The changes in aero regulations and wheel guards, though wheel guards have been met with hostility, have kept the cars on planet Earth and for the most part prevented cars from somersaulting over one another after wheel-to-wheel contact. We are making progress on protecting drivers through some type of windscreen/canopy/halo device but the one aspect of Wheldon's accident where it appears to have zero development since the accident is catch fencing.

Catch fencing was a sticking point after Wheldon's accident after it was found that his head trauma came after his head struck a pole that was located on the inside of the fence itself and not on the outside. It led to a very public war of words between drivers, notably Oriol Servià, and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. Since those bitter days within the year of the accident, all has gone quiet on the development of catch fences. Within that first year we all expected someone to take the reigns and lead the charge in catch fence development the same way Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Dr. Dean Sickling, then working at the University of Nebraska.

However, five years later with no reported improvements, no reports of prototyped designs being tested, no track with a massive press conference announcing it has taken the baton of motorsports safety development and is setting the standard going forward, I have to ask: Is anyone working on a new and improved catch fence?

I thought we would have heard something by now considering it has been five years. Safety developments take time. It took four years for the SAFER barrier to reach its full potential. The PEDS barrier debuted in 1998 but showed its flaws and the SAFER barrier's introduction in 2002 addressed those issues and 14 years late SAFER barriers are as unnoticeable at a race track as the snow cone vendors. But it feels we haven't even reached the PEDS level of catch fence development and the biggest reason is money. In a 2012 Autoweek article, Dr. Sickling estimated that it would take $100 million to research a new catch fence design. Bricks of money aren't raining down on motorsports. Budgets are getting tighter and tighter and there isn't uniformity over the issue. While catch fences are a concern for IndyCar, they are less of a concern for the FIA and NASCAR, even though in recent history car have frequently gotten into the catch fences at Daytona and Talladega.

The only way advancements in catch fence development will be made is if all parties pitch in together for a change. Ideally, the next-generation of catch fences wouldn't grab a car and tear it to bits but let a car glide along while not shredding it like cheddar, keeping the debris from spreading across the race track and potentially getting into the grandstand. That catch fence would not only benefit IndyCar but NASCAR as it wasn't that long ago 30 spectators were injured after Kyle Larson got into the catch fence in the tri-oval at Daytona.

Motorsports will never be 100% safe and a lot of improvements have been made since Dan Wheldon's accident but there are still a few areas that are lacking and the catch fence is one of those areas. It isn't an impossible fix but it will take cooperation. While $100 million is a lot of money, it is absolutely worth it if it means keeping drivers and spectators safe.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez but did you know...

Kenan Sofuoglu clinched his fifth World Supersport championship and second consecutive with a victory on Sunday at Jerez.

Marco Wittmann won his second Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship with a second-place and fourth-place finishes at Hockenheimring.

Sébastien Ogier clinched his fourth consecutive World Rally Drivers' Championship with victory in Rally de Catalunya.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Márquez, Sofuoglu and Ogier but did you know...

The #6 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin won the Six Hours of Fuji. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Alex Brundle and Will Stevens won in LMP2. The #67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

Thomas Lüthi won his third Moto2 race of the season at Motegi. Enea Bastianini jumped to second in the Moto3 championship with victory at Motegi.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race at Kansas. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Miguel Molina and Edoardo Mortara split the DTM races at Hockenheimring.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races at Jerez.

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix takes place at Circuit of the Americas.
MotoGP heads to Phillip Island.
NASCAR's second round of the Chase ends at Talladega.
The European Le Mans Series season wraps up in Estoril.
Supercars run two races around Surfers Paradise.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Five: Motegi, Fuji, Kansas, Hockenheim, Jerez

One championship will be awarded this weekend and another four could be claimed but will need a bit of work, luck or some combination of the two. There is a mixture between past champions looking to making another addition to their trophy cases and drivers looking for their first piece of silverware.

Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix
MotoGP begins its three week Asia-Pacific trip at Twin Ring Motegi and with 100 points left on the table, five riders enter the Honda-owned track still alive for the 2016 championship but the title could be wrapped up this weekend.

Honda's Marc Márquez is coming off his fourth victory of the season at Aragón and has 248 points, 52 points ahead of Valentino Rossi. If Márquez wins at Motegi and Rossi finishes 14th or worse, Márquez will clinch his third MotoGP world championship. Márquez has yet to win at Motegi in the MotoGP class and he has not won at the track since in Moto2 in 2012. He leads all riders with ten podium finishes this season and has finished in the top five in 13 of 14 races. Rossi is a four-time winner at Motegi in MotoGP but has not won there since 2008. Rossi enters with four consecutive podium finishes.

Defending champion Jorge Lorenzo trails Márquez by 66 points and he has won three times at Motegi, including two of the last three races and in eight MotoGP starts he has six podium finishes and his worst finish at the track is fourth. Last year's Motegi winner Dani Pedrosa trails his teammate by 93 points. Pedrosa is also a three-time Motegi winner. Maverick Viñales trails Márquez by 99 points and has finished second at the track three times in five starts since his 125cc rookie season in 2009. He retired from last year's race after an accident.

The Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix takes place at 2:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 16th.

Six Hours of Fuji
The antepenultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship takes place in Toyota's backyard of Fuji Speedway. The #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 130 points from six races. The #2 Porsche won two of the first three races and finished second in the other but has finished fourth in the last three races since winning Le Mans.

The #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval trails the #2 Porsche by 37.5 points and the team is coming off its fourth podium of the season at Circuit of the Americas. The #6 Toyota of Stéphane Sarrazin, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway has not won this season but four podiums, including finishing third in the last two races has that trio a half-point behind the #8 Audi. The defending champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brandon Hartley trail its teammate by 51.5 points but has won the last three rounds. The #7 Audi of André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler are a half-point behind the #1 Porsche despite having only one podium finish. Third driver Benoît Tréluyer has missed the last two rounds due to injury but is slated to return. The #5 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson has only 21 points from six races and has yet to finish on the podium.

Four teams are still alive for the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. The #36 Signatech-Alpine of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi has 156 points after winning four of six races, finishing second and fourth and could clinch the championship this weekend. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González trails by 41 points and the trio has won two races and has four podium finishes. Romain Rusinov sits on 86 points after three points this season and the Russian driver will be joined by Will Stevens and Alex Brundle in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan. The #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Pipo Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming has 84 points and has four podiums this season. The team is still looking for its first victory in the WEC.

Danish drivers Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen lead the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers with he 109 points and the #95 Aston Martin is coming off victory in Austin and has five podiums this season. Twelve points behind the Danes is the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird. Rigon and Bird won the first two races. Darren Turner is a point behind Rigon and Bird and the #97 Aston Martin driver will be joined by Richie Stanaway at Fuji. They were victorious at Mexico City. Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado have scored 80 points in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and has finished on the podium in the last three races, including victory at Nürburgring.

Since winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Ford GTs best finish has been fourth. Le Mans winners Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla have 73 points in the #66 Ford. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell has scored 54.5 points but will not be joined by Marino Franchitti in the #67 Ford after he contested the first six races. A half-point behind the #67 Ford is the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Michael Kristensen and Richard Leitz, whose best finish this season is fourth.

The #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas lead the World Endurance Trophy for LMGTE Drivers with 137 points. They have won or finished second in five races this season and Austin was the first race they didn't finish in the top two after finishing sixth. The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche of David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi trails by 33 points. Patrick Long will be the third driver in the #88 Porsche this weekend. The #98 Aston Martin has won three of six races but has retired from two of three including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda trail the #83 AF Corse Ferrari by 41 points.

The Six Hours of Fuji begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday October 15th.

Kansas Speedway
The second race of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup will take place at Kansas Speedway. Eleven drivers are vying for seven spots.

Jimmie Johnson earned a spot in the semifinal round of the Chase with his victory at Charlotte last Sunday. It was Johnson's third victory of the season but first since Fontana in March. Matt Kenseth finished second at Charlotte and picked up his third consecutive top five finish. He sits on 3,040 points, four points ahead of teammate Kyle Busch, who finished sixth at Charlotte. Two points behind Kyle Busch is Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch sits fifth in the championship with 3,033 points after an eighth-place finish at Charlotte. He is four points clear of Carl Edwards and five points ahead of Martin Truex, Jr.

Five of the 12 remaining Chase drivers finished 30th or worse at Charlotte. Denny Hamlin had a late engine failure drop him to 30th and he has 3,012 points after Charlotte. Three points behind Hamlin are Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott after the two drivers were caught in a 12-car accident on lap 260. Joey Logano had two accidents at Charlotte, one because of a tire failure and he is six points behind Hamlin. Kevin Harvick suffered an engine failure and retired after 155 laps at Charlotte. He is nine points behind Hamlin.

Joey Logano won last year's Chase race at Kansas after the infamous spin of Matt Kenseth with four laps to go. Kyle Busch won the Kansas race earlier this season after leading 69 laps. Martin Truex, Jr. led 172 of 267 laps at Kansas in May but finished 14th after an unscheduled pit stop. Jimmie Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for most Kansas victories at three but Johnson has the best average finish among drivers with at least three Kansas starts at 9.2.

The NASCAR Cup race from Kansas will be held at 2:15 p.m. ET on Sunday October 16th.

The 2016 DTM season comes to a close this weekend at the Hockenheimring and three drivers are fighting for the title, one from BMW and two from Audi.

Marco Wittmann enters as the championship leader on 176 points. Fourteen points behind Wittmann is Italian Edoardo Mortara and fellow Audi driver Jamie Green trails Wittmann by 38 points. Wittmann has three victories this season and has five podium finishes. He has finished outside of the points on two occasions and was disqualified from a fourth-place finish in second Hungary race due to excess wear to the skid block. Mortara has four victories and six podium finishes this season but has finished outside the points in five races this season. Green has many podium finishes as Mortara but has one victory and did not score points in seven of 16 races this season.

Wittmann is going for his second DTM championship in the last three seasons. Mortara and Green are both going for their first title. Mortara's previous best championship finish came last year when he finished fourth. Green finished second last year in the championship by 19 points to current Manor F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Audi leads BMW in the Manufactures' Championship with 609 points to 572 points. BMW is going for its fourth Manufactures' Championship in the last five seasons.

The top Mercedes-Benz driver in the championship is Robert Wickens in fourth on 122 points. Mattias Ekström enters in fifth but the Swedish driver will not contest the Hockenheim finale as he goes for the World Rallycross Championship. British driver Tom Blomqvist and Paul di Resta are two points and seven points respectively behind Ekström for fifth in the championship. Nico Müller has 88 points, Maxime Martin sits on 82 points and Gary Paffett rounds out the top ten with 73 points. Lucas Auer and Timo Glock are five points outside the top ten in the championship.

Race one from Hockenheim will be Saturday October 15th at 7:38 a.m. ET. Race two will be on Sunday at 7:58 a.m. ET.

Circuito de Jerez
The penultimate round of the 2016 World Superbike season takes place this weekend at Jerez and three riders are still alive for the title.

After finishing fourth and second at Magny-Cours, Jonathan Rea still maintains the championship lead over his Kawasaki teammate Tom Skyes but the gap is down to 48 points with 100 points remaining. Sykes finished third in both races. Chaz Davies swept the weekend at Magny-Cours and trails Rea by 81 points. Sykes and Davies split last year's races at Jerez with Rea finishing fourth in both races. Davies had a second in the other Jerez race while Skyes finished fifth.

Honda riders Michael van der Mark and Nicky Hayden are fourth and fifth in the championship on 324 points and 302 points respectively. Ducati rider Davide Giugliano did not participate in the Magny-Cours round because of a shoulder injury and dropped to sixth in the championship on 194 points.

After retiring at Magny-Cours, Kenan Sofuoglu remains on 171 points and Randy Krummenacher remains alive of the World Supersport title. The Swiss rider trails his Kawasaki teammate by 42 points with 50 points remaining from the final two rounds. Krummenacher finished fifth at Magny-Cours. Jules Cluzul won the Magny-Cours round is up to third in the championship on 116 points. American P.J. Jacobsen retired after a first lap accident at Magny-Cours and he is fourth in the championship on 109 points. Jacobsen won last year's World Supersport race at Magny-Cours.

The first World Superbike race will be at 7:00 a.m. ET on Saturday October 15th. The World Supersport race will be 5:20 a.m. ET on Sunday with the second World Superbike race scheduled for 7:00 a.m. ET.

1. Over or Under: 4.5 riders finishing within ten seconds of the Motegi winner?
2. Over or Under: 206.5 laps completed by the GTE-Pro winner at Fuji?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 Toyotas in the top seven at Kansas?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 German drivers in the top ten of the final DTM championship standings?
5. Over or Under: 25.5 points scored by Nicky Hayden at Jerez?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Shane Van Gisbergen was the only New Zealander that finished in the top five at Bathurst.
2. Under: The margin between Álvaro Parente and Patrick Long in the PWC championship was
3. Under: There were zero safety car periods at Suzuka.
4. Under: Sébastien Buemi finished first, Nico Prost finished fourth, which averages to 2.5.
5. Under: Martin Truex, Jr. led zero laps in the Cup race at Charlotte.

1. Marc Márquez does not clinch the championship but he increases his lead over Valentino Rossi.
2. A team gets its first victory of 2016 at Fuji.
3. None of the cautions at Kansas involve Chase driver front on Chase driver rear contact.
4. One of the three championship contenders wins a race at Hockenheim.
5. Both World Superbike and World Supersport championships are clinched at Jerez.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Shane Van Gisbergen wins the Bathurst 1000 (Wrong. He finished second).
2. One of the PWC GT championship eligible drivers qualifies outside the top six (Wrong. The worst qualifier was Álvaro Parente qualified sixth).
3. Only one McLaren finishes in the points (Wrong. Neither finished in the points).
4. At least two drivers score their first Formula E points (Correct. Maro Engel and Felix Rosenqvist both got points in their Formula E debuts).
5. Both Busch brothers finish in the top ten at Charlotte (Correct. Kyle finished sixth and Kurt finished eighth).
Last Week: 2/5 Overall: 6/15

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2016 Season

The fourth IndyCar Wrap-Up looks at a team that did win a race for the first time since the 2012 season. While Schmidt Peterson Motorsport did not end up in victory lane, the team had flashes and waved the Honda flag for a handful of races when the other teams appeared completely lost. Despite these flashes, the team's final positions in the championship left little to be desired.

James Hinchcliffe return was good but should have been great
James Hinchcliffe
The Canadians' return to full-time IndyCar competition started well with an eighth-place run in qualifying at St. Petersburg but the race saw Hinchcliffe suffer two blows, the first coming in the form of a flat tires, which dropped him to the rear of the field and the second was in being caught in the tune three incident caused by Carlos Muñoz. Phoenix was not any kinder to Hinchcliffe as a practice accident put him behind the eight ball for the entire weekend and all he could settle for was an 18th-place finish. Long Beach was a big turnaround for Hinchcliffe where he started seventh, ran in the top ten all day and finished eighth. He kept up his Long Beach pace at Barber and finished sixth in a race where he was competitive against the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.

Hinchcliffe rode the late-April wave into May and started and finished third in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where again he hung with Team Penske at the front. When the track switched over to the oval, Hinchcliffe continued to impress and ended up winning Indianapolis 500 pole position, the first pole position in his IndyCar career. He ran in the top three for most of the first half of the race but slid back a bit and ended up finishing seventh after leading 27 laps. After the month of May, Hinchcliffe was fifth in the championship. The wave crashed in Detroit where Hinchcliffe's chance of a top five finish in race one ended in the tire barriers and his race ended before turn two in race two.

He had to start at the back of grid at Road America after a spin and couldn't do any better than 14th in the race. He started 22nd for the second consecutive race at Iowa but was able to finish ninth.  Hinchcliffe returned home to Toronto, a place that has never been kind to the native son. He qualified sixth but wasn't a real factor. He went off strategy and thanks to cautions stretched his final stint over the final 39 laps and held on for a third-place finish. Mid-Ohio was another good race for Hinchcliffe where he finished fifth.

Hinchcliffe started well at Pocono and was in the top ten all day but faded to tenth after it appeared he was in contention for a top five. When the Texas race restarted, Hinchcliffe was leading and he continued to dominant the race. He held off Ed Carpenter and after Carpenter's accident, Hinchcliffe was faced with an onslaught of assaults by Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal. Just when it appeared Hinchcliffe would hold on, Rahal made one final lunged on the inside in turn three and Hinchcliffe tried to draft by him on the outside but finished 0.008 seconds behind Rahal. He was third at the start of the final lap at Watkins Glen and ran out of fuel with less than a half a lap to go and didn't make it back to the finish line. He started 20th at Sonoma and was never a factor, only mustering a 12th-place finish and dropped to 13th in the championship.

James Hinchcliffe's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 13th (416 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 9
Laps Led: 217
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 11
Average Finish: 10.8126

Mikhail Aleshin's return was average
Mikhail Aleshin
Like his teammate, Mikhail Aleshin returned to full-time IndyCar competition and he picked up like a driver who never left the series. He went from 17th to fifth at St. Petersburg and could have finished as high as fourth had he not run into lapped traffic at the end. Despite the success in Florida, Aleshin would take a step back. He had a top ten run at Phoenix but spun entering the pit lane and finished 17th. He was lost at Long Beach and finished 16th. He was spun before the green flag at Barber and settled for 17th. 

He started ninth for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he faded as the race went on and ended up 13th. He was the darling of Indianapolis 500 qualifying after making an impressive save in turn one and running seventh-fastest on both qualifying days. In the race however, Aleshin's aggression got the better of him and a spin exiting turn one ended his day after 126 laps. He had a mediocre first race at Belle Isle and finished 15th and qualified fifth for race two but squandered it and finished 17th. 

Aleshin couldn't get out of the middle of the pack at Road America and finished 16th. He qualified ninth at Iowa, the top Honda, and finally put together a good race from start to finish as he charged up to fifth, the top Honda again. He qualified tenth at Toronto and slightly benefitted from cautions leading to his sixth-place finish. Aleshin's entire Mid-Ohio race was built around a caution that vaulted him from the bottom of the top ten to the race lead. He led 33 laps and when a caution with 29 laps to go forced everyone to the pit lane, Aleshin entered with a sizable gap to Will Power in second and he gagged as he exited his pit box straight into Josef Newgarden. The chance of victory was extinguished and again Aleshin finished 17th.

Despite the disaster at Mid-Ohio, Aleshin rebounded with a surprise pole position at Pocono and he raced at the front all day. He led 88 of 200 laps but could not match Will Power's speed at the end and he settled for second-place. He put himself to be a late challenger at Texas but he spun two laps after getting back on the lead lap and finished 16th. A flat tire ended a promising day at Watkins Glen after 14 laps. He started and finished 11th at Sonoma and never seemed able to take that final step forward.

Mikhail Aleshin's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 15th (347 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 3
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 120
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 6
Average Start: 10.9375
Average Finish: 13.875

I can't help but think this season should have gone better for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Many think SPM had a better season than Andretti Autosport but Andretti Autosport's top three drivers in the championship finished ahead of SPM's top driver and Andretti Autosport finished 1-2 in the Indianapolis 500 and had the driver who led the most laps. Hinchcliffe was seventh in the championship after Mid-Ohio. He ended up 13th in the final championship standings, granted the 25-point deduction for having a car below the minimum ride height at Texas didn't help the Canadian's positioning. Had he not lost those points, Hinchcliffe would have finished eighth in the championship.

I look at this team and I think Hinchcliffe is a rock that could be built around and then I see Mikhail Aleshin and I scratch my head. People love him because he is exotic Russian driver who is fast on ovals and shows no fear but the problem is for every race he dazzles us he has four races where he either ends up in the barrier or is mired in the middle of the pack and plays no role in the outcome of a race. He didn't tear up as much equipment as he did in 2014 but he wasn't consistently a factor in races.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports reportedly has been interested in expanding to three cars. I don't think that is a bad thing for the team but it needs to be careful with its decisions. It needs a driver that can gel with Hinchcliffe and move the team forward. Oriol Servià did well with the team at Indianapolis after starting tenth and finishing 12th but any driver for the third car should be someone the team can plan on keeping for five years. Conor Daly is Hinchcliffe's roommate; he substituted for Hinchcliffe at SPM in 2015 and that seems like the obvious selection. Other than taking a chance on a young driver such as Jack Harvey or bringing another driver over from Europe, the best option on paper would be Daly. 

As for Aleshin, the bar has to be raised heading into 2017. Can SPM afford to have another year with a driver who only finishes in the top ten for a quarter of the races? Aleshin is a step or two above Takuma Sato. The only difference is we watched Sato for over a decade between Formula One and IndyCar have the yips and never harness in his speed. Aleshin has been on stage for a few years but if he doesn't become more consistent we will get tired of the act just like Sato. 

SPM had a good 2016 season but it ultimately showed its vulnerabilities. The team could be on the cusp of making that step forward but it is at a crucial decision-making phase and must choose wisely. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Compound Interest

Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points over Lewis Hamilton after he won the Japanese Grand Prix and Hamilton had to charge from eighth to third after a disastrous start. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell had the Bathurst 1000 snatched from them because of a questionable penalty, which is being appealed. It set up a dramatic battle for the victory between Will Davison and Shane Van Gisbergen with Davison coming out on top and his co-driver Jonathon Webb becoming the first driver to win the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 in the same year. NASCAR had its second Sunday doubleheader in as many weeks, this one as caused by a hurricane. Formula E returned to competition. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Compounding Interest
Tires are fascinating. To me, I love watching a race, whether it is Formula One or IndyCar or MotoGP and watching the mind games and second guessing what rubber should be sported. I love watching three riders pull away at the start of a MotoGP race and by around halfway seeing another rider or two run them down because of the difference. It adds another level of intrigue to a race. Daniel Ricciardo's chase of Nico Rosberg at Singapore to me is the equivalent of watching a cyclist or runner running out of gas down the stretch after grabbing the race by the throat. The drama of can the leader hold on or will the pursuer prevail accelerates the heart rate at any time of day.

Not every race has this drama. Some series have one compound of tire for all cars and when there aren't any pit stops and downforce makes it difficult to pass, the races can be dull. Most races in the Road to Indy are dull. Ten of 18 Indy Lights races held this year didn't feature a lead change. Only three races had multiple lead changes. It is a development series and it isn't meant to put on spectacular races but there comes a point where you need to do something to spice things up.

Indy Lights does need to make the races more interesting because if the races can draw more fans viewing races on live streams or on TV than ratings go up and it is more appealing to sponsors and it could help young drivers find sponsors and continue their career and dream of making it to IndyCar. I think one gripe on Indy Lights is it isn't a good training ground because drivers don't get enough passing opportunities. Unlike a GP2 where you can't avoid passing with pit stops and differing tire compounds and the inversion of the top eight of grid from the feature race for the sprint race, Indy Lights is rather pedestrian. It is the only series where Felix Rosenqvist can start on pole position for both races at Toronto and lead all 80 laps over two races. Unless someone botches the start badly or there is a safety car, there won't be much passing.

The same could be said for Pirelli World Challenge. I felt most of the races in 2016 weren't great. Granted, most races won't be great races with the battle for the lead coming down to the final corner but when nearly half the races were won from pole position, more could be done.

I think when it comes to series that don't feature pit stops, MotoGP has the right layout and Indy Lights, Pirelli World Challenge and the rest of the Road to Indy should follow suit. Have two compounds and let teams choose what they want to race. Have the grid mixed and let the mystery of whether softer tires can do a full race and stay on top or if the harder compounds will come in and take the fight at the end play out on the race track.

One other thing I think MotoGP gets right is it allows teams to mix up the compounds on the bike. A rider can have a harder front tire with a softer tire on the rear or vice versa. Not only could this be done in Indy Lights, Pirelli World Challenge and other series that don't feature pit stops but in Formula One and IndyCar as well. Why not allow Lewis Hamilton to run soft tires on the front and medium rear tires? Why not allow Graham Rahal to have alternate compounds on the front and the primary compounds on the rear? What is the worse that could happen? Producing better racing?

With both Formula One and IndyCar being very aero-dependent cars, mixing on the compounds might be one way to alleviate some of issues with on-track action today. It is actually a very simple solution that costs nothing extra to the teams and wouldn't be a drastic change that would throw race fans off. Sure, some will label it as a gimmick but I disagree. It would be another wrinkle to a race to test the drivers, strategists and teams and those who can figure it out will come out on top. It is merely another evolution to a race, the same way football has evolved to a pass happy game and baseball has evolved to Sabremetrics viewing a strikeout as just another out and bullpen specialization in late innings. With any evolution the fittest will survive and motorsports should be the same even when the evolution comes to tires.

Heck, maybe Formula One should go all out and bring all five tire compounds to every race and make the drivers use each compounds. That will surely spice up the races and there would be no way Mercedes would finished 1-2 four times out of five with those regulations.

Champions From the Weekend
Álvaro Parente won the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship with a second-place finish at Laguna Seca.

Brett Sandberg clinched the Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship a race early with a second-place finish in the first race of the weekend from Laguna Seca.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Will Davison and Jonathon Webb and Nico Rosberg but did you know...

Sébastien Buemi started his Formula E championship defense with victory in the Hong Kong ePrix.

Johnny O'Connell crossed the finish line first in the Pirelli World Challenge GT finale from Laguna Seca but was penalized for contact with Patrick Long, dropping the Cadillac driver to fifth. Álvaro Parente will be credited with the race victory. Martin Barkey and Scott Heckert split the GTS finale.

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte. Joey Logano won Grand National Series race.

The #19 Lexus of Yuji Kunimoto and Yuki Sekiguchi won the Super GT race from Buriram. The #25 Totoya of Takamitsu Matsui and Takeshi Tsuchiya won in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
Japan will be busy with FIA World Endurance Championship at Fuji and MotoGP at Motegi.
DTM ends its season at Hockenheim.
NASCAR will be at Kansas.
Spain will also be busy with Word Rally Championship in Catalunya and World Superbike in Jerez.