Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wednesday Warm-Up: KV Racing's 2015 Season

We have reached the halfway point of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series team reviews. The fifth team being review is KV Racing. One half of the team was at the top, fighting for a top five in the championship before settling for a top ten. The other half of the team was stuck in the cellar for most of the season and questions linger about whether there will be a change in 2016.

Sébastien Bourdais had one of his best season since returning to IndyCar
Sébastien Bourdais
Consistency was the name of Sébastien Bourdais' game for the first 4/5ths of the season. Bourdais was on the backend of the Penske domination at St. Petersburg with a sixth place finish, the second best non-Penske behind only Tony Kanaan, who finished third. He was collateral at NOLA when Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay took each other out. At Long Beach, Bourdais was again the second best non-Penske and again was sixth and again was behind only Tony Kanaan, who finished fifth. He was caught out on pit strategy at Barber but managed to pull out an eighth.

In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Bourdais had a great run and was pressuring Juan Pablo Montoya for the final podium position but had to settle for fourth. He was always around the top ten in the Indianapolis 500 but did have a point in the race where he faded to around 20th, only to recover and to finish 11th. After being one of many drivers to screw up tire strategy in Belle Isle 1, Bourdais used tire and fuel strategy to his favor and benefitted in the second race from a bunch of cautions that caused the race to be a timed race. He held off Takuma Sato and had enough fuel to get the victory. He always struggles at Texas and believe it or not, Bourdais scored his best race finish at Texas when he came home in 14th.

Bourdais always runs well at Toronto and he scored another top five at Exhibition Place and could have had a podium if Josef Newgarden and Hélio Castroneves had not jumped him on pit stops. He was mid-pack all day at Fontana and finished 14th. At Milwaukee, Bourdais laid a shellacking on the field. Josef Newgarden dominated the first half of the race but when Newgarden and company pitted under a caution, Bourdais stayed out after pitting just 16 laps prior to the that caution. The Frenchman pulled away and scored his second victory of the season. He started 24th at Iowa after brushing the wall in qualifying and worked his way to a ninth place finish.

After the first thirteen races, he was sixth in the championship, 79 points behind Montoya and appeared to have a shot at the title. He started third at Mid-Ohio and was running around the top ten all race but the penultimate caution caught him out, just like Montoya, except Bourdais was mired in 18th and could only pick up one position in the final 20 laps. Pocono ended with an early accident on a restart and Bourdais would have had a top ten if he hadn't run into the back of Graham Rahal, causing him to be handed a drive-through penalty, which dropped him to 20th. That penalty dropped him from seventh in the championship to tenth.

Sébastien Bourdais's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (406 points)
Wins: 2
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 4
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 145
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 10.285
Average Finish: 10.875

Stefano Coletti rarely stood out in his rookie season
Stefano Coletti
The Monegasque driver did not have a great rookie season in IndyCar. Stefano Coletti finished a lap down in his debut at St. Petersburg and made a great save in the wet at NOLA but once again finished a lap down. At Long Beach, Coletti had an extended pit stop put him 11 laps down but the Monegasque driver did set the fastest lap of the race despite finishing last. He scored his first lead-lap finish at Barber but was 19th.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was Coletti's best race of the year. He scored his first career top ten start and he scored his first career top ten finish as he battled up to eighth and was running with the big boys of Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato. It went all downhill from there. He struggled in Indianapolis 500 practice and qualifying. He was going to start 32nd but all the driver changes bumped him up to 29th on the grid. In the race, he was in the back half of the pack all race and was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Jack Hawksworth and Sebastián Saavedra made contact, causing Saavedra's car to come into Coletti's path.

He would finish the next three races one lap down. He retired after 40 laps at Toronto. He slightly rebounded at Fontana, finishing on the lead lap in 11th but benefitted greatly from attrition. His engine failed him at Milwaukee. He had an accident at Iowa. He was no-where to be found at Mid-Ohio and a mechanical failure ended his race before completing 20 laps at Pocono. At Sonoma, Coletti worked himself to the top five, and I mean legitimately worked his way to the top five. However, his radio quit on him and because IndyCar is too over the top with safety and has completely forgotten about pit boards, black-flagged Coletti, dropping him to 17th in the final results.

Stefano Coletti's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 19th (203 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.642
Average Finish: 18.5

This was a good year for KV Racing but it definitely could have been better. After Iowa, it appeared Bourdais was going to be able to keep himself alive for the Astor Cup only to have the worst three-race stretch of his career. Bourdais meshes well with KV Racing. They have something there and they can compete at the front. It seemed though that Bourdais struggled to get by the Penske drivers at the start of the season. He would start right behind them but wasn't able to get by them during the race. That seemed to be amended as the season went on but qualifying is one area that Bourdais could improve on, although, everyone in IndyCar could improve on their qualifying form.

A lot of people want to kick Coletti to the curb after year one and I understand why. However, he was learning everything from scratch. Testing is much more limited now than 12-20 years ago when a driver (Montoya, Bourdais, Bruno Junqueira, Alex Zanardi) could come over from Europe and be fast off the plane in IndyCar. Unless a driver is horrid (Francesco Dracone), I rarely think a driver should be booted for good after one season. In Coletti's case, because he was rarely in the front half of the grid and rarely had his race end because of an accident, I would give him one more season. If he shows improvements and can finish ahead of a driver who only ran half the races in the championship, then maybe he gets a third year. But for now, I would like to see Coletti get a second chance.

I don't know if KV will give Coletti that second chance. KV has to know that they have the capabilities to run two competitive cars. If they can find the right driver to pair with Bourdais, they could find a driver in championship contention. KV is the Chevrolet-equivalent of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They have one great driver but the second is letting them down. However, this is IndyCar. Look at who gets hired for second seats. It makes more sense for Ryan Briscoe, Simona de Silvestro, J.R. Hildebrand or even Mikhail Aleshin or James Davison to get that seat, but it's the James Jakes' and Sebastián Saavedra's of the world who get second seats.

KV has the driver and the capability to take the fight to Penske and the other top teams. If they make the right moves in the offseason, they could find themselves as championship contenders in 2016.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: A Perspective For IndyCar

Rain followed everybody this weekend. The East Coast of the United States, France, Corsica. Petit Le Mans was worse than in 2009 yet went double the distance. Dover at least got a little relief. The real fight on the track at Dover was not for the victory but for 16th and even then the battle for 16th didn't really matter. An American won in France. A Ferrari won in Italy. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

You Can't Grow If You Keep Moving
The IndyCar schedule will be released any day now and as optimistic as I am, I know the punch to the stomach is coming and even though I know it could be coming, I can't prevent it from hurting.

Fontana is already gone. NOLA is already gone. Milwaukee appears to be falling on the wrong side of the fence. Pocono is on edge but one swift breeze in any direction will decide whether it will or will not return to the IndyCar schedule. Road America is back. Phoenix has gone quiet. Some think Gateway could return. Mexico City is Mark Miles' white whale. None of this is good.

I have been on this train of thought for a while and I am staying on it. IndyCar needs to have one consistent schedule every year. The series needs to go to the same tracks on the same dates every single year.

Name a market that wants IndyCar? There is none. Boston doesn't care if IndyCar comes. Phoenix doesn't care. Mexico City doesn't care. St. Louis doesn't care. They don't. IndyCar and the tracks need to realize that the 100,000 people won't go to the race year one or year two or year three or year four, five or six. It takes time for a crowd to grow because a race needs time to become engrained in the fabric of a local community and become an event the locals look forward to attending. Does IndyCar really think Gateway would draw a better crowd than Milwaukee, Fontana and/or Pocono? It probably wouldn't and all you can ask is why not just return to the likes of Milwaukee, Fontana and Pocono and build on what you have been working on for the past three to four years?

IndyCar and the tracks also need perspective on what is a good crowd. Holding the bar at NASCAR's level is unrealistic. Not every series is NASCAR and just because the crowd is not as big doesn't mean the race is not worthy to continue. 25,000-30,000 is a great crowd. If IndyCar's average race day attendance fell somewhere between those margins that would be a higher average attendance than the NBA, NHL and MLS and that would be more than a few MLB clubs. And if you still think that is not good enough, other than NASCAR, the NFL is the only other professional league in North America that averages over 50,000 in attendance.

While 25,000-30,000 looks great on paper, we know it doesn't look pretty since most racetracks, especially ovals, have 80,000-100,000 seats. Realistically, we should ignore the seats that are empty and let the number on paper do the talking but some can't get over the visual. IndyCar's problem now is just like MLS' problem 10-15 years ago. No crowd looked good because you had teams playing in NFL stadiums. Slowly, MLS clubs started building soccer-specific stadiums that held 18,000-27,000 and now crowds look fantastic and the atmosphere has improved because you don't have 40,000 seats drowning out 20,000 people.

But IndyCar can't build IndyCar-specific tracks (ovals) with only 25,000 seats. What's the solution? Either accept there will be empty seats or IndyCar having its own seat covers to bring to ovals to cover up the empty seats. I have found a positive from the open seats at IndyCar races. It has given IndyCar a tagline that it has yet to take advantage of: "IndyCar: Plenty of Room For Everybody."

If you keep perspective, you will realize things aren't so bad for IndyCar. Yes, the series needs to hold a consistent schedule year-to-year and they need to get some more money pumped into the series and they need to sign Chevrolet and Honda for the 2016 season because as of today, neither has committed to next season and you can't hold an automobile race if nobody has an engine. Television ratings were up in 2015 and there is still room for growth but it won't all come at once.

As easy as it is to get stuck in a state of IndyCar negativity because the executives are always fighting with one another and not focusing on the series as a whole, there are plenty of things to feel good about.

Champion From the Weekend
Kenan Sofuoglu clinched his fourth World Supersport Championship with a second place finish at Magny-Cours. American P.J. Jacobsen won the race, his second victory of the season. Jacobsen has clinched second in the 2015 World Supersport Championship, the best finish ever for an American in that series.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Petit Le Mans and about P.J. Jacobsen but did you know...

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover. Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer were eliminated from the Chase.

Jari-Matti Latvala won Tour de Corse.

Champion-elect Jonathan Rea swept the World Superbike races at Magny-Cours.

The #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Marco Seefried and Norbert Siedler swept the Blancpain Sprint Series races at Misano.

Regan Smith won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Dover.

John Wes Townley won the NASCAR Truck race at Las Vegas, his first career victory in the series.

Coming Up This Weekend
The annual no-sleep weekend.
NASCAR will be at their home in Charlotte at 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday night.
Bathurst 1000 begins at 9:00 p.m. ET.
FIA World Endurance Championship is at Toyota's home, Fuji at 10:00 p.m. ET.
MotoGP is at Honda's home, Motegi at 1:00 a.m. ET Sunday.
Formula One heads to Sochi at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Blancpain Sprint Series ends their 2015 season at Zandvoort at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Asian Le Mans Series starts their 2015-16 season at Fuji the day before the WEC race.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

#911 Porsche 911 RSR Stuns Sports Car World, Wins Petit Le Mans Overall

The 18th Petit Le Mans was severely hampered by rain and the surreal race ended with the #911 Porsche of Patrick Pilet, Nick Tandy and Richard Lietz winning the abbreviated race overall. With the victory, Pilet won the 2015 IMSA GT Le Mans championship. GTLM cars went 1-2 overall as the #24 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of John Edwards, Lucas Luhr and Jens Klingmann finished second.

Third overall was the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi and Sébastien Bourdais. Barbosa and Fittipaldi won the prototype championship for the second consecutive year. The #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley of Scott Pruett, Joey Hand and Scott Dixon finished fourth overall with the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Dane Cameron, Eric Curran and Max Papis rounding out the top five and the Prototype-class podium.

Third in GTLM, sixth overall was the #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli finished seventh overall with the #25 RLLR BMW of Bill Auberlen, Dirk Werner and Augusto Farfus in eighth. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella, Pierre Kaffer and Toni Vilander and the #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top ten.

Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Patrick Long brought the #17 Team Falken Tire Porsche home in 11th in the final race with Falken Tire sponsorship. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Michael Valiante, Richard Westbrook and Mike Rockenfeller finished 12th. Valiante and Westbrook lost the Prototype title to Barbosa and Fittipaldi by three points. The #912 Porsche finished 13th with Jörg Bergmeister, Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki.

Mike Guasch, Tom Kimber-Smith and Andrew Palmer won in Prototype Challenge, finishing 14th in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande, Mike Hedlund, Mirco Schultis and Alex Popow were second in class with the #16 BAR1 Motorsport Oreca of Johnny Mowlem, Marc Drumwright, Tomy Drissi and Don Yount rounded out the podium. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca finished fourth in class and it clinched Colin Braun and Jon Bennett their second consecutive title.

The #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche of Patrick Lindsey, Spencer Pumpelly and Madison Snow won in GTD, finishing 17th overall. The #44 Magnus Racing Porsche of Andy Lally, John Potter and Robert Renauer finished second in class. Al Carter, Cameron Lawrence and Marc Goossens brought the #93 Viper home in third. The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal finished fourth and that clinched the GTD title for Bell and Sweedler, who beat #007 Aston Martin driver Christina Nielsen by two points. Nielsen and co-drivers Kuno Wittmer and Brendon Davis finished ninth in class.

The 2016 IMSA season will begin on January 30th at the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Five: Petit Le Mans and Dover

Four championships will be decided in Georgia while four drivers will have their championship hopes end in Delaware. One race will last ten hours and run for around 1,000 miles. The other will be 400 miles and should take around three to three and a half hours to complete.

Petit Le Mans- Prototypes
All four class championships in the IMSA Tudor United SportsCar Championship are undecided as the teams head to Road America for the season finale Petit Le Mans.

Six teams enter with a shot at the Prototype championship. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook lead the championship with 279 points. The #90 won at Laguna Seca and the 6 Hours of The Glen and has finished third at Daytona, Sebring, Long Beach and Austin. Mike Rockenfeller joins Valiante and Westbrook for the third time this season. He was in the car at Daytona and Sebring. The two Action Express Racing Corvette DPs trail the #90 by six points. The #31 Corvette DP of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran won at Belle Isle and Road America and finished second at Mosport. Max Papis will be the third driver in the #31. The defending champions João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi won at Sebring in the #5 Corvette DP and finished second at Daytona and Road America and also finished third at Belle Isle and Watkins Glen. IndyCar race winner Sébastien Bourdais will be the third driver in the #5.

Scott Pruett and Joey Hand are eleven points behind the #90 in the #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley. Pruett and Hand scored their first victory at the most recent round at Austin. They finished second at Long Beach and Watkins Glen and third at Road America. The 2015 IndyCar champion and 2015 24 Hours of Daytona winner Scott Dixon will be the third driver in the #01. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Ricky and Jordan Taylor are 16 points back. The Taylor brothers won at Long Beach and Mosport and finished runner-up at Sebring, Laguna Seca and Austin, however, their penalty at the 24 Hours of Daytona for exceeding driver time limits is still haunting their season as it cost them 15 points. Max Angelelli returns to drive the #10. The #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-HPD of Oswaldo Negri, Jr. and John Pew are 29 points back with a second at Belle Isle and thirds at Laguna Seca and Mosport. Matt McMurry will round out the #60's driver line-up, however the team might not be able to start Petit Le Mans after a practice accident on Thursday night.

Prototype Challenge
Four driver combinations are still alive for the Prototype Challenge championship.

Colin Braun and Jon Bennett have a second consecutive title within their grasps as the drivers of the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca are coming off their second victory of the season at Austin and have 289 points. They also won at Mosport while finishing second at Daytona, Sebring and Laguna Seca. Anthony Lazzaro will be the third driver in the #54. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith are 12 points behind the CORE duo. Guasch and Kimber-Smith won at Daytona, Sebring and Lime Rock Park while finishing second at Watkins Glen. Andrew Palmer will be join Guasch and Kimber-Smith in the #52.

The #11 RSR Racing Oreca of Bruno Junqueira and Chris Cumming trail by 14 points. They won at Laguna Seca and Road America with runner-up finishes of Lime Rock Park and Austin. IndyCar driver Jack Hawksworth and Formula Three driver Gustavo Menezes will be additional driver in the #11. Mikhail Goikhberg is 31 points behind Braun and Bennett. Goikhberg will drive the #85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca alongside Chris Miller and Rusty Mitchell.

GT Le Mans
Patrick Pilet leads the GTLM championship are three victories in the last four races. The French driver has 279 points and will drive the #911 Porsche 911 RSR with 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Nick Tandy as his co-driver. Three points behind Pilet is the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW Z4 GTE of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner, who won at Long Beach and Austin. DTM driver Augusto Farfus will be the third driver in the #25. The #3 Corvette of Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won the first two races of the season at Daytona and Sebring but has only two podiums since Sebring and trail Pilet by ten points. Ryan Briscoe will be back in the #3.

The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia of Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer have yet to win this season and are 13 points behind Pilet. The #62 has three runner-up finishes this season at Sebring, Long Beach and Austin. Defending FIA World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers champion Toni Vilander will be the Risi's third driver. The #24 RLLR BMW of John Edwards and Lucas Luhr are 21 points behind Pilet. Jens Klingmann will join the Laguna Seca winners Edwards and Luhr. Jörg Bergmeister is the final driver alive for the GTLM title. The German driver trails his Porsche teammate by 27 points and Bergmeister will be joined in the #912 Porsche by another Le Mans winner, Earl Bamber.

GT Daytona
The top two driver combinations in GT Daytona have yet to win a race this season. Christina Nielsen leads the GTD title by one point over Christopher Haase and Dion Von Moltke. Nielsen has four runner-up finishes in the #007 TRG Aston Martin. She finished second at Sebring, Belle Isle, Road America and VIR. Kuno Wittmer, who has been Nielsen's co-driver since Watkins Glen, and Brandon Davis will be the other drivers in the #007. Haase and Von Moltke's lone runner-up finish in the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS came at Laguna Seca and the German-South African duo finished third at Belle Isle, Watkins Glen and Austin. Bryce Miller will be in the third driver in the #48.

The #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari of Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell are four points behind Nielsen and won at VIR two races ago. The only other podium for Sweedler and Bell was third at Sebring. The #33 Riley Motorsports Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating have won two of the last three races and trail Nielsen by 11 points. Sebastiaan Bleekemolen will join his brother and Keating in the #33. The #23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche Mario Farnbacher and Ian James are 14 points back. Farnbacher and James won at Sebring and Belle Isle and Alex Riberas returns for the first time since Sebring. The #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil are 18 points back and will be joined by Andrew Davis. Keen and MacNeil's only podium this season was a second at Daytona.

Spencer Pumpelly and Patrick Lindsey trail by 26 points in the #73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche. Pumpelly and Lindsey won at Laguna Seca and Madison Snow will be their third driver. The #44 Magnus Racing Porsche of Andy Lally and John Potter have a slim shot at the title, as they are 31 points back. Their best finish this season was second at Watkins Glen. Robert Renauer will be Magnus Racing's third driver this weekend.

The final race of the first round of The Chase will take place at Dover International Speedway.

Matt Kenseth locked himself into the second round with his victory at New Hampshire last week. He joined his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the second round. Kenseth leads the points with 2099 points and Hamlin trails him by six points. Carl Edwards and Joey Logano are tied on 2089 points. Kenseth, Hamlin and Edwards are the only drivers to finish in the top five of both Chase races. Jimmie Johnson rounds out the top five, six points behind Edwards and Logano.

Ryan Newman is sixth with 2074 points. Kurt Busch trails Newman by a points with Brad Keselowski a point behind Kurt Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. a points behind Keselowski. Jeff Gordon rounds out the top ten on 2068 points. Jamie McMurray is ten points back of Gordon with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a point behind McMurray but only a point ahead of 13th.

Kyle Busch and Paul Menard are currently tied for 13th, one point outside the final position to advance to round two. Championship leader entering The Chase, Kevin Harvick finds himself 23 points outside of the second round after running out of fuel at New Hampshire while leading with three laps to go. Clint Bowyer is 39 points outside of the top twelve.

Jimmie Johnson has the most all-time victories at Dover with ten, including the Dover race earlier this season. Johnson has won each the spring and autumn Dover races five times and has swept the Dover races twice, in 2002 and 2009. Jeff Gordon has five Dover victories with his last Cup victory coming one year ago at Dover. Ryan Newman has three Dover victories with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each having two. Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr. and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all have one Dover victory.

Joey Logano has only led one lap in 13 Dover starts. That came in the 2010 autumn race. Kevin Harvick's average finish at the track is 14.7. Denny Hamlin has only six top tens in 19 Dover starts while Jamie McMurray has only six in 25 starts. Clint Bowyer has 12 top tens in 19 starts but only two top five finishes. Paul Menard has finished in the top ten in two of the last three Dover races after one in his previous 13 starts at the track.

1. Over or Under: 3.5 cars finishing on the lead lap in Petit Le Mans?
2. Over or Under: 2.5 2015 Indianapolis 500 starters finishing between the four class podiums?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 finishing position for the #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche?
4. Over or Under: 0.5 Americans winning the GTD championship?
5. Over or Under: 175.5 laps led by the driver who leads the most laps in the Dover race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Alexander Rossi finished 18th.
2. Over: Two Brits finished in the top eight at Aragón. Cal Crutchlow was seventh. Bradley Smith was eighth.
3. Under: Two podiums for BMW at Nürburgring. Maxime Martin won race one. Bruno Spengler was third in race two.
4. Over: The average green flag in the Cup race at Loudon was 25.9 laps.
5. Under: José María López's championship lead is 75 points after Shanghai.

1. For the second consecutive year, at least one American wins Petit Le Mans overall.
2. All three cars on the PC podium finish ahead of the GTLM class winner.
3. The GTLM winner finishes within 15 laps of the overall winner.
4. There will be a repeat winner in GTD.
5. Jamie McMurray does not advance to the second round of the Chase.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A driver who did not score points at Singapore and is not named Lewis Hamilton will score points at Suzuka (Correct. Nico Hülkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado finished in the points).
2. A rider who has yet to retire from a race this season will at Aragón (Correct. Danilo Petrucci retired for the first time in 2015).
3. At least five drivers will be championship eligible after the Nürburgring round (Wrong. Four drivers are championship eligible).
4. A Chevrolet driver will clinch a spot in the second round (Wrong. Toyota's Matt Kenseth clinched the spot).
5. Someone scores their first WTCC victory of the season at Shanghai (Wrong. José María López and Yvan Muller won).
Overall: 2/5 Running Tally: 10/20

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2015 Season

This week's edition looks at the first race-winning team from the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was surprisingly on top in the second race of the season and bookended the podium, however, injury would slightly derail their season but despite the hiccup and despite losing their team leader, SPM kept going and kept being competitive and were in contention for a few other race victories.

James Hinchcliffe season started off promising.
James Hinchcliffe
His first season with SPM was cut short but James Hinchcliffe, along with Graham Rahal, were carrying the Honda flag through the first two months of the season. He was a non-factor at St. Petersburg and perhaps he shouldn't have been a factor at NOLA but NOLA was such a clusterfuck of a race that it didn't matter who won. Hinchcliffe and his crew were one of the first teams to stop and they only stopped once and did it before the never-ending parade of cautions cycled Hinchcliffe to the lead as the rest of the field needed to stop. He led the final 15 laps. Only three of those 15 were green flag laps.

Hinchcliffe was stuck in the middle of the pack at Long Beach but he once again used pit strategy to his favor at Barber by going off-sequence. He had to make his final stop much later than the rest of the field, just like Rahal, and he drove his way back up to seventh after spending a good portion of that race in the top five. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hinchcliffe reverted to his St. Petersburg and Long Beach form where he just seemed stuck in the middle of the pack but that didn't stop him from setting the fastest lap of the race while finishing 12th.

He qualified 24th for the Indianapolis 500 but a practice on the post-qualifying Monday practice knock the Canadian out of the car for the rest of the season. A suspension failure caused him to hit the turn three wall and a suspension piece went through the cockpit and pierced his thigh, requiring Hinchcliffe to receive immediate surgery.

When Hinchcliffe was knocked out of the car, he was tied for seventh in the championship with Josef Newgarden and was the second highest Honda driver in the championship.

James Hinchcliffe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 23rd (129 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 20
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 13
Average Finish: 9.6

James Jakes' season went as expected: Underwhelming

James Jakes
After sitting out the 2014 season, James Jakes returned to compete in his fourth IndyCar season. Like Hinchcliffe, Jakes played his cards right at NOLA and ended up scoring his second career IndyCar podium as he finished third. Outside of the wet, muddy day in Louisiana, Jakes' first half of the season had little to be celebrating. Twenty-second at St. Petersburg after contact with Simona de Silvestro, 19th at Barber, 22nd at Long Beach and 18th in both Indianapolis races. He made the second round of qualifying at Belle Isle and started tenth but couldn't turn it into anything, as he was involved in an early incident with Stefano Coletti, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan. The rains came and he couldn't turn it around. In the second race, he tried to roll the dice and switch to slicks first and while he kept it on the road, he was still running slower laps than the rest of the field on the wet tires.

At Texas, Jakes was able to work his way to a ninth-place finish. He made the second round of qualifying again at Toronto but had an accident ruin his day. Attrition gave him a seventh at Fontana. The engine quit on his at Milwaukee. He finished 15th and 16th at Iowa and Mid-Ohio and got a tenth at Pocono, once again because of attrition and he was the first driver competing at Sonoma to start his offseason as he had an accident end his day after 63 laps.

James Jakes' 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (257 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 15.857
Average Finish: 15.937

As a substitute, Ryan Briscoe showed why he deserves to be full-time
Ryan Briscoe
The Australian was the 11th-hour substitute for James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis and Ryan Briscoe made the most of it. After starting 31st on the grid, he finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500. He missed Belle Isle because of the Le Mans test day as he was competing with Corvette Racing. Conor Daly replaced him and scored a 19th after Ryan Hunter-Reay caused damage to Daly's car but Daly came back in race two to finish sixth. Briscoe returned at Texas and worked his way from 19th to eighth. He missed Toronto for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daly finished 12th from 19th.

Briscoe was in contention for victory at Fontana and led seven laps before contact coming to the white flag caused him to go airborne and end his day as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay's. He had another good car at Milwaukee as he started second on the grid but contact with Will Power ended both their hopes for top tens. He repeated his Texas performance at Iowa as he went from 19th to eighth again. His worst race was at Mid-Ohio where he finished 18th but he recovered at Pocono and finished eighth again, this time from 18th. At the Sonoma finale, Briscoe went from 17th to fifth.

Ryan Briscoe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (205 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 10
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.75
Average Finish: 11.875

It would have been interesting to see what Hinchcliffe would have been able to do had he not been injury. As I said, he was seventh in the championship and was the second best Honda driver when he was knocked out of the seat. Could he have been able to keep up with the leaders and potentially found himself in championship contention entering the season finale? It should be noted that Hinchcliffe's career has had a seesaw pattern to it. He has one great race followed by one bad race. Look back at 2013 when he won three races.

Won at St. Petersburg.
Two 26th-place finishes at Barber and Long Beach.
Won at São Paulo.
Three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.
Won at Iowa.
Twenty-fourth in the following race at Pocono.

We could even see the seesaw pattern forming this season as he would score a really good finish and then fall right back to the center of the pack.

Briscoe scored 52 points fewer than Jakes and Briscoe only ran half the races while Jakes ran a full season. Briscoe outscored Stefano Coletti, who ran all the races. Briscoe had four top tens but he easily could have had six top tens if it weren't for accidents, one not his fault, the other was a questionable decision on his part.

Just by looking at points per race, Hinchcliffe was averaging 25.8, Briscoe was at 25.625 and Jakes was at 16.0625. It should be quite obvious who SPM's two drivers should for next season. While Jakes has the ability to bring the car home he rarely earns top tens and in the current state of IndyCar, you need to be able to drive and get a top ten, not hope you are on the right side of attrition and have one fall into your lap.

It seems to be a guarantee Hinchcliffe will be back for 2016 and he returned to the #5 Honda at a Road America test but that second seat will probably be fought over by ten drivers and we don't even know half of those suitors yet. I am sure Jakes will be doing all he can to defend his seat but the team should be heavily pursuing Briscoe. Conor Daly showed in his few starts that he deserves a fairer shot at IndyCar and it was unfortunate his car died on his before going green in the Indianapolis 500. Jack Harvey finished second in the Indy Lights championship for a second consecutive season and he could definitely make the transition to IndyCar in 2016.

The dream team for SPM should be Hinchcliffe and Briscoe and with the dream of a third car for either Daly or Harvey. SPM should be feeling good heading into 2016 but it will all come down to who they hire.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Welcome Ambassadors

It was back to usual in Japan as Lewis Hamilton tied Ayrton Senna for fourth all-time in Formula One Grand Prix victories. Marc Márquez threw away his championship hopes for the fifth time this season and Jorge Lorenzo won for the second consecutive year at Aragón. The Trucks hit a milestone in New Hampshire. A few drivers ran out of fuel. History was made in DTM at the Nürburgring. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Welcome Ambassadors
"A person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity."

IndyCar circles talk a lot about ambassadors. J.R. Hildebrand is a great ambassador for IndyCar in the STEM community. Pippa Mann is a great ambassador engaging with the fans. Mario Andretti continues to be a great ambassador after all these years.

Anyone see the problem with these ambassadors?

None of them are competing full-time in IndyCar.

To be fair, IndyCar has plenty of "ambassadors" competing full-time. Ryan Hunter-Reay has dedicated himself to raising money for cancer research. Graham Rahal has taking the reigns twice to raise money for the Wheldon and Wilson families and has worked to get IndyCar's name out to the masses. Charlie Kimball is representing the diabetes community and showing that the disease doesn't have to prevent you from following you dreams.

But outside of that, who else is an ambassador for IndyCar? A driver has do something more than just being a living, breathing person who happens to race in IndyCar to be an ambassador. An ambassador needs to be promoting and doing more for the series then their normal duties on a race weekend. I am not saying all the drivers listed never do that but look at the drivers who are hailed as ambassadors.

Let's take J.R. Hildebrand as an example. When he goes and does a presentation to high school students in STEM programs and he says he is an IndyCar driver, how do you think one of those students might feel when they see the IndyCar race is on at Iowa or Toronto or Road America and find out he isn't racing? There one connection to the series really isn't a connection to the series at all. They might feel a lied to a little bit and it might turn their interest off. This is why a driver like Hildebrand, someone is going out to the community and interacting with people and is also a talented driver, needs to be in an IndyCar full-time and not the likes of James Jakes, Francesco Dracone and Rodolfo González.

IndyCar can't promote drivers as ambassadors if they aren't in a seat full-time. IndyCar either has to do what is in the best interest of the series and get the ambassador in a ride full-time or find another ambassador. The former is the expensive route. The latter is the difficult route. Either way, IndyCar would need to pull the trigger and take action.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and Jorge Lorenzo but did you know...

Matt Kenseth won the second Chase race at Loudon.

Maxime Martin and Miguel Molina split the DTM races from Nürburgring. Molina became the first Spaniard to win a DTM race.

Esteve Rabat won the Moto2 race from Aragón. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3.

José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC Race of China.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Kentucky. Austin Dillon won the Trucks race in Loudon, which turned out to be the 500th race in series history.

Coming Up This Weekend
Petit Le Mans.
NASCAR ends the first round of the Chase at Dover.
World Rally returns to Tour de Corse.
World Superbike with be on mainland France at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be at Misano.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Five: Suzuka, Aragón, Nürburgring, Loudon, Shanghai

Asia is busy hosting two world championships. Spain will host two-wheels. The Nürburgring is busy for a second consecutive weekend and NASCAR heads to the second race of their chance. See a pattern this weekend?

Japanese Grand Prix
Four drivers enter Suzuka mathematically eligible for the World Drivers' Championship. Lewis Hamilton is coming off his worst race of the season after a power unit failure at Singapore. The defending world champion is still on 252 points and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has closed the deficit to 41 points.

Sebastian Vettel is coming off his third victory of the season and is now within 49 points of Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen's championship hopes stayed alive after Hamilton's retirement. The Finn trails Hamilton by 145 points with 150 points remaining on the table. The only way Räikkönen can remain mathematically championship eligible heading to Sochi is if he wins this weekend.

Friday practices from Suzuka saw massive rain storms and only a dozen drivers made a lap in FP1. In FP2, Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat was fastest with a lap of 1:48.277. Rosberg was 0.023 seconds back in second with Hamilton over a half second back of the Russian in third. Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, over eight-tenths behind his teammate. Vettel round out the top five with Räikkönen in sixth, over two seconds back. The Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Max Verstappen were seventh and eight respectively. Felipe Nasr was ninth and Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top ten.

Alexander Rossi was the slowest driver in the session. Valtteri Bottas did not participate in the second practice to save tires.

Vettel has the most Japanese Grand Prix victories among active drivers and is second all-time. All four of the Germans Japanese victories have come at Suzuka. Hamilton has two wins in Japan, one at Fuji and one at Suzuka. Fernando Alonso also has two wins in Japan and like Hamilton has won at both Fuji and Suzuka. Räikkönen's lone Japanese win came after a thrilling last lap pass on Giancarlo Fisichella a decade ago. Jenson Button won the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix and it was the ninth time McLaren has won the Japanese Grand Prix, more than any other manufacture. 

Aragón Grand Prix
MotoGP makes their final European stop before their three-week Asia-Pacific tour at Moorland Aragón. Valentino Rossi is coming off his worst race of 2015 after finishing fifth at Misano. The finish ended a 16-race streak of podium finishes for Rossi. The good news for Rossi was he didn't lose any ground to his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo at Misano because the Majorcan retired after having an accident. Rossi has 242 points to Lorenzo's 224.

Marc Márquez won the dry-to-wet-to-dry spectacular at Misano, his first victory at the track in MotoGP. The defending double world champion trails Rossi by 63 points with five races to go. Andrea Iannone has only two podiums this season but the Ducati rider is fourth in the championship, 88 points behind his fellow Italian.

Bradley Smith rounds out the top five of the championship after scoring his best career finish at Misano when Smith came home in second. The Tech3 rider is 112 points behind Rossi. Andrea Dovizioso is the final rider mathematically eligible for the championship as he is 119 points back of Rossi. Dovizioso has four podiums, the fourth-most but he has retired from races on three occasions.

This is the sixth time MotoGP has gone to Aragón. Last year, Lorenzo scored Yamaha's first victory at the track after switching to the wet weather bike at the right time while Márquez and Dani Pedrosa had their races ruined by stretching their stint on the dry weather bike and both falling. The last four Aragón races have been won by four different riders. Casey Stoner is the only rider with multiple victories in MotoGP at the track.

DTM Nürburgring
DTM enters their penultimate weekend of the 2015 season and 16 drivers are still mathematically eligible for the title.

Mercedes' Pascal Wehrlein took the championship lead after Oschersleben after Mattias Ekström and Audi as a whole had a disastrous weekend. Wehrlein leads the Swede and two-time DTM champion by 14 points. Thirty points back of Wehrlein is Edoardo Mortara. Jaime Green won three of the first four races but hasn't been on the podium since. The Brit trails by 33 points with Bruno Spengler, the top BMW driver, rounding out the top five, 36 points back of Wehrlein.

Defending champion Marco Wittmann is 42 points back of Wehrlein. Gary Paffett has yet to win this season and he is 65 points back. Augusto Farfus has also not won yet this season and he is two points behind Paffett. António Félix da Costa scored his first career DTM victory at Zandvoort and is two points behind Farfus. Mike Rockenfeller rounds out the top ten, 73 points back.

Norisring winner Robert Wickens is 11th on 57 points. Timo Glock scored his first victory of the season at the last round at Oschersleben and is a point behind the Canadian and is tied with Christian Vietoris. Paul di Resta has two podiums this season and has 48 points, two points ahead of Maxime Martin. Tom Blomqvist scored his first career DTM victory at Oschersleben and stayed championship eligible as the British driver has 41 points.

Six active drivers have won at the Nürburgring and there have been four different winners in the last four races (Ekström, Spengler, Wickens, Wittmann). Spengler and Martin Tomczyk lead all active drivers with two wins at the track. Paffett's Nürburgring victory came 11 years ago.

Sylvania 300
The second race of the Chase takes place at New Hampshire International Speedway. Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland and clinched a spot in the second round.

Despite the victory, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth leads the championship standings and leads a Gibbs 1-2-3-4 in the standings. Kenseth is two points ahead of Hamlin with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch tied for third, three points back of Kenseth. Kurt Busch and Joey Logano are tied for fifth and both are a point behind of Edwards and his brother Kyle.

Jimmie Johnson is seventh and is seven points behind Kenseth. Ryan Newman is eighth, a dozen points back with Brad Keselowski a point behind Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a point behind Keselowski, rounding out the top ten. Martin Truex, Jr. is 11th, 17 points behind Kenseth. Jeff Gordon holds the final second round position in 12th on 2031 points.

Jamie McMurray is the first driver on the outside looking in as the Missourian is three points behind Gordon. Paul Menard is four points behind Gordon. Kevin Harvick is 22 points back after having an accident end his race at Chicagoland. Clint Bowyer sits on 2000 points after being penalized 25 points for an technical infraction at Chicagoland.

Eleven of the Chase drivers have won at Loudon. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newmann each have three victories. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer each have two win. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at the one-mile oval. Keselowski has the best average finish at Loudon at 10.2 with Hamlin and Johnson at 10.7.

The Loudon Chase race has never been won by a non-Chase driver. 

Race of China
The World Touring Car Championship will be in Shanghai for the antepenultimate round of their 2015 season. Three Citroën drivers will fight it out for the title.

Defending champion José María López has 351 points and is 74 points ahead of teammate Yvan Muller. If the Argentine exits China with a lead greater than 110 points, he will clinch his second consecutive world championship. Sébastien Loeb is the other driver alive for the title. Loeb is 98 points behind López.

López has won seven of 18 races while Muller has four victories and Loeb has three. Citroën's fourth factory driver, Ma Qing Hua is fourth in the champion and won in Portugal. Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro each have victories this season. Michelisz won at his home track, the Hungaroring in May. Monteiro won in Russia and the most recent race at Motegi.

Last year at Shanghai, López split the weekend with Moroccan Mehdi Bennani.

1. Over or Under: 16.5 finishing position for Alexander Rossi?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 British riders in the top eight finishers?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 total podiums for BMW at Nürburgring?
4. Over or Under: 25.5 laps being the average green flag run at Loudon?
5. Over or Under: 86.5 points being José María López's championship lead after Shanghai.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: There was one Blancpain Endurance Series Champion who was not leading entering the weekend. That was the #23 Nissan of Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo.
2. Over: There were six German cars on the WEC podiums (3 in LMP1, 2 in GTE-Pro, 1 in GTE-Am)
3. Under: Only one class winner in the IMSA race started on pole position. That was the #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley of Joey Hand and Scott Pruett.
4. Over: It took Sebastian Vettel over 121 minutes to complete the Singapore Grand Prix.
5. Over: Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola finished in the top ten at Chicagoland.

1. A driver who did not score points at Singapore and is not named Lewis Hamilton will score points at Suzuka.
2. A rider who has yet to retire from a race this season will at Aragón.
3. At least five drivers will be championship eligible after the Nürburgring round.
4. A Chevrolet driver will clinch a spot in the second round.
5. Someone scores their first WTCC victory of the season at Shanghai.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The Pro Cup champion will have a race victory (Correct. The #23 Nissan won at Paul Ricard).
2. An American will finish on a class podium in the WEC race (Wrong. No Americans were on the podiums).
3. There will be a new championship leader in GTD after Austin (Wrong. Christina Nielsen still leads).
4. A Red Bull finishes on the podium (Correct. Daniel Ricciardo finished second).
5. At least one Chase driver finishes outside the top 30 (Correct. Kevin Harvick finished 42nd).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 8/15