Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Four: Persian Nights

Four championships come to a close and they all end in a Persian Gulf country. Three are dead rubbers. Two race take place on Friday. One championship is up for grabs between an Italian and Frenchman, who has lived on the podium in 2015. Normally I go biggest to smallest but today I am starting with the title that is still undecided.

The final weekend of the GP3 Series season occurs during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend and two points separate two drivers for the title.

Italian Ghiotto leads Frenchman Estaban Ocon 227-225 entering the final weekend of the season. The Trident Racing driver Ghiotto has won five races, stood on the podium eight times and has scored points in every race but has finished in the points in only 15 of 16 races. He started on pole on the first race from Monza, which earned him four points but that is his lone retirement this season. He won the most recent race in the series last weekend at Bahrain as a support race to the FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Ocon has not won since the first race of the season at Barcelona in May. However, Ocon has 11 consecutive podium finishes, ten of which are runner-up finishes. The ART Grand Prix driver Ocon, like Ghiotto, has finished in the points in 15 of 16 races with a disqualification from the second race in Austria being the lone blemish on his résumé. He finished third but was booted for an illegal undertray.

Both drivers are in their first GP3 season. Ghiotto ran four races last year for Trident and won pole on debut at Spa-Francorchamps but failed to finish in the points in any of the races. Ocon won last year's FIA European Formula Three Championship over current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen (who finished third) and current DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist (second) and Lucas Auer (fourth).

A few GP3 drivers would could spoil the party the weekend are German Marvin Kirchöfer and Briton Emil Bernstorff. They are third and fourth in the championship and one point separates the two drivers. Kirchöfer is Ocon's teammate and has won four races, including the first race last weekend at Bahrain. Bernstorff drivers for Arden International and he has two victories. The only other drivers to win this season in GP3 are Jimmy Eriksson of Koiranen GP, Kevin Ceccon of Arden International and Óscar Tunjo, formerly of Trident Racing. Tunjo won in Austria but was replaced after the following round.

Formula One
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the final of Formula One's three dead rubbers to end the 2015 season but there are many battles for final position in the championship still to be decided.

Lewis Hamilton has locked up to world championship and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has locked up second in the world championship with Sebastian Vettel locked in third but the battle is for fourth. Valtteri Bottas is one point ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen, 136-135. Bottas finished fourth last year in the world championship and a podium in last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix caused the Finn to jump Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the championship. Bottas finished third in Mexico two races ago. Räikkönen has finished on the podium in both night races this season. He finished second in Bahrain and third in Singapore.

Felipe Massa has an outside shot to finish in the top five of the championship. The Brazilian has 117 points and would need to win or finish second and have Räikkönen fail to score points. Daniil Kvyat has an outside shot to jump Massa but the Russian would have to win and have Massa not score points. Kvyat is ten points ahead of his Red Bull teammate with 94 points. Behind the Red Bull drivers are the Force India drivers with Sergio Pérez on 68 points and Nico Hülkenberg on 52.

Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen are tied for tenth in the world championship on 49 points. The tiebreaker is held by Grosjean, who finished third in the Belgian Grand Prix. Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado are tied on 27 points. Nasr hold the tiebreaker with a fifth in the Australian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has 18 points, two ahead of Jenson Button and seven ahead of Fernando Alonso. Marcus Ericsson has nine points. Both Manor drivers, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, look for their first points in 2015.

In the Constructors' Championship, the top five appear to be set. Mercedes has clinched the title and it will likely finish Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull and Force India, second to fifth. Sixth-ninth is still up the air. Either Lotus or Toro Rosso will finish sixth. Lotus has 76 points to Toro Rosso's 67 while Sauber has 36 points to McLaren's 27 points.

Stoffel Vandoorne has clinched the title but the battle in GP2 is for second.

Alexander Rossi enters with 169.5 points, 30.5 points ahead of Sergey Sirotkin and 37.5 points ahead of Rio Haryanto. The American had a chance to clinch second last week in Bahrain but had a poor performance in qualifying and failed to score any points over the weekend. Mitch Evans rounds out the top five on 120 points and could still finish third in the championship but could also finished as far down as eighth. Evans won the second race of the weekend last weekend in Bahrain. Alex Lynn is on 106 points with his DAMS teammate Pierre Gasly ten points back. Raffaele Marciello is four points behind Gasly. Vandoorne's ART Grand Prix teammate Nobuharu Matsushita is ninth on 68.5 points. Richie Stanaway and Arthur Pic are tied for tenth on 60 points but Stanaway will not be competing in Abu Dhabi. Oliver Rowland replaced the New Zealander at Bahrain and will run this weekend as well.

Jordan King is 12th on 52 points. Artem Markelov has 48 points. Julián Leal has 38 points but he will not be competing this weekend. Sergio Canamasas rounds out the top fifteen with 27 points and Nathanäel Berthon is three points back. Robert Visoiu and Norman Nato are tied on 20 points but Visoiu will not be competing.

Vandoorne does have a chance to become the all-time leader in GP2 race victories if he wins one race this weekend. The Belgian is tied on ten victories with Pastor Maldonado on ten victories.

The final round of the World Touring Car Championship occurs on Friday in Qatar to avoid going head-to-head to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That championship has already been decided. José María López clinched the title in Thailand. His Citroën teammates Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller will battle for second. Loeb had 329 points to Muller's 324 points. This will be Loeb's final race for Citroën as the manufacture will drop him after this round. Loeb will be competing for Peugeot in the Dakar Rally next year. Ma Qing Hua is fourth on 213 points with Gabriele Tarquini fifth on 189 points.

One point separates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, 172-171. Rob Huff is eight on 103 points. Two points covers ninth to eleventh. Tom Chilton has 96 points while Hugo Valente and Mehdi Bennani are tied on 95.

1. Over or Under: 6.5 points being the margin between first and second in GP3 championship standings?
2. Over or Under: 1.5 South Americans finished in the points in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 0.5 victories for Stoffel Vandoorne this week?
4. Over or Under: 0.5 podiums for manufactures not named Citroën?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Two championship eligible drivers finished in the top five in the Cup race.
2. Over: Two Grand National Series championship eligible drivers finished in the top five.
3. Over: There were 14 lead changes in the Truck finale.
1. Under: Two cars finished on the lead lap in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
2. Under: Two Ligiers finished on the LMP2 podium.
3. Under: Four (France, Italy, Finland, UK) were represented on the GTE-Pro podium.
4. Under: Three laps separated the GTE-Pro and GTE-am winners.
5. Over: David Coulthard and Alex Buncombe made the semifinals in the Champion of Champions.

1. Esteban Ocon takes the GP3 championship and wins a race this weekend.
2. There are at least two changes in championship position after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
3. Stoffel Vandoorne leave Bahrain as the sole all-time leader in GP2 victories.
4. Mehdi Bennani finishes in the top ten of the WTCC standings.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race (Wrong. Kyle Busch won).
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals (Correct. He finished behind all three actually).
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten (Wrong. They all finished in the top ten).
1. All three privateer LMP1 entries finish the race (Correct. All 32 cars in the 6 Hours of Bahrain finished).
2. Both Extreme Speed Motorsports cars finish and one finishes in the top half of LMP2 (Wrong. The ESM cars were the bottom two in class).
3. One of the FIA WEC teams with a streak of five consecutive podiums or more ends at Bahrain (Correct. The #17 Porsche finished 5th in class and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari finished 4th).
4. Aston Martin wins in GTE-Am (Correct. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won).
5. The Nations' Cup has a first-time winner (Correct. England won the Nations' Cup).
Overall: 5/8 Running Tally: 33/63

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

The NASCAR season ended just a few days ago and three champions were crowned. On the eve of Thanksgiving, it is time to look back and see how the predictions came out. There are a few that were wrong by a country mile. There were others that were spot on. Without further ado, here they are.

1. We Will See a Major Rule Change in One or All Three Series
Correct! We saw the qualifying changes at restrictor plate races after an unnecessary accident occurred in Daytona 500 qualifying and there were the downforce changes with the ridiculously large spoilers. Whether these were positive rule changes is debatable but they happened, the downforce changes were influential in races and they gave the NASCAR media something to fodder on for a few weeks.

2. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray Both Win a Cup Race
Wrong! Neither won a race, although McMurray did make the Chase. While McMurray made the Chase, he barely had a good season. He led 14 laps all season and he didn't lead a lap after the spring Richmond race. Larson went from a great rookie season to a sophomore slump that brought he back down to the same level as fellow sophomore Austin Dillon. Both had ten top tens; McMurray had four top fives to Larson's two. I thought they would both build on the momentum from the end of 2014 but they fell back to a typical Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR form. The closest either came to winning was Larson last night, when he was charging down Brad Keselowski before the final caution came out.

3. Joe Gibbs Racing Wins Less Than Five Races
Wrong! By a large margin. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each won five races apiece. Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin each won two races. Last year, Gibbs won two races and those were the only two Toyota victories in all of 2014. I thought the expansion to four cars would be spreading the team thin and Busch getting injured at Daytona didn't help. Little did we know that Kenseth would rebound, Edwards and Hamlin would have respectable season and Busch would not only return from his injury but win four of five over the summer and picked up his fifth victory in the final race to win the championship.

4. Darrell Wallace, Jr. Makes His Cup Series Debut
Wrong! He started all 33 races in NASCAR's second division but no Cup starts. I guess the era of development drivers getting a half a dozen races in an additional for a Cup team is over. I say that I realize Chase Elliott got a handful of races driving the #25 for Hendrick Motorsports but it use to be something that almost every big team did.

5. Tony Stewart Will Win a Cup Series Race
Wrong! Never close. Twenty-eighth in the championship. Three top tens. A sixth at Bristol in the spring was his best finish. I know he is retiring next year but perhaps he should just retire now. Maybe 2016 goes a little better, perhaps a race win falls into his lap and he gets back into the Chase but I don't think he has it to be a champion.

6. Roush Fenway Racing Fail to Win a Cup Race
Correct! Roush Fenway Racing is where Robert Yates Racing was a decade ago: Success not that far in the rearview mirror but clearly not the team they once were. Trevor Bayne hasn't done a thing since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won consecutive titles in the second division but he has never blossomed into a competitive Cup driver. Greg Biffle is getting old. Ten years ago, Fenway Sports Group bought into the team coming off of consecutive Cup titles and was Ford's darling. Now, the team is in the back half of the grid on a regular basis and Penske are Ford's new squeeze. I just wonder if the Fenway of the sports team will sale their shares and if Roush could go the same way as Yates.

7. Chase Elliott Does Not Repeat as Grand National Series Champion
Correct! He finished second in the championship though to Chris Buescher. He is replacing Jeff Gordon next year in the Cup series. Not repeating didn't hurt him. But now the pressure will be on as he hits the big time.

8. NASCAR Continues to Ignore Cup Drivers Moonlighting in the Grand National and Truck Series.
Correct! Championship ineligible drivers won 25 of 33 races in the second division. That is 75.7%. While they didn't known anything to control moonlighting, the numbers in the Truck Series was the reciprocal of the second division as championship ineligible drivers won only six of 23 Truck races (26.08%). It's hard to read anything into the second division because there is so little success of the top drivers. The best driver won only two races. Ryan Reed won the first race of the season and that was his only top ten all season and he finished tenth in the championship. Ryan Sieg, Dakota Armstrong, J.J. Yeley and Jeremy Clements were the next four drivers in the championship standings and they all had only one top ten. That's not good.

9. The Truck Series Champion Wins More Than Three Races
Wrong! Erik Jones won three races. He had a good year and the Truck championship battle was pretty good between him, Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton. It's still kind of puzzling though that Crafton could win double the races and have more top fives than Jones and only finished third in the championship.

10. Alex Tagliani Wins a NASCAR-sanctioned Race
Correct! He won in the Canadian Tires Series at Sunset Speedway. He might have deserved a win at Mid-Ohio but the Canadian Tires Series is NASCAR-sanctioned and it still counts.

11. Ratings Will Be Down Slightly on NBC, Mostly in the Grand National Series
Correct! Just look at the numbers. What really caught my eye is how high the ratings are after for the first six to eight weeks of the NASCAR season and then how they never get back to those levels. Fans are so starved that they watch but they don't stay for the long haul, or at least nothing after the first quarter of the season. I just wonder if fans get so turned off once the Chase comes around. It is tough to watch all 36 races. I've done it but it takes a lot of sacrifice. Perhaps NASCAR has oversaturated the fans with races. Maybe they should condense the schedule. Not the moronic level that IndyCar did and end before Labor Day weekend but end a few weeks earlier and have a few more off weeks during the season.

12. There Will Not Be a Winless Driver Eligible for the Cup Title Entering the Final Race
Correct! Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex, Jr. each had one victory. Kevin Harvick had three and Kyle Busch entered with four victories and picked up his fifth, which earned him his first Cup championship.

Six-for-twelve. That would be a pretty good weekend at the plate for Bryce Harper. There were a couple predictions that look completely ridiculously (the Gibbs one in particular) but overall, not terrible.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: 2015 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited

We are less than a week from Thanksgiving in the United States and the motorsports season is coasting to the finish line. Championships were crowned under the lights in the Persian Gulf and in South Florida. Meanwhile, some of the best of the world battled it out in a plethora of automobiles in London to determine who is the Champion of Champions. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2015 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited
With the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season now in the books. It is time to look back on predictions not only for WEC but IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and Blancpain GT Series.

1. FIA WEC: All Four LMP1 Manufactures Win in 2015
Wrong! Nissan ran Le Mans and disappeared. Toyota never got over their championship hang over. It was Porsche vs. Audi the entire season. I made this prediction because Porsche won in their first season and I bought into the Nissan hype-train. Now, where is Nissan? They turned out to be all talk. Now we aren't even sure if Nissan will try again in 2016. I don't think they will.

2. Extreme Speed Motorsports is the LMP2 Favorites
Wrong! Extreme Speed Motorsports struggled with the HPD ARX-04b developed and had to move back to the ARX-03b before settling on the Ligier. They were always chasing the rest of the LMP2 grid this season. After their impressive appearances in the few WEC events they did at the end of 2014, I thought they would be able to take the fight to G-Drive, KCMG and others. I didn't think those teams were that strong as there were only four full-time cars in 2014. I was mistaken. G-Drive took the title and KCMG came second. I think ESM has the people to compete on the world stage and perhaps a less fluid situation in 2016 will have the team competing at the front more often.

3. Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni Do Not Win a Third Consecutive World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers and Manufactures
Correct! Although, Ferrari and Bruni had a shot to continue the streak at Bahrain, Porsche and Richard Leitz came out on top. With the future of Porsche in GTE still up in the air, this could just be an off year for the Italian make and Italian driver. Aston Martin hasn't been able to competitive throughout an entire season and who knows how Ford will do in their debut season.

4. IMSA: LMP2 Cars Go Winless
Correct! Daytona Prototypes went 10-0 in 2015. Michael Shank Racing was LMP2 cars lone bullet and the closes they came was a second at Belle Isle. There is no point in running IMSA if you have an LMP2 car. Balance of Performance will never be on your side. You mind as well try and find a well-funded silver driver and try to run in ELMS or FIA WEC.

5. Corvette Takes the GTLM Title
Wrong! Another year. Another year with Corvette lighting the world on fire before the month of July. Another title coughed up. The season started with the sweep of the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring and then a third at Long Beach for Jan Magnussen and Antonio García. After that the #3 Corvette would score only one podium in the final seven races, a third at Mosport. The #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won at Le Mans but there only podiums were the bookends of the season, third at Daytona and third at Road Atlanta. While the Corvettes couldn't get there act together, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy kept winning and Porsche took the title.

6. The TRG-Aston Martin Wins a GTD Race
Wrong! But they were so close. Four runner-up finishes and a third. Christina Nielsen lost the GTD title on the final day of the season by two points to Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. Her and James Davison let Belle Isle slip through their grasp and then her and Kuno Wittmer had golden opportunities at Road America and VIR. Nielsen and TRG were the most consistent team in GTD in 2015 but they just couldn't break through and the title slipped away.

7. PWC: Cadillac Does Not Win the Title
Wrong! If Olivier Beretta doesn't drive into the side of Johnny O'Connell, who knows who would have won the title but the Italian's failed attempt at the Corkscrew ultimately cost him the title. Also, who knows whom the champion would have been if Ryan Dalziel didn't have to miss races because of FIA WEC duty. Cadillac didn't dominate and while they started slow, O'Connell was able to compete at the front with the Beretta, Dalziel, Kevin Éstre and James Davison.

8. At Least Seven Different Manufactures Get a Win in the GT Class
Correct! Ferrari and McLaren split the opening weekend at Austin. Acura surprised everyone with a victory in the wet at St. Petersburg. Nissan won its first race at Barber. Cadillac swept Mosport. Lamborghini and Bentley scored their lone victories of the season at Road America and Porsche's first victories didn't come until Mid-Ohio when Dalziel swept the weekend. And, amazingly, eight manufactures won in GT and none of them were Audi.

9. There is a New GTS Champion
Correct! But to be fair, I didn't know at the time that Lawson Aschenbach was going to be moving to the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge. The man who replaced Aschenbach at Blackdog Speed Shop, Michael Cooper, picked up right where Aschenbach left off. He won the title handily over the Phoenix American Motorsports Ford of Andrew Aquilante and GTSport Racing Porsche of Jack Baldwin. TRG-Aston Martin's Kris Wilson won the most races in GTS but, like Dalziel, missed a handful of rounds but not due to FIA WEC duty. If Wilson had run the full season, he might have taken the title and not Cooper.

10. Blancpain GT: Bentley Wins a Blancpain Title
Correct! The #84 HTP Motorsport Bentley of Vincent Abril and Maximilian Buhk won the Blancpain Sprint Series over Robin Frijns in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra.

11. The Moscow Blancpain Sprint Series Race Does Not Happen
Correct! Technically. I said the street race in Moscow would not happen and it didn't. The race was replaced with a round at Moscow Raceway but Moscow Raceway isn't in Moscow, it is in Volokolamsk, Russia, 60 miles from Moscow.

12. A non-German Manufacture Wins the Spa 24 Hours
Wrong! The #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 GT3 of Nicky Catsburg, Lucas Luhr and Markus Palttala won the Spa 24 Hours.

Champions From the Weekend
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brandon Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Sam Bird and Julien Canal won the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers with their victory in class in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. 

Richard Leitz, driver of the #91 Porsche won the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers by finishing fifth in class in Bahrain.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov and Viktor Shaitar won the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers by finishing fifth in class in Bahrain. .

Kyle Busch won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship by winning the finale at Homestead.

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship by finishing 11th at Homestead. 

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with a seventh at Homestead. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about England's victory in the Nations' Cup, Sebastian Vettel and Kyle Busch but did you know... 

The #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani won the 6 Hours of Bahrain. The #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am. 

Maro Engel won the FIA GT World Cup for Mercedes. He swept the weekend, winning the qualifying race and main race.  

Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup split the Saturday V8 Supercars races from Phillip Island. Lowndes would win the Sunday race as well.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Mitch Evans split the GP2 races from Bahrain. Vandoorne tied Pastor Maldonado as the all-time leader in GP2 race victories with ten. Marvin Kirchöfer and Luca Ghiotto split the GP3 races. 

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Grand National Series finale at Homestead. Matt Crafton won the season finale of the Truck season, his sixth victory of 2015. 

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One season comes to a close in Abu Dhabi. 
GP2 and GP3 also end their seasons in Abu Dhabi. 
The World Touring Car Championship ends under the lights on Friday night in Qatar. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sebastian Vettel is Champion of Champions

For the first time in the history of Race of Champions, a German won the Champion of Champions competition.

Sebastian Vettel defeated Tom Kristensen in the final 2-0 to take the honor. Both races were competed in KTM X-Bows after mechanical issues struck both ROC cars. Kristensen slid into he barrier in the second heat, handing the title to Vettel. Vettel had to defeat David Coulthard in three races in the semifinals. Coulthard was hoping to become the fourth driver to win consecutive Champion of Champions.

Kristensen defeated Alex Buncombe in the semifinals. This was Kristensen's fourth final appearance. He lost to Sébastien Loeb in 2005, Sébastien Ogier in 2011 and Romain Grosjean in 2012. Kristensen's fourth runner-ups have come in France, Germany, Thailand and now the United Kingdom.

Vettel defeated Nico Hülkenberg in the quarterfinals and Petter Solberg in the round of 16. Kristensen defeated Jason Plato in his quarterfinal and Nelson Piquet, Jr. in the round of 16. The other Nations' Cup winner Andy Priaulx lost in the quarterfinals to Buncombe after forcing a third heat with the Blancpain Endurance Series champion. Felipe Massa was the other quarterfinalist.

Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Button, Susie Wolff, Romain Grosjean, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Bradley Philpot were the drivers eliminated in the round of 16. Hülkenberg and Massa eliminated Ricciardo and Button respectively. Coulthard knocked out his Scottish teammate Wolff. Plato bounced Grosjean while Priaulx ended Hunter-Reay's night. Buncombe beat his fellow Englishman Philpot.

In the preliminary round, Hunter-Reay eliminated José María López while Philpot knocked out Mick Doohan. Priaulx eliminated Wehrlein after the German buried his Euro NASCAR in the barriers. Buncombe knocked out Jolyon Palmer.

Vettel joins Romain Grosjean as the only drivers to win the Champion of Champions competition while actively competing in Formula One. Vettel's victory continues the streak of European drivers winning Champion of Champions. A non-European has never won the competition.

Friday, November 20, 2015

England Defeats Germany; Wins Nations' Cup

The first half of the 27th Race of Champions is in the books and the Nations' Cup is in new hands.

The hosts England won the Nations' Cup as British Touring Car drivers Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato defeated the daunting German pairing of Formula One's Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg. Priaulx defeated Vettel in the first heat of the final with Hülkenberg forcing a third and Nations' Cup deciding race. Priaulx defeated Hülkenberg in a KTM X-Bow finale.

Priaulx and Plato had to take the long-way to the final as they had to compete in a preliminary matchup against the Brazilians Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet, Jr. and they swept them to move on to the quarterfinals to face the Young Stars pairing of Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer, who defeated Team All-Stars of Romain Grosjean and Sir Chris Hoy in three races. Priaulx defeated Wehrlein and had to defeat Palmer in a third race to make it to the semifinals. It was an all-English semifinal as the BTCC drivers met Jenson Button and Alex Buncombe. Priaulx defeated Buncombe and forced Button to defeat Plato. Priaulx would knock off Button in the third race to make it to the finals.

This is the first time the Nations' Cup has gone to England. Germany had won six consecutive Nations' Cups they participated in. Germany was not represented in last year's Race of Champions. The 2014 Nations' Cup winners Team Nordic of Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg made the semifinal but were swept by Germany. Kristensen lost to Vettel in the first race by less than a tenth of a second. Kristensen needed to defeat Ryan Hunter-Reay in a third race in the quarterfinals after the American defeated Solberg in the second race of that quarterfinal matchup. Kristensen defeated José María López in the first race.

The closest race of the evening occurred in the England-Scotland quarterfinal. Jenson Button defeated David Coulthard by 0.0051 seconds to eliminate Scotland after Buncombe defeated Susie Wolff in the first heat.

Coulthard will get an opportunity to defend his Champion of Champions crown tomorrow afternoon. The only other past Champion of Champions winner competing in this year's edition of Race of Champions is Romain Grosjean, who won the event in 2012. A European driver has won every Champion of Champions competition but a German has never held the honor. No Englishman has ever won Champion of Champions. Beside Coulthard, the only other British driver to win it was Colin McRae in 1998. The two previous Race of Champions to take place in London were won by Mattias Ekström and Sébastien Loeb.

Friday Five: Bahrain and London

The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship ends their 2015 season in Bahrain this weekend and all four championships remain unclaimed. While sports car racing's best battle under the lights in the Persian Gulf, champions from all forms of motorsports, two-wheels and four, will compete in London in the 2015 edition of Race of Champions.

The battle for the world championship is between two teams. The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley extended their championship lead to 12 points over the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer after winning in Shanghai. The #17 Porsche has won every race since Le Mans while the #7 has finished on the podium in every race this season but has not stood on the top step of the podium since Spa-Francorchamps in May. 

All three Porsche drivers are pursuing their first world championship. The three Audi drivers won the inaugural FIA World Endurance Drivers' Championship in 2012. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird leads the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley by 16 points. The Russian team has finished on the podium in the last five races with two victories and three runner-up finishes. KCMG lost its lead in the LMP2 championship after retiring at Fuji. The team won at Le Mans and Nürburgring and finished on the podium in every other race but Silverstone, where the team finished fourth. 

Both teams are going for their first LMP2 titles. G-Drive finished runner-up last year with Rusinov, Canal and Olivier Pla. KCMG finished third last year with Howson and Bradley. 

Richard Leitz controls his own destiny for the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. The Porsche drivers leads with 135 points, 18 points ahead of co-driver Michael Christiansen. The Dane only trails the Austrian because he missed the Spa-Francorchamps round. Both will share the #91 Porsche. Twenty points behind Leitz is the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and James Calado. Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander both still have a shot to retain their title. The #51 AF Corse drivers trail by 22.5 points. 

Ferrari has won every title in GTE-Pro with Bruni taking a share in every previous World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. Porsche is looking to sweep both the top prototype and GT championships.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov lead with 155 points and are 19 points head of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas. Águas will miss the season finale and will be replaced by Matteo Cressoni. The #72 Ferrari won three races, including Le Mans, has three third and a sixth at Fuji. The #83 Ferrari has finished on the podium in every race this season but did not pick up its first victory until the most recent round at Shanghai. 

The streak of no repeat champions in GTE-Am will continue as neither SMP Racing nor AF Corse have won. Labre Compétition, 8Star Motorsports and Aston Martin Racing have each won the title while Aston Martin drivers have won both editions of the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers. 

Race of Champions
The 27th Race of Champions will feature 20 drivers from 11 different countries. 

The defending Champion of Champions, David Coulthard returns and will pair with Williams F1 test driver Susie Wolff to represent Scotland in the Nations' Cup. Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg return to defend their Nations' Cup title for the Nordic team. After not competing in 2014, Germany will have a team represented. Sebastian Vettel also returns after missing in 2014 and he will be paired with Le Mans winner Nico Hülkenberg. Germany won six consecutive Nations' Cups with Vettel and Michael Schumacher from 2007-2012. 

The host England has two teams. British Touring Car Championship drivers Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx pair to form England 1 while Jenson Button and Blancpain Endurance Series champion Alex Buncombe form England 2. Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Doohan will represent Australia . Brazil will have a team in Race of Champions for the first time since 2005. Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet, Jr. were the drivers that year and both return in 2015. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay and José María López return to ROC and will form Team Americas. Runner-up last year's in the Champion of Champions Pascal Wehrlein returns and will pair with Jolyon Palmer to form the Anglo-German Young Stars team. Romain Grosjean and Jorge Lorenzo were schedule to form Team All-Stars but Lorenzo is out after suffering burns celebrating his MotoGP championship. Sir Chris Hoy will replace the Majorcan. The six-time Olympic gold medalist Hoy won the LMP3 championship this year in the European Le Mans Series. 

In round one of the Nations' Cup, Team All Stars will face off with Team Young Stars and England 1 will take on Brazil. The winners of those two match-ups will meet in a quarterfinal. 

Team Nordic will face-off against Team Americas. Former Red Bull teammates Ricciardo and Vettel will go head-to-head as Australia faces Germany. There will be a Calcutta Cup matchup as England 2 faces Scotland in the fourth quarterfinal. 

Each Nations' Cup round is a best-of-three with the winning drivers meeting in a third heat if necessary. 

For the Champion of Champions competition on Saturday there will be four first round match-ups. Team Americas teammates López and Hunter-Reay will meet. The winner of López/Hunter-Reay will meet the winner of Wehrlein/Priaulx in round two. Doohan will face the winner of ROC Factor  Bradley Philpot, a driver who has finished on a class podium in the 24 Hours Nürburgring. The winner of Doohan/Philpot will face the winner of Buncombe/Palmer. 

Coulthard will face Wolff in the first race of his title defense. Grosjean is the only other past Champion of Champions in the field and he will face Plato. Ricciardo and Hülkenberg meet in one of two all-Formula One driver match-ups. The other is Button vs. Massa. Vettel takes on Solberg while Kristensen will face Piquet, Jr. 

After the Champion of Champions is crowned, the drivers will take part in a karting competition. Two heats will take place with the top ten heading to the final. 

1. Over or Under: 2.5 cars finishing on the lead lap?
2. Over or Under: 2.5 Ligiers on the podium in LMP2?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 nationalities represented on the GTE-Pro podium?
4. Over or Under: 4.5 laps between the GTE-Pro winner and GTE-Am winner?
5. Over or Under: 1.5 British drivers in the semifinals of the individual competition?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Zero Chase drivers finished a lap down at Phoenix.
2. Under: One retirement in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr.
3. Under: The combine age of Andrea Caldarelli and Ryō Hirakawa is 46.
4. Under: The top three starters in GT300 at Motegi finished in the top three.
5. Under: Only one Scandinavian driver in the top five of Wales Rally GB, Andreas Mikkelsen.

1. All three privateer LMP1 entries finish the race.
2. Both Extreme Speed Motorsports cars finish and one finishes in the top half of LMP2.
3. One of the FIA WEC teams with a streak of five consecutive podiums or more ends at Bahrain.
4. Aston Martin wins in GTE-Am.
5. The Nations' Cup has a first-time winner.

Last Week's Predictions
1. One of the four drivers on the outside looking in entering Phoenix will be championship eligible at Homestead (Wrong. The four that entered were the four that left).
2. A car will retire while running in the top three (Wrong. Sainz, Jr. was never close to the top three).
3. The GT500 champion will have a race victory (Correct. Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli had two victories).
4. A non-Japanese manufacture will win the GT300 race at Motegi (Wrong. Toyota won).
5. Three British drivers finish in the points (Wrong. Only two. Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans).
Overall: 1/5 Running Tally: 27/55

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Three: NASCAR Championships

It is a busy weekend in the motorsport world, especially with the NASCAR national touring divisions all coming to a close and all with championships that remain undecided. A handful of drivers look to add another title to their résumé while others look to be crowd for the first time.

Cup Series
Four drivers are championship eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

Jeff Gordon enters the final race of his career looking for his fifth Cup championship. He has not won a title since 2001. Gordon has one victory, which came at Martinsville last month. Should Gordon win the title and not win the race, he will become the fifth driver to win the Cup title with only one victory. The others were Bill Rexford in 1950, Ned Jarrett in 1961, Benny Parsons in 1973 and Matt Kenseth in 2003. Gordon could also set a record for fewest top five finishes for a champion in NASCAR's modern-era. Gordon has five top fives and the record was set at nine by Tony Stewart in 2011.

Kevin Harvick looks for his second consecutive title. He could become the 11th driver in NASCAR history to win consecutive titles joining Buck Baker, Lee Petty, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick has three victories and has finished in the top ten in the last three races. Harvick leads all drivers in top fives with 22 and is tied with Joey Logano for most top tens. Each has 27 top tens. Harvick has led 2,248 laps this season.

Martin Truex, Jr. will have a career-best finish in the Cup Series regardless of where he finishes. He could become the first New Jerseyan to win the Cup Series championship. Like Gordon, Truex, Jr. enters with one victory and could set the record for fewest top fives for a champion. Truex, Jr. has eight top fives this season. He could become the fourth driver to win NASCAR's top two national touring series championships joining Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. If Truex, Jr. takes the title, Furniture Row Racing will become the first single car team to win the championship since Alan Kulwicki won the title in 1992.

Kyle Busch could become the first driver in NASCAR's modern-era to win the championship despite missing a race. Busch missed 11 races this season but has four victories, 11 top fives and 15 top tens. If Busch wins the title, he will set a record for fewest top tens for a champion in the modern-era. Of the four remaining drivers, Busch has led the second most laps at 694 laps. He could become the first Toyota driver to win the championship and could earn Joe Gibbs Racing their first title in a decade and fourth overall. Like Truex, Jr., Busch could become the fourth driver to win a title in each of NASCAR's top two divisions.

Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at Homestead, in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Gordon started on pole position last year. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch each have made ten starts at Homestead with Truex, Jr. having three top fives and seven top tens to Busch's one top five and three top tens. Harvick has the best average finish of the final four at Homestead at 7.6. Truex, Jr. averages a 10.0, Gordon 10.6 and Busch 23.1.

Grand National Series
Like in the Cup Series, four drivers are still eligible for the championship in NASCAR's second division.

Chris Buescher leads with 1,157 points, 18 ahead of Chase Elliott, who is looking for his second consecutive title, Ty Dillon by 22 points and Regan Smith by 24 points.

Buescher has two victories, 11 top fives and 20 top tens and has an average finish of 8.3. He won at Iowa and Dover. Buescher has been running at the finish of all 32 races entering the season finale. He could give Roush Fenway Racing their fifth title, their first since 2012.

Elliott's lone victory came at Richmond in September. He has 11 top fives and 26 top tens and an average finish of 8.9. Elliott could become the ninth driver to win multiple titles in NASCAR's second division, joining Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Of those nine, only Ingram and Harvick did not win the titles in consecutive years.

Dillon has not won a race this season and could join his brother Austin as the only drivers to win a NASCAR national touring division title without a victory. His best finish was second at Kentucky in September. He has 12 top fives and 24 top tens. Like Buescher, Dillon has finished every race this season.

Smith won at Mid-Ohio and Dover and has 11 top fives and 25 top tens. He has finished 31 of 32 races entering this season. He enters the season finale with 12 consecutive top ten finishes. Smith is the only of the four drivers to have won at Homestead. He won the 2012 Homestead race.

Truck Series
Three drivers are alive for the NASCAR's Truck Series championship.

Erik Jones leads with 861 points, 19 points clear of Tyler Reddick and 32 points clear of Matt Crafton.

Jones has three victories this season (Iowa, Mosport and Texas). He has the fewest amount of top fives among the remaining championship eligible drivers as he has 11 but has the most top tens among the final three with 19. He has averaged a finish of 6.3 and finished all but one race this season.

Reddick's two victories came at Daytona and Dover and he has 13 top fives and 18 top tens. He has averaged a finish of 6.5 this season and has finished every race this season. He could become the first driver to win a Truck championship driving for Ford since Greg Biffle in 2000.

Crafton has five victories this season, the most in the series. He won at Atlanta, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Martinsville. He has 12 top fives and 17 top tens and has averaged a finish of 8.0 in 22 races. He has three retirements this season. Crafton is seeking his third consecutive title, a record in the Truck Series.

Crafton has made 14 starts at Homestead with his best finish being second in 2009. If Crafton takes the green flag on Friday night, he will break a tie with Ron Hornaday for most Truck starts at Homestead. Reddick's lone Homestead start was last year and he finished sixth. Jones will make his Homestead debut.

1. 2.5 championship eligible drivers finishing in the top five?
2. 1.5 Grand National series regulars finishing in the top five?
3. 13.5 leader changes in the Truck race?

1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race.
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals.
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten.