Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2015 NASCAR Predictions

The 2014 motorsports season has ended and it is time to look forward to 2015. The NASCAR season ended less than a month ago but it is our first of five sets of predictions for the 2015 season. From the Cup Series to the newly rebranded Xfinity Series (which I will refer to as the Grand National Series) to the Trucks, here are a dozen things I predict will happen in 2015.

1. We Will See a Major Rule Change in One or All Three Series
I am not quite sure what it might be but NASCAR will come up with something. Maybe it is rewarding drivers who win races during the Chase, giving them a slight bonus when they advance to the next round or maybe it's adopting a Chase format to the Grand National and Truck Series. NASCAR will do something. Maybe they will continue to tinker with qualifying. Who knows.

2. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray Both Win a Cup Race
The Ganassi drivers looked better than most Chase drivers in the final ten races and Larson was inching ever closer to a victory in 2014. He didn't break through but the 2014 Rookie of the Year has a full year of experience under his belt and that come to his advantage. McMurray had 13 top tens in 2014, over half (seven) were top five finishes and the Missourian also scored two pole positions. He is always at the front of restrictor plate races (five of his seven victories are at Daytona or Talladega) and his other two victories came at Charlotte. So McMurray has six golden opportunities to get a victory in 2015.

3. Joe Gibbs Racing Wins Less Than Five Races
The Toyota team won two races all of 2014 and those were the only two victories for the Japanese manufacture in Cup last year. Matt Kenseth finished seventh in the 2014 championship but went winless after picking up six victories in 2013. The team has expanded to four cars with the addition of Carl Edwards but we have seen teams expand and then struggle (Richard Childress Racing I am looking at you). Chevrolet has power in numbers and Ford has Team Penske. Gibbs has took a big step back in 2014 and were fortunate to have Denny Hamlin championship eligible entering the final race. I expect them to win more than two races but I don't think the team will as dominate as Penske was in 2014. 

4. Darrell Wallace, Jr. Makes His Cup Series Debut
Speaking of Gibbs, let's go the driver they are letting walk away. Darrell Wallace, Jr. won four races in the 2014 Truck Series season and finished third in the championship however, sponsorship issues has forced him to leave the team and it appears he maybe moving to the Grand National Series to driver for Roush-Fenway. Wallace, Jr. is a very talented driver and we are approaching nine years since the last African-American qualified for a Cup race (Bill Lester at the June Michigan race in case you're wondering. Before that, NASCAR went two decade between African-American drivers making a start in the Cup Series). The time is right for Wallace, Jr. to get a Cup start or two while he continues to develop into a more rounded driver. 

5. Tony Stewart Will Win a Cup Series Race
With a difficult 2014 behind him, Tony Stewart will find a way back into victory lane. I don't think he will be at the top of the championship and I don't think he will be a contender every week but I think the three-time champion will be able to have competitive race weekends where he is in contention and be able to pull out a victory. It could be a short track, it could be a road course, it just might be the Daytona 500. Imagine that? After the horrific year, Stewart returns to Daytona and finally breaks through for his first Daytona 500 victory, pretty much the final piece of the puzzle for an otherwise illustrious career. 

6. Roush Fenway Racing Fail to Win a Cup Race
How the mighty have fallen. Remember when everyone panicked when Roush had five cars and the worry was the team expanding to taking up a quarter of the grid? NASCAR even implemented a rule preventing a team from have more than four full-time cars and Roush had one grandfathered in for a handful of seasons before they had to shut down the program. Those were the days. Now Roush can barely field three full-time cars. The glory days of Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards are gone. Now it's Biffle carrying the torch with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne as his teammates, each with two left feet. Stenhouse has yet to translate his talent which won him two Grand National titles into Cup success and while Bayne won the 2011Daytona 500, his second Cup start, he has managed only two top tens in his subsequent 56 Cup starts driving for the Wood Brothers. Penske has supplanted Roush as the top Ford team and you could make an argument that Richard Petty Racing with Sam Hornish, Jr. and Aric Almirola are the second best Ford team. Don't hold your breathe on Roush winning in Cup next year. 

7. Chase Elliott Does Not Repeat as Grand National Series Champion
After winning this year's title weeks before his 19th birthday, Chase Elliott will return for another year in NASCAR's second division and could join the likes of Sam Ard, Larry Pearson, Randy Lajoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr. and Stenhouse, Jr. as back-to-back champions. However, I don't see that happening. One, because who knows what NASCAR might do with that championship format. Two, I think Elliott could face more of a challenge. Teammate Regan Smith finished third in the 2013 championship and second in 2014. If he continues improving at that rate, he will be lined up for a championship in 2015. While you shouldn't hold your breathe on Roush winning in Cup, they could win the Grand National title as they have added Elliott Sadler from Gibbs and Ryan Reed will compete full-time and the team could be adding Darrell Wallace, Jr. Brian Scott and Ty Dillon both look to return with Richard Childress Racing. Winning a title it tough, defending it is even tougher and I expect someone else to be hoisting the trophy on November 21, 2015.

8. NASCAR Continues to Ignore Cup Drivers Moonlighting in the Grand National and Truck Series.
And because NASCAR continues to ignore it, Kyle Busch will win over a half dozen Truck and Grand National races and Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will combine to win a dozen Grand National races. No one is asking for NASCAR to ban all moonlighting, just limit it. I love to see Cup drivers moonlight occasionally but not Cup drivers running 75% of Grand National and Truck races. Limit drivers to seven races in each championship they are ineligible for and all will be well with the world. Allow the full-time drivers in those series to compete against each other for victories, not for fifth every week and they will become more household names. It is a win-win proposition.

9. The Truck Series Champion Wins More Than Three Races
Matt Crafton has won the last two Truck titles, combining for three victories the last two seasons. If Crafton wants to become the first driver to win three consecutive Truck titles, he is going to have to do more than he has done in the past two season. Darrell Wallace, Jr. won four races in 2014 and Erik Jones won three races and Jones is now eligible to run a full season. Crafton's teammate Johnny Sauter should challenge for the title. Tyler Reddick will run a full season for Brad Keselowski Racing and he finished 12th in the 2014 championship despite missing six races. Jeb Burton could also return to ThorSport alongside Crafton and Sauter. Kyle Busch will win at least six Truck races, but it's a matter of what happens in those other 17 that will decide who wins the title.

10. Alex Tagliani Wins a NASCAR-sanctioned Race
This is very vague because I don't know where it is going to happen but it's going to happen. Whether it is with Penske at one of the three Grand National Series road course races, all of which take place in August (Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America) or the Mosport Truck race (which is the day after the Road America race. Could be an interesting doubleheader for Tagliani to attempt) or a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series race, Tagliani will win a NASCAR-sanctioned race in 2015.

11. Ratings Will Be Down Slightly on NBC, Mostly in the Grand National Series
I don't expect NASCAR to get better ratings on NBCSN compared to ESPN. Overall, NBC/NBCSN might score better than ESPN/ABC because NASCAR has more network races with NBC than they did with ABC but I think the cable races will see a slight decrease. NBCSN isn't as readily available or a mainstay as ESPN is and while NBCSN might see growth, comparing them to what NASCAR did on ESPN, I think the numbers will be down. Nothing drastic but definitely by a few decimal points.

12. There Will Not Be a Winless Driver Eligible for the Cup Title Entering the Final Race
NASCAR won't have to worry about a Ryan Newman-situation at Homestead in 2015. But that doesn't mean their Chase-format isn't contrived and something to be proud of.

One set of predictions down, four to go. Look for the next batch of predictions in two days.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Christmas Lights Are Out

Another weekend full of travel kept me away from most of the action on Saturday but thanks to modern technology I was able to catch up by Sunday night. Now the motorsports season is over but there is still plenty to talk about as we prepare for 2015.

Save Bryan Herta Autosport
Indianapolis Star's Curt Cavin gave a car count for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season and while the grid size appears to be on the verge of increasing but it could also be on the verge of shrinking simultaneously. While gaining a fourth Penske and second AJ Foyt Racing entry, the grid could be losing an Indianapolis 500 winning team, Bryan Herta Autosport.

IndyCar can't afford to lose Bryan Herta Autosport as it would add another casualty to those teams that have died since reunification. Conquest, Panther, HVM, Dragon, Newman-Haas and Dreyer & Reinbold have all faded from being full-time participants. Newman-Haas died peacefully and we should let it go. Panther died less peacefully and left the series was a bruise. HVM's equipment was being used by Andretti Autosport for the last two seasons for EJ Viso and Carlos Muñoz respectively. Dragon decided to focus on full-time competition in Formula E. Dreyer & Reinbold is hanging around and fielded Sage Karam in this year's Indianapolis 500 but a full-time returns seems less than likely. Conquest appears on verge of a comeback in Indy Lights.

Imagine if each one of those teams had been able to keep one car on the grid. IndyCar would be looking at close to 30 full-time entries and I am sure we would have plenty of bumping each May but that is not reality. The reality is IndyCar is on the verge of losing another team, something the series can't afford. People are not lining up to field IndyCars and with potentially half the grid being controlled by three men, the series is one financial disaster from losing a chunk of the field. The series needs single-car teams to be the foundation of the grid. These seats give up and coming drivers opportunities. Think about Jack Hawksworth. BHA took a shot on him when no one else was willing to do so and that turned out pretty good. Think about Simona de Silvestro, who would have never made an IndyCar start had it not been for HVM. Think about Tony Kanaan, who got his shot with Tasman Motorsports many moons ago. Without single car teams, future stars don't get opportunities. Penske doesn't hire rookies. Ganassi rarely hires rookies. Andretti is more open to hiring rookies but have a solid drivers line-up that could be around for the next few seasons.

Had IndyCar kept those teams listed above alive, the series would be in a much better position and drivers would have plenty of opportunities to get a chance to shine. IndyCar can't afford to lose another full-time seat, especially one that has tasted Indianapolis 500 glory not too long ago.

Sign Jean-Éric Vergne
Michael Andretti should sign Jean-Éric Vergne to an IndyCar contract immediately. He started on pole for his Formula E debut at Punta del Este and had his suspension not failed him he could have won on debut. Let's not forget to mention that Saturday was the first time he had ever been in a Formula E car. If he can win pole and compete for a win after just a practice session or two in a car he had never stepped into prior to race day, imagine what he could do with multiple test session and shakedowns of a car and communicating with drivers who have experience.

Don't worry about funding. You didn't worry about funding with Hunter-Reay and look how he turned out. Vergne can compete with the front of the IndyCar grid and if there is one thing Honda needs is another weapon in their arsenal because as of right now, Chevrolet is sitting on a military-esque fire power while Honda only has a revolver. If hired, Vergne will be at the front of most IndyCar races. If he is racking up victories, funds will eventually fall Vergne and Andretti's way.

The Dream Rookie Class
Try not getting goosebumps thinking about what the potential 2015 IndyCar rookie class could look like. Besides Vergne, you could have Davide Valsecchi, Conor Daly, Sage Karam, Alexander Rossi and Gabby Chaves. Let's not forget about Luca Filippi, who for seem reason is always overlooked, Stefano Coletti, who is testing for Schmidt Peterson along with Valsecchi, Charles Pic, who race for Andretti in Formula E at Beijing, Daniel Abt, who tested for Andretti earlier this year and Dean Stoneman, who looks to transition from GP3

These are talented drivers. They aren't going to cause television ratings to increase ten-fold or draw 100,000 people to each race but the only drivers that were going to do that are named Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel, Earnhardt, Jr., Johnson and J. Gordon. IndyCar could have one of it's greatest rookie classes in their over century of history in 2015 and it needs to become a reality.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about AF Corse and David Coulthard but did you know...

Team Nordic of Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg won the Nations Cup at the Race of Champions, defeated the United Kingdom being represented by Coulthard and Susie Wolff.

Sébastien Buemi won the Formula E round from Punta del Este, becoming the third different winner in as many races.

The Formula Racing Seat León of Mikkel Mac, Bo McCormick, Johnny Laursen, Lars Steffensen and Jose Antonio Monroy won the Maxi Endurance 32 Hours from Portimão.

With no more weekend previews for the remainder of 2014, I will go over the final round of over/unders and predictions in this post.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Four drivers (Vergne, Jarno Trulli, Bruno Senna and Nick Heidfeld) scored their first points of the Formula E season at Punta del Este.
2. Under: The Gulf 12 Hours winning #3 AF Corse spent 17 minutes and 43 seconds in the pit lane.
3. Over: All three Americans advanced to the knockout round of the Race of Champions.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Nicolas Prost does not win pole position for the Punta del Este round of Formula E (Correct as Jean-Éric Vergne won pole).
2. Whoever wins part one of the Gulf 12 Hours does not win the Gulf 12 Hours overall (Wrong. The #3 AF Corse won part one and won overall).
3. A European driver does not win the Race of Champions (Wrong as David Coulthard from Scotland defeated Pascal Wehrlein from Germany).
Overall: 1/3. Running Tally: 37.5/68

This is slated to be the last "Musings From the Weekend" column of the year as there isn't anything left on the schedule, however, if thoughts come to mind and I have time to type and share them, I will. While I don't plan on doing "Musings," I have a set of predictions for the 2015 motorsports season lined-up as well as a few other posts as we get deeper into the Christmas season. By the way, Happy Hanukkah as the eight-day holiday begins tonight. Keep an eye on the blog over the next few things, there might be something posted that you will enjoy.

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 For the Love of Indy Awards

Another year of motorsports has come to a close and it is now time to reflect on all that has happened. We saw first time champions as well as familiar faces add records amount of silverware to their trophy case. We saw titles go down to the final lap and title clinched with ease. We saw dominant performances as well as race slip from finger tips. For every hair-raising moments there was a jaw-dropping spectacles.

Legends have decided 2014 will be their final season but as they leave another batch of young drivers will step up to leave their mark. Here is where we honor those he made the deepest impression on the 2014 motorsports season.

Racer of the Year
Description: Given to the best racer over the course of 2014.
And the Nominees are:
Marc Márquez
André Lotterer
Lewis Hamilton
Sébastien Ogier
Jaime Whincup

And the winner is... Marc Márquez
For the second consecutive year Marc Márquez comes out on top. No one else came close to Márquez and no one else controlled a championship like he did in 2012. Remember prior to the season opener at Qatar when he said it would have been foolish to pick him to win that race because he was recovering from a broken leg just six weeks prior? It would have been foolish to pick anyone but Márquez to win each of the eighteen rounds of the MotoGP season.

He didn't only prove himself wrong in the first race but in the following nine. He won the first six races from pole position. He scored fastest lap in eight of the first ten. He would fool us on starts, dropping from pole back to sixth, by the end of the first sector and sometimes as far back as tenth but the end of lap one, only to always find a way back to the point. Sometimes he was challenged but most of the time he would retake the lead and never look back as he won ten consecutive races for the sixth time in the history of 500cc/MotoGP.

Eventually Márquez was defeated but at that point it didn't matter. The championship was his for the taking. He could take risks. He could have won Aragón if he stopped for rain tires sooner but he decided to push the limit on slicks. Along with Aragón, he could have won at Phillip Island if he doesn't fall while in a commanding lead. He won a single-season record setting 13th victory at the season finale at Valencia but Márquez could have put records further out of reach for challengers to come. It very well could have been 15 had it not been for two falls.

Along with his 13 victories, Márquez had 13 pole positions, 12 fastest laps and led 214 of 449 laps. Did I forget to mention that he is only 21? His second title showed he was no fluke and a third consecutive title will have him squeezing in at the table with the all-time greats.

On the other nominees: André Lotterer's 2014 season featured the most diversity of success with the German picking up his third Le Mans victory as he and teammates Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler finished second in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Lotterer finished third in the Super Formula championship with two victories and he became the first Le Mans winner since Johnny Herbert in 1991 to make a Formula One start. Sure, Lotterer's Formula One career was destined to be brief as he was given the opportunity by Caterham and the car let him down after one lap around Spa. However, diversity in motorsports during this age of specialization should be acknowledged and if offered, many of us would take Lotterer's season.

Lewis Hamilton won his second world championship with 11 victories, 16 podiums, seven pole positions and seven fastest laps from nineteen races. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg's battle for the title will be one we will remanence about when they are calling an end to their Formula One careers. Mercedes produced the best car but they let their drivers race each other. There was no number one. It was comparable to Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost or Mario Andretti vs. Ronnie Peterson or Phil Hill vs. Wolfgang von Tripps. You never knew who was going to come out on top at each race.

Sébastien Ogier won his second consecutive world championship in dominating fashion, winning seven rounds and finishing on the podium in nine of thirteen rallies. Ogier won the power stage at six rallies. Like Mercedes in Formula One, Volkswagen was the class of the field but Ogier had the edge over his teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen. Other than in Germany and France, the Frenchman very rarely put a wheel wrong.

Jamie Whincup won a record sixth V8 Supercars championship but about halfway through the season that appeared in doubt. Mark Winterbottom appeared to be his main challenger but Whincup turned it on as his challengers faltered. He won 14 of 38 races with 21 podiums and 10 pole positions. He clinched the title with a round to go. It was his fourth consecutive title and all of Whincup's six have come in the last seven seasons. At only 31 years old, Whincup has plenty of time to pad his records and climb the ranks as one of the greatest racers from Australia.

Past Winners
2012: Kyle Larson
2013: Marc Márquez

Race of the Year
Description: Best Race of 2014.
And the Nominees are:
Indianapolis 500
Aragón motorcycle Grand Prix
Pro Mazda race 2 from Sonoma
Bathurst 1000
Canadian Grand Prix

And the winner is... Bathurst 1000
Despite red flags for pavement issues, 1000 kilometers have never held my attention more than this race. Jamie Whincup had to start 23rd but was up to fifth in thirteen laps but as if that hill wasn't high enough to overcome, an accident and penalty for unsafe release in the pit lane put Whincup and co-driver Paul Dumbrell a lap down. The battle at the front was mostly between the #33 Volvo of Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat and the #97 Holden of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb but McLaughlin hit the wall and Van Gisbergen had the start motor fail him on the final pit stop with 10 laps to go.

Whincup had worked his way back on to the lead lap and found himself in contention with teammate Craig Lowndes, Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert, who started in 25th, last on the grid after his time was disallowed for passing under red flag conditions in qualifying. Whincup was stretching his fuel mileage as Lowndes and Winterbottom got together, ending both their hopes. Mostert chased down Whincup as he tried to nurse it home. Ultimately, Whincup didn't have enough and Mostert passed him on the exit of Forest's Elbow, heading down The Chase one final time. Mostert and co-driver Paul Morris won the most famous race in the southern hemisphere from last on the grid and only led one lap, the final lap. Between them, Mostert and Morris has three combined victories and Morris' lone victory came at Calder Park a track that is being reclaimed by nature in 2001. It was Mostert's second Bathurst start. Whincup coasted fifth as the #360 Nissan of James Moffat and Taz Douglas, #22 Holden of Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin and #9 Mercedes of Will and Alex Davison would pass Whincup.

To top it all off, on the podium Mostert gave us motorsport's quote of the year when commenting on his pursuit of Whincup: "I kept screaming on the radio in the cockpit – cough you bastard, cough!"

On the other nominees... For another year the Indianapolis 500 provided a thrill for 200 consecutive laps. The first three-quarters of the race went without a caution as Ryan Hunter-Reay worked his way to the front from 19th on the grid and took the lead by halfway. Lead changes were nearly half from the year prior but the action was still fierce. Going into the final 25 laps, at least eight drivers had a shot of victory but they thinned out quickly as Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe got together and Townsend Bell had an accident. The final seven laps were a duel between Hunter-Reay and Hélio Castroneves, who was looking for his fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. They traded positions a few times before Hunter-Reay took the lead once and for all on the inside of turn three with four laps to go as he held off the Brazilian by 0.060 seconds, the second-closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

Aragón was as unpredictable as they come. Andrea Iannone started third and was up to second but was out after a second lap accident. Valentino Rossi fell from fourth on lap four. The battle was between Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa as rain bared down. When the rain arrived, it was a matter of who was going to blink first. Neither of the three immediately dove in to switch bikes even as the condition clearly became more than they could handle on slicks. Lorenzo blinked with four to go and Pedrosa fell in turn one while Márquez continue. You would have thought Honda and Márquez would have been smart enough to pit immediately after Pedrosa fell but they weren't and Márquez was down the next lap. Both were able to continue but the race was handed to Lorenzo while Aleix Espargaró benefitted from being one of the first to switch to come home second, holding off a hard charging Cal Crutchlow. Márquez and Pedrosa were able to limp home, 13th and 14th respectively, each having gone one lap too long on slicks.

Not often does a junior formula race break into the conversation of best of the year but the Pro Mazda season finale begs to differ. After losing the championship lead in race one the previous day, Spencer Pigot had to chase down Scott Hargrove for the title. Hargrove was on pole with Pigot second and Pigot's championship hopes were nearly dashed in the first few corners as Neil Alberico (Hargrove's teammate) got into Pigot and his teammate Kyle Kaiser. Pigot dropped outside the top fifteen as Hargrove continued to lead. Pigot picked off one driver after another as he tried to resurrect his championship hopes but it appeared he had run out of steam once he reached seventh with six to go. With four to go, Kaiser caused a caution, bunching up the field for one final restart with three laps to go. Hargrove had lead every lap until a mechanical failure ended his day, handing the lead to Pigot's other teammate, Jose Gutierrez. Hargrove retired and Pigot brought the car home in fifth, more than enough to take the title.

Just when it appeared Mercedes was going to go undefeated in Formula One, it all came crashing down at Montreal. Rosberg and Hamilton pushed each other to the limit at every turn and Hamilton's brakes went, ending the Brits day. After leading the first 413 laps of the Formula One season, Mercedes conceded the race lead to Felipe Massa but he had to pit and Rosberg, Sergio Pérez, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel would go on by. Pérez rode Rosberg's coat tails but fell back as his brakes started to go. Ricciardo was able to pass the Mexican and chase down Rosberg, taking the lead  with three to go. The battle was then for third as Pérez was holding on as Vettel and Massa were all over him. Heading into turn one on the final lap, Vettel passed the Mexican and Massa made a move but Pérez made contact with the Williams and both went sliding off into the barriers. The safety car was deployed and Ricciardo ended up victorious, the first of his Formula One career.

Past Winners
2012: Indianapolis 500
2013: British motorcycle Grand Prix

Achievement of the Year
Description: Best success by a driver, team, manufacture, etc.
And the Nominees are:
Marc Márquez: Winning ten consecutive race.
Marc Márquez: Setting the record for most wins in a premier class season with thirteen.
Lewis Hamilton: Becoming the all-time winningest British driver in Formula One history.
Jamie Whincup: Winning a record-breaking sixth V8 Supercars championship.
Max Verstappen: Landing a Formula One Ride at 17 years old.

And the winner is... Marc Márquez: Setting the record for most wins in a premier class season.
Of all the records Marc Márquez has set, this one might stand for the longest. To win the most races ever in a season shows the strength of a racer from the time the lights first go out until the final checkered flag. To break a record that was held by a legend such as Mick Doohan is setting Márquez up to be in the conversation as one of the all-time greats many years from now. For someone to better that mark, they will need to string to results with next to no problems. Just one or two bad results could separate a rider from breaking this record and not. Think about how close Márquez was to not breaking this record? As close as this record could have been 15 victories, it very well could have been 9 victories.

On the other nominees... Márquez won ten consecutive races, the sixth time that happened in 500cc/MotoGP history and there were a few races in which that streak could have been halted. What if Jorge Lorenzo doesn't have an accident on lap one at Qatar? What if Lorenzo doesn't jump the start at Austin? What if Lorenzo holds on and doesn't allow Márquez by on the final lap at Mugello? With a streak such as Márquez's, fortune is going to have to break your way a few times and Márquez was no different.

Think about all the great British drivers to have race in Formula One. Lewis Hamilton has won more Grand Prix than all of them. Granted this is a different era. Jim Clark never had a 19 races schedule. The most he ran in a season was 11 and he left this earth at aged 32. He could have done another two or three seasons had he not gotten in that accident on that fateful day in Hockenheim. Even more amazing is Hamilton reached this mark in 2014. He started the year tied with Damon Hill for 13th all-time in victories with 22. He was third amongst active drivers in victories, only two ahead of Kimi Räikkönen. He ends 2014 with 33 victories, fifth all-time, second amongst active drivers, one ahead of Fernando Alonso and six behind Sebastian Vettel. If Mercedes repeats their dominance in 2015, Hamilton without a question will pass Vettel and Hamilton could pass his idol, Ayrton Senna for third all-time in victories.

When you consider the history of V8 Supercars and it's roots back to Australian Touring Cars, Jamie Whincup setting the record for most championships is comparable to Jimmie Johnson winning an eighth NASCAR Cup Series title. He broke a record held with Ian Geoghegan, who won all his titles between 1964-1969, similar to Whincup who has won all of titles since 2008, second all-time in race victories and six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Mark Skaife and Dick Johnson, a long-time presence in the series who continues to be involved as a team owner. Whincup is young enough to completely rewrite the record books and he doesn't appear to be stopping anytime soon.

Say what you want with Red Bull's driver development system, to get a Formula One team to put you in a car with only one season of experience in a race car and to do it without bringing any money is impressive. Max Verstappen didn't even win the FIA European Formula Three championship yet the 17-year old will be on the Formula One grid in 2015 while the champion Esteban Ocon and runner-up Tom Blomqvist will have to continue in junior formulas. What were you doing when you were 17? I was working two part-time jobs while trying to balance my junior year of high school and start figuring out what universities to apply to. That is a hell of a long way from the Formula One grid.

Past Winners
2012: DeltaWing
2013: Sebastian Vettel for winning nine consecutive races on his way to a fourth consecutive title

Moment of the Year
Description: The Most Memorable Moment in the World of Racing during the 2014 season.
And the Nominees are:
U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda Sonoma Weekend.
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton making contact at Spa-Francorchamps.
Post races at the Charlotte and Texas Chase races.
Sebastien Vettel Leaving Red Bull.
Formula E makes it's debut from Beijing

And the winner is... Post race at the Charlotte and Texas Chase races.
The skirmishes between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth and Keselowski and Jeff Gordon got NASCAR the attention it wanted it. It was leading off SportsCenter in the United States during American football season. To give a comparison, imagine something usurping the Germany national team's run at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on the German equivalent to SportsCenter. Don't get me wrong, this wins Moment of the Year for all the wrong reasons. No one cared about who won the race. It was all about the extracurriculars. NASCAR got it's attention but not because of the product being something that drew in viewers and kept them glued to the screen, rather needing it's drivers to go to schoolboy antics to get anyone to notice.

On the other nominees... We covered the Pro Mazda championship battle but U.S. F2000 championship was just as crazy. R.C. Enerson entered the final race with the championship lead after Florian Latorre retired from race one. Enerson had led the most laps in race two and had a comfortable lead over Latorre before Enerson went off course and Latorre swept on by and in doing so won the race and the championship just a day after it appeared he had lost it.

The contact on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg changed the entire flow of the 2014 World Drivers' Championship. Hamilton retired from the race while Rosberg went on to win. The German held a 29-point lead but Hamilton felt he had been done dirty by his teammate and that just might have set a fire under the Brit. Hamilton would win the next five races and six of the final seven. Mechanical issues found Rosberg, bitting him at Singapore, ending his night after 13 laps and once again at Abu Dhabi where all he could do was manage to limb home while Hamilton took the crown that appeared to be Rosberg's just three months earlier.

When the press release came at Suzuka saying Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat would be Red Bull Racing's 2015 drivers, a sense of shock came across the motorsports world. After one bad year, one year where the world title was not going to be returning to Milton Keynes, one year in which his teammate was better, Sebastian Vettel was leaving the team he built. Red Bull is nothing without Vettel. The German made an energy drink company the best race team in the world, better than Ferrari, better than McLaren and better than Mercedes. It is a divorce that ten months earlier no one would believe we would ever see happen and then it did and it set off the Formula One silly season dominoes that have just finished falling.

Formula E might not be fast, it might be different from what we are use to be I liken the series to the early automobile races. To the 10-mile AAA-sanctioned races held at horse racing tracks here in the United States or the early grands prix on public roads creating a circuit over 20 miles in length. These were the building blocks for the foundation of what Formula One is today and what IndyCar is today. A century from now that race in Beijing with an average speed just over 60 MPH could be looked upon as a building block for whatever motorsports series is leading the way.

Past Winners
2012: Alex Zanardi
2013: 24 Hours of Le Mans

Pass of the Year
Description: Best pass of 2014.
And the Nominees are:
Scott McLaughlin on Jaime Whincup in the last corner at Adelaide.
Ryan Blaney on Germán Quiroga for the victory in the final corner at Mosport
Ryan Hunter-Reay on Hélio Castroneves on the inside of turn three, ultimately the Indianapolis 500 winning pass.
Gianmaria Bruni from 4th to 2nd in turn one at Bahrain.

And the winner is... Ryan Blaney on Germán Quiroga
As dirty as road course racing can be in NASCAR, the Ryan Blaney-Germán Quiroga showed how great a race can be when two drivers treat each other with respect. Quiroga could have pushed Blaney off course. Blane could have spun Quiroga. Neither did that. They gave each other room and Quiroga took advantage when Blaney left an opening and Blaney capitalized when Quiroga left the door open and Blaney came out on top. NASCAR road course races don't have to be sloppy affairs where track limits don't exist and drivers treat each other more like they are in bumper cars and not sophisticated race cars. Blaney and Quiroga showed what a NASCAR road course race can be when drivers respect one another.

On the other nominees... The entire final lap battle between Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup was fantastic. Like Blaney-Quiroga, McLaughlin and Whincup respected one another. Whincup could have put McLaughlin in the barrier and easily cruised to a second place finish but he didn't. He gave McLaughlin just enough room for both to continue. Just when you though Whincup had McLaughlin beat for second, the Kiwi dove on the inside as Whincup went wide and beat Whincup to the line.

No one had made a passing on the inside going into turn three before Ryan Hunter-Reay overtook Hélio Castroneves with four to go. At least no one went as low as Hunter-Reay did. He couldn't have gotten any closer to the grass. It was the type of move he had to make to catch Castroneves slightly off guard. If Hunter-Reay was willing to make a move that nuts, what else would he be willing to try? It ultimately was enough as Hunter-Reay would lead the final four laps to take his first Indianapolis 500 victory.

This is why Gianmaria Bruni is a back-to-back World Cup for GT Drivers champion. He stalked the Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Aston Martin of Darren Turner and just when it looked like Turner would get the position, Bruni used the draft to swoop by both on the inside as he and Toni Vilander would go on to win their fourth race of the year and clinch the GT world title.

Past Winners
2012: Simon Pagenaud at Baltimore
2013: Robert Wickens at Nürburgring and Peter Dempsey in the Freedom 100

The Eric Idle Award
Description: "When You're Chewing on Life's Gristle, Don't Grumble, Give a Whistle, And This'll Help Things Turn Out For The Best, and...  Always Look On The Bright Side of Life."
And the Nominees are:
Martin Truex, Jr.: Losing his ride at Michael Waltrip Racing because he lost his sponsor because Clint Bowyer decided to "take a dive" and ending 2014 with five top tens, a third of his 2013 total.
Romain Grosjean: For 7th to 14th in Formula One, scoring four points in 2014, 128 less than 2013, a year in which he ended on the verge of his first victory.
Matt Griffin: For losing a possible second consecutive ELMS GTE title after lap one contact and the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Sergey Zlobin and Viktor Shaitar winning the final race, which they had to do to have any hope of winning the title.
Tom Sykes: For losing a possible second consecutive World Superbike title in the final race.
Alexander Rossi: For having seat after seat ripped out from underneath him and with nowhere to go.

And the winner is... Alexander Rossi
Alexander Rossi could have gotten any closer to making his Formula One debut in 2014 and not made it. First it was Caterham where he got a few Friday drives but ultimately the California left when the team was sold by Tony Fernandes. He landed at Marussia in a reserve role but it appeared Rossi was going to make a breakthrough. It was an announced Rossi would have a race seat for the Belgian Grand Prix only to have that taken from him between first and second practice. After the Jules Bianchi accident it appeared Rossi was set to make his debut at Austin after the team didn't not run Bianchi's car at Sochi. However, Marussia went into administration prior to Austin and the team never made it back on the Formula One grid. Rossi's career is now up in the air and it is likely that he will never start a Formula One Grand Prix despite being so close at Spa.

On the other nominees: Martin Truex, Jr. couldn't have been screwed over anymore by Michael Waltrip Racing. Actions done by Clint Bowyer cost Truex his ride. It is despicable how that entire situation was handled and Truex deserved better. The good news is he was getting better results toward the end of 2014 and Furniture Row Racing is a decent team that has made the Chase before and with making the Chase being as easy as winning a race, it is very possible Truex could qualify next season.

Romain Grosjean got caught in a situation where the car was dreadful and he did the best he could with a turd. Hopefully the switch to Mercedes engines in 2015 puts the Frenchman and Lotusback in contention for race victories like he was at the end of 2013.

A perfect storm kept Matt Griffin from winning back-to-back ELMS GTE titles. First was the accident but that wasn't the end of the world as the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari had to win to take the championship. Of course, that is exactly how it played out as the Russian team came from almost out of nowhere to take the title.

Tom Sykes didn't lose the World Superbike title as much as Sylvain Guintoli won it. The Frenchman won three of the final four races and didn't finish worse than second in the final eight races. Sykes had one retirement all season. As easy as it would be to pin the championship on that one retirement from Sepang, Sykes has nothing to hang his head about. Guintoli was just a little bit better.

Past Winners
2012: Ben Spies
2013: Sam Hornish, Jr.

Comeback of the Year
Description: The Best Comeback in the 2014 season.
And the Nominees are:
Williams F1
Dean Stoneman to full-time single-seater racing
Juan Pablo Montoya to IndyCar
Lewis Hamilton at Germany and Hungary
Alex Tagliani at Road America

And the winner is... Juan Pablo Montoya to IndyCar
Nearly fourteen years after last being in an IndyCar and seven years since being in an open-wheel car, Juan Pablo Montoya returned to the series that jump started his career and made it look like he never left. He did struggle to get his footing in the first few races but by the time Indianapolis 500 rolled around, Montoya was challenging for victories. He stretched fuel mileage longer than anyone else and had it not been for a pit lane speeding penalty, the Colombian would have been in contention for his second Indianapolis 500 victory in his second start in the famed race.

Victory would come his way, at Pocono where Montoya won from pole position, the first driver to win from pole in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Montoya scored 342 points in the six IndyCar oval races, more than any other driver. He finished fourth in the championship with 586 points. He led 167 laps, only Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Hélio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay led more. Montoya has room for improvement in 2015 but he certainly raised a few eye brows in 2014.

On the other nominees... What else can you say about Williams F1? Getting the Mercedes engine certainly played into their favor but that wasn't an automatic guarantee for success. You still need to build a car capable of competing at the front and it had been sometime since Williams produced a car of this caliber. Since BMW left the team after the 2005 season, Williams had three podiums over eight season. The team scored nine podiums in 2014. After only scoring 5 points in 2013 and finishing ninth in the Constructors' Championship, Williams scored 320 points behind only Mercedes and Red Bull and ahead of Ferrari, McLaren and Force India, teams that had trounced Williams in recent seasons. Valterri Bottas came of age and Felipe Massa resuscitated his career. The Finn scored in 17 of 19 races and Massa won pole position at Austria, the only pole position that wasn't snagged by a Mercedes driver. Massa challenged for the victory at Abu Dhabi but came home second with Bottas in third, the first time both Williams finished on the podiums since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix when Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber finished second and third respectively. They might not have won in 2014 but don't rule them out in 2015.

If you don't know the story of Dean Stoneman, it is as uplifting as they come. In 2010, Stoneman won the Formula Two championship over Jolyon Palmer and secured a test with Williams F1 for the end of that year. He was set to move to Formula Renault 3.5 in 2011 but Stoneman was diagnosed with severe testicular cancer forcing him out of the car. He nearly lost his legs and had he not gotten treatment when he did, he would not be here today. He didn't race at all in 2011 or 2012. He returned to competition in Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain in 2013 and swept his first race weekend at Brands Hatch. After finishing fifth in that series, Stoneman got a ride in the 2013 GP3 season finale at Abu Dhabi where he finished sixth and second in his first races in a single-seater since winning the 2010 F2 title. He got a full-time GP3 ride in 2014 and won a series-leading five races and finished second in the championship. Now Stoneman looks toward moving up the European ladder or coming to the United States and IndyCar. Stoneman is as uplifting of a story and we can only hope he continues to find success wherever he goes in 2015.

Lewis Hamilton had to start from 20th at Hockenheim and from the pit lane at Hungaroring. In both races, Hamilton put together calculated drives to the front and those very well could have decided the championship. Had Hamilton not gone from 20th to 3rd at Hockenheim and from the pit lane to 3rd at Hungaroring, Nico Rosberg could have been world champion. They were drives that defined Hamilton's season despite him not ending up on the top step of the podium.

Alex Tagliani ran out of fuel while leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America under caution with five laps to go and dropped him to 23rd for the final restart. Tagliani switched to slick tires as the track was drying as the field prepared for a green-white-checkered finish. Tagliani picked apart the field as he went from 23rd to second in two laps and finished second to Brendan Gaughan by only 0.820 seconds. It was as impressive as you can get as Tagliani made the field appear amateur as he nearly pulled off what arguably would have been the greatest green-white-checkered comeback in it's recent history of use in NASCAR.

Past Winners
2013: Michael Shank Racing at the 24 Hours of Daytona

Most Improved
Description: Racer Who Improved The Most from 2013 to 2014.
And the Nominees are:
Aleix Espargaró: From 11th to 7th in MotoGP, scoring 33 points more than 2013, while picking up his first career pole position and podium.
Chaz Mostert: From 17th to 7th, scoring 1003 points more than 2013 and winning two races including the Bathurst 1000.
Daniel Ricciardo: From 14th to 3rd in Formula One, scoring 218 points more than 2013, winning three races and scoring eight podiums.
Edoardo Mortara: From 21st to 5th in DTM, scoring 65 more points than 2013 and two podiums after his best finish was ninth in 2013.
Valtteri Bottas: From 17th to 4th in Formula One, scoring 182 points more than 2013 and finished with six podiums

And the winner is... Chaz Mostert
Besides his Bathurst victory, Chaz Mostert was a feature at the front of many V8SC races and Mostert ended up finishing ahead of many more veteran V8SC drivers including former champion Garth Tander as well as Fabian Coulthard, Will Davison and Jason Bright. He was the second best Ford driver, finishing only behind his Ford Performance Racing teammate Mark Winterbottom. Look for Mostert to challenge his teammate a little more in 2015.

On the other nominees... Aleix Espargaró did a lot considering he was on an "Open" class bike. His one podium at Aragón came in the wet and he took pole position at Assen. He moves to the factory Suzuki team in 2015 and could become an even bigger threat for getting more podiums possible victories.

Daniel Ricciardo did improve as he moved to Red Bull from Toro Rosso. He was not intimidated by his four-time world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel and beat the German in almost every statistic category. He has become the clear number one as he looks to challenge Mercedes even more in 2015.

The Italian Edoardo Mortara has had a roller coaster of a career in DTM. After winning two races and finishing fifth in his second season in the series in 2012, he scored only three points all of 2013 but turned it around in 2014 where he got two podiums and finished in the points in six of ten races.

We already touched on Valterri Bottas a little bit but when you considered he scored two fewer points than Esteban Gutiérrez in 2013 and finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in 2014, he was a big turn around. Sure the car and engine had something to do with it but you still have to go out and get the results. The Finn proved his worth and he finished fourth in the world championship in his second season in Formula One.

Past Winners
2012: Esteban Guerrieri
2013: Marco Andretti

That will do it for the 2014 For the Love of Indy Awards. Congratulations to all those on a wonderful 2014 season. The 2015 season is just around the corner. Soon we will be talking about the Dakar Rally and the next round of the Formula E championship. Testing will pick up for the 24 Hours of Daytona and other endurances races such as the Dubai 24 Hours and Bathurst 12 Hour give us our fix. While we will miss motorsports, we need this down time. We need this time to be with families and reflect on the year. Everyone needs a break and while it will feel long, it is much shorter than we realize. Eventually the cycle will start all over and we will be back into a rhythm in no time at all.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

David Coulthard Goes Undefeated to Take 2014 Race of Champions

After finishing runner-up with Susie Wolff in the Nations Cup on Saturday, David Coulthard went a perfect 7-0 on Sunday to take Race of Champions, defeating the youngest winner in the history of the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and Mercedes F1 reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein in the final.

Coulthard swept his group which featured V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, defending Race of Champions winner Romain Grosjean and five-time MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan. Whincup joined Coulthard as those who advanced from Group A. The Scot defeated Group B runner-up Petter Solberg in the quarterfinals before having to face Whincup again in the semifinals.

Whincup defeated Group B winner Kurt Busch in the quarterfinals. All three Americans, Busch, Robby Gordon and Ryan Hunter-Reay went undefeated in the group stage only for all three to be eliminated in the quarterfinals. Wehrlein knocked off Gordon while FIA European Formula Three champion and Lotus F1 reserve driver Esteban Ocon defeated Hunter-Reay. Wehrlein handily defeated Ocon in the second semifinal.

Coulthard won race one in the KTM X-Bow despite tapping the barrier. The 20-year old Wehrlein gave Coulthard a run for his money in the second race in the Ariel Atom Cups but the German drop his right side tires off course entering the final corner, as Coulthard cruised to victory.

Those who failed to make it to the knockout round were Barbados' Rhett Watson and Williams F1 reserve driver Susie Wolff with Watson getting a victory while Wolff was held without a victory. WTCC champion José María López and Jamaica's Doug Gore failed to advance from Group C with the Argentine's lone victory coming against Gore. Tom Kristensen failed to make it out of Group D despite winning the Nations Cup with Petter Solberg for Team Nordic on Saturday. GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer went winless in Group D with his day ending after putting a Stadium Super Truck into the barrier. The Brit walked away from the accident.

Coulthard is the second Brit and second Scotsman to win the Race of Champion, joining the late Colin McRae, who won the 1998 edition after defeating his brother Alister in the final. The United Kingdom joins France and Finland as the only nations to produce multiple Race of Champions winners. Wehrlein is the fourth different German to finish runner-up in the Race of Champions joining Walter Röhrl, Armin Schwartz and Michael Schumacher with Schumacher finishing runner-up on two occasions. A German has never won the Race of Champions.

Coulthard wins the Race of Champions despite being retired from full-time competition for two years. He last competed in the DTM in 2012. The Scotsman went 13-1 over the entire weekend. The lone lost was to Kristensen in the Nations Cup deciding race.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

#3 AF Corse Wins Gulf 12 Hours

Just over three seconds separated the top two finishers in the 2014 Gulf 12 Hours with the top three covered by 5.741 seconds as the #3 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Davide Rigon held off the #1 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Bernd Schneider, Jereon Bleekemolen and Khaled Al Qubaisi, keeping the trio from winning back-to-back Gulf 12 Hours. The #59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Álvaro Parente, Kevin Éstre and Rob Bell rounded out the podium. It was the debut race for the 650S GT3. The leaders completed 315 laps.

The #2 Black Falcon Mercedes of Richard Muscat, Hubert Haupt and Abdulaziz Al Faisal finished fourth, one lap down with the #4 AF Corse Ferrari of Piergiuseppe Perazzini, Filipe Barreiros and Marco Cioci rounded out the top five, four laps down. The #88 Dragon Racing Ferrari of Sean Walkinshaw, Jordan Grogor and Mohammed Jawa finished sixth, 7.724 seconds back of the #4 Ferrari. The #5 AF Corse Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Andrea Rizzoli finished seventh.

The #10 GT Russian Mercedes of Marko Asmer, Alexey Vasilyev and Karim Al Alzhari finished eighth, five laps down. The #17 Absolute Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Ho-Pin Tung, Sun Jing Zu and Jian Wie Weng finished ninth, 12 laps down with the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Isaac Tutumlu, Vadim Gitlin and Marco Frezza rounding out the top ten, 13 laps down.

The #33 MRS-GT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup of Christian Engelhart, Ralf Bohn, Ilya Melnikov and Siegfried Venema won the Cup class finishing in 12th position, 23 laps down with the #46 Avelon Formula Wolf GB08 of Gianluca Pizzuti, Simon Stoller and Fabio Emanuela winning the CN2 class in 17th, 34 laps down overall.

#3 AF Corse Wins Part One of Gulf 12 Hours

Halfway through the Gulf 12 Hours from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. and three different manufactures occupy the top three positions. All on the lead lap and all in contention for the Gulf 12 Hours victory.

The #3 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Davide Rigon won part one of the Gulf 12 Hours by 13.827 seconds over the 2013 Gulf 12 Hours winners Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Khaled Al Qubaisi in the #1 Black Falcon Mercedes SLS AMG GT3. The #59 McLaren 650S GT3 of Rob Bell, Kevin Éstre and Álvaro Parente finished third, just over a minute and three seconds back of the winning Ferrari. The leaders completed 157 laps in part one.

Richard Muscat, Hubert Haupt and Abdulaziz Al Faisal finished in fourth place in the #2 Black Falcom Mercedes and got back on the lead lap late in part one. They finished just over a minute and 24 seconds back. Rounding out the top five is Kessel Racing's #11 Ferrari driven by Isaac Tutumlu, Marco Frezza and Vadim Gitlin, as they finished a lap back of the leaders.

The #10 GT Russian Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 shared by Marko Asmer, Alexey Vasilyev and Karim Al Azhari finished sixth position, one lap down, ahead three Ferraris. Dragon Racing's #88 Ferrari with Sean Walkinshaw, Jordan Grogor and Mohammed Jawa finished seventh with two AF Corses in tow. The #4 Ferrari came home in eighth with drivers Piergiuseppe Perazzini, Marco Cioci and Felipe Barreiros. The #5 Ferrari ended part one in ninth being driven by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Andrea Rizzoli. All three Ferraris are two laps down.

The first of the Cup Class Porsche 911 GT3 Cups, the #33 MRS-GT Racing Porsche rounds out the top ten with drivers Ralf Bohn, Siegfried Venema and Ilya Melnikov. The MRS-GT Porsche is seven laps down.

The top CN class Wolf GB08 is the #45 Avelon Formula entry being shared by Ivan Bellarosa and Guglielmo Belotti. They are in 12th position, ten laps down.

Other notable entries:
The #60 McLaren of Peter Kox, Nico Pronk and Gilles Vannelet is 18th, 15 laps off the leaders.

The #99 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Jorge Lorenzo, Liam Talbot, Marco Zanuttini and  Jacques Duyver is 19th, 30 laps down.

The #69 Gulf Racing Lamborghini FL2 of Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall and Frederic Fatien spend a fair amount of time in the garage finished 22nd, completing only 91 laps in part one.

The final six hour part of the Gulf 12 Hours will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET (6:00 p.m. in Abu Dhabi) with he field lined up in the order they finished part one with the intervals remaining intact.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday Three: Uruguay, Abu Dhabi, Barbados

The final weekend of the motorsports season features a few all-star events but before we get to those, we head to South America for the third round of the Formula E season.

Punta del Este
After a month off, Formula E heads to South America for the first time in the series history as the streets of Punta del Este, Uruguay plays host to the all-electric championship.

Virgin Racing's Sam Bird won in convincing fashion last time the series raced from Putrajaya, Malaysia. The Brit led 21 of 31 laps as he would hold off Audi Sport Abt's Lucas di Grassi by 4.175 seconds. The Brazilian di Grassi leads the championship with 43 points, three points over Bird as di Grassi won the only other round of the Formula E season at Beijing.

Four drivers are tied for third in the championship with 18 points. Andretti Autosport's Franck Montagny finished second at Beijing but finished 15th at Putrajaya after contact with Venturi Grand Prix driver Nick Heidfeld damaged the Frenchman's car and led to a penalty ending any hope of scoring points. Montagna will not be at Punta del Este as Andretti Autosport has hired former Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne. Nicolas Prost of e.dams finished fourth at Putrajaya and has won both pole positions this season, which pay three points apiece. Mahindra's Karun Chandhok and Dragon Racing's Jérôme d'Ambrosio each have finished fifth and sixth this season with the Indian Chandhok bettering the Belgian at Beijing and the two drivers flipping positions at Putrajaya.

Sébastien Buemi has 15 points after finishing third at Putrajaya, just ahead of his e.dams teammate Prost. Charles Pic and Oriol Servià each have 12 points but Pic will not be at Punta del Este as American Matthew Brabham will replace the Frenchman for the second consecutive race.

Nelson Piquet, Jr., António Félix da Costa and Jaime Alguersuari all have four points while Stéphane Sarrazin, Daniel Abt and Takuma Sato all have two points. Sato substituted for da Costa at Beijing as the Portuguese driver had a conflict with his DTM duties.

Four drivers slated to run in Uruguay failed to score in the first two rounds. Bruno Senna was on his way to points at Putrajaya before an accident on the final lap. Nick Heidfeld could have won the premiere race at Beijing but was taken out by Prost and we know contact with Montagny ended his race at Putrajaya. Both TrulliGP drivers, Jarno Trulli and Michela Cerruti, have yet to finish in the points.

Joining Vergne as Formula E debutants in Uruguay are Antonio García, who will replace Ho-Pin Tung in the second China Racing seat and Salvador Durán will replace Katherine Legge in the second Aguri ride. García was slated to run Putrajaya but after the Thailand round was dropped from the Asian Le Mans Series schedule, Tung was freed to run. The Chinese driver will be competing in the Gulf 12 Hours (more on that in a moment). Legge failed to score in each of the first two races.

Audi Sport Abt leads the team championship with 45 points, one clear of Virgin Racing. Dragon Racing is third with 33 points. The other American team, Andretti Autosport and e.drams trail Dragon by three points. Mahindra has 18 points, all at the hands of Chandhok. Aguri has six points, China Racing has four and Venturi Grand Prix has two. As mentioned above, TrulliGP is still looking to get on the scoreboard.

Gulf 12 Hours
Twenty-five cars are entered for the Gulf 12 Hours from the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The unique split 6-hour formats features 16 GT3 cars with the Abu Dhabi Racing Black Falcon Mercedes returning to defend their title. The 2013 winning driver combination of Bernd Schneider, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Khaled Al Qubaisi returns in the #1 Mercedes while Richard Muscat, Hubert Haupt and Abdulaziz Al Faisal will run the #2 SLS AMG GT3.

Two McLaren 650S GT3s will be making their debut this weekend at the Gulf 12 Hours. The #59 will be driven by Rob Bell, Kevin Éstre and Álvaro Parente while Dutchmen Peter Kox and Nico Pronk will be in the #60 along with Frenchman Gilles Vannelet.

I.S.R. Racing has entered the #75 Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Aditya Patel, Jiri Pisarik and Filip Salaquarda as the team makes a transition from field junior formula entries to a full-time Blancpain Endurance Series effort in 2015. Absolute Racing has also entered an Audi with Ho-Pin Tung being joined by Xiao Jin Li and Jiang Wei Weng in the #17 R8 LMS GT3.

The #10 GT Russian Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 will be shared by Marko Asmer, Alexey Vasilyev and Karim Al Azhari.

Two-time MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo will make his Gulf 12 Hours debut driving the #99 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 alongside Australian Liam Talbot, Italian Marco Zanuttini and Belgian Jacques Duyver. Kessel Racing's #11 Ferrari will be driven by Isaac Tutumlu, Marco Frezza and Vadim Gitlin.

AF Corse has entered four GT3 Ferraris. The #3 features FIA WEC drivers Stephen Wyatt, Michele Rugolo and Davide Rigon. Piergiuseppe Perazzini, Marco Cioci and Felipe Barreiros comprise the #4 AF Corse Ferrari with the #5 being piloted by Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Andrea Rizzoli. AF Corse's final GT3 entry is the #77 which will be piloted by Adrien De Leener, Cedric Sbirrazzuoli and David Akhobadze.

Dragon Racing will field the #88 Ferrari with Sean Walkinshaw being joined by Jordan Grogor and Mohammed Jawa. Villorbra Corse field the #89 Ferrari with drivers Cedric Mezard, Christophe Hurni and Didier Cuche.

Gulf Racing will field the #69 Lamborghini FL2 of Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall and Frederic Fatien.

Five Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars are entered. MRS-GT Racing has entered two cars with the #33 being filled by Ralf Bohn, Siegfried Venema and Ilya Melnikov. The #34 MRS-GT entry has yet to be filled and might not compete. The #43 STP Racing with Sopp + Sopp has three Brits, Matthew Telling, Liam Venter and Ryan Ratcliffe being joined by South African Daniel Welch. Labre Competition entered an all-French drivers line up with Franck Labescat, Manuel Rodrigues, Christian Filippon and Denis Gibaud sharing the #50. The #67 GDL Racing entry will be driven by Nicolas Vandierendonck, Rob Thomson and Yusif Bassil.

The CN2 class has four entries, all Wolf GB08s. Avelon Formula has entered two with Ivan Bellarosa, Guglielmo Belotti and Ricardo Teixeria in the #45 and Simon Stoller, Gianluca Pizzuti and Fabio Emanuela in the #46. Motionsport has an all-British line-up with Peter Storey, Ben Gower and Ollie Chadwick in the #47. The #48 CRM Motorsport entry is occupied by Nicola and Stefano de Val and Jose Pedro Faria.

The Gulf 12 Hours features two, 6-hour races, the first beginning at 9:00 a.m. in Abu Dhabi (midnight ET) and ending at 3:00 p.m. (6:00 a.m. ET). The second race will start at 6:00 p.m. local time (9:00 a.m. ET) with the race ending at midnight in Abu Dhabi (3:00 p.m. ET).

Race of Champions
After being cancelled in 2013 because of political unrest in Thailand, Race of Champions returns and for the first time ever, the event occurs in the Caribbean. Barbados plays host to the all-star event which features eleven teams of two. The host nation will have their own team as Barbados Rally Club drivers Rhett Watson and Dane Skeete were the top two competitors in the Suzuki ROC Barbados Challenge.

Romain Grosjean returns at the incumbent Race of Champions winner and finished runner-up representing France in the Nations Cup. He will be joined by FIA European Formula Three champion Esteban Ocon. The 19-year old Ocon won nine of 33 races and defeated Tom Blomqvist and future Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen for the title. Ocon was a test driver for Lotus F1 in 2014.

The United States will have three representatives split between two teams. This year's Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar champion and ROC competitor Ryan Hunter-Reay will be joined by 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Kurt Busch. Busch makes his first ROC appearance while Hunter-Reay teamed with Mexican rally driver Benito Guerra to form Teams Americas in 2012. Hunter-Reay won two of six races in 2012 defeating David Coulthard in the Nations Cup and Kazuya Oshima in the Race of Champions.

The other American competitor is back-to-back Stadium Super Trucks champion, IndyCar race winner, NASCAR race winner and sports car race winner Robby Gordon who will join 2014 World Touring Car champion Argentine José María López to form Team Americas. Gordon ran in the 2001 where he set the course record on the Gran Canaria course and led the United States to a semifinal appearance with teammates Shaun Palmer and Rhys Millen. López won ten of 23 WTCC races in 2014 and won the title over four-time WTCC champion and Citroën teammate Yvan Muller.

David Coulthard returns to ROC and will be joined by Williams test driver Susie Wolff, the first female competitor in the history of ROC. They will represent the United Kingdom. Coulthard will be making his ninth ROC appearance. The Scotsman's best ROC performance was in 2008 when he made the finals before being defeated by Sébastien Loeb 2-1 in the finals. Coulthard went to the semifinals in the 2012 Race of Champions before losing to Tom Kristensen.

Fresh off his record sixth V8 Supercars championship, Jamie Whincup returns to ROC to represent Australia and he will be joined by five-time 500cc motorcycle world champion Mick Doohan. Whincup and Doohan paired in 2012 where they went to the semifinals of the Nations Cup before being eliminated by the dominate German pairing of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. Whincup failed to get out of the group stage of the Race of Champions in 2012 while Doohan advance to the quarterfinals before losing to Schumacher.

Tom Kristensen will make his 13th consecutive and possibly final ROC appearance as the Dane announced his retirement prior to the final round of the FIA WEC event last month. Kristensen won the 2005 Nations Cup for Scandinavia paired with Swede Mattias Ekström and his finished runner-up in the Race of Champions in the last two editions, losing to Sébastien Ogier 2-0 in 2011 and to Grosjean 2-0 in 2012. Kristensen will be joined by 2003 World Rally champion and this year's World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg to form Team Nordic. Solberg will make his first ROC appearance in seven years. Petter and brother Henning made it to the Nations Cup semifinals that year while Petter lost to Coulthard in the first round of the Race of Champions.

GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer and the youngest winner in DTM history and Mercedes F1 test driver Pascal Wehrlein will both make their ROC debuts in Barbados. The Brit and German form Team Young Stars in the Nations Cup.

The Nations Cup will take place at noon local time (11:00 a.m. ET) on Saturday while the Race of Champions will take place at the same time on Sunday.

In the Nations Cup Group Stage, France will be in Group A alongside Team Nordic, Team Americas and Team Young Stars.

Group B will be comprised of Australia, United Kingdom, Barbados and the United States.

For the Race of Champions Group Stage, Grosjean will be in Group A alongside Coulthard both Australians, Whincup and Doohan.

Group B will feature Solberg, Busch, Wolff and the fastest driver from Team Barbados.

Group C is comprised of López, Gordon, Ocon and the winner of ROC Caribbean, an event that will occur after the Nations Cup on Saturday.

Group D will see Kristensen joined by Hunter-Reay, Palmer and Wehrlein.

ROC Caribbean participants include Watson and Skeete representing Barbados; Doug Gore and Jeffery Panton representing Jamaica; Kristian Jeffery and Mark Vieira representing Guyana and Franklyn Boodram and David Coehlo representing Trinidad and Tobago.

Cars that will be used for this year's competition are the ROC buggy, Ariel Atom, Audi R8 LMS, a stock car and Stadium Super Trucks.

A European driver has won every edition of Race of Champions. Former World Rally champion Didier Auriol has the most Race of Champions titles with four. Sébastien Loeb won three times as did Mattias Ekström. Stig Blomqvist and Juha Kankkunen each won the ROC twice. Eleven drivers have won the ROC one time.

Finland and France have each produced five different ROC winners (Kankkunen, Tommi Mäkinen, Harri Rovanperä, Marcus Grönholm and Hekki Kovalainen for Finland and Auriol, Loeb, François Delecour, Ogier and Grosjean for France). The only other nation to produce multiple ROC winners is Sweden (Ekström and Blomqvist). Italy (Andrea Aghini), Spain (Carlos Sainz), the United Kingdom (Colin McRae) and Portugal (Filipe Albuquerque) are the other four nations to produce ROC winners.

The last six Nations Cups have been won by Germany. Finland was the last country prior to the German dominance to win the Nations Cups when Hekki Kovalainen and Marcus Grönholm held off Travis Pastrana who was representing the United States solo in 2006. Finland won the inaugural Nations Cup in 1999. France is the only other nation with multiple Nations Cups as Regis Laconi, Yvan Muller and Gilles Panizzi won in 2000 and Loeb and Jean Alesi won in 2004.

Scandinavia won the 2005 Nations Cup with Kristensen and Ekström as representative. An All-Star team featuring Cristiano da Matta (Brazil), Fonsi Nieto (Spain) and Panizzi won the 2003 Nations Cup. The United States won the 2002 Nations Cup being represented by Colin Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Spain won the 2001 Nations Cup with Jesús Puras, Rubén Xaus and Fernando Alonso.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 drivers scoring their first points of the Formula E season at Punta del Este?
2. Over or Under: 23.5 minutes in the pit lane for the winners of the Gulf 12 Hours?
3. Over or Under: 0.5 Americans in the knockout round of the Race of Champions?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Scott McLaughlin finished third for Volvo in race two at Homebush, the only international make to score a podium.
2. Under: Four laps separated the overall winning OAK Racing Morgan and GT winning Clearwater Racing Ferrari at Sepang?
3. Under: Zero cars completed 700 laps at Thunderhill?

1. Nicolas Prost does not win pole position for the Punta del Este round of Formula E.
2. Whoever wins part one of the Gulf 12 Hours does not win the Gulf 12 Hours overall.
3. A European driver does not win the Race of Champions.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Craig Lowndes finishes ahead of Mark Winterbottom in the final championship standings (Wrong. Lowndes finished fourth in the championship, Winterbottom finished third).
2. OAK Racing completes the perfect season (Correct).
3. One of the 12 teams I featured above wins at least their class at Thunderhill (Correct as Davidson Racing won overall).
Overall: 2/3. Running Tally: 36.5/65