Monday, December 11, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Should IndyCar Race Year Round?

IndyCar is working on the tires, reconsidering Indianapolis 500 qualifying points and keeping double points. Pirelli World Challenge is gaining two Corvettes and keeping a top driver in the series. However, PWC is losing Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen is the odds on favorite for a third consecutive IMSA GT Daytona championship. It snowed in my neck of the woods. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Should IndyCar Race Year Round?
As of Monday, there have been 85 days since the most recent IndyCar race and there are 90 days until the 2018 season opener at St. Petersburg. The midpoint of the IndyCar offseason is sometime during lunch on Tuesday.

We have been keeping busy. There were nine NASCAR races, six Formula One races, four endurance races across IMSA and WEC, MotoGP and plenty of other motorsports since IndyCar last hit the track and there will be plenty to fill the time for the first two and a half months of 2018 but if there is one thing we would like is a tad more IndyCar to make the winter seem shorter.

Typically the second weekend of December is motorsports offseason. The focus has turned to Christmas and the New Year. The only major series gearing up for on-track action is IMSA, as the 24 Hours of Daytona is a little over a month away. However, this past weekend was quite dead in terms of sports. It was the 14th NFL Sunday but other than the Army-Navy game there was no other Division I-A college football on Saturday, as teams prepare for bowl games starting next week. MLS Cup Final was Saturday night and there were NBA, NHL and college basketball games but all three of those entities are still in the early days of their seasons and don't have the audience's attention yet.

A fair portion of the East Coast was snowed in on Saturday and were probably sitting in front of the television or tablet or laptop watching the Star Wars marathon on TNT and Christmas specials that have already gone stale. While most motorsports series have called it a season, perhaps the second Saturday in December is when IndyCar should end its season.

The series has talked about avoiding going head-to-head with football and it is understandable as rating tank out when autumn rolls around but ending the season so early leaves teams in the dark for the better part of five months, crew members are laid off and fans get impatient. IndyCar can race during football season but it has to be done strategically.

The only race currently during the NFL season is the season finale at Sonoma and that has found its special window as a Sunday evening race that starts a little after 6:30 p.m. ET. The issue with Sonoma is it isn't a good place for a finale in terms of on-track action. Many want an oval to be the final race and Fontana's 500-miler did a successful job from 2012 to 2014. It was a long race, had loads of passing and kept you on edge. Nine times out of ten a Sonoma race won't do any of those things.

Fontana was hung out to dry when Mark Miles wanted the season decided by Labor Day and the track couldn't find a place. Labor Day was hot and the race moved to a Saturday afternoon in June when it was just as hot. Fans didn't show up because why would they want to feel like they were sitting on the face of the sun and the race disappeared.

A December date could solve the issues with the last go-round at Fontana. The high temperature was a much more manageable 81º F in Fontana on Saturday and by the time the evening rolled around the temperatures were in the high 60s. You couldn't ask for better than that for a race any time of the year. If you were offered 81º F for next year's Indianapolis 500 you are taking it. If it was going to 68-72º F next year for Pocono I am taking it.

The other positive was sunset was 4:40 p.m. local time in Fontana, meaning 7:40 p.m. ET. An issue with a few of the Fontana finales was the sunset being too bright. I didn't think it should be an issue. The drivers should wear sunglasses and drive. However, if they have a problem with it then the start of the race had to wait.

This caused the green flag to be pushed later and later and to the point the race didn't start until closer to 10:00 p.m. ET. The race ended around 1:00 a.m. ET and everyone complained the champion was crowned too late. A 7:40 p.m. or 7:45 p.m. ET start time would not be bad. Even if the race took three hours it would be over before 11:00 p.m. ET. Plus, it would be a primetime race with not much competition. The Army-Navy game was over before 7:00 p.m., the MLS Cup Final was over before 6:30 p.m. There would be NBA, NHL and college basketball but nothing that has national attention. The race would go against the Heisman Trophy presentation, big whoop.

Let's just say Fontana hosted the season finale on the Second Saturday night in December. How could IndyCar fill the three months from Sonoma and Fontana? I agree that IndyCar should avoid racing on NFL Sundays. It gets lost. People will be hook on Red Zone and bars won't put it on. Bars are wall-to-wall football with every television showing a different game and some games on multiple TVs. However, the series would need at least two races and they have to be strategically done. The other thing to consider is cost and the teams can't take on a NASCAR amount of races.

I have been for IndyCar racing on Saturday of the United States Grand Prix weekend. The weekend needs a major support series. IndyCar needs to get in front of eyeballs of not only spectators but international media outlets. Saturday at Circuit of the Americas draws more people than every IndyCar race but the Indianapolis 500. IndyCar should be saying they would do it for no sanctioning fee because of the potential exposure. I am sure IndyCar could work out a deal with Formula One to make it happen and perhaps it could help get the race on television in more countries around the globe.

That is one weekend down and we will need another. A December finale opens the door to flyaway races, something IndyCar has not delivered on despite an international series being one of Mark Miles' pillars when he took over as CEO of Hulman & Company. Maybe the series could find a way to go to Australia in November and run a race in the early afternoon there, which would be a primetime Saturday night race in the United States. I am not sure where IndyCar could go. The Supercars are scheduled to be a Pukekohe Park in New Zealand in early November and run a street race in Newcastle Thanksgiving weekend. I am not sure either track is suitable for IndyCar plus I am not sure Supercars would want IndyCar to join its bills.

Back in 2013, IndyCar had a month between the Baltimore round on Labor Day weekend and the Houston doubleheader the first Sunday in October. Many were up in arms over the gap in the schedule so late in the season and I was one of them. Now I am proposing to spread the final three races over three months. What gives? It is a mixture of things. One, I think it is better for IndyCar to be around once a month especially when you get to the final quarter of the calendar year than not be around at all. Two, I think IndyCar does a good job of keeping people in the loop and filling the down time. I think IndyCar's social media team has done a good job of making the offseason feel not as long. Plus, the series covers its drivers when they go to Petit Le Mans and other events.

It could be a case of less is more. The races are few and far between but the races would be critical to the championship. The schedule used to have this kind of space toward the end of the season. In 1969, Sacramento was September 28th, followed by a doubleheader at Seattle International Raceway, now Pacific Raceways on October 19th with Phoenix on November 15th and the season finale at Riverside on December 7th. In 1987, Nazareth took place at the end of summer on September 20th but the final two races Laguna Seca and around Miami were October 11th and November 1st respectively.

I think we are living in different times and changing times. IndyCar needs to race regularly through spring and summer but once the temperatures start to cool off the series can spread the races out. The series can't afford to go away and if spreading races out meant teams could keep people employed that they otherwise would layoff in the early part of winter then it wouldn't be a bad thing.

Winners From the Weekend

Irishman Keith Donegan won the Road to Indy U.S. F2000 $200,000 Mazda Scholarship at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park (formerly Firebird International Raceway). The 20-year-old finished second at the Formula Ford Festival at Brand Hatch to Joey Foster by 0.104 seconds in October, earning him an invitation.

Donegan finished second in the 2013 Ginetta Junior Championship before taking a few years off to focus on his academics. He returned to racing this year and before the Formula Ford Festival he competed in 12 races during the 2017 British National Formula Ford 1600 Championship. He had two runner-up finishes.

Coming Up This Weekend
Nothing but I am sure there is something.

We are done with Musings From the Weekend until 2018. Look out in the coming weeks for more review of the year, including the sixth For The Love of Indy Awards. We will also start looking ahead with 2018 predictions.

Friday, December 8, 2017

IndyCar Ideas: Oval Qualifying, Pit Lane Closures, Alternate Tires and Weeknight Races

There are 93 days until the next IndyCar race and it has been 82 days since the last time IndyCar was on track. With all that said, especially since it is Friday, let's have some fun. We got a lot of time until the IndyCar season and IndyCar is looking at changes that could be made to the series and the on-track action. Why don't we throw some ideas at the wall? And to quote the legendary philosopher known as 2 Chainz, this comes from "a mind full idea of ideas/some of this shit may sound weird."

Not all of this is going to fall inside the box. Some of this you may have never considered. You may think some of it is the stupidest thing you ever read and some of it you may think is a genius idea and wonder why it has never been considered before. The goal is to get your mind thinking and consider new ways of how we go about things in racing and IndyCar in particular.

Oval Qualifying
This topic came up in the early part of the offseason. The 2017 season was one of the more predictable years for oval qualifying and it seemed the starting order was due to be set based on when a car went out for its qualifying run. The cars that went out toward the end of qualifying ended up at the front of the grid and the cars that went out early were at the back.

Josef Newgarden and Will Power came out and said the procedure has to improve. Newgarden suggested using practice speeds to decide the qualifying order with the fastest in practice being the final qualifier and the slowest in practice going out first. He even suggested using the championship standings as a fairer way to decide the qualifying order than drawing numbers out of a hat. Power even said oval points should be used that way it wouldn't be a disadvantage to Ed Carpenter, which is a very sportsmanlike thing of the Australian to consider a fellow competitor even if it could be less of a benefit to him.

The practice speed idea makes sense. Plus, it would add some intrigue to practice. However, let's think about a race for a second. We like seeing passing and if a few cars end up at the back but those cars are top cars it could lead to a better race. In some ways a random grid has its perk. Obviously, passing was very difficult at Phoenix and Gateway and it would not good if someone was stuck at the back. Hopefully the universal aero kit will solve that problem.

I could live with setting qualifying order by inverting the practice results but I had two other ideas. The first is use practice results to set the qualifying order but not inverting meaning the fastest car in practice goes out first and the slowest car goes out last. It would be fair from the sense that all the top cars would be paired together but instead of being at the back of the order they would be at the front. It could allow for the grid to be mixed up a bit. I doubt the slowest car in practice would jump to pole position just by being the final car to qualify but it could mix up the top ten.

An issue with this idea is sandbagging and teams doing it in hopes to be toward the back of the qualifying order. That is a risk and I am not against sandbagging. You can't legislate it out. If someone does it and it works then good for them but there is the reverse situation where a team sandbags and overestimate the strength of the car and ends up in the back.

The second idea is have qualifying order still determined by a random draw. Everyone makes their first attempt and then everyone makes a second attempt in reverse order of the draw. Either two things could happen: The grid could be set by an aggregate of the qualifying times or the grid could be set by the best attempt from each car.

The second idea is a littler more complicated than the first but it would mean more on-track action as each car would have to make two qualifying runs.

Pit Lane Closures
Another thing IndyCar is looking into is closing the pit lane. The most notable shake up during the 2017 season was at Toronto where Josef Newgarden jumped from running in seventh to leading the race because he was on the pit lane when a caution came out. Newgarden cycled to the lead and he ran away with the victory while the front runners of Hélio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon were shuffled to the back, lost any shot of a podium finish and most had to settle for finishes in the back half of the top ten.

I am in the party that believes the pit lane should never close unless there is an extraordinary circumstance such as an incident on pit lane or an incident blocking either pit entrance or pit exit.

But what if we did something different with the pit lane? We currently have a situation where the pit lane closes but the truth is the pit lane doesn't close. Pit entrance closes. If you are on pit lane, like Newgarden was, you're good. You can change tires, get fuel, you can even get out of the car and have a cigarette if you wanted and not only can you do all that but you can also leave the pit lane without any objection. The pit lane exit never closes.

What if closing the pit lane meant closing the pit lane? If you are on the pit lane when a caution comes out you can't leave. You are stuck. You are trapped. That would change how you would strategize a race. Instead of wanting to time a pit stop to occurring simultaneously with a full-course caution a team will want to get a pit stop out of the way as quick as possible and get the car back on the racetrack. However, that could take competitive cars out of the battle for the victory and that would piss off many people from drivers to fans to crew members.

Or what if closing the pit lane meant the pit lane was only opened during green flag racing? That would shake things up. If you think about it, pit stops under caution are a reset. It allows everyone to run the same strategy and stay grouped together but banning pit stops under cautions would force teams to run a race completely differently. You don't want to run too long because if you are one of the final cars to stop and a caution comes out you could be forced to stop immediately after the race goes green and fall behind everybody. However, what if it encouraged teams to run short stints and a team could stop early and hope to have a caution come out in the middle of a stint and force teams to consider making pit stops immediately after the green flag run. All of a sudden you could have a car shuffle to the front of the field on half a tank of full and be able to open a decent gap to the rest of the field.

We are so used to doing one thing when it comes to cautions and the pit lane. There is no way of knowing what is the best way to handle the pit lane under cautions unless you try these different scenarios. IndyCar can't be changing the rules every year until it finds the best procedure. I would like to see something experimented with for at least two seasons. IndyCar should commit to something different for two seasons and from the start say it will be a two-year experiment. After that it can decide what to use for the future. It could decide to continue to experiment for another two-year period or adopt the procedure permanently or revert to something more familiar.

Alternate Tires
Tires have been in the news lately and changes are coming for 2018.

In 2017, IndyCar allowed teams to use a set of alternate tires in one practice session, a change from previous seasons where alternate tires were not available until qualifying. The change had its pros and cons. Teams got more time with the alternate tire and could perfect the cars set up on the alternate tire. In turn, we didn't see many surprises in qualifying with a team that took a chance on the alternate tire in the first round of qualifying steal a spot in round two from a contender

I have championed this stance before and I will champion it once again. I believe alternate tires should not be marked and it should be mixed in with the rest of the tires. This way teams will have no clue what tire they are putting on the car. If the team ends up starting the race on alternate tires and then puts on alternate tires for its first pit stop and then puts on another set for its second pit stop so be it. We could see races all over the place. Some teams might have to make an additional pit stop because they can't do three stints on alternate tires. At the same time, if a team keeps putting on the primary tire and is losing too much time it might decide to make an additional pit stop in hopes of finally putting on the alternate compound and gaining speed.

Perhaps instead of mixing in three or four sets of alternate tires, IndyCar could give the teams three sets of tires for the race, two are the primary compound and the other is the alternate compound but there is no demarcation. The team chooses one set to start the car on then will have two sets in the pit area. A team would still use each compound during the race but the difference is the teams wouldn't know it is on the alternate compound until the car is running on track and the door remains open that a team could start on the alternate tire. To give the teams a taste of the alternate compound IndyCar and Firestone could give each team an alternate set to use during one of the practice sessions.

Teams would get an idea of what the alternate tire can do but it would force teams to adjust strategies on the fly. A team could end up starting on the alternate tire and be forced to stop earlier than it would like because the alternate doesn't suit the car or the team could put the alternate on during the second stint and find itself wanting to stop earlier because it is losing time or a team could end up putting the tires on during the final stop and a driver might have to be a little more conservative to make it to the end of the race.

Strategists might have a few more headaches but us fans could end up with more breath-taking races.

Why not make Iowa a weekend night race?
The other day I was scanning the IndyCar schedule because I had not heard if the television schedule had been released nor could I recall any of the start times besides Indianapolis and Gateway because Gateway had already announced the race would be an hour earlier in 2018.

The schedule on the IndyCar website has green flag times listed but no television times. Those might be green flag times from the 2017 races and haven't been changed yet but I saw that Iowa had a green flag time of 5:30 p.m. ET. If the definition of insanity is doing the same over and over again and expecting a different result then I would like to congratulate the folks at Iowa Speedway on officially being insane.

Two years of late Sunday afternoon start times have been bad for Iowa in terms of the crowd. If the track doesn't want to race on Saturday night, fine but the race should start no later than 1:00 p.m. local time if it hopes to get people from the Indianapolis-area to come out for the race.

Next year, Iowa falls on July 8th and because of the calendar it is the Sunday after the Fourth of July. NASCAR will race the night before at Daytona. Saturday night isn't an option this year but what if Iowa raced on the night of July 4th?

Next year would be the perfect time for IndyCar to try a weeknight race. First, July 4th is a Wednesday. It is always difficult when the Independence Day holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. You can't take four days off. You can probably get two days off but most likely don't get multiple days off. However, it would be a holiday and people are still going to travel despite the holiday falling on a Wednesday. Second, July 4th falls ten days after Road America so teams wouldn't be rushing from a track on Sunday to get to another race on Wednesday.

It could be a full day worth of on-track action with Indy Lights and IndyCar each having a practice session in the afternoon then qualify in the late afternoon with the Indy Lights race in the evening and the IndyCar race beginning right before sunset. The track could make it a full day of Independence Day festivities. Bring in a Ferris wheel and other rides, make enough barbecue and cotton candy to feed tens of thousands of people and after the IndyCar race have a fireworks shows.

NBCSN is not going to have anything that takes priority over an IndyCar race that night. It is a Wednesday night in July. The network will have already replayed that day's Tour de France stage four times before 6:00 p.m. ET.

While NBCSN might not be busy, I am not sure Fourth of July is a good night for television viewership. People are all over the place. People will be having their own barbecues. Towns across the country will be having firework shows.

It could be different next year because Independence Day falls on a Wednesday and towns might be having fireworks shows either the weekend before or the weekend after but I am not certain the television number would be any better than Iowa on a Sunday afternoon. I am hopeful that more people would come out to the racetrack especially if the track promoted it as a massive Fourth of July barbecue and wanted IndyCar fans and Iowans to come together for the holiday.

We have been talking about weeknight races for a decade now and no one has rolled the dice. Someone is going to have to take a chance and it should have been taken years ago. I would love to see IndyCar and Iowa Speedway take the chance and not be afraid to fail. It could be the next big thing.

So did you think? A handful of ideas over four topics, some made sense, others you are probably still processing. It wasn't that bad. And as the world turns we never know what creative idea will come to mind next.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2018 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited

We have made it to December and we have another set of predictions to revisit. This time we look back at sports car predictions and a set of three predictions for the FIA World Endurance Championship, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, European Le Mans Series and the Pirelli World Challenge.

1. WEC: Porsche Runs Three Cars at Le Mans
Wrong! We only got two 919 Hybrids for what was Porsche's final Le Mans appearance in LMP1. There was no Fernando Alonso or Juan Pablo Montoya. The good news for Porsche is it picked up its 19th Le Mans victory despite only running two cars. Although, about 16 hours into the race Porsche were likely wishing that it had entered a third car because it nearly went horribly wrong.

2. Sébastien Buemi Gets Back on the Top Step of the Podium
Correct! And he was on the top step of the podium more than any other LMP1 driver, besides his co-drivers Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson. The #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid won five of nine races, however, a rough day at Le Mans and a poor result at Nürburgring kept the team from beating the #2 Porsche for the world championship.

3. Aston Martin Finally Wins the GTE-Am Title
Correct! Finally! Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda had lost the title the last two years in heartbreaking fashion. Both times the team did not finish the 24 Hours of Le Mans and that put them behind the eight ball. This year the trio finished fourth at Le Mans and picked up crucial points. The #98 Aston Martin was consistent all season with four victories and its worst finish being fifth at Fuji. This trio has won 12 of 26 races over the last three seasons and it has 18 podium finishes in that span.

4. IMSA: Mazda Wins at Least Two Races
Wrong! The start of the DPi-era was not kind to Mazda. The team pulled out of the championship midseason and Team Joest has taken over the program from SpeedSource. Hopefully, 2018 will be a better season for the RT24-P program.

5. Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-AMG All Win at Least Once in GTD
Partially correct! It didn't take long for Mercedes-AMG to win in GTD as the manufacture won three of the first four races. After Mercedes-AMG's run of success, Acura followed by winning back-to-back races at Belle Isle and Watkins Glen. While Mercedes-AMG and Acura each found their way to the top step of the podium, Lexus did not come close and the manufacture's best finish was fifth.

6. Penske Enters a Car Late in the Season and Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves Are the Drivers
Correct! And not only were Montoya and Castroneves involved but Simon Pagenaud even made a cameo. Team Penske entered the #6 Oreca 07 for Petit Le Mans. Not only did the team win pole position but also the team finished third on its return to sports car competition. Next year, Montoya and Dane Cameron will be in the #6 Acura ARX-05 and Castroneves will share the #7 Acura ARX-05 with Ricky Taylor. I think Team Penske might win a race or two in 2018.

7. ELMS: Racing Team Nederland Does Not Win a Race With Rubens Barrichello and Jan Lammers as Drivers
Correct! Racing Team Nederland did not win a race at all in 2017. The team selected the Dallara P217, the worst of the three chassis in LMP2 for ELMS and the team's best finish was seventh at Red Bull Ring.

8. At Least One Class has Four Different Entries Win a Race
Correct! All three classes had four different winners and LMP3 and GTE each had five different winners. In LMP2, the winners were the #32 United Autosports Ligier, the #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca,  the #27 SMP Racing Dallara and the #40 Graff Oreca. The LMP3 winners were the #2 United Autosports Liger, the #19 M.Racing - YMR Norma, the #11 Eurointernational Ligier, #9 AT Racing Ligier and #3 United Autosports Ligier. The GTE winners were #90 TF Sport Aston Martin, #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari, #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari, #51 Spirit of Race Ferrari and the #77 Proton Competition Porsche.

9. An AF Corse-operated Ferrari Finishes in the Top Three of the GTE Championship
Wrong! The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari missed a third place finish in GTE by three points after the car retired at the finale at Algarve and the #77 Proton Competition Porsche jumped the #55 Ferrari with its victory in the finale.

10. Pirelli World Challenge: The Sprint Champion is Different from the Sprint X Champions
Correct! The Sprint championship went to Wright Motorsports Porsche Patrick Long and the SprintX championship went to Cadillac Racing's Michael Cooper and Jordan Taylor. Long took the overall championship over Cooper by 27 points. Unfortunately, it appears the Cooper-Taylor SprintX championship will be the final title for Cadillac as the team has withdrawn from PWC competition.

11. Ryan Dalziel is the Patrick Long of 2017
I am going to say correct. Though Long nearly won the title in 2016 in his return to the series, Dalziel finished fifth in the overall championship, 91 points behind Long. However, Dalziel and co-driver Daniel Morad won twice in SprintX and finished second in that championship by three points behind Cooper and Taylor. It didn't match the level of Long but fifth overall in the championship is very respectable and I did say he would be a lock for the top five in the championship.

12. American Manufactures Win at Least Eight GTS Races
Correct! And majority of the victories came from an unexpected place. Camaro driver and GTS champion Lawson Aschenbach only won two races but Panoz Avezzano GT driver Ian James won six races. Let's not forget to mention that Andrew Aquilante swept the St. Petersburg season opener in a Ford Mustang Boss 302R so American manufactures won ten of 18 GTS races in 2017.

I am going to say 8.667 out of 12 correct. That is respectable. It is much better than what was a disastrous round of Formula One predictions. Don't forget to check out revisiting NASCAR predictions and IndyCar predictions.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Will Manufactures Stunt IndyCar Grid Growth?

Formula E had two ridiculous races. Sam Bird nearly hit a guy and drove into his pit building on his pit stop. He had to serve a drive-through penalty from the lead and he came out ahead and won the race. Edoardo Mortara spun while leading with a little more than two laps to go in the second race and Daniel Abt took the checkered flag on his birthday but the German was disqualified for a technical infringement. This handed the victory to Felix Rosenqvist, who spun from the lead in turn one on the first green flag lap of the race. Elsewhere in the world, the WTCC season ended. There were endurance races in California and Japan. Takuma Sato did some laps in an IndyCar around Twin Ring Motegi. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Will Manufactures Stunt IndyCar Grid Growth?
Concerns over whether Harding Racing will be full-time where calmed last week when the team made a surprise addition to the team. Brian Barnhart left his role within IndyCar race control to take over as team president of Harding Racing.

I don't think Barnhart would have left a comfortable job at IndyCar if Harding Racing wasn't going to be a full-time team. IndyCar needs more teams and the addition of Harding Racing as a full-time contender is step one in the growing process for the series after more than a half a dozen teams vacated the series since the start of the DW12-era in 2012. However, one additional team could be pushing the limit due to the constraints set by the manufactures.

Last year's IndyCar grid averaged 22.058 entries per race in 2017, down from 22.75 in 2016 but the better comparison would be that ten races in 2017 featured 21 entries while 12 races in 2016 featured 22-car grids and two races featured more than 22 cars. Only one race featured more than 22 cars in 2017 and that was the Indianapolis 500. In 2015, the average grid size was 24.25 cars and every race featured at least 23 cars.

While Harding Racing enters the series, the grid is on track to shrink for the third consecutive season. Harding Racing used Chevrolet engines in the team's three races last year and I think it is safe to say Harding Racing will be a Chevrolet team in 2018. Team Penske will down size to three cars with Hélio Castroneves' IndyCar exit. A.J. Foyt Racing will remain with two cars with Tony Kanaan joining the team and Matheus Leist promoted from Indy Lights. Ed Carpenter Racing seems set with two cars with the only unknown being the road/street course driver in the #20 Chevrolet with Spencer Pigot becoming the full-time driver in the #21 Chevrolet.

Honda sees Andretti Autosport remain at four cars. Takuma Sato moves to a second entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has an all-Canadian line-up with James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens. Chip Ganassi Racing cuts its team in half with Scott Dixon's only teammate being Ed Jones. Sébastien Bourdais will remain at Dale Coyne Racing with a teammate still to be decided.

With eight Chevrolets and 12 Hondas tentatively expected, IndyCar finds itself tracking back closer to grid numbers prior to reunification and that is not a good thing. Fortunately for IndyCar there is some hope, some good ole British hope. It has been expected that Carlin will step up and enter IndyCar next season with Max Chilton and possibly with a second car for Charlie Kimball. That has yet to be confirmed and the news cycle has gone quieter as Christmas has gotten closer but the good news is there is still over three months until the season opener at St. Petersburg.

Carlin isn't the only British hope for IndyCar. Jack Harvey and Michael Shank Racing have been linked to a part-time program in partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Those three entries could go a long way for IndyCar but any further growth in the series is limited and can only come from one direction. Honda is tapped out with 12 engine programs but has been flexible to run a 13th program when necessary. There is only one place for new teams to go and that is Chevrolet. I doubt Chevrolet wants to go beyond 12 engine programs as well, which means at this moment IndyCar is four entries away from a capacity grid.

This causes a problem for IndyCar. One, there is a limit to how large the grid can be and could prevent teams from entering the series that want to be in IndyCar. And two, new teams don't get a choice and this isn't a new problem for IndyCar. Michael Shank Racing was ready to enter IndyCar in 2012 but all the Chevrolet engine leases and all the Honda engine leases were taken meaning the only choice was Lotus. Instead of entering the series Shank passed because he saw the writing on the wall when it came to the Lotus package. Nearly six years later IndyCar can't force teams that want to enter the series to reconsider. The problem is there is no easy solution. IndyCar can't force either manufacture to field 21 cars if there are 21 entries knocking on the door looking for an engine.

On one of the recent Marshall Pruett Podcast episodes, Pruett brought up that in the second year of IMSA's DPi-era the Prototype class will come close to matching the size of the IndyCar grid and the class will see four manufacture programs while a handful of cars run the Global LMP2-spec. The IMSA rulebook has allowed Team Penske, BAR1 Motorsports, Performance Tech Motorsports and CORE Autosport to join the Prototype class for 2018 and JDC-Miller Motorsports will be adding an entry for next season as well.

One reason for this growth in IMSA's Prototype class is teams have choices. IMSA wasn't going to stop Team Penske from bringing a new, albeit returning, manufacture into the prototype class. Better yet, IMSA wasn't going to turn Acura away because the engine is a 3.5 L twin-turbo V8. The series wasn't going to say Performance Tech and CORE Autosport couldn't purchase Oreca chassis. IMSA has a rulebook and it has allowed many to enter without fitting one specification for all. It also has Balance of Performance but that is another story. Flexibility has been a wonderful thing for IMSA.

IndyCar has been rigid to change and it prevents teams from entering. If the only option is the Chevrolet engine program and there are at most four available leases then the series might not be appeasing to outside teams. The IndyCar rulebook doesn't allow for anything but a 2.2 L twin-turbo V6 engine. Only Chevrolet and Honda produce engines to those specifications. Once all those engine leases are accounted for the grid has reached maximum capacity and no other teams can enter. An outside team can't even bring a new manufacture to the series unless it builds a 2.2 L twin-turbo V6 engine, which that manufacture likely doesn't or doesn't want to because the existing manufactures have a six-year head start.

IndyCar enters year seven of the DW12-era and no manufactures have joined since the year one. None are coming anytime soon despite yearly reports that the series is talking with manufactures. Once or twice a year we reach a point of frustration with the shackles IndyCar puts on itself and its reluctance to shed them when it could be for the best of the series. I don't blame IndyCar for being nervous that changing the rulebook could upset the existing two manufactures and could increase cost for the few teams that are in the series but do nothing has been a slow hemorrhage and soon this wound will need to be addressed.

Champion From the Weekend

Thed Björk clinched the 2017 World Touring Car Championship with finishes of fifth and fourth at the doubleheader at the Losail International Circuit.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sam Bird and Felix Rosenqvist but did you know...

The #45 Toyo Tires/Flying Lizard Motorsports Audi of Darren Law, Charles Hayes, Tom Haacker and Nathan Stacy won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

The #8 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Oreca-Nissan of Stéphane Richelmi, Harrison Newey and Thomas Laurent won the 4 Hours of Fuji. In LMP3, the #6 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Ligier-Nissan of Patrick Byrne and Guy Cosmo were victorious. The #91 FIST-Team AAI Ferrari of Marco Cioci, Ollie Millroy and Lam Yu won in GT.

Tom Chilton and Esteban Guerrieri split the final two races of the WTCC season at Losail.

Coming Up This Weekend
We are running out of events but the Andros Trophy heads to Alpe d'Huez.

Friday, December 1, 2017

2017-18 Formula E Season Preview

This weekend marks the start of the 2017–18 Formula E season and all ten teams return for the fourth season in the series history. Five drivers will be making their Formula E debuts at the season opener with two world champions, a combined 77 Formula One starts, a DTM vice-champion and a GP2 vice-champion joining the series. All three prior Formula E champions are back.

For the second consecutive season the Formula E season will begin in Hong Kong but not only does this year's race come two months later than the inaugural edition but this year Hong Kong is a doubleheader with races taking place on December 2nd and 3rd. Like Hong Kong, Marrakesh returns for the second consecutive season but this round occurs 14 months after the first Formula E trip to Morocco and it will be the first round of 2018 on January 13th.

Santiago, Chile marks the first new round on the 2017-18 schedule with Chile's capital hosting the third round of the season on February 3rd. One month later to the day, Mexico City hosts its third Formula E race. There is a possible round to be announced at a later date for March 17th after São Paulo pulled out of hosting a race for this season.

The first race of spring and the first European round of the season will be the second new round. Rome hosts Formula E on April 14th and two weeks later the series will head to Paris. The fourth Berlin ePrix will take place on May 19th and this year's trip to Germany will only feature one race. The final race of the European portion of the season will be a historic race in Zürich, Switzerland on June 10th.

The Formula E season closes with two consecutive doubleheaders in North America. Formula E will return to Brooklyn for the New York ePrix on July 14-15th. Montreal will host the final round of the season on July 28-29th.

Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler
Lucas di Grassi: #1 Audi e-tron FE04
What did he do in 2016-17: He won the 2016–17 Formula E championship with victories in Mexico City and Montreal. He picked up seven podium finishes in 12 races with one retirement and his worst finish being seventh.
What to expect in 2017-18: He has been a title contender all three seasons and I don't expect that to change. He will win a few races but di Grassi has been known for having a few races go against him even when he is the fastest one out there.

Daniel Abt: #66 Audi e-tron FE04
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished eighth the Formula E championship last season with his best finish being fourth on two occasions. He picked up a fastest lap in the second Brooklyn race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Abt has been consistent but has struggled to beat his teammate. He will continue to do a solid job but do nothing fancy.

Team Notes: Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has finished second the last two years in the Teams' championship. With the departure of Stéphane Sarrazin, Daniel Abt is the only driver to have started every Formula E race and he has yet to win a race. A German driver has yet to win a Formula E race. Di Grassi has finished on the podium in 20 of 33 races. Abt could become the first birthday winner in Formula E history if he wins the second race of the Hong Kong doubleheader on December 3rd.

Renault e.Dams
Nicolas Prost: #8 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished sixth in the Formula E championship. Prost finished in the points in the first 11 races until he retired from the season finale at Montreal but Prost scored a point for fastest lap in that race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Like Abt, Prost has been solid but better than the German. Prost will consistently score points but always but on the periphery of the championship picture.

Sébastien Buemi: #9 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished runner-up in the Formula E championship despite winning six races. Buemi was disqualified from two races, finished 11th and 13th and missed the Brooklyn round due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments.
What to expect in 2017-18: Buemi will go head-to-head with di Grassi for the championship because that is what those two do. He has an aggressive side and it will win a handful of races but it might beat him once or twice.

Team Notes: Renault e.Dams has won all three Teams' Championships. The team has won 15 of 33 Formula E races with Buemi responsible for 12 of 15 victories. Prost has scored points in 31 of 33 races, the most all-time and he has scored points in 21 consecutive races one shy of tying the record for most consecutive races scoring points.

Mahindra Racing
Felix Rosenqvist: #19 Mahindra M4Electro
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished third in the Formula E championship in his debut season. Rosenqvist won the first race from Berlin and he finished on the podium five times. He won three pole positions, more than any other driver.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Swede will break up the Buemi-di Grassi party and Rosenqvist will win a few races. He could take the championship lead at some point and if he does it could be game over.

Nick Heidfeld: #23 Mahindra M4Electro
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished seventh in the Formula E championship. Heidfeld finished in third position five times and he finished ahead of Rosenqvist in five races. Heidfeld has seven career podium finishes, most all-time in Formula E for a driver without a victory. He also holds the record for most Formula One podium finishes without a victory with 13.
What to expect in 2017-18: Heidfeld will be slower than his teammate but the German will pick up points and likely end up on the podium at least once. Will it be the top step? He is due.

Team Notes: Mahindra Racing has improved each year in the Teams' Championship with the team finishing eighth in 2014-15, fifth in 2015-16 and third in 2016-17. The team had two podium finishes prior to last season. Rosenqvist and Heidfeld combined for ten podium finishes in 2016-17. Heidfeld has not won a single-seater race since July 24, 1999 in International Formula 3000 at the Österreichring.

DS Virgin Racing
Sam Bird: #2 DS Virgin DSV-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished fourth the Formula E championship. He swept the Brooklyn round but had two podium finishes the rest of the season. He ended the season with six consecutive finishes in the points.
What to expect in 2017-18: Bird remains consistently quick but not quick enough to win the championship. He will get a victory or two but he will have days where he can't crack the top five.

Alex Lynn: #36 DS Virgin DSV-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He made his Formula E debut at Brooklyn filling in for José María López and started on pole position on debut in race one that weekend. However, Lynn retired from both races. Outside of Formula E, he won the 12 Hours of Sebring for Wayne Taylor Racing and won in the LMP2 class at the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with G-Drive Racing.
What to expect in 2017-18: Lynn will have a few good results but there will be days where DS Virgin Racing won't have the speed and he will be happy just to score points.

Team Notes: DS Virgin Racing finished fourth in the Teams' Championship last season. All five of the team's victories have come from Bird. The team has never had both cars finish on the podium in the same race. Lynn has won at least one race in any competition every year since 2010.

André Lotterer: #18 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: Lotterer contested the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche. He did not win a race but he has seven podium finishes from nine races including six consecutive podium finishes to end the season. He finished sixth in the Super Formula championship with a  victory at Okayama.
What to expect in 2017-18: The German enters a new series and results will be hard to come by at the start but things will get better as the season goes on.

Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 Renault Z.E. 17
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished fifth in the Formula E championship. Vergne got his first career victory in the season finale at Montreal, his 31st start. He had four runner-up finishes prior to that victory in the 2016-17 season.
What to expect in 2017-18: Vergne has been quick every year he has been in Formula E and with three different teams. Techeetah has the same powertrain as Renault e.Dams but I think the team will be off of its sister team and Vergne will be somewhere in the middle of the top ten in the championship.

Team Notes: Techeetah finished fifth in the Teams' Championship after taking over for Team Aguri on the grid. Dating back to the team's two years as Team Aguri, Vergne became the first driver to contest every race in a season for the team last season. Lotterer's most recent single-seater victory to occur in Europe was April 29, 2001 in British Formula Three at Snetterton.

NIO Formula E Team
Oliver Turvey: #16 NextEV NIO Sport 003
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 12th in the Formula E championship. Turvey won pole position at Mexico City but retired from that race. He had six finishes in the points with his best finish being sixth in the first Brooklyn race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Turvey is the sleeper pick. He was fastest at the Valencia test and perhaps he could create a four-way battle with Buemi, di Grassi and Rosenqvist. He will win a race and set a career-best championship finish but reliability issues could cost him a title opportunity.

Luca Filippi: #68 NextEV NIO Sport 003
What did he do in 2016-17: Filippi contested two rounds in the Blancpain Endurance Series in the 27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini.
What to expect in 2017-18: Filippi is one of the rookies and he will be off his teammate for the entire season. He will score points but on a semi-regular basis.

Team Notes: NIO has not finished on the podium since Nelson Piquet, Jr., won at Moscow in 2015. Prior to last season's pole positions at Hong Kong and Mexico City, NIO had not won a pole position in Formula E. Filippi has contested only 29 races since he finished second in the 2011 GP2 Series championship. While Turvey was fastest on day one and day three at Valencia, the Filippi best day on the timesheet was 12th.

MS&AD Andretti Formula E
Kamui Kobayashi: #27 Andretti ATEC-03
What did he do in 2016-17: Kobayashi contested the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship for Toyota. His best finish was second at Spa-Francorchamps and he finished third at the Nürburgring. He finished seventh in the Super Formula championship with his best finish being second at Twin Ring Motegi.
What to expect in 2017-18: Kobayashi is the newest addition to the grid as Tom Blomqvist was announced for this seat before sponsorship-related issues forced the switch to Kobayashi. He has a history of jumping into unfamiliar cars and finding results but Andretti has never produced a highly competitive powertrain.

António Félix da Costa: #28 Andretti ATEC-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 20th in the Formula E championship. Da Costa's only finish in the points was fifth in the Hong Kong season opener. His lone podium finish in Formula E was his victory at Buenos Aires in the fourth race in the series history in 2015.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Portuguese driver will not struggle as much as he did last year but he will miss out on the top ten in the championship.

Team Notes: Andretti Formula E has yet to win a race through the first three seasons and is one of three teams still looking for its first victory in the series. Kobayashi is set to be Andretti's 11th driver in four seasons. His most recent victory in single-seaters was January 23, 2009 at Bahrain in the GP2 Asia Series driving for DAMS. The other two drivers on the podium were Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Edoardo Mortara. The best result for Andretti at the Valencia test was da Costa being 14th on the final day.

Dragon Racing
Neel Jani: #6 Penske EV-2
What did he do in 2016-17: Jani was co-driver with Lotterer in the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid in the FIA World Endurance Championship. He also contested the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring for Rebellion Racing. He finished eighth at Daytona and started on pole position at Sebring but finished ninth.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Swiss driver enters having last raced single-seaters in 2011 in Superleague Formula and I think he will score some points but will have more races where he does not score points than he does.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio: #7 Penske EV-2
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 18th in the Formula E championship. The Belgian's best finish was seventh in the season opener at Hong Kong. He scored points at Buenos Aires, Brooklyn and Montreal.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Belgian does better than his teammate on a consistent basis but he does not make it back into the top ten of the championship.

Team Notes: Dragon Racing had its worst finish in the Teams' Championship by finishing eighth last season. It was also the first season Dragon Racing did not win a race. Jani has never won a race on a street circuit. D'Ambrosio was at least six positions ahead of Jani each day at the Valencia test.

Venturi Formula E
Edoardo Mortara: #4 Venturi VM200-FE-03
What did he do in 2016-17: Mortara finished 14th in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in his first season with Mercedes-Benz. His best finish was third in the second race at the Norisring. Mortara won the FIA GT World Cup at Macau for Mercedes-AMG.
What to expect in 2017-18: Mortara will challenge to be the best of the two Venturi drivers but he will not finish in the top half of the championship.

Maro Engel: #5 Venturi VM200-FE-03
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 17th in the Formula E championship. His best finish was fifth at Monaco. His only other points-paying finishes were ninth at Hong Kong and ninth in the first Berlin race. Engel was not classified in four races.
What to expect in 2017-18: Engel will be have a difficult second season and struggle to break a double-digit points total.

Team Notes: Venturi is one of three teams yet to win in Formula E. The team has only two podium finishes in 33 races. Mortara and Engel both drove for Mercedes-Benz in the DTM last season with Mortara finishing 14th, one position and ten points ahead of Engel but Engel won a race at Moscow Raceway while Mortara's best finish was third at the Norisring. The best Venturi did at the Valencia test was 17th on day one and day three and James Rossiter set the team's best time at the test.

Panasonic Jaguar Racing
Nelson Piquet, Jr.: #3 Jaguar I-Type II
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 11th in the Formula E championship driving for NextEV NIO. His best finish was fourth at Monaco and he won pole position for the Hong Kong season opener. He did not finish in the points in the final six races.
What to expect in 2017-18: The Brazilian will get solid results and be in the back half of the top ten in the championship with Piquet, Jr., challenging for podium finishes every now and then.

Mitch Evans: #20 Jaguar I-Type II
What did he do in 2016-17: He finished 14th in the Formula E championship. Evans' best finish was fourth at Mexico City. The New Zealander picked up fastest lap in the first Berlin race.
What to expect in 2017-18: Evans will be close to equal to his teammate and he too will have a few races where he ends up in contention for podium finishes.

Team Notes: Jaguar scored 27 points in its debut season with Evans and Adam Carroll. Piquet, Jr., has not won a race since Moscow in the inaugural season. Evans was in the top ten all three days at the Valencia test and he was faster than Piquet, Jr., on all three days.

Final Takeaways:
I don't expect much to be different in year four of Formula E. While there has been the introduction of independent powertrains the cars have remained unchanged from year one and the teams that have gotten the powertrains right since year two have not fallen off.

It will be di Grassi vs. Buemi vs. Rosenqvist with possibly Turvey, Bird, Prost and Vergne sneaking into the fight. What appears to be a slightly predictable season on paper is the price that will be paid before the introduction of a new chassis, increased power output and new battery system that will have to last the entire race and eliminate the car swap the series has become known for.

If there is one team that could be classified as a sleeper it is Jaguar. Evans had a very good first season and was strong in testing and Piquet, Jr., is a former champion and Formula E veteran. Tee chetah uses the same powertrain as Renault and Vergne had his fair share of results last year but it is a customer team and Lotterer will be learning how to drive a new car. Andretti, Dragon and Venturi are all playing catch up from last year and that will not change this season. If anything those three teams will struggle to score points most of the season.

Buemi dominated the early part of last year's championship and I do not expect a repeat of that this season. I think it is going to be a proper fight each weekend. I think we could see a season similar to the inaugural Formula E season where six different drivers won the first six races. The Formula E grid has the depth of drivers that it would not be out of the realm of possibility that eight different drivers won the first eight races.

The Formula E season opener will take place at 2:00 a.m. ET on December 2nd from Hong Kong. Race two of the season will take place at 2:00 a.m. ET. on December 3rd.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

The Formula One season ended with another Persian fireworks show and now we look back at the predictions made for the 20-race 2017 schedule. Nineteen drivers scored points and 25 drivers took part in a race over the course of the season.

1. Lewis Hamilton Beats His Teammate in the Championship By At Least Three Spots
Wrong! Hamilton won the championship but he only beat Valtteri Bottas by two positions, not three. It is a combination of things. One, Bottas did really well in year one with Mercedes and two, Red Bull Racing did not have the reliability to get the results I thought the team would be able to get. Bottas held his own in year one teamed with Hamilton but he clearly has a long way to go to beat his teammate. The Finn did win three races this season, his first three career victories and he picked up four pole positions.

2. Nico Hülkenberg Finally Gets a Podium
Wrong! The German has appeared in 137 races and made 135 starts and he has yet to finish on the podium. It feels like if he hasn't done it yet then it is never going to happen. He has been nothing but consistent in his career with championship finishes of 14th, 11th, 10th, ninth, 10th, ninth and 10th. He isn't a slouch but how he has never had a breakthrough after seven full seasons is staggering.

3. There Will be at Least One Race Red Bull Bosses
Correct! Max Verstappen dominated Malaysia and Mexico. Perhaps Hamilton could have challenged him at Malaysia if Hamilton wasn't racing for the championship but Verstappen pulled away and even if Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel didn't get into each other at Mexico Verstappen probably would have still ran away with it.

4. Haas Has More Finishes in the Points But Do Not Finish Ahead of any of the Top Seven in the 2016 Constructors' Championship
Partially Correct? Haas did have more points scoring finishes than last year with 13 points finishes to five but Haas finished ahead of one team that finished in the top seven in 2016 and that was McLaren. The team scored 18 more points than it scored in 2016 and it matched its Constructors' Championship finish in eighth. However, McLaren took four steps back.

5. Lance Stroll has an Incident That Leads People Calling for His Head
Correct! Where to start? His handful of accidents at preseason testing? Making contact with Marcus Ericsson at Melbourne? Retiring from the first three races? Veering into Sebastian Vettel on the cool down lap at Sepang? His lack of attention during qualifying at Austin? Pick one.

To be fair, Stroll did really well this year and I bet few people had him finishing 12th in the championship and only three points behind his teammate Felipe Massa and three points outside of the top ten in the World Drivers' Championship. He also finished third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and started second on the grid for the Italian Grand Prix. He is 19 years old, he is going to be the third-best driver on his own 24 Hours of Daytona team between Felix Rosenqvist and Robin Frijns but he is going to be in Formula One probably for the rest of our lives. Get use to him.

6. McLaren Gets Podiums
Wrong! Very wrong! I am surprised how wrong it went. Even worse is 30 points is probably an overachievement considering where McLaren was at the start of the season. Fernando Alonso put on some monumental drives. He qualified sixth at Barcelona. The car kept breaking down on him. He finished sixth and ran fastest lap at Hungary. A podium was never going to happen. He ended the season with three consecutive finishes in the points... and now McLaren switches to Renault. The timing is either on the money or off again for Alonso and McLaren.

7. Max Verstappen is Alive for the Championship Entering Mexico
Wrong! Verstappen was eliminated from championship contention in his turn one accident at Singapore with the two Ferraris. He was probably going to be eliminated that weekend anyway because he entered 170 points behind Lewis Hamilton with 175 points left on the table. The bright side for Verstappen is he at least won at Malaysia and Mexico.

8. A Non-European Country Wins the Race Promoters' Trophy and It Is Not Mexico
To be decided! It hasn't been announced yet but it seems like the Mexican Grand Prix should be the favorite to win it again. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the region six weeks prior to the race but from the size and the enthusiasm of the crowd you would not have known such a devastating event had occurred.

9. At Least One Driver Loses a Race Seat Midseason Due to Financial Reasons
Correct... I guess? You could say the entire Carlos Sainz, Jr., move to Renault was financially related with out being financially related. Jolyon Palmer wasn't scoring points. Renault needed a driver that could score points. Renault got its driver. Renault jumped Scuderia Toro Rosso in the Constructors' Championship thanks in part to Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso scored one point in the final four races after the departure of Sainz, Jr. Renault made an extra few million dollars.

10. At Least Three Races Do Not Feature a Mercedes-Benz on the Front Row
Correct! There were five races where Mercedes-Benz was absent from the front row. Those races were Russia, Monaco, Hungary, Singapore and Mexico. Ironically, those were the only five races where Ferrari won a pole position. You would have thought there would have been one race where Sebastian Vettel won pole position and Lewis Hamilton started second but that didn't happen. That hasn't happened since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, the fourth and final Korean Grand Prix! I expect that to change in 2018.

11. We Will Not See a Standing Restart in 2017 and If We Do, Standing Restarts Will Be Removed From the Championship During the Season
Correct! We didn't see it. I wonder if we will forget about it come 2018.

12. Nico Rosberg Does the Podium Interview at Least Once in 2017
Wrong! At least I never saw him get up on the podium with a microphone in his hand. I thought we might have seen a little bit more of Rosberg's personality come out now that he is retired from competition. While he was at the racetrack a few times, he remained silent and out of the spotlight. The 2016 World Drivers' Champion remained mostly a stranger in 2017. I bet he liked it that way.

Five and a half out of 12 with a chance of breaking 0.500 when the Race Promoters' Trophy is announced at a later date. Whatever the result is it could have been better.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Going Permanent

Australia's Richard Petty kept Roger Penske from conquering Australia. Elsewhere in the world, Formula One ended its season at one of the biggest wastes of a billion dollars. Felipe Massa ended his Formula One career. Marcus Ericsson likely saw his Formula One career come to a close. McLaren and Honda are officially divorced. Thanksgiving leftovers are at a minimum. December is upon us. Motorsports is dwindling. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Going Permanent
We are less than a week from the season opener for the fourth Formula E season. There will be a full preview of the championship at the end of the week but this is set to be the longest season in the series short history with 14 races scheduled over 11 rounds.

This season sees four new locations on the schedule joining seven returning venues. Two South American countries will host the series for the first time with Santiago, Chile hosting the fourth race of the season on February 4th and São Paulo hosting the sixth race on March 17th. Italy hosts its first Formula E round on April 14th with a race taking place in Rome and major motorsports returns to Switzerland for the first time since 1955 with Zürich hosting the antepenultimate round of the season on June 10th.

Should everything go to plan, Formula E will have raced at 20 different venues in 18 different countries by the end of this season. While being a street course-only series, the series has had its good races with its bad. Fortunately, Formula E has not had any disasters of the level of A1GP's trip to Beijing. The series is set on bringing electric motorsports to the people instead of having people travel to a circuit. The concept makes sense but how long can Formula E ignore existing venues and how long can existing venues ignore Formula E? The series isn't setting the world on fire but it isn't going anywhere and the level of manufacture involvement keeps increasing and with the manufactures come top shelf quality drivers.

Mexico City is the lone permanent motorsports venue on the current Formula E schedule but even that is a makeshift course using Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez's oval and stadium section. Besides lacking permanent facilities, Formula E has not had a cornerstone round. Berlin is the only round on the schedule that has been on every Formula E calendar and that had a venue switch in year two because the Tempelhof Airport was being used for refugee housing. Monaco was on the original Formula E schedule but that race alternates between hosting Formula E and hosting the historic grand prix and is not on this year's calendar.

Formula E could benefit from going to existing racetracks and using courses that already exist. Permanent venues would allow the series a few places to grow fan bases instead of hopping around the globe and hoping to draw a crowd for two or three years before finding a new city to visit. Permanent venues could also provide for better on track action. Street courses are hit and miss and while Formula E has done a good job with most of its course going to permanent venues could alleviate headaches when it comes to going to a country for the first time.

What could a Formula E calendar with only permanent or existing venues look like? Let's take into consideration that the longest course Formula E has raced on was the Beijing Olympic Green Circuit, a 2.14-mile course. Let's set that as the limit for now. Eventually this series is going to have to tackle longer courses but baby steps. Let's also keep the winter into summer schedule. I think Formula E should run when the rest of major motorsports is off. Too often it has been lost in the shuffle of Formula One, FIA World Endurance Championship, IndyCar and more.

Where could the season start? The series has to be in China and the country has hosted the Formula E season opener before. China has had a racetrack boom over the last decade and there are some that fit what Formula E is looking for. My nomination would be the Chengdu Goldenport Circuit. This track was an unknown until A1GP went there in November 2008. It wasn't the greatest circuit in the world but something about its charming, Mario Kart-esque character makes me want some series to go back there. The circuit is 2.091 miles long. It is perfect for Formula E and it should host the season opener in late-October.

What could come next? How about Japan? I am partly surprised Japan has yet to Formula E but closing down the streets of Tokyo could be one thing that keeps the series from going there. The good news is Japan has a few options for Formula E. What would be a better place to host a Japanese round than Suzuka? The Suzuka East circuit, which famously hosted NASCAR 20 years ago, is only 1.394 miles in length. Japanese fans are some of the best in the world and they will pack the place with a race in mid-November.

Like Japan, I am surprised we have yet to see Australia host Formula E. The series has to go down under and while it is pushing winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia would be on the cusp of summer in December. I would choose Sandown Raceway. It is close to Melbourne, it is 1.928 miles long and it has a pair of long straightaways. It would be a great race prior to the Christmas period.

After Christmas, we have to stay in the Southern Hemisphere and Buenos Aires had the best atmosphere of all the Formula E venues to date. It is a shame the series won't return there for season four but Buenos Aires has a famous track in the city with a number of configurations. Autódromo Oscar y Juan Gálvez hosted 21 Argentine Grands Prix, 20 of which were on the Formula One schedule. The No. 9 configuration, a 2.07-mile course, was used three times. That would be a great way to kick off the New Year in January.

While we are in the Americas, the series mind as well head north and come to the United States but it should go somewhere it has never been before and probably never considered. Formula E should have an oval race and it should be at Phoenix International Raceway in early February. Formula E is an entirely new series. It is still an infant. Why should it shy away from ovals? Plus it would be a great test of speed for these cars. Let's get the most out of these cars and a one-mile oval should be the start for the series. There is nothing wrong with an oval or two in Formula E's future. Let's even make it a doubleheader.

After Phoenix, the series could head to Europe for the second half of the season. Formula E used Circuit Ricardo Tormo's perimeter circuit for preseason testing and the series should host a round there at the start of spring in March. The track is 1.92 miles long. After Valencia, the series could head to Italy in April and run a race before Formula One starts the European portion of its season. Adria International Raceway is not only 1.679 miles in length but it has a covered paddock, which I think would be great for the Formula E festivities.

Come May, Formula One will be back in Europe but between the Spanish Grand Prix and Monaco Grand Prix Formula E could fill the gap with a race on Dijon-Prenois short circuit, a 2.044-mile circuit. When Formula One heads to Canada, Formula E could head to England and to what is essentially its ancestral home, the 1.957-mile Donington Park National Circuit! It hosted the first test in the series history. The series should have already raced there.

There has to be one street circuit on the Formula E schedule but instead of going to a city and trying to build a new circuit, why not go to an existing street circuit in a country where a number of Formula E manufactures call home? The Norisring is famous for DTM and sports cars but a Formula E doubleheader on the 1.4-mile course would be an excellent close to the European portion of the schedule in late June.

Where should the Formula E season finale be held? Let's end the season in the United States in the middle of July but instead of racing around Brooklyn, let's run at the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park and have a doubleheader. There would be no worries about noise with Formula E in Connecticut. The locals wouldn't even know a race is taking place.

This calendar is far from happening but in five years, in ten years, Formula E might be looking for something a bit more permanent.

Champions From the Weekend

Jamie Whincup won his seventh Supercars championship with a victory in race two from Newcastle and race one winner Scott McLaughlin being handed a 15-second penalty in race two for a driving infringement and dropping him to 17th in the final results.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin but did you know...

Valtteri Bottas won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Artem Markelov and Charles Leclerc split the Formula Two races from Abu Dhabi. Niko Kari scored his first GP3 victory in race one and Dorian Boccolacci scored his first GP3 victory in race two.

Christopher Bell won the Turkey Night Grand Prix from Ventura Raceway. It is Bell's second Turkey Night Grand Prix victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula E season opener from Hong Kong.
25 Hours of Thunderhill.
The World Touring Car Championship concludes at Qatar on Friday.
The Asian Le Mans Series has its second round of the season at Fuji.