Wednesday, September 28, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2016 Season

The second IndyCar team wrap-up takes a look at Dale Coyne Racing. The team entered the 2016 season with a rookie driver and continued the practice of having a rotation of drivers in the team's second entry. Despite finishing toward the bottom of the championship, the Illinois-based team's 2016 season was much better than the year before.

Conor Daly has a respectable rookie season
Conor Daly
The Noblesville, Indiana-native signed with Dale Coyne Racing in December 2015, a historically early signing for Dale Coyne Racing. Daly started on the final row for the season opener at St. Petersburg but went off strategy and ended up leading 15 laps while running with the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay. A slow pit stop late would drop Daly to 13th in the final results. At Phoenix, Daly was never a factor and finished a lap down in 16th. He was stuck in the middle of the field at Long Beach, where he started and finished 13th. He finished 20th at Barber.

The good results started coming in the month of May for Daly. Once again, Daly went off strategy and found himself leading 14 laps in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He was in contention for a podium but faded to sixth. His second Indianapolis 500 start in his third appearance in the race didn't go to plan as he spun trying to avoid the spinning Mikhail Aleshin and his race ended just 15 laps after halfway. Belle Isle was the sight of Daly's first career top ten finish in IndyCar in 2015 and in 2016 it was the site of Daly's first career podium as Daly ran a hard-charging strategy while the rest of the leaders tried to conserve. In the second race Daly had to start at the back after losing his fastest lap in qualifying but went from 21st to 6th.

Daly was fighting for a top five finish at Road America but a rear suspension failure ended his race in the turn one barrier. His car was difficult to handle at Iowa and he retired early and finished 21st. He started seventh at Toronto but faded to 15th in the race. He got off the snide at Mid-Ohio where a timely caution put him in the lead but he stopped a few laps before the final pit window. He ran another hard-charging strategy and led 22 laps and finished sixth despite having to make his final pit stop with six laps to go.

He finished two laps down in 16th at Pocono. He was involved in the nasty accident at Texas with Josef Newgarden in June and wasn't allowed to restart the race in August. He benefitted from stopping just prior to the Mikhail Aleshin caution at Watkins Glen and nearly had a podium but had to conserve fuel and finished fourth. The offseason began early for Daly as a mechanical failure at Sonoma ended his race just before halfway.

Conor Daly's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (313 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 56
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.125
Average Finish: 14.375

Gabby Chaves' abbreviated sophomore season was as clean as his rookie year
Gabby Chaves
Gabby Chaves didn't debut with the team until the Grand Prix of Indianapolis round when he was a late-addition to the entry list. He finished a respectable 17th in the race despite limited seat time entering the race. At the Indianapolis 500, Chaves was the top qualifier of the four Dale Coyne Racing entries in 21st position. He ended up finishing a lap down in 20th. While Daly finished on the podium, Chaves finished 12th in race one at Belle Isle. He rounded out the weekend in 13th.

Chaves had a less than stellar weekend at Road America when he finished 19th. He finished seven laps down at Iowa in 17th. He completed the Texas race and ended up 14th, three laps down.

Gabby Chaves' 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 22nd (121 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Best Finish: 12th (Belle Isle 1)
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 19.285
Average Finish: 16.0

Luca Filippi's stint with Coyne was respectable but left a lot on the table
Luca Filippi
The Italian got the call for the first four races of the IndyCar season. He was running in the top ten but then got hit from behind by Marco Andretti when the American was trying to make an ambitious move for position. Filippi ended up in 20th and he finished 20th in his oval debut at Phoenix after a lazy spin off the dogleg but he finished seven laps down. At Long Beach, Filippi made the second round of qualifying but ended up in 17th. He made the second round of qualifying again at Barber but once again faded to 18th in the race.

Filippi returned for the Toronto round. He qualified a season-best 11th and finished a season-best 14th.

Luca Filippi's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 26th (61 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Best Finish: 14th (Toronto)
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 13.4
Average Finish: 17.8

Despite jumping into the deep end, RC Enerson stayed afloat
RC Enerson
The 19-year-old Floridian made his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio after an abbreviated Indy Lights season. He qualified 19th but worked his way into the top ten. He stalled on his second pit stop after running low on fuel and it put him a lap down. He returned for the Watkins Glen round and qualified 11th. He was running sixth after missing the first turn lap one incident with Sébastien Bourdais and Juan Pablo Montoya. He got caught out by the Aleshin caution but switched up the strategy toward the end, which allowed him to run harder while others conserved and he finished ninth. In the season finale at Sonoma, Enerson started 22nd and finished 19th.

RC Enerson's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 28th (55 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 1
Average Start: 17
Average Finish: 15.6

Other Drivers
Pippa Mann ran the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono for the team. She started 25th at Indianapolis and was the top Dale Coyne Racing finisher in the race by coming home a lap down in 18th. At Pocono, she started 21st and finished three laps down in 17th.

Bryan Clauson contested the Indianapolis 500 in a partnership with Jonathan Byrd's Racing and Dale Coyne Racing. He started 28th and spent most of the day in the middle of the pack only to lead three laps under caution after staying out while everyone else made pit stops. Clauson ultimately settled for a 23-place finished two laps down.

Eighteenth in the championship seems a bit harsh for Conor Daly. If the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system was used, he would have finished 13th. He definitely had a better season than Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti, two drivers that finished ahead of him in the championship and I think you could argue he had a better year than Mikhail Aleshin. Unfortunately for Daly is his career is now back in limbo. He had a really good season and you could argue he deserves to retain his seat if not get a promotion but few teams hire straight up front and most promotion come with a driver needing to find the money.

I am not sure Daly could get better results at AJ Foyt Racing or as a second-entry at KV Racing or as a second-entry at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Unless Penske, Ganassi, Andretti or ECR come calling, he might be better off staying at Dale Coyne Racing.

The team made the right decision in hiring Daly but the rotation in the second seat may have to stop if this team wants to take another step forward. If Daly had a teammate, preferably one with experience, to bounce setups off of, the team could contend for race victories. Coyne struggles mightily at ovals and that is one key area the team needs to improve on.

I thought Filippi, Chaves and Enerson all did good jobs in the #19 Honda this season. Filippi never had impressive results but when you consider he qualified ahead of Daly four out of five times, Filippi has speed but needs a longer leash. Chaves was good and continued on what he did so well as rookie and that was bringing the car home in one piece. He was running at the finish of every start and completed all but 12 laps. Enerson became the 11th-youngest driver to start an IndyCar race and in his three starts he never looked out of place.

With Sébastien Bourdais' name being heavily linked to returning to Dale Coyne Racing it appears three names are fighting for that final seat at Coyne and two of Daly, Enerson and Chaves will end up without a chair when the music stops. Daly has the results, Enerson has the money and Chaves is good and someone the team could count on bringing the car home in one piece. A Bourdais-Daly is a tantalizing partnership but money will likely decide it and that is something Daly doesn't have a lot of. Things are looking good for Coyne heading into 2017 but changes are inevitable for this team.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Indy Lights: Graduate vs. Dropout

During the IndyCar season it is hard to miss the occasional plug for Indy Lights' success in providing drivers for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

You hear the numbers almost every other race. Fourteen IndyCar drivers have Indy Lights experience or fifteen drivers have Indy Lights experience. This many IndyCar drivers won an Indy Lights race and so on. There is nothing wrong with those numbers, as they are factually correct. The Indy Lights series has done a good job getting drivers to IndyCar but it is the rhetoric used that bothers me. Maybe bothers isn't the right word but it gets me thinking.

James Hinchcliffe is described as an Indy Lights graduate. Josef Newgarden is described as an Indy Lights graduate. Conor Daly, RC Enerson and Spencer Pigot are labeled as Indy Lights graduates. However, some of those drivers aren't graduates.

The dictionary definition of graduate is "a person who has earned a degree or diploma from a school, college or university." Of course, drivers aren't attending schools and they don't get diplomas but they can earn something and that is a championship. If you win the Indy Lights championship, you get a scholarship to run three IndyCar races. However, it is only one prize. Can only one driver be a "graduate" each year? No but just because a driver moves up to the next level doesn't make him or her a graduate.

Take RC Enerson, who made his IndyCar debut this season at Mid-Ohio and ran three races. Enerson started out 2016 in Indy Lights but dropped out after the Freedom 100 to save his funding. He took his funding and got an IndyCar seat at Dale Coyne Racing. He isn't a graduate. He didn't complete the course load. He dropped out after his sophomore year and went out and made it on his own. The same can be said of Conor Daly. Daly won the Star Mazda title in 2010 and then ran a handful of races in Indy Lights the following year but his entrance into IndyCar wasn't because of success in Indy Lights. Daly went to Europe and ran in GP3 and GP2 and has more starts in those two series (68) than he does in Road to Indy series (32). Daly isn't an Indy Lights graduate. He dabbled in Indy Lights but ultimately transferred abroad.

I would argue Jack Hawksworth is an Indy Lights graduate. Though he didn't win the title Hawksworth used he experience in the Road to Indy system to get an IndyCar seat. Carlos Muñoz is an Indy Lights graduate, though he did spend a few years in Formula Three, because it was his Indy Lights success that landed him an IndyCar ride. Charlie Kimball is an Indy Lights graduate, who just like Muñoz had a fair amount of Formula Three experience before joining Indy Lights. Marco Andretti wouldn't be an Indy Lights graduate. He ran a handful of races and won a few but showing up for the equivalent of a semester doesn't make you a graduate. Max Chilton would be an interesting one. He raced in GP2 and Formula One before contesting one season in Indy Lights with Carlin and then moved up to Ganassi. The Road to Indy system can't claim that he is a driver it developed. Chilton developed in Europe and then spent a semester in Indy Lights before transferring to the big time. He wouldn't be an Indy Lights graduate.

It will be interesting in the next few years as drivers, such as Dean Stoneman, Félix Serrallés, Kyle Kaiser, Santiago Urrutia and Ed Jones, look to move to IndyCar. Jones just won the Indy Lights championship and his Indy Lights experience is greater than his Formula Three experience. Stoneman won the Formula Two championship and raced in Formula Renault 3.5, GP3 and GP2 before joining Indy Lights. He really hasn't been developed here. Serrallés is another one with a fair amount of Formula Three experience. Urrutia had one season of GP3 under his belt before he joined Pro Mazda in 2015 but notably for Urrutia is he has clearly advanced his talent in the Road to Indy system compared to when he was a 17-year-old in GP3. Kaiser just completed his second season of Indy Lights after running two seasons in Pro Mazda. He is a great example of the success of the Road to Indy system but if he feels his money would be better spent attempting the Indianapolis 500 and a few other races than running another full season of Indy Lights or he pulls an Enerson in 2017 and jump up midseason, I am not sure we could call Kaiser a graduate.

As much as IndyCar and Indy Lights promote the graduates they should also promote and embrace the dropouts. We live in a world where college education is monumentally important for the future of a young adult but college isn't for everybody. Some try it and drop out because it is either not for them or because of financial reasons. I think embracing some of the drivers as dropouts can actually speak to a segment of the population and show that despite not following the clear-cut path and not earning some certificate you can still make it and be successful.

Labeling drivers such as Enerson, Daly and Andretti might not necessarily cause an influx of fans to IndyCar races or bloat TV ratings but a simply wording change can show acceptance of an otherwise isolated group. IndyCar wants to show the ladder system is a success but acknowledging the different paths a driver can take to make it to the top shows that success can come in many forms.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: The Grass is Always Greener and More Talented

Marc Márquez took a comprehensive victory at Aragón and the title could be his in three weeks at Motegi but he will need some help for that to be the case. There was a two-wheel championship locked up this weekend. Kevin Harvick locked a spot into the second round of the Chase after a late charge at Loudon. American teams had a great day in Belgium. Audi had a great day in Hungary and Marco Wittmann's title charge was stunted by a disqualification. A new manufacture and driver won in WTCC. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Grass is Always Greener and More Talented
I don't know where we exactly are with IndyCar silly season. I think all signs point to Josef Newgarden heading to Penske and Alexander Rossi is working on an extension with the Andretti-Herta partnership and who knows about Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais, Conor Daly and Juan Pablo Montoya.

When Rossi's name entered the ring for the Penske seat sometime during the Watkins Glen weekend, I think many were taken aback by it. Sure Rossi is fresh off an Indianapolis 500 victory but I think we can all agree it was a race won more by circumstance than sheer skill and there is nothing wrong with that. You take a victory anyway you can get it. Outside of that victory, Rossi's 2016 season was good but not Penske good. He made Will Power blink during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He carried the Andretti Autosport baton at Iowa. Rossi wasn't spectacular. His rookie season won't mistaken for the rookie seasons of Juan Pablo Montoya, Alex Zanardi or Nigel Mansell but in an era where testing is non-existent, Rossi was respectable and there was a noticeable improvement from when the season began in the last weekend of winter and ended on the last weekend of summer.

This seat has been destined for Newgarden's since 2012. Heck, Newgarden was linked to a Penske seat during that 2012 season despite him failing to score a top ten finish that season. Newgarden didn't jump into the deep end with Penske in 2012 and instead tweaked his game for five seasons driving for Sarah Fisher and Ed Carpenter. He has become a championship contender for a small team. Newgarden has gone toe-to-toe with the big boys and has proven he is good enough to come out on top. This year only Penske drivers finished ahead of Newgarden.

We have literally watched Newgarden go from a driver who couldn't be recognized in the fan village at Long Beach to being arguably the American face of the series (yes, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay, you both can make an argument for). Then how could Rossi's name be in the conversation?

The truth is most American race fans hadn't seen Rossi's compete prior to his breakthrough with Manor last year in Formula One. We have been watching Newgarden for six years. Newgarden has been a fly in our ear since 2011 in Indy Lights. Prior to Newgarden's Indy Light championship season in 2011, he and Rossi were on the same path. Both participated in the inaugural GP3 season in 2010. Rossi finished fourth in the championship behind ART Grand Prix teammate Esteban Gutiérrez, Robert Wickens and Nico Müller. He finished ahead of Rio Haryanto, Roberto Merhi and Dean Smith. Smith was Newgarden's teammate at Carlin. Newgarden finished 18th in the championship on eight points.

While Newgarden returned to the United States, Rossi went to Formula Renault 3.5 and finished third in the championship between Wickens and Jean-Éric Vergne. He would continue on to GP2 where he finished second in the championship last year. All those years Rossi spent in Europe appear to have counted for something to Penske if the rumors are true but Rossi's anonymity likely also played a role. Most in the U.S. didn't see Rossi's missteps like we did with Newgarden. We didn't see his accidents and good results thrown out the window. The results on paper show he wasn't just some driver coming over to IndyCar, he was a driver who had respectable runs against stiff competition and arguably stiffer competition than what is seen in the Road to Indy but paper leaves out some of the details.

The best comparison I can come up with is the NBA Draft, where international players are drafted in the top five or ten picks while some of the best college players are passed over. Take the 2015 NBA Draft where Latvian secret Kristaps Porzingis was drafted fifth by the New York Knicks but Frank Kaminsky, fresh off being the Naismath College Player of the Year went ninth to the Charlotte Hornets. Both are seven-foot centers and Kaminsky's success at Wisconsin was well documented where he help defeat an undefeated Kentucky team in the semifinals before a hard-fought loss against Duke in the championship game. However, Porzingis was consistently rated ahead of him. Porzingis and Kaminsky are still early in their careers but Darko Miličič, Yi Jianlain and Jan Vesely are all examples of top ten draft picks from foreign countries that never lived up to the potential.

While Newgarden had to claw for half a decade, Rossi's near immediate ascendance to IndyCar's top team shows those years in Europe were not all for naught. His Indianapolis 500 triumph and respectable rookie season also helped increase his value. However, it is not a certain thing. Conor Daly followed a path more similar to Rossi than Newgarden and also had success in GP3 but Daly has always been in IndyCar circle due to competing in Star Mazda and Indy Lights before diving into Europe. Despite his familiarity and respectable IndyCar rookie season, Daly's career is in limbo. He was also just too close to IndyCar for his own good.

Rossi might just be proof the grass is greener and more talented. The European ladder system might be less connected than the Road to Indy but it is a deep talent pool from all corners of the globe, some with funding of countries and oil companies and others who are winging it and hoping hard work forces someone to open up a checkbook. The Road to Indy has respectable grids and Indy Lights has seen the likes of Felix Rosenqvist, Max Chilton, Dean Stoneman, Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia in recent years (by the way, what the hell happened to Luiz Razia? He was a Marussia F1 driver for all of 15 minutes and then ended up in Indy Lights and has been heard from since) but it is nowhere near as coveted a training ground as the junior single-seater series of Europe.

We have seen the likes of Matthew Brabham, Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot and Tristan Vautier light the Road to Indy on fire but the likes of Penske weren't calling when they reach the top rung, except for Karam who got a dozen races with Ganassi and was then shown the door. The Road to Indy does a great job getting drivers to the next level but not necessarily getting drivers to the mountaintop.

Champions From the Weekend
South African rider Brad Binder clinched the Moto3 championship with his second place finish at Aragón.

The #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch clinched the European Le Mans Series LMP3 championship with a second-place finish at Spa-Francorchamps.

Chris Windom clinched the USAC Silver Crown championship with his victory at the 4-Crown Nationals at Eldora Raceway.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez and Kevin Harvick but did you know...

The #21 Dragonspeed Oreca-Nissan of Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley and Henrik Hedman won the ELMS race at Spa-Francorchamps. The #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Paul Petiti, Enzo Guibbert and Eric Trouillet won in LMP3 for the second consecutive race. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith won in GTE for the third consecutive race.

Edoardo Mortara and Mattias Ekström split the DTM races from Hungaroring.

Yuhi Sekiguchi won the Super Formula race from Sportsland SUGO from pole position.

Sam Lowes won the Moto2 race at Aragón. Jorge Novarro won in Moto3.

Elliott Sadler won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Kentucky. William Byron won the Truck race from Loudon.

Thed Björk won the first WTCC race from Shanghai, his first career victory and the first for Volvo. José María López won the second race of the weekend.

Rico Abreu won the USAC midget race at the 4-Crown Nationals. Justin Grant won the USAC sprint car race. Ian Madsen won the All Star Sprint race.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Malaysia Grand Prix is a little later than what we are accustomed to.
Petit Le Mans closes out the IMSA season.
The final race of the first round of the Chase takes place at Dover.
Barcelona rounds out the Blancpain Sprint Series season.
World Rally runs Tour de Corse.
World Superbike will also be in France but at Magny-Cours.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Five: Aragón, Loudon, Spa, Budapest, Sportsland SUGO

Five championships take place this weekend in five different countries. Three championships head to their penultimate rounds of the 2016 season. One will be returning to a historic race track. Another could see a champion be crowned for a second time. The third will be going to the wire regardless of the results this weekend. Nicky Hayden returns to MotoGP this weekend. NASCAR heads to New England.

Aragón Grand Prix
With five races remaining in the 2016 MotoGP season, six different riders have a shot at the title and eight different riders have won the last eight races dating back to the Italian Grand Prix in May.

Marc Márquez leads the championship with 223 points but has not won since Germany in the middle of July. Despite having only one podium in the last four races, Márquez has finished every race this season and has one finish outside the top five after having retired from four races at this time last season. Márquez has had accidents the last two years at Aragón. In 2014, he fell while leading in the wet but prior to switching bikes and last year he had an accident on lap two while running down Jorge Lorenzo.

Valentino Rossi has three consecutive podium finishes and has finished ahead of Márquez in the last four races but Rossi trails Márquez by 43 points. Rossi has two podiums in six starts at Aragón and has finished outside the top five in three starts with one retirement. Jorge Lorenzo is third in the championship, 51 points behind Márquez despite winning three of the first five races. Since his victory at Mugello, Lorenzo has two podiums and two races where he failed to score points. Lorenzo has won the last two years at Aragón and has five consecutive podium finishes.

Dani Pedrosa jumped up to fourth in the championship after his victory at Misano and trails his Honda teammate by 78 points. Pedrosa has one victory and four podiums in six Aragón starts. He has not won consecutive races since winning at Spain and France in 2013. Suzuki rider Maverick Viñales finished fifth at Misano after winning at Silverstone, 87 points behind Márquez. Viñales won at Aragón in Moto2 in 2014. Andrea Dovizioso is championship-eligible by one point. The Ducati rider could extend the streak to nine different riders to win the last nine consecutive races.

Nicky Hayden makes his MotoGP return substituting for Dutch TT winner Jack Miller, who is recovering from a fractured wrist. Hayden finished third in the inaugural Aragón Grand Prix in 2010. Last year, Hayden finished 15th and score one point at Aragón. In World Superbike this season Hayden has one victory, four podiums and sits fifth in the championship.

Bad Boy Off Road 300
The second round of NASCAR's Chase takes place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. After his victory at Chicagoland Speedway last week, Martin Truex, Jr. leads on points and has advanced to the second round of the Chase. It was Truex, Jr.'s third victory of the season. He has one top ten finish in his last five starts at Loudon.

Brad Keselowski is second in the championship with Kyle Busch three points behind him in third. Keselowski's only New Hampshire victory came in July 2014. Busch won the summer race at Loudon last year. Keselowski has led one lap in ten consecutive Loudon races. Busch led 133 laps at Loudon in July only to finish eighth. Denny Hamlin is a point behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Hamlin has the best average finish among the Chase drivers at Loudon at 10.2. Joey Logano rounds out the top five. Logano has four consecutive top five finishes at Loudon.

Chase Elliott is sixth in points and he finished 34th, seven laps down in his Loudon debut in July. Matt Kenseth won the July race and is a point behind Elliott. Kenseth has won the last two races at Loudon and has six top ten finishes in seven Loudon starts with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jimmie Johnson is a point behind Kenseth and has not won at Loudon since June 2010. Carl Edwards trails Johnson by five points. Edwards has one top five finish in his last 15 Loudon starts. Kurt Busch rounds out the top ten in points. Since 2011, Kurt Busch has two top ten finishes in 11 starts.

Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart are currently the final two drivers that would advance to round two. McMurray is three points to the good while Stewart is only one point ahead of Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon in 12th. Kyle Larson is four points behind Stewart and Chris Buescher trails by 14 points.

4 Hours of Spa
The penultimate round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series season takes place at Spa-Francorchamps. It is the first time the series has visited the Belgian circuit since 2011.

Six teams are fighting for the title in LMP2. The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Ryō Hirakawa has won the last three and leads the championship with 77 points. Hirakawa missed the most recent round at Circuit Paul Ricard due to Super GT commitments. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell won the season opener at Silverstone and trail the #46 Oreca by nine points. The #32 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan has 60 points after finishing second at Paul Ricard and the team will see a driver change as former Formula One driver Vitaly Petrov replaces Julián Leal as the third driver alongside Stefano Coletti and Andreas Wirth.

The #33 Eurasia Motorsport Oreca-Nissan of Nick de Bruijn, Tristan Gommendy and Pu Jun Jin has 40 points, nine clear of the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca-Nissan of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre. The #40 Krohn Racing Ligier-Nissan of Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Olivier Pla has 26 points.

In LMP3, three teams are still alive but the title could be wrapped up this weekend. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch sits on 90 points after winning the first three races and finishing third at Paul Ricard and a victory would clinch the title for the team.

Thirty points behind the #2 United Autosports Ligier is the #19 Duquiene Engineering Ligier-Nissan of David Hallyday, Dino Lunardi and David Droux after the all-French team finished fourth in the first two races and second in the later two. The #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Paul Petit, Eric Trouillet and Enzo Guibbert won at Circuit Paul Ricard and is 38 points back.

All eight GTE teams are still alive for the championship. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith has won the last two races and has three consecutive podiums, giving the team 68 points and the championship lead. Five points behind the #66 Ferrari is the #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard. The #99 Aston Martin won at Silverstone and finished third at Paul Ricard. The #56 AT Racing Ferrari finished the first three races on the podium before a fourth at Paul Ricard giving the team 60 points. Belorussians Alexander Talkanitsa Sr. and Jr. will be joined by Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #56 Ferrari for Spa. The Imola winning #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Mike Hedlund, Wolf Henzler and Marco Seefried rounds out the top four on 46 points.

The #60 Formula Racing Ferrari and #55 AF Corse Ferrari are tied on 34 points. The all-Danish lineup of Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Christina Nielsen hold the tiebreaker over the trio of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Reid, Gianluca Roda and Matteo Caroli has 31 points while the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Rui Águas, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini is a point behind the #88 Porsche.

DTM Budapest
Ten drivers head to the penultimate round of the DTM season at the Hungaroring with a shot at the title but the 2014 champion Marco Wittmann has a firm grasp on the lead. The BMW driver has 170 points and has won two of the last three races. Wittmann has finished in the points in 12 of 14 races this season. Wittmann won the only DTM race ever held at Hungaroring in 2014

Edoardo Mortara trails Wittmann by 33 points and won the most recent race of the DTM season at Nürburgring. The Audi driver has three victories, as many as Wittmann but has failed to score points in four races this season. Mercedes-Benz driver Robert Wickens is third in the championship, 50 points behind Wittmann. Wickens has two victories and five podiums but has failed to score points in six races.

British drivers take the next three spots in the championship. Jamie Green sits on 119 points with Paul di Resta on 100 points and Tom Blomqvist has 93 points. Green won at Zandvoort in July and has five podiums this season but has six finishes outside the points. Di Resta won the second race at the opening round at Hockenheim but only has two podiums since his victory. Blomqvist has four second-place finishes this season, the most of any driver. Blomqvist won last year at Oschersleben.

Mattias Ekström has 82 points and has not won since the infamous "Schieb Ihn Raus" round at the Red Bull Ring last year. Swiss driver and Norisring winner Nico Müller sits on 78 points and has scored in the second race in six of seven rounds this season but has failed to score in the first race of a weekend in the last four rounds. Two points behind Müller is Maxime Martin. The Belgian driver has two podium finishes this season. Gary Paffett rounds out the top ten in the championship on 73 points. Paffett's most recent DTM victory was Lausitzring in 2013.

Sportsland SUGO
With two rounds remaining in the 2016 Super Formula Championship, nobody is mathematically eliminated from the championship as 29 points remain on the table.

Yuji Kunimoto is coming off his first career Super Formula victory at Okayama and he leads the championship with 23.5 points. Kunimoto finished second in the first race of the Okayama weekend and second at the season opener at Suzuka. He leads defending Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura by 4.5 points. Ishiura won at Okayama in May and finished third at Motegi and in the second race of the Okayama September weekend.

André Lotterer sits on 18 points and is third in the championship. The German's only podium this season was second at Motegi. Lotterer won at Sportsland SUGO last year. Yuhi Sekiguchi won at Motegi and he has 17 points. Sekiguchi's only other finish in the points was a third at Fuji. McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne sits fifth in the championship on 16 points. He won the first race of the Okayama weekend and has scored in the last three races.

Season opener winner Naoki Yamamoto has not finished on the podium since his victory at Suzuka. He has 15.5 points and Kazuki Nakajima sits on 15 points with the Toyota-factory driver having two runner-up finishes this season. Fuji winner João Paulo de Oliveira has 12.5 points and finished eighth and fifth at Okayama. James Rossiter and Koudai Tsukakoshi are tied on 11 points.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 points scored by Nicky Hayden at Aragón?
2. Over or Under: 32.5 laps being the average green flag run at Loudon?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 Ligiers on the overall podium at Spa?
4. Over or Under:  33.5 points scored by German drivers at Budapest?
5. Over or Under:  4.5 Japanese drivers in the points at Sportsland SUGO?

1. Aleix Espargaró finishes ahead of Maverick Viñales and in the top five.
2. The Loudon race winner leads fewer than 65 laps.
3. United Autosport clinches the LMP3 championship but doesn't win the race.
4. A driver gets his first DTM podium of the season.
5. The average age of the Sportsland SUGO podium will be over 32 years of age.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: AJ Foyt Racing's 2016 Season

Another season is in the books and it is time to look back on the teams and drivers that participated in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Each week another team will be profiled and we will start with A.J. Foyt Racing. Let's just get it over with.

Takuma Sato's IndyCar career in one photo
Takuma Sato
Sato completed his seventh IndyCar season and it started off pretty well. Despite a flat tire early at St. Petersburg, he ended up finishing sixth. After a less than stellar 15th at Phoenix, Sato was the top Honda at Long Beach with a fifth-place finish after passing the likes of Will Power, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan and was challenging Juan Pablo Montoya for fourth. A 13th at Barber ended Sato's first quarter of the season.

A blend line violation in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis ended any chance of a respectable finish. He slapped the wall in the Indianapolis 500 and he ended the first half of the season with uninspiring but decent runs at Belle Isle with finishes of 11th and tenth. Sato was in the running for a top ten finish at Road America but a pit lane speeding penalty relegated him to 17th in the final results. He finished 11th at Iowa.

Sato turned it around at Toronto by going off strategy and getting another top five finish. He would have had another top five finish at Mid-Ohio had Sato not made contact with Sébastien Bourdais and run off course, dropping him to a still respectable ninth. He qualified on row two at Pocono and then the wheels came off, literally as Sato spun exiting turn three on lap one. He had an accident in the warm-up session prior to Texas and couldn't do better than 20th in the race. He went off strategy at Watkins Glen and was on the verge of a top ten finish before spinning in the closing laps and ended up 17th. He finished 14th at Sonoma.

Takuma Sato's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 17th (320 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.1875
Average Finish: 13.6875

Jack Hawskworth's career hits a crossroad after three seasons
Jack Hawksworth
The best race of Jack Hawksworth's 2016 season was the first race of the season but time would show that it is probably the most painful for the British driver. He started ninth and was running most of the race around the top ten but faded to 11th. He struggled at Phoenix and finished 19th and retired at Long Beach. Unfortunately, the most notable thing Hawksworth did in the 2016 season was get in the middle of the battle for the victory at Barber between Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal that prevented Rahal from getting Honda's first victory of the season.

He started fourth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after Josef Newgarden and Rahal had times disallowed but he could make nothing of the start on the second row and finished 20th. He started on the last row for the Indianapolis 500 but he just kept plugging along and ended up completing all 500 miles and finished 16th. A mechanical issue kept Hawksworth from starting the first race at Belle Isle and he started ninth in race two but a driveshaft failure ended another day early.

Despite a pit lane speeding penalty at Road America, just like his teammate, Hawksworth recovered to finish 11th. He struggled again at Iowa, hit the wall while contending for a top ten finish at Toronto (maybe because of some help from Simon Pagenaud) and had a large shunt at Mid-Ohio. He completed all 500 miles at Pocono and finished 14th. He was never a threat at Texas but getting caught in Mikhail Aleshin's accident was just salt in the wound. He went from ninth to 16th at Watkins Glen. He started 17th and finished 18th at Sonoma.

Jack Hawksworth's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 20th (229 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 0
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 15.4375
Average Finish: 17.5

I think we all expect there to be two changes at A.J. Foyt Racing this winter. Alex Tagliani led the team in laps led in 2016. He ran two races. That is how poor A.J. Foyt Racing was in 2016. By the way, quick run down of Alex Tagliani's 2016 season: Ran the two Indianapolis races. Was nonexistent in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Spun in Indianapolis 500 qualifying. Led 11 laps in the race, finished 17th.

I think Sato has run his course with the team and maybe in IndyCar as a whole. Hawksworth on the other hand was constantly in the top five on Fridays in practice. Bad drivers aren't in the top five in practice sessions. However, it is pretty difficult for a full-time IndyCar in this era to NOT get a top ten finish in a season. Something wasn't carrying over for this team from one day of a weekend to the next. It wasn't that long ago Hawksworth was the hidden gem in IndyCar. Now it appears his career is on the verge of ending before he turns 26 years old. Maybe an opportunity as the road course driver in the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry could revive Hawksworth's career but Hawksworth isn't a desired prospect like he was this time two years ago. You could hire him for a ham sandwich.

As for A.J. Foyt Racing itself. Who are they going to hire? Tony Kanaan's name has been floated as an option but that is a massive roll of the dices for Kanaan. It could be the move that ends his career. Does a Sage Karam or Gabby Chaves take the seat just to keep their careers going but run the risk of following in Hawksworth's footsteps? More importantly, does anyone want to go to Foyt? Maybe a guy like Luca Filippi would jump at the chance. It isn't a sexy team. It seems to be lacking on the engineering front. Despite Larry Foyt having more control over the team, it is still stuck in the mindset of A.J. Foyt and while it sounds great to look out for your buddies, it doesn't mean success on the race track. A.J. Foyt is a name that is becoming as synonymous with failure as it was success. If you are thirty years old or younger, you never saw the Foyt name as a model for success. It has been a name that symbolizes stubbornness.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

More Thoughts on the 2016 IndyCar Season

I guess these few days after the IndyCar season are just like the days after camp has ended. All you can do is talk about it and wish it never ended.

Yesterday, I wrote about how 2016 finally felt like IndyCar had a winning season. Throughout 2016 I would tweet IndyCar finally felt like a proper racing series when you consider it returned to Phoenix, Road America and Watkins Glen, tracks that are the backbone of American motorsports and wasn't running on the streets of Baltimore, NOLA Motorsports Park and the streets of Boston. I was half joking but I was also kind of serious. How many races this year had a practice session televised, a qualifying session televised or both? And how many of those practice and qualifying sessions were televised live?

After years of IndyCar getting a fraction of the coverage compared to Formula One, let alone NASCAR, this year IndyCar got a fair shake. NBCSN showed practice at noon on a Friday instead of a fishing show. Even when NBC's portion of the NASCAR season began IndyCar still could squeeze in a practice session or qualifying session. I am sure some want more and want every IndyCar session broadcasted live on television with a weekly IndyCar talk show breaking down the news. That isn't going to happen, at least not in 2017 or 2018 or even 2019. The series still has a way to go in terms of growth to reach that level of exposure but the steps made in 2016 are good signs for IndyCar's future.

On track, there is no mistaking Chevrolet's dominance despite Honda being gifted a mulligan and chance to catch up on aero kit developments during the previous offseason. I am not sure how Honda could have wasted an opportunity such as the one they were given. Honda won two races, only a third of its 2015 total when the Honda teams appeared really lost. The only races Honda didn't win where it appeared they should have won were Barber and Pocono and even if you gave Honda those victories it still would have had less than 2015. It had two drivers in the top ten of the championship.

There is no way you can spin 2016 as a positive step for Honda. It wasn't. Many fret over 2017 since aero kit development has been frozen before the 2018 universal kit is introduced but I think the Honda teams are going to be throwing things at the wall to gain ground on Chevrolet. This year alone it appeared the Hondas were sacrificing fuel efficient for speed at the ovals. That kind of bit their teams at Pocono as it allowed Will Power to work his way to victory but Honda needs to try everything it can. Since Chevrolet returned in 2012, the American manufacture has won 57 of 84 races, four of five drivers' championships and five of five manufactures' championships. Chevrolet wins two out of three races and if that continues in 2017, Honda would get five victories. Five victories aren't good enough.

I expect Honda and its teams to make up some ground next year but gaining ground on barely acceptable isn't saying much. I am not sure Honda can have a driver in championship contention late in 2017 unless Graham Rahal goes on another dream run or Andretti Autosport really takes a step forward but winning four or five races should be the minimum for Honda next season.

This was another year where the championship went to the final race, the 11th consecutive season of the title coming down to the wire. However, I don't think anyone would have been disappointed had Simon Pagenaud locked up the title at Watkins Glen. He was that good this season. The only time he put a wheel wrong was at Pocono. He had engine bugs bite him in the Indianapolis 500 and Road America. The only other mistake was running out of fuel in the first Belle Isle race, which dropped him from seventh to 13th. He was that good. Eventually an IndyCar season will see the champion decided before the final race. Double points kept Will Power alive for the Astor Cup and you had a half a dozen drivers competing for third in the championship and Juan Pablo Montoya jumped six positions from 14th to eighth, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but weighing two races heavier than the rest feels like it skews the championship a bit. Although, here is what the championship would have looked like had Indianapolis and Sonoma offered just a maximum of 54 points:

Simon Pagenaud- 570
Will Power- 470
Hélio Castroneves- 433
Graham Rahal- 420 (+1)
Scott Dixon- 419 (+1)
Josef Newgarden- 399 (-2)
Tony Kanaan- 396
Juan Pablo Montoya- 376
Charlie Kimball- 363
Ryan Hunter-Reay- 350 (+2)
Sébastien Bourdais- 347 (+1)
Carlos Muñoz- 343 (-2)
James Hinchcliffe- 331
Alexander Rossi- 327 (-3)
Mikhail Aleshin- 302
Conor Daly- 289 (+2)
Marco Andretti- 278 (-1)
Takuma Sato- 277 (-1)
Max Chilton- 226
Jack Hawksworth- 200
Spencer Pigot- 148
Gabby Chaves- 98

A handful of drivers would change positions but no one would have a drastic move. Alexander Rossi drops three positions as his success at Indianapolis and Sonoma wouldn't be as heavily weighed but Rossi dropping from 11th to 14th wouldn't have been that big of the deal. On the other end of things, Conor Daly, who retired from both Indianapolis and Sonoma would have two move positions in the championship as he wouldn't have lost nearly as many points to the rest of the field had those races been normal points. Once again, Daly moving from 18th to 16th isn't that big of a deal. Comparing the two championship tables, it is actually kind of surprising how similar the results would have been. It makes you wonder if double points are really that big of deal. Despite a few drivers voicing displeasure with double points, I don't see it going anywhere.

Now we wait for the first moves of silly season to be made. That deserves its own post and watch out for it in the next week or so. As great as it is to have IndyCar competing on track, this offseason is shaping up to be just as unpredictable.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: 2016 IndyCar Review and Predictions Revisited

The final weekend of summer saw an IndyCar champion be crowned, Daniel Ricciardo left it all out on the race track and two Chases were set in Chicago while another was kicked off. Audi chocked like a dog in Austin. Johnny O'Connell crushed a teenagers dreams but a teenager had his day in the GTS class. A damaged Holden limbed home to victory in the Sundown 500. World Superbike raced for the first time in two months. Another champion was crowned at Nürburgring. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2016 IndyCar Review
For the previous six seasons, IndyCar has felt like a football team stuck in mediocrity. The Randy Bernard-era was always painted in optimism and things got done. The ball got rolling on the DW12 chassis after years of series officials dragging their asses. Two new manufactures joined the series after years of Honda gulping down victories and championships to brag about on television commercials only to fail to tell the general public the success was from uncontested competitions. He brought back Milwaukee after a year hiatus. He got Loudon, Fontana and Pocono back on the schedule. He revived doubleheaders.

However the Randy Bernard-era was littered with hostility. He butted heads with team owners. Lotus flamed out as a manufacture. Milwaukee struggled to gain its footing. Loudon was one-and-done. The Las Vegas finale didn't go as planned. The aero kits were delayed multiple seasons. The tire bill went up. More teams left the series than joined. He burned bridges with Phoenix and had an attempt to race in China crumble on him in the 11th hour. Ultimately, he pissed off John Barnes and Chip Ganassi enough to get him sacked.

Enter Mark Miles. The veteran of running tennis and a Super Bowl committee came in and tried to be a visionary for IndyCar. He made a massive hack to the schedule. The October season finale at Fontana, which saw anywhere from 25,000-30,000 show up, was moved to the heat of Labor Day weekend and the crowd shrunk. The condensed schedule wore down teams. Miles promised international races to start the season and all he produced was a half-renovated race track in Brasilia and rumors about Dubai. Houston vanished. New Orleans came and went. Milwaukee died a second time. His Hail Mary for Fontana was to move the race to late-June and that fell to the ground like a dead duck. Boston was a clusterfuck.

But for all of Mark Miles stubbed toes, he got Phoenix and Road America back on the schedule. Watkins Glen became an emergency race to replace Boston. Gateway is returning next year. He made smart hires in Jay Frye and C.J. O'Donnell. He has been able to achieve 100% retention rate of a schedule from one year to the next. Aero kits were ushered in under the reign and while it wasn't a whopping success it was better to try aero kits than for aero kits to be put in the IndyCar box of headlines never to see the light of day like the Hawaiian Super Prix, the Falcon chassis and a half of dozen races in the Asian-Pacific.

And most importantly, ratings are improving under Mark Miles. They are incremental increases and aren't noticeable to the naked eye especially as it is still difficult for teams to stay in the series but IndyCar is on the right path to becoming a more desirable series for manufactures and sponsors. And Mark Miles has been able to calm a series that had been unstable for two decades. Has there been a calmer season than 2016? Maybe 2008 after reunification when everyone was still in the honeymoon phase but this season has been nothing but calm waters. Aero kits have been settled and no one has chewed Miles out for his decision. He has loosened his belief on the season ending by Labor Day and the schedule is now settled allowing IndyCar to plan for long-term growth. Maybe a third manufacture is in the works.

IndyCar, to me, has been a football team stuck at 8-8 for the last six years. The only difference between Bernard and Miles was Bernard won flashy, come-from-behind games and Miles won divisional games against the most despised opponents. If IndyCar was a football team, I think they went 10-6 this year, maybe even 11-5. It was a really good year but can they do it again in 2017 or will they fall back to 8-8 or take an even larger step back? With Jay Frye as Miles' right-hand man, IndyCar shouldn't take a drastic step back in 2017. If anything, IndyCar is more likely to make another step forward.

2016 IndyCar Predictions Revisited
Another season is in the bag and it is time to look at predictions made last December during the season of sugar cookies and gingerbread houses.

1. Hélio Castroneves Wins the 100th Indianapolis 500
Wrong! Although for a moment, after Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay took each other out and James Hinchcliffe faded and it became clear the race would come down to fuel mileage, it appeared Castroneves was lining up to steal the 100th Indianapolis 500 and join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears at the most exclusive table. There is always 2017 for Castroneves.

2. Honda Wins At Least Two Pole Positions
Correct! Honda won three pole positions this season and all on ovals. James Hinchcliffe won pole positions for the Indianapolis 500. His teammate Mikhail Aleshin took a surprising pole position at Pocono. Carlos Muñoz was the fastest qualifier at Texas. What amazes me is all of Honda's pole-sitters in 2016 were first time pole-sitters. I don't know if this shows Honda's lack of veteran presence or if these were just quick drivers finally breaking through. I will go with the latter. Hinchcliffe was a long-time coming. Muñoz has been a darling on ovals since his debut in the 2013 Indianapolis 500. Aleshin's bravery appears to have to no limit. Granted, three pole positions from 16 races isn't great but after getting shutout for an entire season, it is a step in the right direction. Now if only they could win a pole position on a road or street course.

3. James Hinchcliffe Finishes in the Top Ten in the Championship
Wrong! Unfortunately. Hinchcliffe fell from seventh after Mid-Ohio to 13th after Sonoma. Hell, he lost a position in the championship after finishing second at Texas. How does that happen? He seemed to have a much better season than 13th in the championship. Unfortunately, he ended up on a low note.

4. There Will Be Four Indianapolis 500 Rookies
Correct! Alexander Rossi, Max Chilton, Matthew Brabham, Spencer Pigot and Stefan Wilson all made their Indianapolis 500 debuts. We all know about Alexander Rossi's stunning victory. This was a pretty good rookie class but with how difficult it is to get a full-time race seat in IndyCar, I am not sure we will ever see the full potential of most of these drivers. Brabham lit the world on fire in the Road to Indy but he can't break through. Pigot turned three races with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing into seven races with Ed Carpenter Racing and he got two top ten finishes with a team he had no experience with before his first practice session with the team at Belle Isle. However, Pigot's future is still grey. IndyCar has quite a few drivers knocking on the door. Now someone needs to answer.

5. Conor Daly Finishes Worse Than 14th in the Championship
Correct! He finished 18th in the championship but his best race finish was second, he had two top five finishes and five top ten finishes. He finished behind Takuma Sato but I think we can all agree he had a better season than Sato and probably even Marco Andretti, who finished 16th in the championship. Hopefully he can build on his 2016 season next year.

6. Three Drivers That Didn't Win in 2015 Win in 2016
Wrong! Surprisingly wrong. There were only two new winners in 2016. One was Pagenaud; the other was Alexander Rossi. Who saw that coming?

7. At Least Three Races Will Be in the News For Not Returning in 2017
Wrong and I am glad. I am not sure we saw any stories headlined "Pocono's IndyCar Future in Doubt" or "Eddie Gossage Reconsidering IndyCar" or "Road America Disappointed With IndyCar's Return." We had the opposite of that and all 15 tracks from 2016 will return for 2017. That doesn't mean IndyCar is golden. Pocono, Texas and Iowa are all races that need work on the crowd. Sonoma could also be put in that boat. Phoenix needs to make gains after year one. Toronto is teeter tottering with a beat up race track and city infrastructure suffocating the roads of Exhibition Place and making it more difficult for an IndyCar race to take place there. This year wasn't so bad but 2017 could see our worst fears come to light.

8. There Will Be At Least Three Moments Where Race Control Leaves Us Scratching Our Heads
Wrong... I think? Other than the blend line kerfuffle at Long Beach and the interference penalties in qualifying at Watkins Glen, race control did a really good job not being the storyline in 2016.

9. There Will Be a Delayed Session at Boston
Umm... Boston never happened. So were any of its seasons ever "delayed?" Regardless, I think we are all happy IndyCar ended up at Watkins Glen instead of Boston.

10. Scott Dixon Breaks the Record for Most Consecutive Seasons With a Victory Before Texas
Correct! It took Scott Dixon two races to become the first driver to win a race in 12 consecutive seasons. He added his 40th victory at Watkins Glen and is now in sole possession of fourth all-time in IndyCar victories. Michael Andretti is two ahead of him. Third seemed destined to be his by this time next year.

11. At Least Two 2015 Championship Contenders at Sonoma Will Finish Outside the Top Eight
Wrong! Of the top six from 2015, only Juan Pablo Montoya finished outside the top eight and he finished ninth. The other five finished second through sixth in the championship this year. That is surprising.

12. There Will Be No Serious Injuries or Fatalities
I am not going to say Josef Newgarden's broken collarbone and fractured wrist aren't terrible injuries but he didn't miss any races and frankly, just from looking at the championship, you would never guess that Newgarden drove a handful of races with screws in his arm. I am counting this on in the correct column.

Champions From the Weekend
The #58 Garage 59 McLaren of Rob Bell, Shane Van Gisbergen and Côme Ledogar won the Blancpain Endurance Series championship despite not scoring points at the season finale at Nürburgring.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Simon Pagenaud but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the Singapore Grand Prix and took the championship lead away from Lewis Hamilton.

The #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas, their third consecutive victory after the #7 Audi had an accident late in the race. The #36 Signatech Alpine of American Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2 for the fourth time in 2016. Aston Martin swept the GTE classes with the #95 Dane Train of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen won in GTE-Pro while the #98 of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda was victorious in GTE-Am.

Johnny O'Connell swept the Pirelli World Challenge GT races weekend at Sonoma with a last-lap pass on Austin Cindric. Nate Stacy and Brett Sandberg split the weekend in GTS.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Ricky and Jordan Taylor won IMSA's leg of Lone Star Le Mans. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow won in PC. Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki won in GTLM driving the #912 Porsche. The #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Jens Klingmann and Ben Curtis took top honors in GTD.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race at Chicagoland. Erik Jones won the Grand National Series race. Kyle Busch won the Friday night Truck race.

The #16 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Rolf Ineichen, Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti won the Blancpain Endurance Series finale from Nürburgring.

Garth Tander and Warren Luff won Supercars' Sandown 500.

Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea split the World Superbike races from Lausitzring. Kenan Sofuoglu won his third consecutive World Supersport race and fifth of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP will be in Aragón.
The second race of the Chase will be at Loudon.
European Le Mans Series returns to Spa-Francorchamps.
DTM's penultimate round of 2016 will be at the Hungaroring.
Super Formula heads to Sportsland SUGO.
Shanghai hosts WTCC.
The 4-Crown Nationals take place at Eldora Raceway.