Monday, October 20, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Three champions were crowned this weekend in ELMS while the 2014 DTM season came to a close. MotoGP made it worth staying up until two in the morning but we start with NASCAR. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

An Ode to Terry Labonte
I want to start by congratulating Terry Labonte on his fantastic NASCAR career after making his 890th and most likely final NASCAR Cup start at Talladega. His last win was the 2003 Southern 500 and his final top ten was at Sonoma in 2006 yet he made at least one Cup start in 37 consecutive seasons.

I will be honest, I am really hoping this isn't his final start. Seeing as how my job will be gone at the start of 2015, I want to get more serious with my writing and back in July when Labonte finished eleventh at Daytona, I wondered how many people noticed he was in the field? He is a two-time champion but for the better part of a decade was consistently in the back half of the field in every race he ran. Imagine if Mika Häkkinen was still on the Formula One grid and had been driving for Caterham for five year or if Mick Doohan was still in MotoGP riding for Paul Bird Motorsport? Would they still be as revered and are Labonte's accomplishments less special because of how long he held on?

I am hoping he would run one more year because I wanted to observe Labonte and whatever team he drove for around for one weekend just to see how they are received at the track and to compare it to other champions and to see what it's like to be apart of a "start-and-park" team. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get serious about my writing but with Labonte retiring, it appears to be too little, too late. The best laid plans of mice and me often go awry.

Either way, seeing Labonte go will be disappointing but he had a great career and accomplished a lot and kept on, despite poor results, for the love of competing.

NASCAR Qualifying Was Interesting
Earlier this year I compared the new NASCAR qualifying format to keirin, a form of cycling racing and while it still had that feel at Talladega, NASCAR was smart to split round one into two groups and shorten the sessions. One small problem is you still have drivers waiting to go out and at Talladega you had drivers failing to start a quick lap before time ran out. Now, that's on them. If Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon can't get a lap started before the clock hits zero, then tough but the problem is people don't want to watch drivers sit for 66% of a timed session.

NASCAR has to set a lap completion minimum for a driver's fastest time to count in the session. Making a driver do a minimum of three or four laps isn't asking that much and we won't be forced to sit and watch a game of chicken on the pit lane with Jimmie Johnson and others going in reverse. By the way, it should never be legal for a driver to drive in reverse on the pit lane. I don't care if it's practice, qualifying or the race.

With so many Chase drivers failing to get a fast lap in and all these teams normally at the back of the field making it past round one, it made it interesting who went home. When you have five Chase drivers using provisionals, someone who is normally mid-pack got burned and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. failed to qualify while Travis Kvapil, Michael McDowell, Terry Labonte and Michael Annett qualified in the top ten. The only way it could have been better was if they had took the fastest 43 times then Justin Allgaier, Jeff Gordon and Joe Nemechek, who failed inspection, would have gone  home. If Nemechek's time would have counted, Kyle Larson would have failed to qualify.

In my opinion, that qualifying session was much more interesting than most races this season.

The Puzzle That is IndyCar's Schedule
We pretty much know March through the middle of June for the 2015 IndyCar schedule. It's the end of June through July and the end of August that needs to be cleared up.

With Pirelli World Challenge releasing their schedule we can confirm Mid-Ohio and Sonoma races for August 2nd and August 30th. Robin Miller seems sure Fontana will be June 27th. The final dates are unknown for Toronto, Iowa, Pocono and Milwaukee.

Here is what we feel certain about.

March 8th: Brasilia
March 29th: St. Petersburg
April 12th: New Orleans
April 19th: Long Beach
April 26th: Barber
May 9th: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 24th: Indianapolis 500
May 30-31st: Belle Isle
June 6th: Texas
June 27th: Fontana (according to Miller)
August 2nd: Mid-Ohio
August 30th: Sonoma

Let's start at the beginning of the season and a possible race in Dubai. It's not off the table but don't hold your breath. If it does happen, it will probably be in February.

Many are pencilling Toronto for the week after Texas and it would not be a doubleheader due to the proximity to the Pan American Games taking place in the city the following month and the construction that has to take place in the city. Mosport hasn't been completely ruled out but rumblings of IndyCar returning to the track for the first time in 37 years has died down. The month of July is wide open. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is slated to run June 19th at Iowa, which is an off-weekend for the Cup Series but many think Iowa will stay put in mid-July.

With NASCAR moving to NBC and NBCSN in 2015, the final two months of the IndyCar season really will have to take advantage of the gaps NASCAR schedule gives them. The first is July 12th, a Sunday. NASCAR is running at Kentucky that Saturday night. To me, it would make sense for Pocono to land that Sunday. It's off the July 4th weekend but stays in July and after all, Mark Miles is all about date equity (hence Fontana getting it's third date change in three years). The following week NASCAR is at New Hampshire on Sunday with the Nationwide Series on Saturday. If I was in charge, a Nationwide Series into IndyCar, motorsports filled Saturday evening sounds fantastic. They could even squeeze in a replay of Formula One qualifying from Nürburgring before or after if they would like to.

Now about Milwaukee. There are two ways I see it will either be the weekend before Sonoma or the weekend after as the season finale. The weekend before Sonoma would work with NBCSN as NASCAR is at Bristol Saturday. No competition. The weekend after would be interesting as NASCAR is Darlington with both races at night on big boy NBC. Milwaukee could easily be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET and not conflict with the NASCAR race later that evening. Either way, Milwaukee has a chance to package a full Sunday with Pro Mazda late in the morning, Indy Lights in the early afternoon with IndyCar after that, regardless of the weekend. The only problem with Milwaukee being the season finale, Labor Day weekend is the possible three week gap it would create from Mid-Ohio to Sonoma. Wasn't condensing the schedule suppose to get rid of these long midseason breaks? If Milwaukee isn't the season finale and Sonoma is, no big deal, that weekend the Cup series is off and the Nationwide Series is at Road America that Saturday.

The only major conflict (so far) between IndyCar, NASCAR and NBCSN is the first weekend in August. IndyCar is at Mid-Ohio and NASCAR is at Pocono and those races in all likelihood will occur simultaneously. I will settle with a IndyCar race on CNBC. I can live with it and so can you. It's no big deal. Formula One races have been moved there, Premier League matches have been moved there, no reason why IndyCar can't settle for one race on CNBC. If you listened to Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee in the past few weeks, you know Lee has been dropping hints that IndyCar is trying to get ABC to loosen their grip on their exclusivity right as the sole network partner with IndyCar and if that were to happen, Mid-Ohio could end up on big boy NBC. If that were to happen, I don't think Mid-Ohio would be the sole NBC race but I don't see ABC loosening their grip nor races ending up on NBC, even if it makes sense.

First, NBC is swamped with golf coverage most weekends in the summer and they aren't dropping golf for IndyCar. Not in this universe at least. It would be great if IndyCar could get a few races on NBC not just for the series but possibly ABC as well. Two or three more races on network gets the series in front of a larger audience, more possible opportunities to draw in fans, chance fans would carry over from NBC races and tune into the ABC races, increasing their ratings. It is a potential win-win but that doesn't mean it will become a reality. In theory, ABC's loosening their grip to allow NBC to show let's say the final three races, Mid-Ohio, Milwaukee and Sonoma, would be great. If Sonoma is the season finale, they get the day all to themselves. If Milwaukee was the season finale the Sunday Labor Day weekend, it could set up for an IndyCar into NASCAR doubleheader.

While some have been skeptical of NASCAR's move to NBC and NBCSN and what it means for IndyCar on the network, if done correctly, it opens the doors for plenty of opportunities for the network and series to form a great partnership and become a solid home for motorsports in the United States.

Random Thoughts
Can Gran Turismo add Phillip Island please?

The only thing worst than the game of chicken was NASCAR making Terry Labonte change his paint scheme, which honored his 1984 and 1996 championships and then forcing him to the rear of the field because of said change.

To CBSSN: If you are planning on renewing your contracts with DTM and Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series please only do so if you plan on showing the races live or remove the geo-block on the online coverage if you are only going to show the races tape-delayed. Otherwise, don't even bother.

Champions From the Weekend
The #36 Signatech Alpine of Oliver Webb, Nelson Panciatici and Paul-Loup Chatin won the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with a fifth place finish at Estoril. The #24 Sébastien Loeb Racing Oreca-Nissan of Vincent Capillaire and Jimmy Eriksson won the season finale.

With their victory in GTE, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar and Sergey Zlobin was enough for the GTE championship after the #55 AF Corse of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Michele Rugolo finished outside of the points after contact with the #99 ART Grand Prix McLaren MP4-12C GT3.

SMP Racing made it two championships as their #73 Ferrari of Anton Ladygin, David Markozov and Oliviera Beretta finished third at Estoril, enough to win the GTC championship. The #87 Marc VDS BMW Z4 GT3 won GTC on their debut with driver Bas Leinders, Markus Palttala and Henry Hassid.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Estoril but did you know...

Valentino Rossi won at Phillip Island in his 250th MotoGP start after Marc Márquez fell while leading.

Brad Keselowski won at Talladega and advanced to the semifinal round of the Chase. Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. were eliminated.

Mattias Ekström ends 2014 with back-to-back victories after winning at Hockenheim and giving Audi the DTM manufactures' championship.

The #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Maximilian Götz and Maximilian Buhk  won the Blancpain Sprint Series penultimate race at Zolder.

Maverick Viñales won in Moto2 from Phillip Island and 0.044 seconds covered the top four in Moto3 as Jack Miller won his home race defeating Álex Márquez by 0.029 seconds, Álex Rins by 0.032 seconds and Efrén Vázquez finished fourth.

Timothy Peters won the Truck race from Talladega.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP heads to their penultimate round at Sepang.
NASCAR begins the semifinal round at Martinsville.
V8 Supercars run their final endurance race of the season at Surfers Paradise.
WTCC heads to their penultimate round at Suzuka.
A third series heads to their penultimate round as World Rally will run Rally Catalunya.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday Five: Beer, Chouriço, Chocolate, Vegemite and Plates

Two championships will wrapped up this weekend in Europe while another heads to their penultimate round of the season. MotoGP remains in the Asia-Pacific as they are on a three-week Far East road trip and NASCAR heads to Talladega with drivers trying to stave off elimination and move on to the semifinal round of the Chase.

DTM Season Finale
Marco Wittmann locked up the DTM title at Lausitz over a month ago but there is still one race to go and plenty of other positions to be settled in the final championship standings. Mattias Ekström picked up his and Audi's first victory of 2014 at Zandvoort three weeks ago. Oschersleben winner Christian Vietoris is twelve points back of Ekström for second in the championship with the Italian Edorado Mortara a point behind back of the Mercedes driver. The 2013 DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller is fifth with two runner-up finishes this season at Oschersleben and Nürburgring. Rockenfeller could finishes as high as third in the final standings.

The back half of the top ten are covered by six points. Belgian rookie and Moscow winner Maxime Martin has 47 points, one ahead of Lausitz winner, the youngest winner in DTM history Pascal Wehrlein. The 2011 DTM champion Martin Tomczyk has 43 points but has not won a race since Brands Hatch 2011. A point back of him is his BMW Team Schnitzer teammate Bruno Spengler. The Canadian and 2012 champion could go winless in a season for the first time since 2009. Norisring winner and fellow Canadian Robert Wickens rounds out the top ten, a point behind Spengler.

Since the revival of DTM in 2000, Mercedes has won 10 of 15 fall Hockenheim races. BMW has won the last two fall Hockenheim rounds while Audi has only won once at the Baden-Württemburg track since the revival. Uwe Alzen sweep the two fall races in 2000 driving for Opel.

Saturday Update: 
Miguel Molina won his second career DTM pole position and his first in there years for the season finale. Molina's first pole came at Hockenheim in October 2011. The Spaniard leads an Audi sweep of the top three positions as Zandvoort winner Mattias Ekström and Edoardo Mortara will start second and third. They currently sit second and fourth in the championship. Augusto Farfus will start fourth as the Brazilian looks to break into the top ten of the championship. The Brazilian won the spring race at Hockenheim last year. Jamie Green made it four Audis in the top five.

Pascal Wehrlein was the top Mercedes qualifier in sixth. The Lausitz winner will start in front of former DTM champions Mike Rockenfeller and Timo Scheider. António Félix da Costa starts ninth as the Portuguese driver looks for his first finish in the points since finishing eighth at Hungary in June. Paul di Resta will start tenth. The 2010 DTM champions' last victory in the series came at Hockenheim four years ago.

The DTM season finale will begin at 7:30 a.m. ET.

European Le Mans Series ends in Portugal
All three championships are up for grabs in the European Le Mans Series as they head into their season finale 4 Hours of Estoril.

The #36 Signatech-Alpine Apline-Nissan of Paul-Loup Chatin, Nelson Panciatici and Oliver Webb lead the #36 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan of Harry Tincknell, Simon Dolan and Felipe Albuquerque by ten points. With their victory at Paul Ricard, the #43 Newblood by Morand Racing Morgan-Judd duo of Christian Klein and Gary Hirsch kept their title hopes alive. They are 18 points back of the Signatech trio. The final drivers mathematically eligible for the title are drivers of the #34 Race Performance Oreca-Judd Michel Frey and Franck Mailleux who are 23 points back and will have to win this weekend to have any hope of the LMP2 title.

In GTE, Matt Griffin is set to win back-to-back championships as he and his #55 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia teammate Duncan Cameron lead fellow co-drver Michele Rugolo by six points. Rugolo missed the Imola round but the #55 AF Corse has won every other race this season. Twenty-one points back is the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Andrea Bertolini, Sergey Zlobin and Viktor Shaitar. They won at Imola but have finished outside the top five in the last two races. Daniel McKenzie and George Richardson of the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia have a chance to tie Cameron and Griffin in the standings but would lose the tiebreaker. Griffin won at Estoril last year driving for Ram Racing to seal the championship for him and Johnny Mowlem.

The #73 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Olivier Beretta, Anton Ladygin and David Markozov have a commanding lead in GTC. The trio lead the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Mac and Johnny Laursen by 18.5 points entering Estoril. Their teammates in the #71 SMP Racing Ferrari, Kirill Ladygin, Luca Persiani and Aleksey Basov are the final drivers mathematically eligible for the title, sitting 25 points back. SMP Racing has won the last two races and won last year's season finale at Estoril.

Saturday Update: 
The winners of the season opening race at Silverstone, the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier-Nissan of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Tristan Gommendy were fastest on Saturday from Estoril with a lap of 1:31.422. The #38 Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan was second, just 0.033 seconds back of the Ligier. The #48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan was third with drivers Pipo Derani, James Littlejohn and Tony Wells. Murphy Prototypes won last year at Estoril. The LMP2 championship leading #36 Signatech Alpine was fourth with the #34 Newblood by Morand Racing Oreca rounded out the top five.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari was fastest in GTE with a 1:37.712. The GTE championship leading #55 AF Corse Ferrari was buried down, eighth in class, just under a second and a half back of the #72 Ferrari. The #71 SMP Racing Ferrari was fastest in GTC at 1:39.782 with their teammates and GTC championship leading #73 SMP Racing Ferrari second in class, just under a quarter of a second back.

Qualifying for tomorrow's race will take place at 4:30 a.m. ET. The race will start at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Blancpain Sprint Series Penultimate Round
The penultimate round of the Blancpain Sprint Series heads to Zolder with six teams still mathematically eligible for the title. Maximilian Götz leads with 116 points while his #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes co-driver Maximilian Buhk has 100 points after being suspended for the Slovakia round after failing to comply with the stewards in a ADAC GT Masters race in Slovakia two weeks prior to the BSS round. Götz and Buhk won the most recent round at Portimão.

Twenty-three points behind Götz is the #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hari Proczyk. The Dutch and Austrian driver have won four races in 2014 including a sweep of the Brands Hatch round. They won the qualifying round at Portimão before finishing second to Götz and Buhk in the championship race.

Drivers of the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra, René Rast and Enzo Ido are fifty-one back of Götz with their lone victory being at Zandvoort. The final pairing still eligible for the title is #0 BMW Sport Trophy Team Brasil drivers Sérgio Jimenez and Cacá Bueno. The Brazilians have yet to win in 2014 and are sixty-five back with sixty-six points remaining on the table.

Saturday Update: 
The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra of César Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor won the qualifying race at Zolder by 15.940 seconds over the #95 NSC Motorsports Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 of Nicky Catsburg and Peter Kox. Ramos and Vanthoor won from pole position. Second in the BSS championship standings, Bleekemolen and Proczyk rounded out the podium in the #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. The #2 Belgian Audi Club Audi of Rast and Ido finished fourth. The #107 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 of Andy Soucek and Johnny Adam rounded out the top five with the championship leading #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Götz rounding out the points in the qualifying race.

The championship race from Zolder will take place tomorrow at 7:45 a.m. ET.

MotoGP to the Outback
For the second of three consecutive weeks in the Asia-Pacific, MotoGP heads to Phillip Island. Problems with the Bridgestone tires forced last year's race to be shorten and forced teams to make a mid-race pit stop to switch bikes. Marc Márquez and Bryan Starling failed to pit within the required window leading to both riders being disqualified and costing Márquez a shot for victory.

This time Márquez heads to Australia having already clinched the 2014 world championship after finishing second at Motegi. Jorge Lorenzo enters not only as the winner of the last two MotoGP races but as the defending winner of the Australian Grand Prix. Prior to Lorenzo's victory, Casey Stoner had won his home Grand Prix six consecutive times. Valentino Rossi is the only other rider on the grid to have won at Phillip Island in MotoGP and his last victory at the track came in 2005. Márquez's lone victory at Phillip Island came in the 125cc class in 2010. Dani Pedrosa' lone Australian victory was in 250 cc in 2005.

Rossi and Pedrosa are tied for second in the championship with 230 points with the Italian owning the tiebreaker with more second place finishes. Lorenzo is three points behind them after finishing on the podium in the last seven races. Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the top five with 153 points.

Aleix Espargaró is sixth, one point ahead of his brother Pol with 117 points. Pol has won the last two years at Phillip Island in Moto2. Andrea Iannone has 102 points, six ahead of Stefan Bradl and ten ahead of Bradley Smith, who rounds out the top ten.

Saturday Update: 
Marc Márquez won his twelfth pole position of 2014 at the Australian Grand Prix. The now-double world champion set the fastest lap at 1:28.408 around Phillip Island. He was 0.234 seconds faster than Ducati rider Cal Crutchlow, who qualified second. The winner of the last two races, Jorge Lorenzo will start third. Bradley Smith makes it two Brits in the top five as he will start fourth with Dani Pedrosa starting in the middle of row two. Aleix Espargaró qualified sixth, the top Open class bike.

Andrea Iannone will start seventh with his fellow Italian Valentino Rossi starting next to him in eighth. Pol Espargaró will start directly behind his brother in ninth. Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the top ten with Stefan Bradl and Hiroshi Aoyama rounding out the first four rows on the grid.

The Australian Grand Prix will take place at 1:00 a.m. ET with Fox Sports 1 coverage beginning at midnight.

Plate Racing
Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have locked themselves into the next round of the Chase with victories at Kansas and Charlotte respectively as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the final race of the second round at Talladega.

Kyle Busch is 26 points to the good with Ryan Newman 21 points ahead of ninth. Carl Edwards is 20 points ahead of ninth with Jeff Gordon two points behind him and Denny Hamlin one point behind Gordon.

Kasey Kahne is on the bubble in eighth, one point ahead of Matt Kenseth in ninth. Five-time winner this season Brad Keselowski is 19 points back in tenth while Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. both are 26 points back of their fellow Hendrick's driver Kahne.

Of the twelve remaining Chase drivers, eight have won a race at Talladega with Jeff Gordon leading the way with six victories. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has five wins but has not won at the track in a decade. Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are the only other drivers with multiple wins at Talladega, however both drivers have only ever won the spring race. The four Chase drivers without a Talladega Cup victory are Logano, Newman, Edwards and Kahne. Logano won the Nationwide race in 2012. Toyota has not won a Cup race since Hamlin won at Talladega in May.

Of the ten previous Chase races at Talladega, five have been won by a non-Chase driver. A Ganassi driver has been the top finishing non-Chase driver in the five Chase races so far in 2014. Kyle Larson has been the top non-Chase driver in four of the five races with his teammate Jamie McMurray being the top finisher at Charlotte last Saturday night. Larson's worst finish in the last five races has been sixth. McMurray won last's year fall race at Talladega and won the fall race in 2009 as well.

Saturday Update: 
Brian Vickers will start on pole for tomorrow's race at Talladega. Jimmie Johnson will start second with AJ Allmendinger in third. Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski round out the top five. Michael McDowell starts sixth with Travis Kvapil in seventh. Kasey Kahne will start eighth while Terry Labonte will start ninth in his 890th and possibly final NASCAR Cup Series start. Michael Annett rounds out the top ten. Ryan Newman and Martin Truex, Jr. will start on row six.

Matt Kenseth will start 13th and Carl Edwards will start 15th.

Half the Chase drivers did not advance from the first round of qualifying with five having to use provisionals to make the field. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will start 29th. Denny Hamlin will start 37th, Kevin Harvick 38th, championship leader Joey Logano rolls off form 39th with second in points Kyle Busch in 40th. Jeff Gordon will start 42nd.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race can be seen at 12:30 p.m. ET on Fox. Big boy Fox. NOT Fox Sports 1!

MotoGP coverage of the Australian Grand Prix will begin at 12:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning on Fox Sports 1.

Coverage of ELMS from Estoril can be found at their website Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET.

ESPN's coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Talladega will begin at 1:00 p.m. ET.  

1. Over or Under: 0.5 British drivers in the points at Hockenheim? The three British drivers in DTM are all outside the top 15 in the championship.
2. Over or Under: 2.5 different nationalities represented by the three class winning teams?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 German drivers on the podium for the Championship Race at Zolder?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 positions lost by Marc Márquez on the opening lap?
5. Over or Under: 14.5 retirements in the Cup race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Bathurst went way over 6 hours and 20 minutes. It was the longest Bathurst 1000 at 7 hours, 58 minutes.
2. Over: 236 laps were run at Fuji.
3. Under: Zero Open entries finished in the top eight at Motegi.
4. Over: Six Mercedes finished in the points at Sochi. Felipe Massa and Nico Hülkenberg were the two that failed to score.
5. Over: Six Chevrolets finished in the top ten (Harvick, Gordon, McMurray, Larson, Newman, Kahne).

1. We will see a driver pick up their first victory of 2014 in the DTM season finale.
2. Ferrari will not sweep the GT classes this weekend.
3. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT gets a win on home soil.
4. Marc Márquez ends his slump and wins in Australia.
5. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all fail to advance to the next round of the Chase.

Last Week's Predictions
1. There is a first time Bathurst 1000 winner this weekend. (Correct. Chaz Mostert and Paul Morris both got to taste success at Bathurst for the first time in their careers).
2. We will see some rain at Fuji. (Wrong. Surprisingly, especially with another typhoon barring down on Japan).
3. Jorge Lorenzo extends his consecutive podium streak to seven races. (Correct. Lorenzo won his second consecutive race).
4. McLaren exits Sochi ahead of Force India in the Constructors' Championship. (Correct. McLaren 143. Force India 123).
5. At least two Chase drivers will suffer tire failures at Charlotte. (Wrong. Actually no tire failures I could recall at Charlotte).
Overall: 3/5. Running Tally: 12.5/25

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Bryan Herta Autosport's 2014 Season

The fourth of eleven 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series team reviews is the only single car team that featured a rookie driver.

After replacing Alex Tagliani midseason in 2013, Bryan Herta Autosport split the #98 Honda between Luca Filippi and JR Hildebrand for the remaining rounds. Both had respectable outings and were thought to be the leading candidates to become the team's full time driver in 2014. However the loss of their Barracuda sponsorship put a toll on the team, leaving the team's future in question heading into the new year. Right when it seemed either Filippi or Hildebrand were a lock to land the the seat, Jack Hawksworth got the promotion from Indy Lights. The Briton Hawksworth won the 2012 Star Mazda championship and won three races in Indy Lights while finishing fourth in the 2013 championship, just behind Carlos Muñoz, who was also making the full-time switch to IndyCar.

Jack Hawksworth
The first two races of Hawksworth's IndyCar career ended in incidents that were not of the rookie's fault. At St. Petersburg he started eighth and was running toward the front all day but on the first restart of the day, Hawksworth got caught up as the field bunched up and contact with Muñoz and Marco Andretti ended a promising debut. Two weeks later at Long Beach he qualified fifth and once again found himself running in the top ten only to be collateral damage in the Josef Newgarden-Ryan Hunter-Reay accident. At Barber, Hawksworth started second-to-last but worked his way up to twelfth in wet conditions.

The month of May was a breakout month for Hawksworth. He started second for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and took the lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay on lap ten and opened up a respectable lead. He would lead 31 laps but full course cautions did not play into his favor as the likes of Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay were able to use fuel mileage to their advantage, dropping Hawksworth from contention for a victory to settle for seventh, his first career top ten finish. Despite struggling on ovals in Indy Lights, Hawksworth was the second highest rookie qualifier for the Indianapolis 500, behind Kurt Busch as the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champions started 12th with the Brit right behind him in 13th. Hawksworth held his own in his debut Indianapolis 500, finishing 20th, the final driver on the lead lap.

He started third at Belle Isle 1 but a broken rotor ruined his day during the first round of pit stops. He was able to get back out on track but he would finish 19th, five laps down and would have contact with Aleshin on the last lap. In the second Belle Isle race, Hawksworth started 19th and would cycle around to lead one lap but wasn't a factor, coming home in 14th. Texas was a struggle as he started 20th but the Brit was able to complete laps and finished 15th, four laps down. Houston appeared to be another weekend heading up stream without a paddle for BHA as Hawksworth started 21st for race one but worked with his strategy to get him up to a sixth place finish. In Houston 2, Hawskworth started dead last on the grid but once again worked his way to the front and on this occasion finished third, his first career IndyCar podium, after a fierce battle with Juan Pablo Montoya.

The second half of 2014 started with Hawksworth on the sidelines after suffering a heart contusion in a practice accident at Pocono. He would return the following weekend at Iowa and repeated his Texas performance: Started 20th, finished 15th, four laps down. Race one from Toronto was mediocre as he finished 13th but he went from 18th to sixth as he benefited from jumping to slick tires at the right time on a drying track and had some help as plenty of front runners got caught in accidents. Mid-Ohio saw another run at the back of the field as all he could manage was 16th from 18th on the grid. At Milwaukee he went from 18th to tenth, his first career top ten on an oval and only a lap back of race winner Will Power.

Hawksworth would end the 2014 season with back-to-back finishes of 15th at Sonoma and Fontana, finishing only one lap down in the season finale.

Jack Hawksworth's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 17th (362 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 32
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 4
Average Start: 15.647 (20th in IndyCar)
Average Finish: 13.611 (17th)

With reports Jack Hawksworth might be off to AJ Foyt Racing for 2015, it poses to be a big loss for Bryan Herta as Hawksworth has shown a lot of potential for a developing driver. The team struggled all of 2014 for funding and they are looking to struggle again in that department in 2015. The team won it's second IndyCar race with Dan Wheldon in 2011 Indianapolis 500 but they have yet to catch lightning in a bottle again as they have only two top five finishes since then, one of which being Hawksworth's podium at Houston.

IndyCar teams have done the best they can in recent years to hire drivers or select drivers with respectable amounts of talent and who aren't solely in motorsports because they have a large checkbook. However, BHA needs money to stay alive. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't type offseason for BHA. Do you hire a driver who we know has the funding but won't be racking up results and will likely cost you a lot in spare parts (A Sergio Canamasas/Rodolfo González-tpye)? Or do you keep Hawksworth or hire someone like Hawksworth who has shown promise but you will have to scratch and claw for every dime to keep them on the grid (A Sam Bird/Jack Harvey-type)?

As for Hawksworth, he was improving on ovals throughout the season and showed he can run with the best on road and street circuits. A teammate would be beneficial for the Brit and that is something I highly doubt BHA could provide if he stays. These two could be going their separate ways in 2015 and they both could be entirely different directions.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: We All Pay Respect Differently

It was A Hard Day's Night as there was nonstop action from 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night until 4:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning with Formula One capping off the morning. It was really weird realizing all the racing for the weekend was done Sunday at 9:00 a.m. ET. With that said, it left a lot of time to catch up on some much needed sleep. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

We All Pay Respect Differently
Just one week after Jules Bianchi's accident, Marussia was back on the grid for their home grand prix in Sochi. It had to be a difficult week for the team. From the accident to scurrying to pack everything in Japan as a Typhoon breathed down their necks then land in Russia midweek to prepare for another race with no time to stop and digest what had happened. The teams were already physically beat after two weeks on the road and having to cross many times zones but Bianchi's accident had to have done it's toll mentally.

We all pay respect differently. While Bianchi clings for life in a hospital in Japan, the team choose to go on. The team built and had Bianchi's car go through scrutineering but left the car sitting in the garage this weekend as Max Chilton was the only Marussia driver to take to the track this weekend. They didn't have to show up at all thought.

History shows they didn't have to. After Wolfgang von Trips perished in the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, Ferrari choose not to run the season finale at Watkins Glen. Nine years later at Monza Jochen Rindt would lose his life in qualifying and Colin Chapman withdrew the remaining three Lotus entries of Graham Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi and John Miles. François Cevert lost his life three years later at Watkins Glen and the Tyrrell drivers Jackie Stewart and Chris Amon did not partake in the 1973 season finale and it was the final time Stewart appeared in a Formula One car. Ferrari withdrew Didier Pironi after Gilles Villeneuve's accident at Zolder at 1982.

While Bianchi is still alive, the precedence was there for Marussia to take the week off if they wanted to and no one could blame them if they did. The act of running Chilton only while Bianchi's #17 sat idle in the garage was a phenomenal gesture of respect.

Eventually they are going to have to field that second car. Deep down I wish Alexander Rossi got his shot to make his debut at Sochi but Marussia made the right decision. Everything was happening so fast and instead of rushing someone into the car, it was better to let it sit. With that said, you can't have the car sit on the sidelines for the remaining three races. There are still points on the line in the Constructors' Championship and Marussia possibly could jump Lotus-Renault for ninth or be jumped by Sauber-Ferrari of Caterham-Renault for tenth. You can still pay your respect to Bianchi while fielding two cars.

With the United States Grand Prix next on the schedule it would only be fitting for Rossi to make his debut. You are going to have to run the second car eventually. Why wait to run it? You paid respect to Bianchi at Sochi and you can continue to pay your respects to him in the final three races. It's an unfortunate circumstance but motorsports produces these kinds of situations. One misfortunate accident opens the door of opportunity for another. It's the cruel nature of motorsports and It's never going to change. All we can do is keep Bianchi in our hearts and prayers and hope he can make a full recovery and someday be back on the grid.

Bathurst 1000
If you didn't stay up until about 3:30 a.m. ET for the end of the Bathurst 1000, I can't blame you. A red flag for deteriorating pavement in turn two and more safety car periods than anyone would have liked made it the longest Bathurst 1000 but provided one of the most compelling finishes.

Championship leader and four-time Bathurst 1000 Jamie Whincup had already overcome a poor starting position as he worked his way from 23nd to 5th in thirteen laps but an accident with Todd Kelly and a penalty for unsafe track reentry put him and co-driver Paul Dumbrell a lap down. A slew of late safety cars got the #1 Holden back on the lead lap and in position for the victory after leaders had to pit for fuel. On his heels was Chaz Mostert, the 22-year old in only his second Great Race. Mostert had already overcome his own obstacles after starting dead last due to his qualifying time being disallowed for disobeying a red flag and his co-driver Paul Morris put the car in the tires under a safety car conditions earlier in the race.

Whincup had to save fuel but was running qualifying-caliaber laps coming down the stretch. He finally started saving fuel on the final lap, allowing Mostert to close to his rear bumper at the top of the mountain. Mostert made his move at Forest's Elbow and cruised to victory. Mostert had all two career victories entering Bathurst and his co-driver Morris only victories came at Calder Park in 2001. Morris' Bathurst triumph comes 17 years after initially being declared 1997 Bathurst 1000 winner with co-driver Craig Baird but later disqualified after Baird had exceeded the limit of three hours of continuous driving. Geoff and David Brabham would go on to claim the 1997 victory.

Whincup would run out of fuel and fall to fifth in the final results. Nissan's James Moffat and Taz Douglas would finish second, the first podium for the Japanese manufacture since finishing second in 1998 with Steven Richards and Matt Neal as there drivers. Holden's Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin rounded out the podium while Will and Alex Davison made it four different manufactures in the top four beating the coasting Whincup to the line in the #9 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes.

It was a thrilling finish that saw the most unlikeliest winners. It saw heartbreak for Shane van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb after the start motor failed on the van Gisbergen on the final pit stop for a splash of fuel while the Kiwi was the leader. David Reynolds had his alternator fail on him while he was second behind Craig Lowndes under safety car.

The race might have occurred a half way around the world and live timing might have quit working after 30 laps and never cameback but it was an breathtaking race that I would gladly trade valuable hours of sleep to follow again.

Stop Trying To Fool Us IndyCar
Apparently IndyCar thinks an All-Star Race is the solution to all the problems. As the 2015 schedule is getting it's final touches, IndyCar continues to look for ways to increase attendance, ratings and looks to make more money. I understand that. It's a business. But was anyone asking for an All-Star Race? First off, IndyCar doesn't have any stars, not on a national level at least. The series has plenty of talented drivers but none of them are stars.

IndyCar floating out this All-Star Race idea is giving the impression they are getting things done. Stop trying to fool us and get to the problems at hand. All the oval races other than Indianapolis need a significant boost in attendance. A third engine manufacture would relieve Chevrolet and Honda of some of their duties as engine manufactures and hopefully create another partner to promote the series and add to the already competitive on-track action. Along with another engine manufacture, aero kit manufactures independent of the engine manufactures would add more diversity to the field.

Having an All-Star Race isn't the deal breaker for expanding IndyCar's fan base. IndyCar needs to focus on promoting the series and increasing awareness of the series. And if IndyCar has a sponsor willing to put up the type of dough to make an All-Star Race worth a damn, instead of putting all the chips on having one big event, spread them around to improve anyone of the numerous of races on life support.

Champions From the Weekend
Marc Márquez clinch his second consecutive world championship with three races in hand with a second place finish to Jorge Lorenzo at Motegi.

Mercedes-Benz AMG Petronas clinched the 2014 Constructors' Championship as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg went 1-2 at Sochi.

After his Sochi feature race victory, Jolyon Palmer clinched the 2014 GP2 Series championship.

American Greg Hancock won his third Speedway World Championship on Saturday from Toruń, Poland. He broke his own record of oldest champion at 44 years and 130 days. Krzystof Kasprazak won the race and finished second in the championship.

Random Thoughts
James Hinchcliffe should run #99 in 2015. Sam Schmidt drove #99, the #99 is synonymous with Canada, from Wayne Gretzky to Greg Moore. I couldn't think of anything that would look better than Hinchcliffe in the #99 next year. I know CART retired the #99 after Moore's fatal accident but Idon't believe in retiring numbers. I think it would be a great privilege for someone to drive the car number of a legend. Think about what type of motivation that would be for a driver to succeed.

With Fernando Alonso's 2015 season still up in the air, deep down I hope IndyCar puts the farm on signing him even if it is just for one season. The same five reasons why Jenson Button should and should not come to IndyCar apply for Alonso. It would be nice to see but it would never happen in a million years.

It is such a disappointment that the Daytona 200 has been cancelled for 2015. I don't want to pin AMA's downfall on the take over by Daytona Motorsports Group but it hasn't been a pretty seven seasons under DMG control. I hope the new promoters MotoAmerica/KRAVE can turn American motorcycle racing around but it will have to do so without there staple event.

Why not run Nationwide races on Saturdays when Cup runs Saturday night? It would increase the value of the ticket for the fans and give them a nice full day at the track.

If you could have any two non-V8 Supercars drivers for Bathurst, who would they be? I was thinking Mark Webber and Bernd Schneider.

What about a 1000km oval race? It would be only 621 miles. Come to think of it, all you would need is the Coca-Cola 600 to have a few green-white-checkered finishes and you would be there. Could you imagine a 1000km IndyCar race at say Michigan or Fontana?

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Chaz Mostert and Paul Morris, Lewis Hamilton, Jorge Lorenzo, Jolyon Palmer and Krzystof Kasprzak but did you know...

The #8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi won their third race of the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship season and extended their championship lead over the #2 Audi of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler to 29 points. The #26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissian of Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov won in LMP2 and closed the gap to Sergey Zlobin down to 16 points.

In GT, AF Corse Ferrari drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won their third race of 2014 and lead Frédéric Makowiecki by 49.5 points. David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Nicki Thiim won their third race of 2014 as well in GTE-Am. Heinemeier Hansson and Poulsen lead the GTE-Am championship by 39 points over their Aston Martin teammates Christoffer Nygaard, Paul Dalla Lana and Pedro Lamy.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Charlotte and is locked into the next round of the Chase.

Thomas Lüthi won in Moto2 at Motegi. Álex Márquez won in Moto3 and extended his championship lead as he hopes to follow in his brother Marc's footsteps.

Marco Sørensen won the GP2 sprint race from Sochi. Dean Stoneman and Patric Niederhauser split the GP3 weekend.

José María López and Mehdi Bennani split the WTCC weekend from Shanghai.

David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung won the ALMS race from Shanghai in the #1 OAK Racing Morgan-Judd. The #33 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Mok Weng Sun won in GT. Kevin Tse, Samson Chan and Naoki Yokomizo won in CN driving the #77 Craft-Bamboo Racing Ligier JS53-Honda.

Brad Keselowski won the Nationwide race at Charlotte.

Coming Up This Weekend
NASCAR returns to Talladega.
MotoGP heads to Phillip Island.
DTM season finale from Hockenheim.
ELMS ends their season at Estoril.
Blancpain Sprint Series heads to Zolder for their penultimate round.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday Five: Bathurst, Fuji, Motegi, Sochi, Charlotte

Don't go to bed this Saturday night or you will miss great motorsports from across the globe. Four continents host major races as five series wind down their seasons with tight championship pictures across the board. We start at the Mount Panorama.

Bathurst 1000
V8 Supercars return for the 58th running of the Bathurst 1000. Jamie Whincup enters as the championship leader after winning last month's Sandown 500 with co-driver Paul Dumbrell. Whincup is looking for his fifth career Bathurst victory. Craig Lowndes enters second in the championship, trailing his Red Bull Racing teammate by 273 points. Lowndes is looking for his sixth Bathurst victory and his co-driver Steven Richards won his third Bathurst 1000 last year as Mark Winterbottom's co-driver.

Winterbottom has fallen from the championship lead after failing to finish in the top five since his last victory at Hidden Valley Raceway ten races ago. With the loss of Richards, Winterbottom will have Steve Owen as his co-driver. Owen is two-time Development V8 Supercars champion and finished second in the 2010 Bathurst 1000 as Whincup's co-driver. Shane van Gisbergen is fourth in the championship and will be paired with Jonathan Webb. James Courtney rounds out the top five in the championship after finishing second at Sandown. The 2010 V8 Supercars champion is still looking for his first career Bathurst victory and his co-driver will be four-time Bathurst winner Greg Murphy, who's last Bathurst victory was a decade ago with Rick Kelly.

A few other notable pairings to keep an eye on: Scott McLaughlin and Alexander Prémat are in the #33 Volvo S60 and are the best shot for the first foreign manufacture to win since Volvo's 1998 victory with Rickard Rydell and Jim Richards. Rydell is the last non-Antipodean driver to win the Bathurst 1000. Prémat could becoming the first Frenchman to win The Great Race. Garth Tander is shooting for his fourth victory with Warren Luff as his co-driver. The brothers Will and Alex Davison pair up in the #9 Erebus Motorsport Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Will won in 2009 as Whincup's co-driver and a victory for the brothers would be Mercedes-Benz's first at Bathurst since the second running in 1961 when Bob Jane and Harry Firth won in a 220SE.

Fabian Coulthard set the fastest time in qualifying with a lap of 2:05.6080, well beating the track record. Shane van Gisbergen made it a Kiwi 1-2, only 0.0931 seconds back. Dale Wood made it a Holden 1-2-3. Defending Bathurst winner Mark Winterbottom was fourth with Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin rounding out the top five, joining fellow Kiwis Coulthard and van Gisbergen. Jason Bright was sixth, 0.8689 seconds back of his teammate. Jack Perkins is the second fastest Ford in seventh. James Moffat was eighth, the fastest Nissan, just a little over a second back of Coulthard. Garth Tander and Craig Lowndes round out the top ten. The top 10 shootout will take place Saturday afternoon.

Championship leader and four-time Bathurst winner Jamie Whincup suffered an accident in qualifying and he will have to start from the back of the grid on Sunday.

6 Hours of Fuji
The FIA World Endurance Championship heads to Toyota's home circuit of Fuji Speedway. The #8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre lead the championship with two victories followed by two third place finishes. Unfortunately, Lapierre will be stepping out of the car at Fuji due to personal reasons. The Frenchman had been apart of the last two winning teams at Fuji with Alexander Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima as his co-drivers. A third driver will not join Davidson and Buemi at Fuji.

The #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler have won the last two rounds and find themselves trailing the #8 Toyota by 11 points heading to Japan. Lotterer has won the last four years at Fuji in Super Formula. Their teammates Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi are a further 13 points back after three consecutive runner-up finishes. Audi has never won at Fuji and Audi has yet to win a pole position in 2014 with Toyota responsible for three and Porsche for the other.

A surprising fourth in the world championship is the #12 Rebellion Racing R-One of Nick Heidfeld, Mathias Beche and Nicolas Prost. Despite their best finish being fourth, the Swiss team is ahead of the #7 Toyota of Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin and both Porsches. The #12 R-One trails the #8 Toyota by 48 points.

The #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani is three points behind the privateer Rebellion team and two ahead of Wurz and Sarrazin. The #14 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley are 70.5 points behind the championship leader despite finishing on the podium at the opening round of the season at Silverstone. Porsche's last victory at Fuji came in 1989 with Vern Schuppan, Eje Elgh and Keiji Matsumoto.

In the World Cup for GT Drivers, #51 AF Corse Ferrari drivers Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander maintained their championship lead over #92 Porsche driver Frédéric Makowiecki with 25 points separating them. Fellow Porsche drivers Marco Holzer and Richard Lietz are third and fourth in the World Cup for GT Drivers. Holzer is done for the season after deciding to focus on development duties for Porsche. Lietz is slated to return after breaking his arm at the end of August in an accident at VIR in IMSA competition. The Austrian Lietz is 45 points back with Makowiecki's co-driver Patrick Pilet 51 points behind the Ferrari pairing. Lietz will be in the #91 Porsche with Jörg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy. After winning at Austin, the #97 Aston Martin drivers Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke are 52 points out of the championship lead.

LMP2 saw #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan's Sergey Zlobin extended his championship lead at Austin to 27 points over the #26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan drivers Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov. Anton Ladygin of the #37 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan is 30 points behind his fellow Russian. After their victory in Austin, the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley are 33 points behind Zlobin. OAK Racing returns to WEC competition at Fuji with the #35 Morgan-Judd of Alex Brundle, Gustavo Yacamán and Keiko Ihara.

In GTE-Am, the #98 Aston Martin drivers David Heinemeier Hansson and Kristian Poulsen led the championship after alternating winning each of the odd rounds and finishing second in the even rounds. The Two Danes lead their teammates and Austin winners, the #95 Aston of Paul Dalla Lana, Christoffer Nygaard and Pedro Lamy by 33 points. Hansson and Poulsen will be joined by Nicki Thiim at Fuji. In each race they have won this season, Thiim has been their third driver.

The Spa winning GTE-Am #61 AF Corse Ferrari will see a shuffle in their driver line up. Third in the GTE-Am championship, 35 points out of the lead, Luíz Pérez Companc, Mirko Venturi and Marco Cioci will be replaced by Jeroen Bleekemolen and Americans Mike Skeen and Bret Curtis. Skeen finished runner-up in this year's Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. Bleekemolen and Curtis were supposed to be co-drivers at Le Mans this years in the #79 Prospeed Competition Porsche but Curtis suffered a concussion in practice and was unable to compete leaving Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil without a third driver and promoting the entry to GTE-Pro because they lacked a bronze-rated driver.

The #1 Audi led both sessions on Friday from Fuji the #2 Audi next on the time sheet. The fastest lap by the #1 Audi was a 1:27.852. The #14 Porsche was third with the #8 and #7 Toyotas rounding out the top five. Less than one and a quarter seconds covered the top five LMP1 cars. The #26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan topped both sessions in LMP2 with their fastest lap being a 1:34.027. The #37 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan was second in class followed by the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan. The #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan was fourth and the #35 OAK Racing Morgan-Judd rounded out the class. Less than eight-tenths of a second covered the five LMP2 entires.

The #97 Aston Martin was quickest in GTE-Pro at a 1:39.884 with their GTE-Am counterparts the #98 and #95 Aston Martin being the next two fastest GTE cars. The #88 and #75 Prospeed Competition Porsches make it four GTE-Am cars between the fastest and second fastest GTE-Pro entries. The #88 Porsche drivers are Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi while Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Matthieu Vaxivière are in the #75 Porsche. The championship leading #51 AF Corse Ferrari are second in GTE-Pro ahead of the #92 and #91 factory Porsches. The #99 Aston Martin rounded out the top five in GTE-Pro.

Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix
Jorge Lorenzo picked up his first MotoGP victory of 2014 at Aragón two weeks ago and the Majorcan heads to Motegi as the defending winner of the Japanese Grand Prix. Marc Márquez continues to have a commanding lead in the world championship but has finished 15th and 13th in the last two races. It is the first time Márquez has had back-to-back finishes off the podium since 2011 in Moto2 when he retired at Jerez and finished 21st at Estoril. Márquez leads his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa by 75 points. If Márquez can maintain or increase that margin between him and second in the championship, he will clinch the world title with three races to spare.

Valentino Rossi is third in the championship, 78 points back of Márquez while Lorenzo's championship aspirations remain alive after his victory at Aragón. Lorenzo is 90 points back. Andrea Dovizioso rounds out the top five, 150 points behind Márquez. Aleix Espargaró jumped his brother Pol in the championship with his first career premier class podium at Aragón. The second place finish gave Aleix a four point cushion over Pol with 112 to his credit in 2014. Pol won at Motegi last year in Moto2.

Andrea Dovizioso was fastest from Motegi with a lap of 1:45.140 ahead of Lorenzo. Stefan Bradl was third quickest. Pedrosa was fourth ahead of Rossi and Márquez. Eight-tenths covered the top six riders. 

Russian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton extended his championship lead to 10 points over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after winning the Japanese Grand Prix, his seventh victory of 2014. The Mercedes-duo lead Formula One to Sochi, Russia, the first time Formula One has ever visited the country. Daniel Ricciardo is the only other driver mathematically eligible for the World Drivers' Championship. The Australian trails Hamilton by 73 points with four races to go and a maximum of 125 points remaining on the table.

Despite finishing third at Suzuka, Sebastian Vettel was eliminated from championship contention, falling two points shy of keeping his title hopes alive. The German did jump Fernando Alonso in the championship by six points. Valtteri Bottas is three points behind Alonso. Jenson Button is seventh with 82 points, six ahead of Nico Hülkenberg. Five points behind the German is Felipe Massa while Sergio Pérez rounds out the top ten, 25 points behind the Williams driver.

Kimi Räikkönen is a point behind Pérez with Kevin Magnussen six points behind the Finn. Jean-Éric Vergne sits on 21 points in his lame duck season for Toro Rosso. Romain Grosjean and Russian Daniil Kvyat had each have eight points.

The sixteenth and last driver to have scored championship points this season, Jules Bianchi is in critical but stable condition after suffering a diffuse axonal injury at the Japanese Grand Prix. Bianchi remains in the Intensive Care Unit at Mie General Medical Center. Marussia will run only Max Chilton this weekend.

The Sochi Autodrom is a 3.634-mile (5.848-kilometer) circuit featuring 19 turns, 12 right and 7 left. The circuit snakes through the Sochi Olympic Park, which hosted the XXII Winter Olympic Games earlier this February.

Lewis Hamilton was fastest on Friday with a lap of 1:39.630, over eight-tenths faster than Kevin Magnussen in second. Fernando Alonso was third with Nico Rosberg in fourth. Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top five. Just over a second back of Hamilton was Jenson Button in sixth with the second Williams of Felipe Massa in seventh. Daniil Kvyat was eighth in front of his fellow Russians. Sebastian Vettel was ninth with Jean-Éric Vergne rounding out the top ten. 

Kimi Räikkönen was eleventh, exactly two seconds back of Hamilton. Nico Hülkenberg was twelfth with Daniel Ricciardo in thirteenth. The Australians session ended early after stopping on track with a mechanical issue. Sergio Pérez was fourteenth with Adrian Sutil rounding out the top fifteen. The Lotus-Renaults of Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado were next on the time sheet followed by Esteban Gutiérrez. Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton and Kamui Kobayashi were the slowest three drivers in practice.

Joey Logano won at Kansas Speedway and locked himself into the semifinal round of the Chase as NASCAR heads to the final night race of the 2014 season at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Second in the standings is Kyle Busch, six points behind Logano. Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman are nine points back with Denny Hamlin rounding out the top five, eleven points

Fifteen points back is Kevin Harvick and only ten points to the good. Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon are tied for seventh, eight points ahead of ninth in the championship, Kasey Kahne. Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are all on the outside looking in after tire failures at Kansas. The three trail eighth by 22, 25 and 27 points respectively.

Of the remaining Chase drivers, only five have won the fall race at Charlotte. Johnson is tied with Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Mark Martin for most Charlotte fall race victories at three. Gordon has two victories in the Charlotte fall race with his last coming in 2007. Kahne, Kenseth and Keselowski are the other three winners of Charlotte fall races in the Chase with their wins coming in 2006, 2011 and 2013 respectively.

The three Hendrick drivers Johnson, Gordon and Kahne have five, three and three Coca-Cola 600 victories respectively. Kenseth's first Cup series victory was the 2000 Coca-Cola 600. Kevin Harvick is the only other driver remaining in the Chase with a points-paying win at Charlotte having won the 2011 and 2013 "600s." Three drivers only Cup victories at Charlotte have come in the All-Star Race. Earnhardt, Jr. won the 2000 All-Star Race, Newman won in 2002 and Edwards won in 2011. Johnson has a record four All-Star Race victories while Gordon has three. Kenseth, Kahne and Harvick each have one All-Star Race victory.

Taking into account the three Cup races, Logano, Busch and Hamlin are the only three Chase drivers who have never won a Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch will start on pole position for Saturday night's race. Jeff Gordon will start second with Denny Hamlin in third. Tony Stewart qualified fourth with his former teammate Ryan Newman rounding out the top five. Newman's Richard Childress Racing teammate Paul Menard was sixth. Kevin Harvick will start seventh with Brian Vickers in eighth. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Carl Edwards round out the top ten.

Championship leader Joey Logano starts thirteenth while his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski will start seventeenth. Kasey Kahne will start nineteenth. Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth will start on row eleven and are the worst starting Chase drivers.

The NASCAR race from Charlotte can be seen at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night on ABC.

Fox Sports 1's coverage of MotoGP from Motegi will begin at 12:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning (9:00 p.m. PT Saturday night).

Coverage of the Russian Grand Prix from Sochi will begin at 6:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

1. Over or Under: Six hours and twenty minutes to complete the Bathurst 1000?
2. Over or Under: 215.5 laps completed at Fuji?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 Open entries in the top eight at Fuji?
4. Over or Under: 5.5 Mercedes-powered cars in the points at Sochi? They had seven of eight in the points at Suzuka.
5. Over or Under: 5.5 Chevrolets in the top ten at Charlotte?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: 69 laps were run behind the safety car at Petit Le Mans.
2. Under: Margin of victory in GT500 in Thailand was 1.980 seconds.
3. Over: Aprilia riders combined for four podiums at Magny-Cours.
4. Under: No Frenchman finished on the podium for their home rally.
5. Under: Only 44 laps were run at Suzuka.

1. There is a first time Bathurst 1000 winner this weekend.
2. We will see some rain at Fuji.
3. Jorge Lorenzo extends his consecutive podium streak to seven races.
4. McLaren exits Sochi ahead of Force India in the Constructors' Championship.
5. At least two Chase drivers will suffer tire failures at Charlotte.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A Corvette wins in GTLM. (Wrong. Team Falken Tire Porsche won GTLM at Petit).
2. There will be at least one new championship leader in Super GT. (Correct. James Rossiter took the GT500 lead in Thailand).
3. A Frenchman wins at Magny-Cours. (Correct. Sylvain Guintoli won race one at Magny-Cours).
4. Sébastien Ogier wins the most stages this weekend. (Wrong. Jari-Matti Latvala won the most stages).
5. Going out on a limb, Sebastian Vettel wins at Suzuka. (Wrong. Lewis Hamilton won. Vettel finished third).
Overall: 2/5. Running Tally: 9.5/20

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Dale Coyne Racing's 2014 Season

In the third of eleven 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series team reviews, we have come to the first of seven teams to get a victory in 2014.

Dale Coyne Racing won a race for their third consecutive season but this one was the most surprising of them all. Veteran Justin Wilson returned for his eleventh season coming off one of the best of his career in 2013, finishing sixth in the championship with four podiums, seven top fives and thirteen top tens but fell short on getting a victory. After the #18 was split by five drivers in 2013 with Mike Conway getting a victory in his first start in the car at Belle Isle, Dale Coyne (in typical Dale Coyne fashion) officially announced his second driver hours before the first practice at St. Petersburg. The lucky individual would be Colombian Carlos Huertas, who had previously competed in Formula Renault 3.5.

Justin Wilson
Wilson started this season in Justin Wilson-fashion. He started 16th at St. Petersburg but worked his way up to eighth. A promising run at Long Beach saw Wilson is contention for the victory after an accident took at leaders Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan. However, on the next restart, Wilson would get hip-checked into the turn eight wall by Scott Dixon, ending the his day. He would have another typical performance at Barber as he went from 16th to sixth in a wet race. Another poor starting position at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis put him behind the 8-ball but he made up seven positions before finishing 11th.

In the Indianapolis 500, Wilson was set on getting another top ten finish but contact with debris from Townsend Bell's accident caused front-wing damage, forcing him to pit and dropping him to 22nd. At Belle Isle, Wilson had another drive from the back to the front as he went from 19th to fourth. However, that was the closest Wilson got to victory all season. In Belle Isle 2, Wilson started 13th and finished 12th. An accident with Sébastien Bourdais at Texas led to a 21st place finish.

In Houston 1, Dale Coyne Racing played the fuel strategy game to a T and Wilson leading Huertas late but Wilson was seven laps short on fuel and had to trade a possible victory for a tenth place finish. In Houston 2, Wilson was in position for top tens in consecutive days but contact with Marco Andretti sent him to the tires and down to 12th in the final results, one lap down. Back-to-back uneventful races at Pocono and Iowa (finishes of 14th and 13th respectively) led him to Toronto were the condensed Sunday saw him finish tenth in race one and tenth in race two. The second race was more eventful for Wilson as he was leading late but as the track dried out and teams starting switching to slicks, Wilson was a sitting duck on wet weather tires and he held on for that second tenth place finish.

He went backward at Mid-Ohio, dropping seven positions from the grid to finish 15th. Milwaukee was another typical oval for Wilson in 2014 as he fell back to 17th from 12th and was never a factor. He finished ninth at Sonoma, his fifth top ten in six starts at the track and ended 2014 with another midpack finish on an oval with a 13th at Fontana.

Justin Wilson's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 15th (395 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 25
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 4
Average Start: 13 (16th in IndyCar)
Average Finish: 12.388 (12th)

Carlos Huertas
Huertas came out of nowhere. He tested for Panther Racing prior to the 2014 season before that team went under. He had one victory in Formula Renault 3.5 when heavy rains shortened a race at Aragón but other than that, Huertas languished at the back of fields at Europe.

While he didn't set the world on fire in IndyCar, he proved he wasn't another ride buyer. He wasn't Milka Duno or Marty Roth running multiple seconds off the leaders. He wasn't ever the quickest but he ran competitive times. Most of his races were uneventful as he stayed at the back but he was able to bring the car home in one piece and sometimes that played into his favor. At Long Beach, after many accidents, Huertas stole a tenth place finish in his second career IndyCar start. Amazingly, he completed every lap in his first Indianapolis 500 and finished seventeenth. And that was his first career oval race!

He had two 12th place starts at Belle Isle and finished eighth in Belle Isle 1. Through the first seven races, the Colombian had completed every lap of the season. He ran all but four laps at Texas as he managed a 16th place finish.

Then came the surprise of the season. Dale Coyne had Justin Wilson get 46 laps on a tank of fuel but fall seven laps short only to have Huertas right behind his teammate and the Colombian was able to go 39 laps on fuel to win from 19th on the grid in a time-limit race after heavy rain. Plenty of things played into Huertas' favor. First, his fuel cell was found to be larger than the regulations allowed. Had it been kosher, who knows if he wins. Then comes the botched final restart where Graham Rahal who was fourth, ran over Tony Kanaan before they were even close to taking the green, ending the race before Huertas was challenged but none of that matters. The history books will show Huertas as an IndyCar winner and the first IndyCar winner born in the 1990s.

His best finish in the remaining nine races was fourteenth. Mechanical issues would end his races at Houston 2, Pocono and Sonoma. Despite his strong oval runs at Indianapolis and Texas, the other high-speed ovals of Iowa and Fontana didn't suit Huertas as he choose to retire from both and saying after Fontana he retired due to dizziness. None of his retirements were due to accidents and to be honest, I can't recall one time all season, in a race or practice in which Huertas came close to a barrier.

Carlos Huertas' 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 20th (314 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 18.058 (22nd)
Average Finish: 15.944 (22nd)

Better Finish: Justin Wilson def. Carlos Huertas 14-4.
Better Qualifying Position: Wilson def. Huertas 14-4.

We don't know if either driver will be back for Coyne in 2015. Wilson is on the back nine of his career and after a fantastic 2013 season, 2014 was average, thanks in part of the departures of Bill Pappas and John Dick. We saw what the team was capable of when Mike Conway stepped into the #18 in 2013. If Wilson had a young, talented teammate (Sam Bird, Daniel Abt, Conor Daly, J.R. Hildebrand, Martin Plowman) both he and Coyne would benefit greatly.

Huertas is replaceable. A second year in IndyCar might do him some good but don't hang your hat on him winning again in 2015. Houston 1 was a blind squirrel finding a nut. I can't see the Colombian being in high demand with other IndyCar teams and if he isn't with Coyne in 2015, he likely won't have a ride at all.

There is the possibility Wilson leaves, which would be a great disappointment for Dale Coyne Racing. All their success has come with Wilson on their payroll. Before Wilson, they were a meddling team, rotating ride buyers but being able to keep two cars on the grid each year while other teams struggled for survival. We have seen what the team is capable of doing when they have capable drivers. Losing Wilson could sent the team back to their old ways of the 1990s with European and South American drivers filtering through the team like a high school exchange program.

There is a reason Dale Coyne Racing is one of four teams to win a race in every season of the DW-12 era. Wilson may not have been directly responsible for the team's last two victories but losing him could spell a long drought for the team that has been around for nearly three decades.

One final tangent on Justin Wilson: Imagine if Roger Penske called him to fill in for Hélio Castroneves when the Brazilian had his tax evasion trail over Will Power. How much different would their two career be? For years we heard rumors of Wilson to Ganassi or him linked to big teams but he has never landed at one of those big teams and likely never will. If it were to occur now with let's say Andretti Autosport, it will feel about five years too late. Not that Wilson couldn't be successful with a bigger team if he got the call, rather a feeling that however long of an opportunity he would get, it would only provide a brief glimpse of what could have been.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: Forza Jules

Petit Le Mans tied the bow on the inaugural United SportsCar Championship season. Two championships tightened up in France. A Brit took a championship lead in Thailand. Two new winners in China and Lewis Hamilton extended his World Drivers' Championship lead to 10 points with a win in Suzuka. Unfortunately, we start on a somber note. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

A Reminder I Am Flawed
I said this after Mikhail Aleshin's accident and I will say it again after the accident that involved Jules Bianchi. I am flawed. Bianchi suffered a severe head injury after spinning into a crane late in the Japanese Grand Prix. The crane was retrieving the car of Adrian Sutil, which had spun into the barrier a lap prior.

Here is a statement from the FIA regarding Jules Bianchi:
My prayers go out to Jules Bianchi on a speedy recovery.

Bianchi is a talented young driver who was on the verge of getting a big break in Formula One. I hope he is back on the grid as soon as possible because, though stuck at Marussia, he is a great asset to the Formula One grid.

I am flawed. After the race had ended and the drivers solemnly partook in the podium ceremony, I realized Alexander Rossi is Marussia's reserve driver and I remembered how close he was to his debut at Spa only to have it snatched from him on Friday of the race weekend after already participating in the first free practice. Unless Bianchi has a miraculous recovery, Marussia will have a new driver at Sochi next week and Alexander Rossi could be making his debut. Nobody wants there debut to come this way. They would want to earn it, not be handed it. However, should Rossi or whomever gets the call (it could be Will Stevens for all I know and I wouldn't be surprised if Vitaly Petrov got the call) they have to take advantage of this opportunity. It's unfortunate it is coming this way but you have to go out and race at the highest of your ability and put on the best showing, not just for themselves but for Bianchi as well.

I pray Bianchi is back on the grid as soon as possible but at the same time I hope Rossi gets his opportunity in Formula One. It's a conflict I wish didn't exist.

Formula One's Driver Carousel
Late Friday night, everything hit the fan in the Formula One paddock. The first bombshell was Red Bull releasing their 2015 driver line-up: Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat. This confirmed the four-time World Champion and Red Bull ace since 2009, Sebastian Vettel would be leaving the team he made famous.

Christian Horner then opened his mouth saying Ferrari must have made, "a very attractive offer" to the German. This turned the conversation to Fernando Alonso, who's only option now appears to be a return to McLaren with the return of Honda in 2015.

Let's start with Vettel. I'm completely stunned he is leaving. He was Red Bull Racing. He was the one who carried the team after years of being a middle of the road team with the likes of David Coulthard, Christian Klein and Robert Doornbos to the top of the mountain. He was changing the game, a driver with no manager, no agenda, racing for the 21st Century race team owned by an energy drink company. The stalwarts of Ferrari and McLaren were struggling to keep up, Mercedes was stumbling since reentering Formula One and once glorious teams such as Williams and Renault were falling by the wayside.

The records were falling left and right. The combination seemed unstoppable and at the end of 2013, they were unstoppable. Nine consecutive victories, a world championship by a country mile and a constructors' championship by a country mile. Vettel was king. His once challenging number two Mark Webber was leaving and in was coming Ricciardo, a kid who toiled around at HRT and Toro Rosso, with a handful of points finishes but nothing spectacular that showed he stood head and shoulders above most the grid.

The rule changes caught Red Bull out. The car struggled with overheating during testing. It was clear Mercedes had the upper hand and the fight to remain on top would be the most challenging of both Vettel's Red Bull career. At Melbourne, Vettel retired while Ricciardo had a second place finish wiped away when he was disqualified for exceeding maximum fuel limits. The following round, Vettel finished third while Ricciardo retired but it was clear Mercedes wasn't going to be beaten easily, if at all in 2014. It was clear Red Bull were not going to retain the constructors' title and Vettel would be dethrone as world drivers' champion.

Red Bull kept taking the fight to Mercedes and finally broke through but it wasn't Vettel leading the way, it was Ricciardo with victories at Montreal, Hungary and Spa. Vettel couldn't even get on the podium and in fact, entering Suzuka had as many podiums as Ricciardo had victories (Of course Vettel got his fourth podium at Suzuka). Vettel knows, for the first time in his career, a teammate will  probably beat him in the championship standings. Ricciardo made Vettel human in 2014.

With that said, it hasn't been a catastrophic season for Red Bull and Vettel. They aren't winning every third race and won't be champions but it's been much better than Lotus-Renault who have eight points from fifteen races after having 315 points all of last year, good enough for fourth in the constructors' championship. Red Bull were beat this year but it would be crazy to think Mercedes would keep this much of an advantage in 2015. It looks like Vettel is leaving because of one bad year. The going got rough and instead of holding on, Vettel is abandoning ship.

Who is to say Ferrari is going to be any better than Red Bull in 2015? Maranello has experienced a much rougher season in 2014 than Red Bull. Alonso is performing wonders in that car. He is making an average car look like a contender very easy but we all know that's not the case. What will Vettel do if Ferrari doesn't come out on top and Mercedes and Red Bull remain 1-2 and what if Williams remains third? Vettel doesn't have a manager, he makes deals as he goes along. A one-and-done could be a very real possibility at Ferrari but who would take Vettel if it doesn't work out between him and the Italian manufacture? Who else on the grid beside Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari have the capability of matching the financial numbers Vettel demands? Vettel could be setting himself up to fall out of Formula One before the age of 30 if he is not careful.

As for Vettel's replacement, Daniil Kvyat. While the Russian has scored nine points in 2014 and been able to run comparable laps in qualifying to the senior Red Bull team, is it too soon for the 20-year old? Jean-Éric Vergne paid his dues at Toro Rosso. If anything, he earned that Red Bull seat. He is the second best driver Toro Rosso has ever had behind Vettel. Outside of Vettel victory at Monza in 2008 and his fourth at Shanghai in 2007, the next best finish for a Toro Rosso driver is sixth on three occasions. One being Vitantonio Liuzzi at Shanghai in 2007, the other two belonging to Vergne at Canada last year and Singapore just two weeks ago. And all Vergne gets is his walking papers. He will likely be out of Formula One for good.

Who is Toro Rosso going to promote to team with 17-year old Dutchman Max Verstappen? Carlos Sainz, Jr., who is 20? The 18-year old going on 19-year old Pierre Gasly? Or 21-year old, GP3 championship leader Alex Lynn? Either way, all three options have the same amount of Formula One race experience as Verstappen, zero. Toro Rosso will look like two lost puppies if they hire two drivers with no Formula One experience. Keeping Vergne makes the most sense but it's clear that bridge has been burned.

As for Alonso, I never thought we would see him back at McLaren after what happened in 2007. After the internal riff with Lewis Hamilton and the shenanigans and the Ferrari-McLaren espionage case, I thought Alonso would never be welcomed back in Woking. I thought once Alonso got the Ferrari seat, he would be in red for the remainder of his career. It was a natural fit. He could be the undeniable number one driver at Ferrari. The opportunities seemed endless, especially after all the rumors of Ferrari returning to Le Mans and Alonso waving the Tricolour this year at Le Mans. Do you really think Alonso got the honor of waving the Tricolour because of his Formula One success? If anything, it was a less subtle way of saying, Ferrari is returning to Le Mans than if Luca di Montezemolo had done it or Piero Ferrari.

It seemed Alonso was the man for the job of bringing Ferrari back to Le Mans as one of the best drivers in the last generation of Formula One. Maybe he still is. Maybe all these rumors of an unluckily reunion with McLaren are just that. Maybe he isn't leaving Maranello. Maybe he is leaving Formula One but only to be become Ferrari's lead sports car driver with a return at Le Mans next year with the Garage 56 entry before making a return to LMP1 in 2016.

Or maybe NBCSN's Will Buxton hit the nail on the head at Suzuka:

What if the three-car teams become the way of Formula One in 2015? What if Alonso isn't leaving, rather Ferrari is pulling another seat up to the table for Vettel? Three-car teams are an interesting proposition as they create more desirable seats but the raising questions over whether they would go to veterans or rookies. We'll touch on that in a moment.

As of now, three-car teams aren't happening so let's just stick to the Alonso-to-McLaren rumor. Does he replace Jenson Button or Kevin Magnussen? Button will be turning 35 this January and the senior statesman on the Formula One grid. The last two years have been agonizing for Button who went to McLaren fresh off his world championship in 2009. While he has piled up eight victories in his five years at McLaren, he hasn't won since the 2012 season finale and has only one podium in his last two seasons. Magnussen finished second on debut at Melbourne earlier this year but hasn't been that close to the front of the field since. He has been scoring points regularly and would have much more if it weren't for questionable penalties at Spa and Monza.

I hate to say it but we are possibly watching the final Grands Prix of Jenson Button's Formula One career. He won't go down as an all-time great but his career was anything but uneventful. He was the most highly covenanted prospect for years and then appeared to be the biggest bust in Formula One history. Fortune in the form of Ross Brawn gave Button a chance to show he was truly world championship material and he joined the Pantheon of British world champions joining the likes of Hawthorn, Clark, the Hills, Surtees, Stewart, Hunt, Mansell and Hamilton. No one can take that away from Button.

The IndyCar Pitch to Jenson Button
With Jenson Button's Formula One career appearing to be coming to an end, maybe he should come to the United States and run IndyCar. Here are five reasons why:

1. IndyCar is an Old Man's Game
Good news for you, Jenson Button. If you comes to IndyCar, you easily could race another six or seven years. Look at all the success drivers who would be considered too damn old in Formula One are having.

Hélio Castroneves is turning 40 next year and he just finished second in both the championship and the Indianapolis 500 in 2013.

Your old Formula One rival Juan Pablo Montoya won and finished fourth in the championship and he had been out of an open-wheel car for nearly eight years before returning to IndyCar this year.

Your old BAR-Honda teammate Takuma Sato is turning 38 and loving IndyCar. He is still inconsistent as hell but he gets a pole position a season and has two or three races that makes you think he is turning into a great driver only to follow it up with nine consecutive finishes outside the top 17. If he can do it, you should have no problem in IndyCar.

Tony Kanaan is turning 40 on New Year's Eve and he won an Indianapolis 500 at 38 and finished 2014 seventh in the championship after winning the season finale at Fontana. Plus, Kanaan is super active doing Ironman competition and we all know how much you love to train. Kanaan would be a perfect mate for running or cycling.

Your old karting buddy, Justin Wilson is 36 and is still doing well. Sébastien Bourdais is 35 and is coming off a race win in 2014. In Formula One, you are considered old news but in IndyCar, you would still be considered a star of the future.

2. You Would Still Get To Travel
Guess what? IndyCar is going to Brazil and might be heading to Dubai so there will be a few familiar stops for you and think about all new places you'd get to experience if you came to IndyCar. You'd get to run at Long Beach and I bet you'd love to add your name to the list of winner that already features the likes of Andretti, Villeneuve, Piquet, Lauda, Unser, Zanardi, Montoya, Hunter-Reay, Franchitti and Bourdais.

Ever been to a state fair? You could go with Robin Miller and the gang to the Indiana State Fair and no one would recognize you. You could have a breaded tenderloin and deep-Fried snickers and Oreos and then burn it all off on a 13.1-mile run the following morning.

Like wine? That's a silly question. Who doesn't like wine? IndyCar heads to Wine Country in Sonoma. I bet you and Jessica would love to spend a week out there.

And you'd get to return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for not one but two races. One of which is one of the most historic races in the world.

3. Ovals Aren't That Hard
You would love ovals. Would they be different? Hell yeah but who is against a little challenge? If Carlos Huertas can run all 200 laps in his first Indianapolis 500, you can handle ovals. Look at all the drivers from Formula One backgrounds who did well on ovals: Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Alex Zanardi. Heck, another one of your old teammates Rubens Barrichello did really well on ovals his one year in IndyCar. There is nothing to be worried about when it comes to ovals. You will get plenty of testing and practice.

4. Any Team Can Win
Unlike in Formula One where if the chassis is crap from race one, it's going to be a long season and you might be lucky to get a podium or two; in IndyCar you have a legitimate shot to win every week. The DW12 chassis being the only choice has something to do with it but the DW12 chassis has put on some great racing. Had a bad week? Put it all behind you and move on to the next one. The Chevrolet and Honda engines have become really reliable and the only time you have to worry about engineers telling you how to drive the car is when they want you to conserve some fuel.

5. Choosing IndyCar Is Choosing All Other Forms of Motorsports
The IndyCar season is ridiculously compacted into six months. It's going to be a nonstop sprint but good news is IndyCar team owners aren't stingy in preventing their drivers for moonlighting in other series during the offseason. Want to run the 24 Hours of Daytona? No problem. How about Sebring? Once the season ends in late-August or early-September, take a few weeks for rest and relaxation and then you can plan to do Petit Le Mans or the Bathurst 1000. Look at all the opportunities IndyCar gives you. What driver wouldn't want to be in IndyCar?

To Be Fair, there are reasons why Button shouldn't come to IndyCar. Here are five of them:

1. Xenophobia
It is almost guaranteed if you came to IndyCar Mr. Button, Twitter, comment sections and forums would be full of comments such as "Formula One reject" and "we don't need foreigners." I am pretty sure you would ignore them and I am pretty sure you don't spend your time reading comment sections but it would be inevitable. I don't care if a driver is American, British, German, Brazilian, French, Australian or Japanese. I want a grid to be filled with drivers who are qualified to be there on their talent. Don't get me wrong, IndyCar needs Americans to survive and a few more on the grid would help the series but I don't think IndyCar should be an exclusive all-American series. There are plenty of talented drivers from around the globe and not all of them can land in Formula One. IndyCar would benefit from their presence.

2. Bring Your Own Funding
Your not landing with Penske or Ganassi. Andretti Autosport would be your best option but even then I am not sure they would take (although why would a team turn down Jenson Button?). Outside of those three teams, you are going to have to find your own funding. I know that sounds awful and you have never done that before in your career but it's the state of most motorsports series today including IndyCar.

3. Do You Like Racing at Places with Lots of Elbow Room?
Let's just put it this way, more IndyCar events will look like Bahrain in terms of attendance than Silverstone. Other than Indianapolis, Long Beach, Barber, Toronto, Mid-Ohio and maybe Iowa, the stands will have some bare spots. It doesn't look pretty but don't let that get in the way of how great the racing will be on track. Promoters can worry attendance.

4. You're Not Going to be Making €16 million a Year
This kind of ties into bring your own funding. You'd be fortunate if you made $2 million in a season, let alone the $20 million you make yearly in Formula One and most of your earnings in IndyCar will come from your finish in the Indianapolis 500 and if you crack the top ten in the championship. Because of how IndyCar pays their teams one lump sum known as the Leader Circle fund, race-by-race purses are crap. Winning a race outside of the triple crown races pays a $30,000 bonus, less than a percent of your current contract with McLaren. It's not pretty and it's one of the many areas IndyCar has to improve.

5. Race Control
Understanding the rules will be complicated. Contact at Long Beach that doesn't get you penalized may get you a penalty at Mid-Ohio. There isn't that much blocking. Whether or not your team gets called for a pit lane violation really comes down to which team you are on. Hit an air gun and be driving for Penske or Ganassi, you'll be fine. Hit an air gun and be driving for Dale Coyne, you're probably going to be penalized. Good news is, if you fail technical inspection you won't lose a victory or points. Your team might lose $5,000-$20,000 but that's not too bad of a hit.

If 2014 is your final year in Formula One, I hope you consider IndyCar for 2015 Jenson Button. We would love to have you.

Did NASCAR Get it Wrong Changing the Chase Format?
I calculated the points after Kansas had NASCAR stuck to the Chase format prior to this season.

First off, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson would have made the Chase under last year's format. Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger would not have made it.

After four races, Joey Logano would lead the championship with 2184 points after winning Kansas, his fifth win of the season and second of the Chase. Kyle Larson would second in points with 2164 and finishes of 3rd, 2nd, 6th and 2nd from the first four races.

Here is how the top 12 in the championship would look like:
Joey Logano: 2184
Kyle Larson: -20
Kevin Harvick: -28
Brad Keselowski: -35
Jeff Gordon: -36
Carl Edwards: -54
Ryan Newman: -54
Matt Kenseth: -56
Jimmie Johnson: -59
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: -74
Greg Biffle: -83
Clint Bowyer: -87

The intervals would be bigger but no one would have been eliminated already or be guaranteed to be eliminated after Talladega in two weeks.

In reality, because of a bad race at Kansas, Keselowski, Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. are all on the outside of the second round cutline despite winning five races, three races and three races respectively. The new Chase format was meant to make winning worth more but with those three drivers sitting 22, 25 and 27 points on the outside and Jeff Gordon who has won four races on the bubble, only eight points to the good, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth both have yet to win a race and sit in position to advance to the next round.

Those three all have a shot of winning at Charlotte or Talladega and locking themselves into the next round regardless of their position in the points but this do-or-die feeling is contrived. This isn't what motorsports is about. It is about a season-long journey with the aggregate of all the races deciding the champion, not nearly three-quarters of the season shrinking the championship contenders down to a little more than a dozen, then the aggregate of three races deciding which drivers still alive and which drivers are eliminated in three rounds. It's disappointing NASCAR can't leave the Cup Series championship alone and let it be decided organically like they do the Nationwide Series and Truck Series.

Penne Toro Rosa
I was fortunate to have dinner with my uncle on Saturday night (we went out for pasta hence the title) and as usually we talked motorsports. First we talked about ticket prices for the United States Grand Prix. My uncle, who will be turning fifty in less than a month, brought up that the current generation of current college students and recent college graduates are struggling to find jobs and are deep in debt and aren't going to spend $150 for general admission. He continued saying twenty years from now Formula One will have lost many potential fans because they were priced out and couldn't afford to experience it in their younger days. As someone in that category of current college student/recent college graduate I understand exactly what he is talking about.

We then talked about three-car teams in Formula One. While he was intrigued by the idea, he thought making three-car teams mandatory would not solve the issue of it being too expensive for teams to compete in Formula One. He said other than Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren, which teams could field three cars without being financially stretched too thin? Instead of having Caterham, Marussia and Sauber struggle to stay on the grid, now Lotus, Force India and Williams are struggling to stay on the grid with three-car teams.

The question I have about three car teams is where are the drivers going to come from? Let's say Caterham and Sauber go away after this year. Are Adrian Sutil, Esteban Gutiérrez, Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi just going to fill those seats? Are the likes of Nico Hülkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Sergio Pérez going to get promotions or would these third seats go to drivers in junior formulas? Do will see the likes of Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Bruno Senna return to Formula One?

Random Thoughts
Why isn't there a 16-hour endurance race? We have 6, 8, 10, 12 and 24 hours races and starting this December a 32-hour race but no one does a race between once and twice around the clock. You could start a race at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. and have end at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Just throwing it at the wall and seeing if it sticks.

The Maxi Endurance 32 Hours is too long. Twenty-four hour races is long enough. Spa and Thunderhill each do 25-hour races but an extra hour isn't that bad. An extra eight is mind-boggling.

Daniel Ricciardo made a set of great passes on the outside of turn six into turn seven, first on Massa then on Bottas. Lewis Hamilton's pass for the lead and ultimately the victory on the outside of Nico Rosberg into turn one.

Champions From the Weekend
Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa won the Prototype championship in the first year of the United SportsCar Championship. The pair won three races and scored eight podiums.

Kuno Wittmer won the GTLM championship. Wittmer won two races and scored seven podiums.

Dane Cameron won the GTD championship. Cameron won four races and scored six podiums.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and Joey Logano but did you know...

Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Max Angelelli won Petit Le Mans. The Taylor brothers become the first Americans to win Petit Le Mans overall. The #8 Starworks Oreca of Renger van der Zande, Alex Popow, Mirco Schultis and John Martin won in PC. Team Falken Tire won GTLM for the second consecutive year with drivers Wolf Henzler, Bryan Sellers and Marco Holzer. The #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi of Bryce Miller, Christopher Haase and Matthew Bell won in GTD.

Jari-Matti Latvala won the WRC Rallye de France Alsace. He cut the gap to Sébastien Ogier down to 27 points after the Frenchman finished eleventh after lost many minutes on day one due to gearbox issues.

Sylvain Guintoli and Marco Melandri split the World Superbike weekend at Magny-Cours. Jules Cluzel won in Supersport.

Tom Chilton and Robert Huff each picked up their first wins of the 2014 WTCC season at Beijing.

James Rossiter and Kazuki Nakajima won their second consecutive Super GT race in GT500 in Thailand. Kazuki Hoshino and Lucas Ordóñez won in GT300. Rossiter takes a 3-point lead in the GT500 championship. Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka extended their GT300 championship lead to nine points.

Kyle Busch won the Nationwide Series race at Kansas.

Coming Up This Weekend
Don't plan on sleeping this Saturday into Sunday.

NASCAR is at Charlotte Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Bathurst 1000 also begins at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The FIA World Endurance Championship is at Fuji and begins at 10 p.m. ET Saturday night.
MotoGP is also in Japan, running at Motegi with the race starting at 1:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning.
WTCC will be in Shanghai and race one is scheduled for 3:00 a.m. ET.
Formula One will make their inaugural stop to Sochi, Russia at 7:00 a.m. ET.
Asian Le Mans Series is at Shanghai with WTCC and will race Saturday morning at 3:00 a.m. ET.