Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Four: Homebush, Fuji, Thunderhill, Laguna Seca

We have entered the final month of 2016 but the motorsport season is still kicking. A championship ends, another reaches the halfway point and an endurance race is held in Northern California. Plus, a young driver will become $200,000 richer at Laguna Seca.

Homebush Street Circuit
The final round of the 2016 Supercars season is the Sydney 500 from the Homebush Street Circuit, which will be hosting the Supercars for the final time. The round has been the season finale every year on the calendar since the inaugural running in 2009.

The championship will come down to one of two drivers and both drive for Red Bull Racing Australia. Shane Van Gisbergen enters with the championship lead on 3,089 points, 191 points ahead of Jamie Whincup. Van Gisbergen heads to the finale with seven victories and has eight consecutive podium finishes. Whincup has six victories this season, including three victories and five podium finishes in the last six races.

Van Gisbergen could become the third New Zealander to win the Supercars championship and be the first to do it since Jim Richards won his fourth title in 1991. The other New Zealander to take top honors was Robbie Francevic in 1986. Whincup is looking for his record extending seventh championship. Van Gisbergen and Whincup have combined to win the last eight races on the Homebush Street Circuit with Whincup holding the advantage of five victories to Van Gisbergen's three.

Craig Lowndes is trying to make it a clean sweep of the top three of the championship for Red Bull Racing Australia but Lowndes has not finished in the top five in the last eight races. He holds a 21-point advantage over Volvo's Scott McLaughlin, who has four podium finishes in the last six races. Will Davison rounds out the top five in the championship with 2,403 points, 19 points ahead of his former teammate and defending champion Mark Winterbottom.

Chaz Mostert is seventh in the championship on 2,235 point and is the top driver without a victory. Michael Caruso is the top Nissan driver in the championship in eighth on 2,110 points, 27 points ahead of Tim Slade. Garth Tander rounds out the top ten in the championship with 1,976, 12 points ahead of Fabian Coulthard and 27 points ahead of James Courtney.

The first race of the weekend will take place at 11:45 p.m. ET on Friday December 2nd. The season finale will take place at 11:40 p.m. ET on Saturday December 3rd.

Fuji Speedway
The second round of the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series season takes place at Fuji Speedway.

The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes and Ho-Pin Tung won the season opener at Zhuhai and will be joined by Thomas Laurent this weekend. Korean driver Tacksung Kim finished second at Zhuhai in the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Judd and he will be joined by Jonathan Hirschi and Mark Patterson this weekend. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Nissan finished third at Zhuhai but the only returning driver is Michael Munemann, who will be joined by Andrea Roda and Andrea Pizzitola. The final LMP2 entry is the #8 Race Performance Oreca-Judd of Giorio Maggi, Struan Moore and Fabien Schiller.

Nine cars are entered in LMP3. The #1 Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier-Nissan of David Cheng, James Winslow and Pu Jun Jin won the season opener by over two laps in class over the #26 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson. The #85 G-Print by Triple 1 Racing Ligier of Hanss Lin and Julio Acosta finished third in the season opener but only Lin is on the entry list for Fuji. The ARC Bratislava Ginettas finished fourth and fifth in class with the #4 Ginetta of Miro Konopka, Darren Burke and Mike Simpson ahead of the #7 Ginetta of Neale Muston and Konstantins Calko.

Fifteen cars are entered in the GT class. The #38 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Rui Águas, Marco Cioci and Nasrat Muzayyin won the season opener ahead of the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Mok Weng Sun, Keita Sawa and Matt Griffen. Key Cozzolino and Corey Lewis finished third at Zhuhai and they will be joined by Super GT driver Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #6 VS Racing Lamborghini. The #5 DH Racing Ferrari finished fourth in Zhuhai and Michele Rugolo will be joined by Matthieu Vaxivière and Stéphane Lémeret. The #2 Absolute Racing Audi of Cheng Congfu, Stephen Lin and Alessio Picariello finished fifth in class at Zhuhai.

The 4 Hours of Fuji will start at 10:45 p.m. ET on Saturday December 3rd.

25 Hours of Thunderhill
This weekend marks the 15th running of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Flying Lizard Motorsports won last year's race and returns with two cars. The #45 Audi has Darren Law, Johannes van Overbeek, Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund as the line-up with Thomas Sadler III, Andy Wilzoch, Will Owen and Charlie Hayes in the #74 Porsche.

Bryan Herta returns to competition for the first time since 2008 in the #5 Ryno Racing Team Ginetta LMP3 car. His son Colton joins him as well as Colin Braun, Parker Chase and Ryan Carpenter. Herta isn't the only former IndyCar race winner in the event. Al Unser, Jr. returns for another year in the #52 JFC Racing Wolf with Ryan Eversley, Miles Jackson and Todd Harris as his co-drivers.

Le Mans winner and runner-up in the 1996 Indianapolis 500 Davy Jones drives the #19 Patent It! Panoz GTS with Paul Edwards, Anthony Lisa, Steven Lisa and Chuck Hemmingson. Indy Lights race winner Sean Rayhall leads the #67 One Motorsports/Desert West Radical with John Falb, Todd Sluher and Jesse Menczer.

Mazda has entered three Global MX-5 Cup cars. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher C.J. Wilson is entered in the #55 Mazda with Taz Harvey, Richard Fisher and Scott Clark. Michael Brockman, Ben Robertaccio, Camden Jones and Thomas Bogar make up the #56 Mazda. Liam Dyer, Spencer Brockman, Mark Abouzeid and Steve McAleer are in the #70 Mazda.

The 25 Hours of Thunderhill starts at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturyda December 3rd.

Mazda Road to Indy Shootout
While not occurring this weekend but in the middle of next week, one driver will win a $200,000 scholarship to compete in U.S. F2000 in 2017. Eighteen drivers from eight countries head to Laguna Seca for the two-day Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.

Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood lead the driver line-up heading to Laguna Seca. Peter Portante, who made 30 U.S. F2000 starts from 2013-15 and has four career podiums, will participate after finishing runner-up in the F1600 championship to Neil Verhagen, who also won the Formula F1600 championship at the SCCA Runoffs but Verhagen will not be participating in the Shootout. Texan Trenton Estep won the Toyo Tires F1600 championship in Canada. Another Texan in the Shootout will be Skip Barber Racing Series champion Timo Reger. Oklahoman Nigel Saurian qualifies after winning the Formula Continental championship at the SCCA Runoffs.

Pacific F2000 champion Tim de Silva and Formula Car Challenge representative Jonathan Sugianto both hail from California. Pittsburgh's Matthew Machiko qualified after winning the Formula Mazda championship at the SCCA Runoffs and at 25 years old, he is the oldest driver in the competition. Austin Garrison rounds out the Americans in the competition after winning the Rotax MAX Challenge.

There are eight international drivers coming to the United States to compete in the Shootout. Scottish Formula Ford 1600 champion Neil MacLennan, Mountney Formula Ford Super Series champion Oliver White and BRSCC F1600 champion Niall Murray all come from across the Atlantic. New Zealander Michael Scott earned a spot after winning the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, the same series Scott Dixon won almost twenty years ago. Australia's Will Brown finished second in Australia Formula Ford and won the Australia Formula Four championship.

MMSC MRF F1600 India Championship sends championship runner-up Karthik Tharani to the Shootout. Mexican Axel Matus won the Formula Panam Championship and the final driver in the Shootout is Mazda Road to Indy Brazil champion Marcel Coletta, the youngest driver in the competitions at 14 years of age.

Unlike a traditional race weekend, the drivers will be split into four groups and each group will get three-30 minutes sessions on Tuesday December 6th. On Wednesday December 7th, the drivers will be split into four groups again and each group will have another 30-minute session. In the afternoon, the 18 drivers will be split into two groups and each group will have a 30-minute qualifying session before the 30-minute simulation race, which will be held at 4:30 p.m. ET.

The winner of the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship will be announced at 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday December 7th.

1. Over or Under: 162.5 points scored this weekend by Michael Caruso at Homebush?
2. Over or Under: 1.5 LMP3 cars on the lead lap in class at Fuji?
3. Over or Under: 10.5 cars completing 600 laps in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill?
4. Over or Under: 7.5 American drivers mentioned in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout recap?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Nine cars finished within a minute of Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi.
2. Over: There were six retirements during the GP2 weekend.
3. Under: Santino Ferrucci scored two points at Abu Dhabi.
4. Under: José María López ended the 2016 WTCC season with 381 points.

1. Someone other than Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup will win at Homebush.
2. There will be at least four European drivers represented in the three class winners.
3. The Ryno Racing Ginetta finishes in the top five overall.
4. A driver between the ages of 18 and 19 win the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.

Last Week's Predictions 
1. One of the top six in the championship retire from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Wrong. The top six all finished).
2. At least one GP2 race features two drivers from the same country on the podium (Wrong. Six podium places, five nationalities but Sergey Sirotkin and Artem Markelov finished on the podium in separate races).
3. Charles Leclerc wins one of the GP3 races this weekend (Wrong. Leclerc's best finish was ninth).
4. Citroën puts two cars on the podium in each race from Qatar (Half right. There were two Citroën's on the podium for the second race).
Last Week: 0.5/5 Overall: 25.5/49

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

Today is the final day of November and before we start the final month of 2016, let's look back on the Formula One predictions made for 2016 seeing as the season that wrapped up a few days ago.

1. There Will Be At Least Four Race Winners and One Will Be a First Time Winner
Correct. I got this one on the money. The Mercedes were locks. The other two weren't. I thought 2016 would be the year Ferrari could take the fight to Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel would threatened for the championship. That didn't happen. The Red Bulls were on the heels of Mercedes all season. I didn't see Max Verstappen's early promotion coming and sure enough he won his Red Bull debut with Daniel Ricciardo picking up a victory in Malaysia. Ricciardo could have won Monaco as well. I thought the first time winner could have been Valtteri Bottas or Sergio Pérez or Nico Hülkenberg.

2. Nico Rosberg Will Not Lead Germans in Victories
Wrong. Like I said above, I thought Ferrari could take the fight to Mercedes this season and I thought the championship would come down to Lewis Hamilton and Vettel. That wasn't the case. Ferrari took a big step back from 2015 but Rosberg didn't fade.

3. There Will Be At Least One Incident Where a Mercedes Retires Because of Contact With Another Mercedes
Correct. And wasn't it a doozy. Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton coming together at Barcelona still has us talking. Was it Rosberg's fault for blocking and being in the wrong engine mode? Was it on Hamilton for trying to pass him in the grass? And it nearly happened again in Austria! Hamilton was able to continue and Rosberg limped home dragging his front wing.

4. Alain Prost Will Still Have A Share Of Second All-Time In Victories After the 2016 Season
Wrong. Once again, I didn't think it would have been as much of a run away. I thought the season would mostly be split three ways with Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg all getting five to six victories and the other races being split by the rest of the field. I didn't think Hamilton could win eight races in a season let alone ten.

5. Haas F1 Scores At Least One Points Before Hungary
Correct. The team had eight points after Australia. Romain Grosjean's drive in the team's debut was exhilarating and then Grosjean backed it up with a fifth at Bahrain. The team had 28 points by Hungary. They only scored one point after Hungary but it was a great start of the season for Haas. Now can they pick it up for year two?

6. Manor Scores At Least Two Points
Wrong. Manor scored one point thanks to Pascal Wehrlein's tenth at Austria. That was it. The team was quicker than last season but was still toward the back and didn't have the pace to work their way through the middle of the pack. The teams best races outside of Austria was Brazil, where both cars appeared to have a shot at points in the rain and Abu Dhabi, where the teammate ran each other off course but both finished on the lead lap.

7. McLaren Will Be At Least the Second-Best British Constructor
Correct. To be fair, I made this prediction before Renault bought Lotus and there were still four British constructors on the grid. Once the purchase was complete, Williams, McLaren and Manor were the three British constructors left on the grid and being the second-best of those three wasn't all that impressive but McLaren didn't make a noticeable improvement over 2015.

8. A Driver That Has Never Had a 100-Plus Point Season Scores 100 Points or More
Correct. Max Verstappen did it and not only did he break the 100-point plateau, he scored 204 points in his sophomore season. And the good news is Verstappen wasn't the only one to score over 100 points for the first time in his career in 2016. Sergio Pérez ended up with 101 points.

9. There Will Be At Least Two Driver Changes During The Season
Correct. The first was unexpected as Fernando Alonso hurt his back after he barrel rolled in Melbourne and Stoffel Vandoorne substituted for him at Bahrain and he scored a point on his debut. The other was Rio Haryanto being benched by Manor after Germany and replaced by Esteban Ocon.

10. At Least One Driver Who Didn't Score in 2015 Scores At Least 21 Points
Wrong. The closest of those drivers was the Kevin Magnussen and he only scored seven points.

11. A Track On the 2016 Schedule Announces It Won't Be On the 2017 Schedule
Semi-correct? It appears Hockenheim won't be back in 2017. The original deal was Hockenheim hosted the German Grand Prix in even-numbered years and the Nürburgring hosted odd-numbered years but since Nürburgring has negated its responsibility in the deal, Hockenheim doesn't have to take over hosting the German Grand Prix yearly. Hockenheim was on the provisional schedule but it appears it won't return and Interlagos may not return in 2017. Let's not forget that Singapore and Malaysia appear to no longer fancy Formula One. Singapore has a deal through 2017 and Malaysia's deal is through 2018. After the longest season in Formula One history in 2016, the series could fall back to more reasonable schedule lengths in the near future. We will have to wait and see before confirming.

12. Formula One is Agreed to be Sold Before End of 2016
Correct. Liberty Media Corporation has agreed to buy Formula One from CVC and now we gaze into the horizon, uncertain of the future will be.

Let's say seven and a half of 12 right now. I will be honest; I am most surprised the first one was correct. Not so much that four drivers would win but there would be a first time winner. There are some good drivers in Formula One who have yet to get to feel the glory of standing on the top step of the podium. I thought it was a stretch but we were bound to have a flukey race where things go wrong for the usual front-runners and someone sneaks through. That happened to be Barcelona and Barcelona just happened to be the first race for Max Verstappen at Red Bull and it just happened he was in the right place on that day.

Don't forget to catch out revisited predictions for IndyCar and NASCAR.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Since I Wrote About Lewis, I Will Write About Nico

You would think if you were writing the day after the World Drivers' Championship was decided you would be writing about the World Drivers' Champion but that wasn't the case as the runner-up got all the spoils yesterday. Nico Rosberg is clubhouse leader to become the champion we all will forget next to Jody Scheckter and Alan Jones.

Scheckter and Jones both won a title but when you think late-1970s, early-1980s Formula One, Gilles Villeneuve is mentioned before those two but his death during his prime probably adds to his mystique. Heck Ronnie Peterson, Carlos Reutemann and maybe even John Watson are more synonymous with that era than Scheckter and Jones. Rosberg sits somewhere along those two in the background of those with glory but not holding the imaginations of the populous. 

It is hard to like Rosberg because it feels like nobody likes Rosberg. On the podium in Abu Dhabi, while fighting back tears he directed his message to the team to get ready for the celebration and turn the music on because he would soon be there to join them. Once he navigated his way back to the garage, ignoring his commitment to do the post-race press conference, he enters and the team isn't there awaiting his arrival. The champagne had already been opened and the team was off in clusters chatting and drinking but more like it was an office Christmas party than a championship celebration. Rosberg wanted to know where the music is. He wanted a raucous celebration. The music was playing. It was "Sympathy for the Devil." 

Despite wanting to celebrate, an official ushered him with his wife by his side to the pressroom for him to do his post-race comments. Queen's "We Are The Champions" played in the garage while he was across the paddock. 

It felt like the team didn't even want to embrace him. Was "Sympathy for the Devil" Rosberg's choice? Was the man in the black hat taking on the role of black hat compared to his white-hatted teammate? Or was the team sending a message about how it feels having him as champion? 

After all Rosberg is a man of wealth and taste. He is a silver spoon, German by choice, raised in Monaco, talented driver who doesn't seem real. He comes off as someone with no real life experiences. Does he know what it means to struggle? Does he know what sacrifice is? The last three years hasn't helped him. Before this reign of Mercedes dominance, Rosberg had won three times, had 11 career podiums, four pole positions and his best finish in the championship was sixth. Since then he has won twenty times, finished second in the championship twice and the third year proved to be the charm and he ended up winning the world championship. 

His choice to be German arguably is the reason he became world champion. Had he decided to be Finnish like his father or taken the neutral nationality of Monegasque, he might be out of Formula One. Mercedes bought Brawn and Mercedes wanted German drivers. They wanted a German at McLaren after the Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen spells and Adrian Sutil was high on the list because he was a pal at the time with Hamilton but Mercedes' entry knocked world champion Jenson Button out of a seat and the British team swooped in to pick up the British champion. 

Mercedes wanted Germans and it brought the national hero Michael Schumacher out of retired and paired him the only German of respect and that just happened to be Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel was tied with Red Bull and was on the precipice of something great. Nico Hülkenberg was just entering Formula One but the manufacture returning to Formula One after five-and-a-half decades away couldn't have a rookie leading its return. It would have been too much pressure on Hülkenberg. Nick Heidfeld had experience but we had seen all he could be. Heidfeld was reliable but not great. The same could be said of Timo Glock. Rosberg just happened to be the best of a mediocre batch of Germans and it kept his career alive. Had he been Finnish, maybe Heidfeld would have looked much better to Mercedes or Mercedes ties its hitch to Hülkenberg as their young German to go toe-to-toe with Vettel. Had he been Finnish, Rosberg would have been Heikki Kovalainen, only Kovalainen had won a grand prix by the start of the 2010 season. 

Rosberg isn't going to go down as an all-time greats. His name won't be tossed about with Jim Clark, Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna. With new regulations approaching Rosberg could fall back to Earth. His ascension up the record books could stall somewhere near Nigel Mansell's 31 victories if it even gets that high. 

As much as I ripped Rosberg's career a part in the previous 811 words, I believe Rosberg is a good guy. Those tears yesterday weren't some acting job to make people believe he cared. It has been a long and difficult road for him. Only Mansell had raced more seasons before winning his first title. There were probably times at Williams when the world championship didn't seem possible for Rosberg. He embraced his wife in parc fermé and had her by his side after he got down from the podium. This was their moment as much as it was his. 

Rosberg might not be the inspiring driver like Clark, Fangio and Senna but he isn't a hack. Sure, it seemed like there was never a driver who tired harder to throw away a championship than he did this year. He nearly caused a war after Barcelona... and again after Austria... and he tested how hard the stewards would bite by violating the radio regulations at Silverstone. He got nipped but was never mangled. He could have been disqualified after either Austria or Silverstone but he wasn't. Had he been, the world championship wouldn't have been his and history would probably have him as a driver in position to be champion only to throw it all away because he didn't have the confidence to win it without taking his title rivals out with him. He still is that driver who is shaky when challenged only now he has the hardware on his mantel. 

Maybe Rosberg can change his legacy over whatever time remains in his career but it may already be cemented. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Can Lewis Catch Michael?

Nico Rosberg took the World Drivers' Championship with a second-place finish to his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. One teammate jumped another in GP2. The top three drivers in GP3 entering the final weekend of 2016 scored a combined total of four points the entire weekend. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button said goodbye. So did José María López but in a different series and in a different country. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Can Lewis Catch Michael?
Lewis Hamilton may not have picked up his fourth World Drivers' Championship this season but his ten victories in 2016 has vaulted him to second all-time in Grand Prix victories with 53. He trails Michael Schumacher by 38 for the all-time lead.

Since joining Mercedes in 2013, Hamilton has won 32 times for an average of eight victories in those four seasons with a median of ten. If Hamilton keeps up on his median at Mercedes, he will surpass Schumacher sometime during the 2020 season but to expect him to win ten races a season for another four seasons considering he has had double-digit win totals for three consecutive seasons is unrealistic. As of today, only seven times has a driver had double-digit victories in a season. We would be asking Hamilton to have double-digit victories for seven consecutive seasons. What Hamilton has done already is monumental. Any more just adds to his legend.

With new regulations coming for 2017, Mercedes is still expected to be one of the top teams but to expect the dominance of the last three years to continue at the same rate seems highly unlikely. Formula One ebbs and flows and it is bound to slip away from Mercedes just as it slipped away from Red Bull after four consecutive drivers' and constructors' title and from Ferrari after the Schumacher-era of dominance at the turn of the 21st century.

With all that said, can Lewis Hamilton catch Michael Schumacher?

As stated before, Hamilton trails Schumacher by 38 victories. Schumacher's final victory was the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix and it came when he was 37 years old and just over four months away from his 38th birthday. Hamilton turns 32 years old on January 7th, four days after Schumacher's birthday. Let's say Hamilton races to the same age as Schumacher did in his first Formula One stint, that would mean Hamilton would run six more seasons and take him to the 2022 season. He would have to average 6.333 victories a season to catch Schumacher by the end of 2022. While that seems doable considering his last three seasons, it should be noted that prior to the 2013 season the most race Hamilton had won in a season was five in 2008 and his current average through ten seasons is 5.3 victories a year with a median of four victories.

If Hamilton reverts to four victories a season for the next six seasons, he would end 2022 with 77 victories, 14 behind Schumacher. If he gets five victories a season to 2022, he would be on 83 victories and within shouting distance of the all-time record.

Few drivers make it to 37 years of age in Formula One. Kimi Räikkönen is 37 years old and will turn 38 years old late in 2017. Felipe Massa and Jenson Button retired from the series at the ages of 35 and 36 respectively this year. Fernando Alonso will turn 36 years old next July but his future in Formula One is cloudy beyond 2017. Rubens Barrichello's final start came when he was 39 years old and Jarno Trulli was 37 years old when he made his final start, as was David Coulthard. It isn't so much can Hamilton race until he is 37 but can Hamilton remain at this top level for the better part of a decade or will the likes of Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat, Carlos Sainz, Jr., Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne force him out of a top seat when he starts to slip in performance?

While the record for most Grand Prix victories is a daunting task for Hamilton, there are plenty of other records within his grasp and he is already at the top of many categories in the record book. He has 61 pole positions, third all-time behind Schumacher's 68 and Ayrton Senna's 65. He is third all-time in podiums with 104, two behind Alain Prost and 51 behind Schumacher and he has finished on the podium in 55.32% of his starts, behind only Dorino Serafini (who finished second in his only start), Luigi Fagioli (six podiums in seven starts), Juan Manuel Fangio, Nino Farina and José Froilán González. Hamilton has matched the record of 17 podium finishes in a season the last two seasons. Hamilton has scored the most points in Formula One history, although that is an inflated statistics as more points are awarded and awarded to more positions than any other era of Formula One.

Hamilton has led a lap in 99 grand prix; only Schumacher has more at 142 grand prix. He has led 2,990 laps; only Schumacher has more at 5,111 laps. He has won 32 times from pole position, only Schumacher has done it more at 40 times.

Regardless of whether or not Hamilton gets 91 victories or more, his name already covers the record books as much as the likes of Schumacher, Senna and Fangio. It is not likely Hamilton will reach Schumacher but he doesn't have to for his greatness will already be known.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Rosberg but did you know...

Pierre Gasly clinched the GP2 Series championship with a feature race victory and Prema Racing teammate Antonio Giovinazzi finishing fifth and sixth in the two races.

Charles Leclerc clinched the GP3 Series championship after title rival Alexander Albon retired in the first race from Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Abu Dhabi but did you know...

Alex Lynn won the GP2 sprint race from Abu Dhabi.

Nick de Vries and Jake Hughes split the GP3 races from Abu Dhabi

Gabrielle Tarquini and Mehdi Bennani split the WTCC finale from Qatar.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Supercars end its season on the street of Sydney's Olympic Park one final time.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill features names such as Unser, Herta, Eversley and Braun.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Four: Another Persian Night

The final weekend of November sees four championships wrap up their 2016 seasons and all will take place in the Persian Gulf, most of the races occurring under the lights. Three championships will be decided and a theme of the weekend is battle between teammates for top honors.

Formula One
The 21st and final round of the longest Formula One season takes place at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The Mercedes teammates enter with Nico Rosberg looking for his first title and to join his father Keke among the few drivers to win the World Drivers' Championship. Lewis Hamilton looks to ascend to another atmosphere with his fourth championship.

Rosberg has 367 points from 20 races with Hamilton sitting on 355 points. Rosberg clinches the title with a podium finish. The teammates cannot finish tied on points if Hamilton wins the race. If Hamilton finishes second and Rosberg finishes seventh, Hamilton would win on tiebreaker based on third-place finishes. Each driver would have nine victories and four runner-up finishes while Hamilton would have four third-place finishes to Rosberg's two. The only other possibility for a tie would be Hamilton finishing fourth and Rosberg finishing outside the points and Rosberg would win on that tiebreaker with four runner-up finishes to Hamilton's three.

Rosberg won last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with Hamilton finishing second. Hamilton has won at Yas Marina twice, in 2011 and 2014 with the latter clinching him his second world title. Rosberg has started on pole position the last two years at Yas Marina. Hamilton has started on pole position twice at Yas Marina but he has retired from both of those races. Hamilton has finished ahead of his teammate in the world championship in eight of his previous nine seasons. The lone exception was 2011 where Jenson Button finished second and Hamilton finished fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo is locked to finish third in the championship but the battle is for fourth with Sebastian Vettel five points ahead of Ricciardo's Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Kimi Räikkönen could finish ahead of Verstappen but he is 14 points behind the Dutchman. Sergio Pérez is seventh in the championship on 97 points, 12 ahead of Valterri Bottas. Nico Hülkenberg sits in ninth on 66 points. Fernando Alonso rounds out the top ten on 55 points.

Felipe Massa heads to his final Formula One race sitting 11th in the championship on 51 points. This will be 252nd grand prix entry and he will be trying to start his 250th grand prix. Five points behind Massa is Carlos Sainz, Jr., who has finished sixth in two of the last three races. Romain Grosjean sits on 29 points and is four points ahead of Daniil Kyvat.

Jenson Button heads to his final grand prix before take a sabbatical from Formula One in 2017. This will be Button's 308th grand prix entry and he will attempt to make his 305th start. Button will tie Michael Schumacher for second all-time in entries but will be one behind the German in the starts column. Kevin Magnussen has seven points. Felipe Nasr sits on two points after a ninth-place finish at his home race in Brazil finally got Sauber on the scoreboard. Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and McLaren-reserve Stoffel Vandoorne are tied on one point. Esteban Gutiérrez, Marcus Ericsson and Esteban Ocon all have one final shot to get points this season.

The 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be held at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 27th.

Three drivers could leave Yas Marina as GP2 champion.

Prema Racing teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Pierre Gasly are 1-2 in the championship with the Italian holding a seven-points advantage with 197 points to 190 points after a victory and fourth-place finished at Sepang while Gasly finished outside the points in the first race that weekend and finished third in the sprint race. Giovinazzi has won three of the last six races and has four podium finishes in that time frame while Gasly has a victory, a second and a third in the last six races.

Giovinazzi started the season with five finishes outside the points in the first seven races but the two races he did score were at Baku where he won both races. Gasly started the season with four finishes outside the points in the first seven races but had two runner-up finishes and a third-place finish.

Russian Time's Raffaele Marciello trails his fellow Italian by 39 points. He has not won a race this season but has two runner-up finishes and four third-place finishes. For Marciello to win this title, he will have to win a race. The most points he could score without a victory is 38 points.

ART Grand Prix's Sergey Sirotkin sits fourth in the championship with 135 points and won twice this year. Racing Engineering's Jordan King and Norman Nato are tied on 122 points and each driver has won twice. Trident Racing's Luca Ghiotto is coming off his first career GP2 victory and has 111 points and he is four points ahead of MP Motorsport Oliver Rowland. DAMS Alex Lynn has 105 points and has two victories. Campos Racing's Mitch Evans rounds out the top ten with 89 points and has won once.

Race one for GP2 will be at 9:40 a.m. ET on Saturday November 26th with the final race of 2016 scheduled for 5:20 a.m. on Sunday November 27th.

Like GP2, three drivers are fighting for the championship in the GP3 finale.

ART Grand Prix drivers Charles Leclerc and Alexander Albon are 1-2 in the championship with the Monegasque leading the Thai driver by 29 points. Leclerc has won three times but not since the feature race at Spa-Francorchamps six races ago. Albon has four victories but Leclerc has an average finish of 2.875 in feature races to Albon's 4.5. Trident Racing's Antonio Fuoco trails Leclerc by 45 points and the only way he can win the championship is by winning the feature race, finish in the top two of the sprint race and score all the bonus points for pole position and fastest laps and Leclerc scores fewer than three points. The fewest points Leclerc has scored in a race weekend this year is 16 points.

Arden International drivers Jake Dennis and Jack Aitken are fourth and fifth in the championship on 121 points and 119 points respectively. Dennis has won two of the last five races while Aitken has finished on the podium in four of the last five. ART Grand Prix's Nyck de Vries has 108 points and he won the sprint race at Monza three races ago. Koiranen GP's Matt Parry sits on 82 points, nine ahead of ART Grand Prix's Nirei Fukuzumi. DAMS Jakes Hughes and Jenzer Motorsport Arjan Maini round out the top ten on 69 points and 50 points respectively.

American Santino Ferrucci sits 12th in the championship on 34 points driving for DAMS and is 14 points behind Ralph Boschung, who will not compete this weekend. Ferrucci's best finish this season was third in the sprint race at Spa-Francorchamps but has only scored in five of 16 races and has not finished in the points in the last four races.

GP3 will race at 3:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 26th and at 4:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 27th.

World Touring Car Championship
José María López has already locked up the World Touring Car Championship but the final round of the 2016 season from the Losail International Circuit marks the final round of his WTCC career as he will focus on Formula E and joins Toyota's FIA WEC program. The Argentine driver has won three consecutive championships and has won 29 of 69 starts, leaving him second all-time in WTCC in victories behind only his Citroën teammate Yvan Muller's 48 victories.

Muller is second in the championship on 235 points but has only one victory this season. He is 31 points ahead of Honda's Tiago Monteiro, who has won twice this season. Honda's Norbert Michelisz is fourth in the championship on 190 points, ten ahead of another Honda driver in Robert Huff. Mehdi Bennani is four points behind Huff with Lada's Nicky Catsburg five points behind the Moroccan. Tom Chilton has 145 points and is in eighth with Gabriele Tarquini and Tom Coronel rounding out the top ten on 116 point and 109 points respectively.

The final races of the WTCC will take place at 1:20 p.m. ET and 2:35 p.m. ET on Friday November 25th.

1. Over or Under: 6.5 cars within a minute of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner?
2. Over or Under: 5.5 retirements during the GP2 weekend?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 points scored by Santino Ferrucci?
4. Over or Under: 399.5 points being José María López's final total for the 2016 season?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Three laps separated the GTE-Pro winning #95 Aston Martin and the GTE-Am winning #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche.
2. Under: There were seven cautions in the Cup race at Homestead.
3. Under: Only two championship ineligible drivers finished in the top five of the Xfinity Series race.
4. Over: GMS Racing led 76 laps in the Truck race and Kyle Larson led all 76 laps.
5. Over: Hyundai drivers scored 40 points in Rally Australia.

1. One of the top six in the championship retire from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
2. At least one GP2 race features two drivers from the same country on the podium.
3. Charles Leclerc wins one of the GP3 races this weekend.
4. Citroën puts two cars on the podium in each race from Qatar.

Last Week's Predictions 
1. All point leaders entering Bahrain leave Bahrain as champions (Correct. The #2 Porsche, #95 Aston Martin and #83 AF Corse Ferrari all left as champions).
2. We get our seventh different winner in the last seven Homestead Cup races (Correct. Jimmie Johnson won at Homestead for the first time in his career).
3. There is caution in the final ten laps of the Xfinity Series race (Correct. The final caution came with ten laps to go).
4. Two of the four Truck championship eligible drivers finish outside the top five (Correct. Actually, three finished outside the top five; Matt Crafton in seventh, Christopher Bell in eighth and Timothy Peters in ninth).
5. Jari-Matti Latvala gets his first podium finish since Rally Finland (Wrong. Latvala finished ninth in his final rally with Volkswagen).
Last Week: 4/5 Overall: 25/45

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

2016 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

The NASCAR season is just behind us and with Thanksgiving a day a way, it is time for the annual tradition of looking back on predictions made 11 months ago.

1. Kyle Busch Leads Joe Gibbs Racing Solely in Cup Victories
Correct! Busch won four races while Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards each had three victories and Matt Kenseth won twice. I will be honest; outside of his Daytona 500 victory, I can't recall anything Hamlin did during the season and I remember watching Watkins Glen a race he won. Then again, I don't recall either of Kenseth's victories.

2. At Least One Penske is Eligible For the Title at Homestead
Correct! Joey Logano was eligible for the title and finished second in the championship to Homestead. I really thought both Penske drivers would be in the final four after the first round of the Chase but then Keselowski had his accident at Kansas and engine failure at Talladega. It was another really good year for Penske but the title was just out of its grasp.

3. Ryan Blaney Scores More Top Tens Than Chase Elliott
Wrong! Chase Elliott easily took Rookie of the Year honors with ten top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes while Chris Buescher finished as second-best rookie because he qualified for the Chase with a victory at Pocono, though it was one of his two top fives and two top ten finishes. Blaney had three top five finishes and nine top ten finishes. The spotlight wasn't too hot for Elliott and Blaney had a respectable season but there is some room for improvement.

4. At Least One Driver Under-24 Wins A Cup Race
Correct! Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher each won a race while under the age of 24.

5. At Least Five Cup Races Feature a Rain-Delay
Correct! Las Vegas, both Texas races, both Pocono races and the August Bristol race all had rain play a role. Both Pocono races were pushed to Monday. The Bristol race was pushed to Sunday and there was a caution for rain during that race. The start of Las Vegas and both Texas races were pushed back and the fall Texas race ended prematurely due to rain. And this isn't even including the rain-delayed Showdown that moved from Friday night to just before the All-Star Race on Saturday.

6. Tony Stewart's Average Finish is Worse Than 16.0
Correct. His average finish was 18.3 with a victory, five top fives and eight top tens from 28 starts. He finished on the lead lap only 15 times. That kind of went how I expected. It wasn't going to be pretty. It wasn't going to come close to Jeff Gordon's farewell. After the delayed start to the season because of an offseason injury, it just felt the 2016 season wasn't going to be special.

7. Martin Truex, Jr. Doesn't Finish in The Top Twelve of the Championship
Wrong! He finished 11th in the championship and probably should have finished slightly higher. Truex, Jr. had a very successful season in year three for Furniture Row Racing and in the team's first season with Toyota and unlike half of Joe Gibbs Racing, he had a memorable season. Truex, Jr. arguably had one of the best seasons in NASCAR this year. He annihilated the field in the Coca-Cola 600, leading 392 laps of 400 laps and won the Southern 500 and finished second in the Daytona 500 by about three inches and led 1,809 lap, the most in NASCAR. Damn.

8. JR Motorsports Wins at Least Seven Second Division Races
Wrong! JR Motorsports did win five races, three by Elliott Sadler, one by Chase Elliott and one by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Justin Allgaier didn't pick up a victory but finished third in the championship after having 27 top ten finishes. Next year, JR Motorsports will have four cars as the team retains Sadler and Allgaier, promotes William Byron from Trucks and accepts the demoted Michael Annett.

9. A Driver Breaks a 50-Race Winless Streak in the Grand National Series
Correct! Elliott Sadler won at Talladega after a 66-race drought. Aric Almirola ended a 72-race drought at Daytona in July. Michael McDowell got his first career victory in the series in his 94th start.  Ty Dillon did not win a race in 2016 and he has not won in his last 80 starts.

10. Ryan Reed Scores at Least Two Top Tens But Zero Victories
Correct! Reed had a staggering seven top tens, including a fifth-place finish at Road America that fifth in Wisconsin was his best finish of the season and it was his third career top five finish, his first not at Daytona.

11. The Average Age of the Top Five in the Trucks Championship is Under 28.8 Years Old
Wrong! The average age of the top five in the Trucks championship was 30.6 years with Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, Timothy Peters and William Byron making up the top five. Had the championship been decided like it had been in every prior Truck season, Daniel Hemric would have finished in the top five and 40-year-old Crafton would not have, dropping the average age of the top five to 27.6 years. Close but no cigar.

12. There Will be at Least One National Touring Division Race With More Than Two Drivers Not From North America
Correct! And I am glad it happened and I am glad who the drivers were. The drivers participating might not have been the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton and Romain Grosjean, who all expressed interested in running a NASCAR race during 2015 but didn't. It happened at Mid-Ohio where four drivers from outside of North American participated. The top finisher of the four was Israel's Alon Day ahead of Australia's Owen Kelly and Kenny Habul and Brazil's Nelson Piquet, Jr. Two races later, Road America featured three Australians (Kelly, Habul and James Davison), Day and Scotsman John Jackson.

Eight-for-12, 66% is pretty good and I got a few that seemed like stretches such as the rain delays and the last one about international drivers.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?

Jimmie Johnson won his seventh NASCAR Cup championship. Audi ended its run with a 1-2 finish and led by Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval. Mark Webber finished his career on the podium. Audi wasn't the only manufacture to exit in style. There were two other first time champions crowned in Florida. You can win a race despite causing a red flag. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is NASCAR on to Something... or is MotoGP?
The Chase might be a terrible way to decide a champion but you have to ask if NASCAR is on to something? It guarantees the title will go down to the final race and the format makes it likely that it won't be decided until the final lap. In the current environment with a million different streams people can tune in to, the Chase gives people a reason to tune in for the final race.

Should that be the norm in all forms of motorsports? Maybe the best finisher of four shouldn't be the way to decide it but should series make it so two, three or four drivers are in contention until the end? Four allows for margin of error. With two, one could have an engine failure after 15 laps and people will have a reason to tune out. Three is better but four is enough that there is no way one driver pulls away with it early and causes people to turn it off because the result seems to be a foregone conclusion.

The best-of-the-final-four format doesn't work for all series. Formula One will crown a champion next Sunday and if you took the top four after Brazil and put them on a level playing final, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who have combined to win one race this season could leave as championship despite Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg each having nine victories. One terrible weekend for Mercedes and Vettel could be champion despite not winning a race and finishing on the podium in less than half the races.

In IndyCar, the top four after Watkins Glen were Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Hélio Castroneves. Pagenaud's lead was so great and he had such a successful season after the penultimate round that even if he didn't show up and Dixon or Castroneves scored the maximum of 104 points they couldn't win the title because Pagenaud would win on tiebreaker based on his five race victories. Of course based on what happened Pagenaud still would have been champion under the Chase format but if Dixon and Castroneves had known they had a realistic shot at the title entering Sonoma, they probably would have prepared and raced differently and who knows if they would have been able to take the fight to the Frenchman.

While NASCAR has made this change to guarantee the champion will be decided as late as possible, ratings continue to drop. If the lack of drama wasn't the reason why people watched, then what could be done to bring people back? IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One all had the championship decided in the season finale but arguably MotoGP had the best season in terms of on-track action and its championship was decided with three races to go. The general belief is people don't like when the championship is decided early and while that might be true, it isn't the be-all end-all.

I appreciate Leigh Diffey's engagement on Twitter and when asking the rhetorical question of whether fans like it when the championship is decided with four races remaining in the season, I thought to myself if people love the series, they will watch regardless of when the title is decided. MotoGP had nine different winners in 18 races, three of which were first time winners. Five different teams from four different manufactures were victorious.

Marc Márquez might have clinched the title at Japan with Australia, Malaysia and Valencia still to run but MotoGP isn't hurrying to change the format. You never knew what would happen next and that is why people should tune in. Márquez threw away Australia and opened the door for Cal Crutchlow to take his second victory of the season. Andrea Dovizioso always seemed in control in a wet Malaysia but the race feature splendid runs by Héctor Barberá and Loriz Baz. Jorge Lorenzo dominated in Valencia but Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales had a spirited battle for the final two podium spots.

For the last 12 years, NASCAR has been focused on making sure the championship fight is exciting and what people tune in for that NASCAR has negated making sure the racing is exciting everywhere the series goes, giving people a reason to watch regardless if the championship is a runaway or a tight battle. Since the inception of the Chase, we have been trying to make sure the bigger picture is exciting but have failed to realize success is creating something that makes people tune into every race and in turn makes the bigger picture exciting by the sum of its parts.

A great championship battle helps attract viewers but the goal should be to grow the fan base that can be counted on to watch every race. NASCAR hasn't done that. NASCAR has lost more working class white people in the last eight years than the Democratic Party. If there is a series to model after, it is MotoGP because it always gives you a reason to watch even if the hardware has already been accounted for.

Champions From the Weekend
The #2 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with a sixth-place finish at Bahrain.

The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørenson won the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers with their victory at Bahrain.

By finishing third in GTE-Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas won the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers.

Daniel Suárez won the NASCAR Grand National Series championship with his victory at Homestead.

Johnny Sauter won the NASCAR Truck Series championship by finishing third at Homestead.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about some of what happened from Bahrain and Homestead but did you know...

The #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Will Brundle and René Rast won in LMP2 at Bahrain and the team ended the season with three consecutive victories. The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Long, David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi won in GTE-Am.

Andreas Mikkelsen won Rally Australia in the final rally for Volkswagen.

Laurens Vanthoor won the FIA GT World Cup at Macau despite causing a red flag for a flip.

António Félix da Costa won the Macau Grand Prix.

Coming Up This Weekend
The World Drivers' Champion will be decided at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
GP2 and GP3 titles will also be decided at Abu Dhabi.
The WTCC season concludes in Qatar.