Friday, October 31, 2014

Hamilton Fastest Again But Not Without a Scare

For the second consecutive practice session Lewis Hamilton was the fastest driver but the championship leader's session was anything but easy. During the session the British driver was experiencing some problems while shifting, abbreviating his session to only 18 laps. Despite the problem, Hamilton's fastest lap was a 1:39.085. Three thousands back of Hamilton was his teammate Nico Rosberg. Rosberg was the only driver within a second of Hamilton.

Fernando Alonso was 1.104 seconds back of Hamilton in third with Daniel Ricciardo ending up fourth in the second session after an ERS issue in first practice. The Australian was just over two-tenths back of Alonso's Ferrari. Felipe Massa rounded out the top five just ahead of Kimi Räikkönen in sixth.

Daniil Kvyat was seventh with a lap of 1:40.641 seconds. The McLaren of Kevin Magnussen was only 0.010 seconds behind the Russian. Jenson Button followed his teammate on the time sheet, just 0.057 seconds back of the Dane. Nico Hülkenberg rounded out the top ten with a lap of 1:40.800 seconds.

Valtteri Bottas surprisingly outside the top ten. The Finn was 1.743 seconds back of Hamilton. Romain Grosjean jumped up to twelfth after being in the cellar in the first session. Jean-Éric Vergne was thirteenth, just 0.013 seconds ahead of Sergio Pérez. Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top fifteen. The Saubers of Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutiérrez were sixteenth and seventeenth. Sebastian Vettel was eighteenth in the session after having to change the gearbox early in the session. The German was able to get out on track and run nineteen laps. He was 4.895 seconds off of Hamilton's best time.

Third practice will take place tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. ET with qualifying taking place at 2:00 p.m. ET. NBC will show third practice taped at 1:00 p.m. ET with qualifying immediately following.


Hamilton Fastest in FP1 from Austin

The championship leader ended first practice on top of the time sheet from Circuit of the Americas with his championship rival and teammate in tow.

Lewis Hamilton ran the fastest lap of the session at 1:39.941 seconds. The two-time United States Grand Prix winner was just under three-tenths of a second quicker than his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Jenson Button made it three Mercedes-powered cars in a row with a 1:40.319. Following the 2009 world champion was Daniil Kvyat, 0.946 seconds back of Hamilton. Kevin Magnussen rounded out the top five, a tenth back of the Russian.

Fernando Alonso was sixth with his fastest lap being a 1:41.065. Sebastian Vettel was nearly four-tenths back in seventh. Last year's winner of the United States Grand Prix will have to start from the pit lane as he will be using his sixth power unit of the season, one more than the regulations allowed to be used during a season. Williams reserve driver and currently second in GP2 championship Felipe Nasr was eighth fastest sitting in for Finn Valtteri Bottas. Nico Hülkenberg was ninth and Max Verstappen was tenth in his second appearance in a Formula One car. The 17-year old Dutch driver's fastest lap was a 1:41.785. He ran in place of Jean-Éric Vergne as he prepares to make his race debut in 2015 driving for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Felipe Massa was eleventh with his former Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen in twelfth. Pastor Maldonado was thirteenth and the Venezuelan had a lazy spin during the session but was able to continue with no damage to the car. Adrian Sutil was fourteenth and he to had a lazy spin that he escaped with no damage.

Mexican drivers Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez were fifteenth and sixteenth. Daniel Ricciardo only race five laps in the session after suffering ERS problem and was 2.657 seconds back of Hamilton. Last year's runner-up in the United States Grand Prix Romain Grosjean was eighteenth, 3.288 seconds behind Hamilton.

Free practice two will take place at 3:00 p.m. ET and can be seen live on NBCSN.


Friday Five: USGP, Baku, Qatar, Shanghai and Fort Worth

Happy Halloween as the motorsports world provides us with a few treats this weekend. Two championships will be decided while Texas is busy with two major events and China plays host to sports cars. Normally we start with series with the fewest races remaining but with Circuit of the Americas being the center of the Formula One world, we start with the United States Grand Prix.

United States Grand Prix
Formula One returns to the United States and Lewis Hamilton enters having won the last four races and two of the last three United States Grands Prix. The Brit has a 17-point lead over his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton is a win away from becoming the all-time leading British driver in victories. He is currently tied with Nigel Mansell at 31 victories.

Daniel Ricciardo's championship are still alive but the Australian will have to pick up multiple victories along with multiple stumbles from his Mercedes rivals as Ricciardo trails Hamilton by 92 points with 100 points left on the table. With his third place finish at Sochi, Valtteri Bottas jumped Sébastien Vettel and Fernando Alonso to fourth in the World Championship. The Finn is two points ahead of the four-time world champion and four points ahead of the two-time world champion. Jenson Button makes it three champions in a row in the champion as he is seventh having scored 94 points so far this season.

Nico Hülkenberg is eighth with 78 points, five ahead of Felipe Massa. Kevin Magnussen rounds out the top ten with 49 points. The Dane is two points ahead of former McLaren drivers Sergio Pérez and Kimi Räikkönen.

Hamilton has two victories and a fourth in his three United States Grand Prix starts. He could join Michael Schumacher, Graham Hill and Jim Clark as the only drivers to win the United States Grand Prix at least three times. Rosberg has only finished in the points once in the United States and it was ninth last year. Vettel's victory last year was the first time a manufacture other than Ferrari or McLaren had won the United States Grand Prix since Alan Jones won at Watkins Glen in 1980. Jones is the only Australian to win the United States Grand Prix. Ricciardo has yet to finish in the points in the United States.

As we all know, this United States Grand Prix will only feature 18 cars after Caterham and Marussia pulled out due to financial issues.

Baku World Challenge
The battle is between Maximilian Götz and the #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini pairing of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hari Proczyk. The German driver of the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes leads the Lamborghini pairing by 27 points with 33 points left on the table as Blancpain Sprint Series heads to the capital of Azerbaijan. Götz and his co-driver Maximilian Buhk have won three races this year while Bleekemolen and Proczyk have four wins but only one has come in a championship race.

The battle for fourth in the championship is between the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT teammates. The #2 of Enzo Ido and René Rast lead the #1 of Laurens Vanthoor and César Ramos by one point. Vanthoor and Ramos won the qualifying race at Zolder two weeks ago.

Vanthoor is still in contention for the Blancpain GT Drivers' Championship, a combination of points from the Sprint and Endurance Series. Vanthoor trails Götz by 23 points. In the Blancpain GT Teams' Championship, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT leads HTP Motorsport by 17 points. Last year, Vanthoor won at Baku with Stéphane Ortelli as his co-driver. Ortelli will run the #9 Audi with fellow Monegasque driver, GP2 driver Stéphane Richelmi.

Other notable teams entered for Baku are the Boutsen Ginion McLarens with Kevin Éstre and Rob Bell in the #15 and Chris van der Drift and Frédéric Vervisch in the #16. Trackspeed will run Richard Westbrook and Norbert Siedler in the #31 Porsche 997 GT3 R.

World Superbike Season Finale
Tom Sykes looks to make it back-to-back World Superbike championships this weekend in Qatar but he has Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli breathing down his neck, 12 points back and coming off six consecutive finishes in the top two. Skyes is looking to become the ninth rider to win multiple World Superbike championships and the fourth in win championships in consecutive season. Another title for Sykes would the ninth for a British rider and would tie them with the United States for most World Superbike championships. Guintoli is looking for his first title in his sixth season in World Superbike and he would be the first French champion since Raymond Roche won in 1989.

This is the first time World Superbike has visited the Losail International Circuit since 2009. Sykes' lone appearance at Losail was in 2009 when he was Ben Spies' teammate at Yamaha. He finished seventh and fifth in the two races. Guintoli has never raced at Losail in World Superbike but has made five starts between 250cc and MotoGP at the track with his best finish being sixth in the 2006 250cc race. James Toseland is the only Brit to have won in World Superbike at Losail. He won race one in 2006 and race two in 2007.

Guintoli's Aprilla teammate Marco Melandri is third in the championship, 11 points ahead of Honda rider Jonathan Rea. Melandri finished second in the 2005 Qatar Grand Prix to Valentino Rossi. Sykes' Kawasaki teammate Loris Baz rounds out the top five.

6 Hours of Shanghai
Toyota enters China having won their fourth race of the season with Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi. The drivers of the #8 TS040 have a 29-point lead over the #2 Audi of Marcel Fässler, Benoît Tréluyer and André Lotterer. Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi are 11 points behind their Audi teammates after the German manufacture was shut out of the podium at Fuji last month. Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin and Kazuki Nakajima made it a Toyota 1-2 at their home race and Wurz and Sarrazin are 21 points behind the Dane and Brazilian.

Four points outside the top five is the #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani who have finished fourth in three of five races. Despite two podiums, the #20 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber and Brendon Hartley are eight points behind the #12 Rebellion Racing of Mathias Beche, Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld.

The #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander is well on it's way to it's second consecutive championship in GTE-Pro as Bruni and Vilander has won three of five races this season. The pairing has a 49.5-point lead over Porsche driver Frédéric Makowiecki as the Italian and Finn could lock up the World Endurance Cup for GT Driver with two races to go. Richard Lietz is 58 points back after missing two races and Jörg Bergmeister is 70 points back.

While Ferrari has dominated GTE-Pro, Aston Martin has been wiping the floor with the competition in GTE-Am. Kristian Poulsen and David Heinemeier Hansson has three victories and two second places finishes. The drivers of the #95 Vantage GTE lead their sister #99 of Christoffer Nygaard, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana by 39 points and the #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Christian Ried, Klaus Bachler and Khaled Al Qubaisi are 49 points back. AF Corse did not enter any car in GTE-Am for Shanghai leaving the #90 8Star Motorsports Ferrari as the only 458 Italia in the class.

The LMP2 field has nearly doubled in size for the Shanghai round. Sergey Zlobin leads the LMP2 championship by 16 points over the #26 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan of Julien Canal, Olivier Pla and Romain Rusinov. Zlobin will be joined in the #27 SMP Racing Oreca-Nissan by Nicolas Minassian and Maurizio Mediani. Thirty points back of Zlobin are KCMG Oreca-Nissan drivers Richard Bradley and Matthew Howson. The Brits will be joined by Swiss driver Alexandre Imperatori in Shanghai. Extreme Speed Motorsports has entered two HPD ARX-03bs for Shanghai. Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and Ricardo González will pilot the #30 with Johannes van Overbeek, David Brabham and Ed Brown in the #31. OAK Racing racing has entered Asian Le Mans Series championship leaders David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung in the #35 Morgan-Judd. They will be joined by journeyman gentleman driver Mark Patterson.

Last year, Lotterer, Tréluyer and Fässler won at Shanghai while G-Drive won in LMP2. Stefan Mücke and Darren Turner won in GTE-Pro and they could make it back-to-back this weekend while 8Star Motorsports won in GTE-Am and could also double up from China.

Fort Worth
Jeff Gordon leads the points after finishing second at Martinsville. The four-time champion is three points ahead of Ryan Newman. Joey Logano is a point behind Newman and won at Texas this past April. Matt Kenseth is fourth in the standings, a point behind Logano. Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin is three points behind him. Their future Joe Gibbs teammate Carl Edwards is 15 points behind Kenseth. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are 26 and 28 points back of fourth respectively after accidents at Martinsville.

Logano is the most recent winner at Texas but Edwards is one of two drivers with three victories at Texas. His last Texas victory was in 2008. Jimmie Johnson is the other driver with three Texas victories and he has won the last two fall races at the 1.5-mile track. Kenseth and Hamlin both have two victories with both of Kenseth's coming in the spring while Hamlin swept the Texas races in 2010. Newman and Gordon each have one win at Texas.

Keselowski and Harvick have yet to win at Texas in the Cup series. Keselowski has one top five and three top tens in 12 starts. He finished second in the 2012 fall race. Harvick has three top tens and eleven top tens in 23 starts. His best finish is third in the spring of 2006. Harvick finished 42nd at Texas in April and has only led six laps in his career at Texas.

Only once has the Texas Chase race been won by a non-Chase driver. That was Tony Stewart in 2006.

Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 45.5 laps led by Mercedes at Austin?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 German cars finishing the top five in the Baku championship race?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 podium finishes for British riders at Qatar?
4. Over or Under: 150.5 laps run by the #9 Lotus CLM P1/01 of James Rossiter, Pierre Kaffeer and Lucas Auer?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 Chase drivers finishing ahead of Matt Kenseth at Texas?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: 5 non-Spaniards/Italians finished in the top ten (Stefan Bradl (German), Bradley Smith and Scott Redding (British) and Yonny Hernández (Colombian).
2. Under: Sébastien Ogier won Rally Catalunya by 11.3 seconds over Jari-Matti Latvala.
3. Under: José María López scored 38 points at Suzuka.
4. Over: Two podiums finishers at Surfers were from outside the top ten in the championship (Micahel Caruso and Tim Slade).
5. Under: Jeff Gordon led 130 laps, the most at Martinsville.

Predictions
1. At least 17 cars will finish the United States Grand Prix.
2. Maximilian Götz wins the Blancpain Sprint Series championship.
3. Sylvain Guintoli's consecutive podium streak ends at Qatar.
4. Extreme Speed puts a car on the LMP2 podium.
5. At least one Chase driver will finish outside the top twenty-five at Texas.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Second time is the charm, Marc Márquez ends his winless streak at Sepang (Correct).
2. Sébastien Ogier clinches the title in Catalunya (Correct).
3. José María López clinches the title at Suzuka (Correct).
4. Mark Winterbottom will end his streak of 11 consecutive races without a top five (Correct. He finished 4th in race one from Surfers).
5. A non-Chase driver wins at Martinsville (Correct. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won).
Overall: 5/5. Running Tally: 19.5/35


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule: It Could've Been Worse

It's official. The 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season will begin Sunday March 8th in Brasilia, Brazil and end Sunday August 30th in Sonoma, California and feature a total seventeen races.

Three weeks later, IndyCar will head to St. Petersburg, Florida for their traditional early-spring visit to the street course. After a week off for Easter, the series will run three consecutive weekend and will start with making their debut at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana. The week after being in the Bayou, IndyCar heads to the second-longest staple on the schedule, Long Beach for what should be another race with Chamber of Commerce weather. IndyCar will head back down to Dixie the week after that to the gorgeous Barber Motorsports Park to close out the month of April.

The month of May once again features the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend with Indianapolis 500 qualifying taking place the following weekend. The 99th Indianapolis 500 will run on May 24, 2015. Belle Isle closes out the month of May with a doubleheader on May 30-31st.

Texas returns in June in for their Saturday night extravaganza. The following week IndyCar heads to Toronto. The race is moved up one month because of the Pan American Games taking place in the city in July 2015. Due to the June date, Toronto will not be a doubleheader in 2014 but that does not rule out the possibility of Toronto being a doubleheader in 2016.

After a week off, Fontana will be on Saturday June 27th, it's fourth different date in four years. The series will take 4th of July weekend off but will be running at Milwaukee the following Sunday, Milwaukee's third different date in three years. Iowa will run the Saturday night after Milawukee.

After a week off, IndyCar heads to Mid-Ohio for their traditional first weekend of August date. The series will then take two weeks off before heading to their final two races, taking place on different sides of the country. On Sunday August 23rd, IndyCar will run their final oval race of the 2014 season at Pocono Raceway. The following Sunday the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale will take place at Sonoma Raceway on August 30th, a week before Labor Day. It will be the first time an IndyCar season has ended on a road course since the 2007 Champ Car Series season ended at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

Let's break this down.

There are 129 days until the first race of the 2015 IndyCar season. There will be 189 days between IndyCar races.

That "international series" is just one race in Brazil. It's a start but after it appeared the series eyed the Middle East, it fell short of being a "series."

One less race than 2014 but that is due to Toronto not being a doubleheader. That's no big deal. If all venues from 2015 make it to 2016 (which would be a miracle because IndyCar always loses a race season-to-season) and Toronto returns to being a doubleheader then we are back to eighteen.

I don't see how date equity is moving Fontana to their fourth different date in as many years and Milwaukee to their third different date in as many years but IndyCar is much smarter than I am so if they say so.

The good news is there are new venues. Along with Brasilia is New Orleans and with Andretti Sports Marketing running it, I feel the race is in good hands.

I understand what IndyCar did with their final two races. Pocono is the weekend of NASCAR's night race at Bristol and Sonoma is when NASCAR is off. It makes sense but the Sonoma season finale is the day after the NASCAR Xfinity Series is at Road America and the Truck Series is at Mosport the same day so there will be competition.

IndyCar is dropping the ball not racing on the June weekend NASCAR is off. June 21st will feature no races as the Truck Series is at Iowa that Friday night and the Xfinity Series is at Chicago that Saturday night.

With Pocono off 4th of July weekend, it's now on them to draw a better crowd. Otherwise, 2015 might be the last time IndyCar visits the state of Pennsylvania for quite sometime. To be honest, their should be a race 4th of July weekend. Just because it didn't work at Pocono and Watkins Glen before that doesn't mean no IndyCar race will work on that weekend.

The 2015 schedule could have been worse. IndyCar could have lost Pocono and Fontana and Milwaukee and then the season would be over by July. I can't see ending by Labor Day weekend being the long term answer. I think the increase in television ratings had more to do with consistently racing week-in and week-out from the start to the end of the season. End in October, fill the month of September with European races if they can't find domestic race as Formula One heads to Asia after Monza. There has to be a better answer than cramming every race into six months and then waiting half a year for the next race. Start earlier, end later and spread the races around.

The 2015 season is far from perfect but it isn't a disaster. However, it looks like 2015 will be another transition year for IndyCar with hopes of better in 2016. I guess that is something to look forward to.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's 2014 Season

Halfway through the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series team reviews has brought us to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Josef Newgarden. The pairing made great strides in Newgarden's sophomore season in 2013 with the Tennesseean earning his first career podium at Baltimore as well as four top fives and seven top tens after his best finish in his rookie season was eleventh. The 2014 season had a lull in May and June but they turned it around as the summer wore on.

Josef Newgarden started slow in 2014 but ended strong.
Josef Newgarden
Newgarden started 2014 with a ninth place finish at St. Petersburg after starting last on the grid in 22nd. He had a career day going at Long Beach where it appeared he was going to be in serious contention for his first career victory. He was able to get out ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Will Power on a pit cycle and was in position to claim the lead once everyone had made their stops but Hunter-Reay attempted a bold pass on the inside of turn four and ruined his day as well as Newgarden's and about a half a dozen other drivers. Newgarden would recover at Barber with an eighth place finish after starting fourth.

His month of May wasn't spectacular but it had it's moments. He was average in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis finishing 17th. In Indianapolis 500 qualifying, he ended up eighth on both day one and day two, his second career top ten start in his third appearance for the famed event. During the race he started well but ran out of fuel coming into the pit lane and like Tony Kanaan lost many laps due to it. The dagger to the heart that ended his day was Martin Plowman running into the back of Newgarden when he slowed for the caution that Scott Dixon brought out.

His struggles carried over to Detroit where accidents in each day, one on his own, the other caused by Will Power. Texas was a step in the right direction but could have been better after he started second but slides back to 11th, one lap down. Houston capped off a rough stretch of races with a mechanical failure in race one and a brakes issue in race two gave him a pair of 20th place finishes heading into the second half of 2014.

Needing to make his own luck, Newgarden turned an average day at Pocono into a top ten with an eighth place finish. After deciding to stretch fuel mileage and despite starting dead last, Newgarden found himself leading with thirteen to go but had to stop with six to go. At Iowa, he once again had to make his own luck. While the leaders Kanaan, Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Hélio Castroneves and Power stayed out on the final caution, Newgarden took tires, as did Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal and all three finished much better than they would have had Juan Pablo Montoya and Carpenter not gotten together. Hunter-Reay beat Newgarden out of the pit lane and held off Newgarden by just over a half second after the two blew by the Target Ganassi duo as Newgarden was able to pick up his second career podium and first on an oval.

He was on the verge of a top ten in race one at Toronto but locked up the tires heading into turn three and blew the corner. When he tried to get back into the race, he smacked the barrier, adding insult to injury. He was running in the top five in race two but was a sitting duck on wet tires and came home 13th. At Mid-Ohio, Newgarden had another career day. He started second and was on the back of pole-sitter Sébastien Bourdais all day. He was in contention until a sloppy pit stop caused a penalty for running over the air hose and dropped them to 12th in the final results while Scott Dixon performed a masterpiece, stretched fuel to win from 22nd on the grid and Bourdais finished second.

At Milwaukee, Newgarden had to pit late for fuel but on fresh tires was able to go from 12th to fifth after making up a lap on his own under green flag conditions. He started second for the third time in 2014 at Sonoma but fell to sixth in final results which could have been a few positions worse had Will Power not spun on his own. He qualified third for Fontana and ran well all night in the season finale before slipping to tenth.

Josef Newgarden's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 13th (406 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 14
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 10.588 (10th)
Average Finish: 13.722 (18th)

Josef Newgarden ended 2014 strong as he and SFHR head to new terrain after merging with Ed Carpenter Racing. Being a Chevrolet team may benefit the American as the American manufacture ended 2014 winning the final six races. He has been making strides but the clock is ticking.

He has made 51 starts in his IndyCar career. Only 25 drivers have won their first career race after making their 51st start. Of those 25, eight only won once in their career (note: Takuma Sato is one of those drivers and is still active) and those 25 combine for 87 career victories. The average amount of victories for a driver to take more that 52 starts to get their first career victory is 6.69. Only one of those drivers reached double-digit career victories (Jimmy Vasser won ten races after taking 56 starts to get his first). And possibly most importantly only three of those 25 drivers are Indianapolis 500 winners (Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk and Buddy Lazier).

Merging with Ed Carpenter Racing puts the pressure on Newgarden to win after Carpenter and Mike Conway combined for three victories in 2014. There is no reason why Newgarden shouldn't get a victory in 2015. The resources are there and it appears he will have two competent teammates to help him out. After getting by for three years as the likable driver on the little team pinching pennies to get by, it is time to be more stern on him. It is time for him to get into victory lane.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar to Save the Day?

While champions were being crowned around the globe, the news floating out of the Formula One circle was bleak. Two teams have fallen on financial hardship and will not be coming Stateside this upcoming weekend and that is disappointing for the so called premier division of motorsports. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Remember When Formula One Nearly Split?
Five years ago, the teams that formed the Formula One Teams Association (Everyone but Williams and Force India) announced the formation of a breakaway series.

Of course it never came to fruition, although the breakaway series schedule was pretty killer, but five years later we sit with Caterham falling to pieces in front of our very eyes, as is Marussia, the debate over three-car teams becoming stagnant and Bernie Ecclestone pretty much telling the teams he is in charge and they can't stop him.

Maybe the split should have happen. Maybe it should have gone down the path of USAC-CART, CART-IRL and Grand-Am-ALMS. The three teams added to the 2010 grid tentatively appear down to none as HRT folded after three season, Caterham is on the cutting room floor and Marussia will miss Austin as well. Sauber has been on a decline ever since BMW pulled out after the 2009 season. And we've been over the three-car team issue. If it is enforced, the struggle we see with Caterham, Marussia and Sauber are now occurring at Lotus, Force India and Williams.

Then there is Bernie. I think he has been watching a little bit too much NASCAR in the two weeks since Sochi. The me, me, me attitude the 78-year old has is more like a 7-year old. The "If I want more races, then we will have more races regardless of what the teams say" dictatorship mindset is ridiculous. Formula One cannot be adding races to whoever has the largest paycheck to line Bernie's pockets, especially when teams can't make the current amount of races scheduled. Forget Baku and Las Vegas. It is time to strengthen the races that have been the backbone of the series for over six decades. Attendance has been down at places such as Germany and TV ratings have been down around the globe. If places such as Germany, Italy and the rest of Europe, the heart and soul of the series, lose interest and faith, nothing can make up for it, not even a seven-figure check.

Formula One has to get their act together. They need to get back to their roots. They need to not price out the average citizen. They need to worry less about money and more about people. If you lose enough people, you eventually will start losing money. Things have to change and quick. Otherwise you mind as well just start all over again from scratch.

Could IndyCar Save the Day?
With Caterham and Marussia stiffing Austin, maybe IndyCar could fill those final four spots on the grid?

Put the regulations aside and realize that having four IndyCars running at Austin would hurt nobody. The cars are just as slow as the Marussias and Caterhams. I bet they would make it under the 107% rule and if not, then just turn up the turbo to get them there. After all, who would be against a little more power? Refueling makes an IndyCar pit stop four times longer than a Formula One stop, putting the invited IndyCar teams as a greater disadvantage. Who cares if they are on Firestone? They aren't going to be an advantage over the Pirellis. The drivers are professional, will stay out of the way of the full-time teams and will be competitive amongst themselves to put on the best showing for IndyCar and try to get as many positions as possible. The only thing to worry about is the standing start but as long as you get the right drivers, that won't be a problem.

It's not like the IndyCars are doing anything but collecting dust. What's the worst that could happen? If I was Mark Miles I would be on the phone immediately inquiring about allowing four cars to round out the field. I've said it before and I will say it again, IndyCar should run support races with Formula One when they head to Montreal and Austin because racing on those Saturdays would provide bigger crowds than every other IndyCar race but the Indianapolis 500 and I would ask for little to no sanctioning fee because it would be free exposure for the series. Plus, it would give NBC and NBCSN more coverage those weekends.

Have two Chevrolets and two Hondas run. Have one be the newly crowned champion Will Power and the other be this year's Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. The second Chevrolet driver is the toughest. Do you have Juan Pablo Montoya make a Formula One comeback? Or what about Sébastien Bourdais? Do you give Scott Dixon a shot? If it was my call, I would want Dixon on the grid. The second Honda I would want to be an American because this is the United States Grand Prix after all. But instead of Marco Andretti, Josef Newgarden or Graham Rahal, I would want Texas' own A.J. Foyt Racing fielding Alexander Rossi. Rossi has to be wondering what it will take to make his Formula One debut. After it appeared it would happen at Spa and it appeared he would be the logical substitute for the injured Jules Bianchi only to have Marussia skip his home race, Rossi deserves this opportunity.

The only other problem I can think of is numbers and the good news is the #12 and #28 aren't used in Formula One, so Power and Hunter-Reay are good. Marcus Ericsson was using #9 but since Caterham won't be at Austin, I don't see why Dixon couldn't use it. Fernando Alonso uses #14 but Foyt and Rossi could run #41.

It's a pipe dream but it's my pipe dream damn it. IndyCar and Formula One have nothing to lose by putting four cars on the grid. It couldn't be any worse than Caterham.

What Lower Ticket Prices Will Do
The crowd for the MotoGP race at Sepang looked a hell of a lot better than the attendance for the Formula One race there earlier this year. So I decided to look up ticket prices. The most expensive ticket was the "premium roving package" which allows access to all the spectator stands as well as a set of event merchandise and cost about $110. Want to sit in the main grandstand? You could have for  $49. You could have sat on the hillside for just over $12.

Name one Formula One race you can get in to see for under $15? Make it affordable for people to attend. Formula One has more money than God and probably a fair amount more than MotoGP, yet the latter is having no problem drawing people and their championship was decided two weeks ago and one guy has dominated the world championship and won ten consecutive races earlier this year. The former has three drivers still alive for the world championship and double points in the final round to keep it interesting. Remember when everyone was pinning blame on Sebastian Vettel for the declines in Formula One attendance and ratings because of his dominance? I call bullshit because you can clearly keep fans engaged and interested when someone has all ready locked up the championship in a dominating fashion.

Random Thoughts
I like Martinsville but shortening their Cup races to 300 laps would be a victory for everybody. Less is more, people.

If you don't have a hood on your car or front fenders, you shouldn't be allowed back out on the track in NASCAR. You are a caution waiting to happen as something is bound to come off your car and it just looks ridiculous.

Good news IndyCar fans! The DTM still hasn't released their 2015 schedule so you are not alone.

Fun Facts
If four IndyCars were allowed to run at Austin, it would be the first time Firestone has competed in a Formula One race since the 1975 Argentine Grand Prix when they were on Mario Andretti's Parnelli VPJ4-Ford. Firestone's last victory in Formula One was the 1972 Italian Grand Prix and Emerson Fittipaldi clinched the 1972 World Drivers' Championship with that victory driving for McLaren.

The last time the #28 was used in Formula One was the 1995 Australian Grand Prix when Gerhard Berger was at Ferrari.

Champions From the Weekend
Sébastien Ogier clinched his second consecutive World Rally Championship with a victory in Rally Catalunya. He won by 11.3 seconds over teammate and championship rival Jari-Mati Latvala. The final round of the WRC season will take place in three weeks from Great Britain.

José María Lopez clinched the 2014 World Touring Car Championship with a victory in race one from Suzuka. This was the Argentine's first season in WTCC. He would finish sixth in race two as Gabriele Tarquini won race two. The final round of the WTCC will take place from Macau in three weeks.

Esteve Rabat clinched the Moto2 title with a third place finish from Sepang, his seven consecutive podium. Maverick Viñales and Mika Kallio finished first and second respectively. The Moto2 season finale will occur in a fortnight from Valencia.


Winners From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez, Sébastien Ogier, José María López, Gabriele Tarquini and Maverick Viñales but did you know...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race at Martinsville. No one clinched a spot in the final race at Homestead.

Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb won race one of V8 Supercars Castrol Edge Gold Coast 600. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell won race two and claimed the 2014 Endurance Cup while Whincup extended his championship lead over Mark Winterbottom.

Efrén Vázquez won in Moto3. Jack Miller finished second and kept his title hopes alive. The Australian trails Álex Márquez by 11 points points heading to Valencia,

Darrell Wallace, Jr. won the Truck race from Martinsville.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One comes to the United States for the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.
NASCAR also heads to Texas.
FIA World Endurance Championship heads to Shanghai.
Blancpain Sprint Series wrap up their 2014 season at the Baku World Challenge.
World Superbike ends their season in Qatar.
Stock Car Brasil returns after a month off at Tarumã.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Márquez One Away From Breaking Record

He may have already locked up the 2014 World Championship but Marc Márquez has his sights set on the single season record for victories after picking up his twelfth win at Sepang. The Catalan rider started on pole position but dropped as far back as eighth on the first lap as Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo, his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa and Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso were the top three at the end of lap one with Valentino Rossi and Stefan Bradl rounded out the top five.

Pedrosa would fall on the final corner of the second lap as Márquez would make his way up to third that lap behind Lorenzo and Rossi and those three would breakaway from the field and have their own battle at the front for most of the race. The Majorcan Lorenzo would lead the first nine laps before his teammate Rossi and Márquez would pass him. On the eleventh lap, Márquez would take the lead from Rossi and the two of them would go at for the next seven laps before the Italian started to fade.

Márquez won by 2.445 seconds over Rossi with Lorenzo rounding out the podium, 3.508 seconds back of his fellow Spaniard. Bradl finished fourth, matching his best finish of the season for a third time. Bradley Smith finished fifth, his third top five in the last four races. Pol Espargaró finished sixth despite suffering an broken bone in his left foot in Saturday practice. Pol is now sixth in the championship. Yonny Hernández scored a career-best seventh place finish while Andrea Dovizioso faded to eighth after having brake issues. Héctor Barberá finished ninth, his third consecutive points paying finish after having only two in the first fourteen races. Scott Redding finished tenth.

Hiroshi Aoyama came home eleventh with Michael Laverty finishing a career-best twelfth. Mike Di Meglio finished thirteenth and scored points for the second consecutive race with Broc Parkes finishing fourteenth. For the second consecutive race, only fourteen riders made it to the finish.

Alex de Angelis was in position to score a point but retired on the final lap. Dani Pedrosa had worked his way up to eleventh before falling again and this time falling out of the race. Nicky Hayden fell while running in the top ten. Cal Crutchlow had a mechanical issue end his race while he was solidly in the points and Aleix Espargaró and Álvaro Bautista had an accident end their days after only one lap.

Márquez's victory tied Mick Doohan for the record of most victories in a single season. The Australian won twelve of fifteen rounds in 1997 with his first coming in Malaysia and his twelfth coming in Catalunya as the final of a ten-race winning streak. Doohan finished second in two of the other three races while retiring in the final race of the season, his home race in Australia. Márquez will now head home to Valencia, Spain with a chance to take the record all for himself.

Márquez has a 62-point advantage Rossi with the Italian having only a 12-point gap between him and Lorenzo for second in the championship. After back-to-back retirements, Pedrosa will be guaranteed to finish fourth in the 2014 championship. Andrea Dovizioso is also assured he will finished fifth in the 2014 championship.

Pol Espargaró has a 7-point lead over Bradley Smith for sixth in the championship and a 9-point gap over his brother Aleix. Bradl is seven back of Aleix while Andrea Iannone stayed in the top ten of the championship despite missing Sepang due to a left arm contusion. Iannone is thirteen points clear of Bautista for tenth in the championship.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

There Just Isn't Enough News For Six Months

We are approaching two months since the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale which saw Will Power lift the Astor Cup and Tony Kanaan lead 64 of 250 laps one his way to his first victory with Chip Ganassi Racing and his first victory since his Indianapolis 500 triumph the previous May.

Since that time, while Formula One, MotoGP, sports cars, NASCAR and many forms of motorsports in-between has filled the time nicely, the IndyCar front has been calm. Other than the Brazil race being confirmed, Simon Pagenaud to Penske and James Hinchcliffe to Schmidt, the news has been a trickle. Don't get me wrong, there have been a lot of great little stories that I am excited about. Aero kit testing is underway and I don't care that it is under a veil of secrecy, it just makes more fun when photos get out. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Kurt Busch will be representing the United States at the 2014 Race of Champions from Barbados (because no place screams home of world-class motorsports more than Barbados). That gives us something to look forward to come December. Indy Lights chassis sales appear to be going well with the likes of Schmidt, Belardi, 8Star, Juncos, McCormack (who I will admit I have never heard of before) and Conquest Racing, who will be attempting to make a comeback, all appear to be preparing to field a new IL-15 chassis.

There is news out there and a lot of good news out there but we all want big news. It's like fishing. We want to catch the 7-pound bass, not the 2-pounders. However, there just aren't as many 7-pounders as there are two. This points out another problem with the IndyCar offseason: There just isn't enough news to cover a six-month adequately.

There are many reasons why this is the case. Realize we are still at least four months away from the next IndyCar race. Think about that. We are only through one-third of the offseason. Most drivers aren't signing deal four months before the start of the season because there is no reason to. Testing is limited and there is nothing to do until about two months before the season begins. The schedule still hasn't been released but once that is released, probably before Thanksgiving, maybe before Halloween if we are lucky, the next big news won't come rolling around until around the 24 Hours of Daytona at the end of January and we will still be a little over a month away from the start of the season, barring Dubai being added to the schedule as February race. If Dubai is added to the IndyCar schedule in the middle of February, then the news cycle will get moving a little sooner. We can only hope and pray that race comes to fruition.

Don't get me wrong, there will be news over the winter. I am sure we will hear more about the Indy Lights chassis and a few more secret aero kit tests and I am sure there will be a handful of drivers from European junior formula series testing for Coyne but those stories aren't what people are clamoring for.

Had the championship ended last weekend at Fontana, things would be different. We would be reviewing the 2014 season, talking about the champion and speculations about driver changes would just be starting. The wait for the 2015 schedule wouldn't be as bad because racing would have just ended and looking forward for a little break from all the action.

IndyCar is obsessed with the NFL so much to the point that they end their season so early to avoid conflicting with there games and the argument for ending the IndyCar season so early and having half the year off is that the NFL's offseason is seven months long and they stay in the news all the time. Here is the difference between the two parties: One has billions of dollars invested from multiple television partners who can stay in the news from meaningless things such as combines, drafts and off-the-field issues such as player arrests. The other gets pocket change in comparison in terms of television revenue, no one knows who the talent is and can't just generate attention from something stupid said on social media.

Midweek Motorsports had a great discussion this week (go to the 1:48:00 mark) with sports car driver Matt Griffin on the struggle of scheduling sports car series such as FIA World Endurance Championship, European Le Mans Series and the Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series. With so many teams and drivers interested in competing most if not all of these series, when scheduling conflicts occur, these series end up competing against one another when they could all co-exist and everyone would be a winner. They aren't talking about these series worrying about what is going on in European soccer leagues or other sports. Heck, they talked about how there is no crossover between sports car and Formula One. They are focused clearly on improving the series from a motorsports viewpoint. How different is that from an IndyCar discussion where we are talking about sports that have no connection to IndyCar whatsoever.

IndyCar needs to realize what they are. They are a motorsports series. They are not a football league. They do not have the pulse of the nation on edge every Sunday with 20-30 million people ready to watch. Stop acting like that avoiding the NFL is going to lead to an IndyCar boom. It won't. Consistently running from the beginning of spring through the middle of autumn with talented drivers producing compelling racing with a variety of engine and aero kit manufactures just might thought.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Five: Sepang, Spain, Suzuka, Surfers and Martinsville

The final weekend of October features three series heading to their penultimate rounds of their 2014 championships. Meanwhile, V8 Supercars heads to a fan favorite and NASCAR heads to their oldest track on their schedule.

Sepang
For the third consecutive week, MotoGP is on track as they head to their penultimate race of the 2014 season, taking place at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Valentino Rossi is coming off victory at Phillip Island and that victory extended Yamaha's winning streak to four consecutive races, the manufacture's longest since 2009 when Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo combined to win Brno, Indianapolis, Misano and Estoril in a row. Lorenzo has finished on the podium in the last eight races.

Marc Márquez was on his way to his twelfth victory of 2014 at Phillip Island before falling with ten laps to go. His Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa also retired in Australia after the Ducati of Andrea Iannone damaged Pedrosa' Honda on lap five. Because of the retirement, Pedrosa was jumped in the championship by Lorenzo and is now fourth, 17 behind the Majorcan. Andrea Dovizioso is coming off a fourth place finish and is fifth in the championship. Bradley Smith finished third at Phillip Island, his first MotoGP podium. Smith is eighth in the championship, nine points behind Aleix Espargaró in sixth and eight behind Pol Espargaró. The Espargaró brothers both retired in Australia.

Pedrosa has won the last two Malaysian Grand Prix. The only other active rider to win the Malaysian Grand Prix in the premier class is Valentino Rossi who has won at Sepang six times with his most recent victory being in 2010. Pedrosa also has victories at Sepang in the 125cc and 250cc classes. Márquez's lone Malaysian triumph was in 125cc four years ago. Lorenzo won the 250cc race in 2006 race. Other winners at Sepang scheduled to compete in this week's MotoGP race are Álvaro Bautista (125cc, 2006; 250cc 2008), Hiroshi Aoyama (250cc, 2007 and 2009) and Alex De Angelis (Moto2, 2012).

Spain – Rally Catalunya
The World Rally Championship heads to their penultimate round of 2014 with Sébastien Ogier looking to lock up his second consecutive title. The Frenchman finished 13th in his home Rallye de France-Alsace but scored three points by winning the power stage and leads his Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala by 27 points.

Ogier and Latvala have each won five rounds this season with Thierry Neuville's maiden victory for Hyundai at Rallye Deutschland being the lone defeat for Volkswagen in 2014. Volkwagen's third driver Andreas Mikkelsen is third in the championship, 50 ahead of M-Sport Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen. Mikkelsen has finished runner-up on three occasions this season while Hirvonen's lone podium was a second in Portugal. The Finn Hirvonen has finished fifth in fourth consecutive rounds. Neuville rounds out the top five, ten points behind Hirvonen while Citroën's Kris Meeke is a point behind the Belgian and coming off a third place finish in France. Meeke is only two points ahead of his teammate Mads Østberg. M-Sport Ford's Elfyn Evans is nine points behind the Norwegian.

Ogier won last year's Rally Catalunya and extended the streak to nine consecutive years the rally has been won by a Frenchman. Sébastien Loeb won the eight other editions. Estonian Markko Märtin is the last non-Frenchman to win the race in 2004. It was the Märtin's last WRC victory and it was the last WRC victory for his co-driver Michael Park, who would lose his life in an accident during the 2005 Wales Rally GB. Märtin retired from competing after the accident. The only time a Spaniard won Rally Catalunya was Carlos Sainz in 1992 and 1995.

Suzuka, Part II
The 2014 World Touring Car Championship heads to their penultimate round at Suzuka. Argentine José María López leads the championship by 93 points over Citroën teammate and four-time WTCC champion Yvan Muller. López can clinch the title by scoring 12 points this weekend. López has won eight of 19 races this season including race one at Shanghai a fortnight ago. Muller has four victories this season but has not won since race one at Spa back in June.

Sébastien Loeb is 50 points behind Muller in the championship. Loeb has two victories this year, coming at Morocco and Slovakia. Former Formula One driver and podium finisher in the 2005 United States Grand Prix, Tiago Monteiro is fourth in the championship, 81 points behind Loeb. The Portuguese driver is coming off his second runner-up finish of the season in race two from Shanghai. Hungarian Norbert Michelisz rounds out the top five, 28 points behind Monteiro.

This is the fourth consecutive year WTCC is competing at Suzuka but this will be the first time the WTCC is using the full 3.609-mile Grand Prix Circuit. The previous three editions have been held on the 1.394-mile East Circuit. Last year Michelisz and Dutch driver Tom Coronel split the weekend.

Surfers Paradise
Despite running out of fuel on the final lap of the Bathurst 1000, Jamie Whincup extended his championship lead in V8 Supercars, as he leads Mark Winterbottom by 297 points. Craig Lowndes is 339 points back of his Red Bull Racing teammate. Shane Van Gisbergen and James Courtney are tied for fourth, trailing Whincup by 451 points. Fabian Coulthard is 523 points behind Whincup and Bathurst winner Chaz Mostert is seventh in the championship, 553 points back.

Whincup and his co-driver Paul Dumbrell lead the Endurance Cup standings with 522 points, 30 points ahead of Mostert and Paul Morris. Courtney and Greg Murphy are 114 points back with Lowndes and Steven Richards are 126 back. Winterbottom and Steve Owen are fifth in the Endurance Cup standings, trailing Whincup and Dumbrell by 162 points. Last year Lowndes and Warren Luff won the Endurance Cup with Whincup and Dumbrell finishing second and Winterbottom and Steven Richards finishing third.

Since Surfers Paradise adopted the 600km format in 2010, Holden has won five of eight races. Holden has won race one at Surfers Paradise each of the last four years and Ford has won the second race the last three years. Whincup and Garth Tander are tied for most wins at Surfers Paradise with four. Lowndes, Winterbottom and Russell Ingall each have two victories at Surfers.

Martinsville
Eight drivers enter the semifinal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Brad Keselowski enters with the most victories this year after picking up his sixth at Talladega, a race he had to win to keep his championship hopes alive as the 2012 champion was not going to advance on points alone. His Penske teammate Joey Logano has five victories this season, having at least one race in each round of the Chase. Jeff Gordon has four victories and Kevin Harvick has three victories. Both drivers have won a race in the Chase.

Carl Edwards has two victories but has not won since Sonoma at the end of June and Denny Hamlin's lone victory this season came at Talladega in May. Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth are still alive for the championship, despite both having yet to win a race in 2014. Kenseth picked up his second runner-up finish of the season at Talladega last week while Newman finished fifth, his third top five of the season. Newman has scored four consecutive top ten finishes, the longest active streak amongst the eight remaining drivers in the Chase.

Gordon has won eight races at Martinsville with his most recent being last year's fall race. Five of Gordon's eight victories have come in the fall race. Hamlin has four wins in 17 starts at his native Virginia track. Harvick and Newman each have a victory at Martinsville. Both won the spring race in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Keselowski, Logano, Kenseth and Edwards have all yet to win at Martinsville with Keselowski and Edwards having the fewest amount of top fives at the track amongst Chase driver, each having only one top five. Keselowski finished fourth in last year's fall race while Edwards' best Martinsville finish was third in the 2008 fall race. Logano's best Martinsville finish is second, which came in the 2010 spring race. Kenseth's best finish at the paperclip half-mile track is second on two occasions, the first being the 2002 spring race and the most recent being last fall when he finished 0.605 seconds behind Gordon, despite leading a race-high 202 laps.

Some miscellaneous facts heading to Martinsville:
The only time a non-Chase driver has won the Chase race at Martinsville was in 2005 when Jeff Gordon led 151 laps from 15th on the grid, holding off eventual champion Tony Stewart.

Joey Logano's finishes through six Chase races : 4th, 1st, 4th, 1st, 4th, 11th.

With his third place finish at Talladega, Clint Bowyer was the top finishing non-Chase driver, ending Ganassi's run of five consecutive Chase races with the top finishing non-Chase driver.

Kevin Harvick has led the most laps in four of six Chase races.

Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 2.5 riders in the top ten that are not Italian or Spaniards?
2. Over or Under: 24.5 seconds between first and second in final results of Rally Catalunya?
3. Over or Under: 38.5 points scored by José María López this weekend?
4. Over or Under: 0.5 podium finishers from outside the top ten of the V8 Supercars Championship at Surfers?
5. Over or Under: 215.5 laps led by the driver who leads the most laps?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: All three Brits, Jamie Green, Paul di Resta and Gary Paffett, finished in the points at Hockenheim.
2. Over: The winning teams at Estoril were French (Sébastien Loeb Racing), Russian (SMP Racing) and Belgian (Marc VDS).
3. Under: The only Germans on the podium at the Zolder championship race were Maximilian Götz and Maximilian Buhk.
4. Under: Marc Márquez did not lose any positions on lap one at Phillip Island.
5. Under: Only six drivers retired from the NASCAR race at Talladega.

Predictions
1. Second time is the charm, Marc Márquez ends his winless streak at Sepang.
2. Sébastien Ogier clinches the title in Catalunya.
3. José María López clinches the title at Suzuka.
4. Mark Winterbottom will end his streak of 11 consecutive races without a top five.
5. A non-Chase driver wins at Martinsville.

Last Week's Predictions
1. We will see a driver pick up their first victory of 2014 in the DTM season finale (Wrong. Mattias Ekström won his second consecutive race to close out 2014).
2. Ferrari will not sweep the GT classes this weekend (Correct. Marc VDS BMW won in GTC).
3. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT gets a win on home soil (Correct. The #1 of César Ramos and Laurens Vanthoor won the qualifying race).
4. Marc Márquez ends his slump and wins in Australia (Wrong. It was looking good until he fell just a little past half way, gift wrapping the victory to Valentino Rossi).
5. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all fail to advance to the next round of the Chase (Wrong. With his win at Talladega, Keselowski advanced to the next round of the Chase).
Overall: 2/5. Running Tally: 14.5/30

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: KV Racing's 2014 Season

The fifth 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series team review features KV Racing. The 2012 Indianapolis 500 winning team lost Tony Kanaan to Ganassi and Simona de Silvestro became a Sauber F1 affiliated driver but the team kept going despite rumors leading into 2014 that they could be closing their doors. They picked up the talented Sébastien Bourdais and the Gary Petersen's AFS paycheck a.k.a Sebastián Saavedra, for 2014 with both performing up to their expectations.

2014 was Sébastien Bourdais' best since returning to IndyCar in 2010

Sébastien Bourdais
The Frenchman entered the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season fresh off a victory at the 2014 Hours of Daytona but was approaching seven years since his last IndyCar victory in his final Champ Car start before heading to Formula One and Scuderia Toro Rosso. He had another slow start to his season. He started and finished 13th at St. Petersburg, started third at Long Beach put had two trips into the tires drop him to 14th and was never a factor at Barber, finishing 15th after being black flagged for contact with Mikhail Aleshin.

The April shower at Barber sprung May flowers for Bourdais at Indianapolis with a fourth in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and seventh in the Indianapolis 500, his first top ten finish in the famed event. June however saw the Frenchman hit a slump with a 13th and 20th at Belle Isle with the second race ending in the tires and an accident at Texas with Justin Wilson gave him back-to-back 20th place finishes. Houston was much more kind to Bourdais with a fourth in race one after running toward the front all day and a fifth in race two after once again being toward the front of the field most of the race.

When IndyCar headed back to the ovals, Bourdais saw another slump. He finished a lap down in 16th at Pocono despite getting better fuel mileage than most of his competitors and had a mechanical failure at Iowa end his race after 130 laps. Bourdais started on pole position for race one at Toronto and the Frenchman cruised to victory, leading 58 of 65 laps. In race two, he finished ninth after having to start tenth due to the field being set by owners' points. He won another pole at Mid-Ohio and came home second after Scott Dixon nailed fuel mileage, however it would be the final top ten of the year for Bourdais.

He finished 12th at Milwaukee in an uneventful race and finished 11th at Sonoma where he hit everything but the pace car. At Fontana, Bourdais started 15th but never had a car that could compete at the front and finished 18th but ended up finishing tenth in the championship, his best championship finish since returning to IndyCar in 2011.

Sébastien Bourdais' 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (461 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 98
Poles: 2
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 9.822 (8th)
Average Finish: 11.277 (10th)

Sebastián Saavedra ended 2014 at the bottom of the IndyCar Championship
Sebastián Saavedra
While Bourdais started slow, Saavedra started surprisingly fast. He finished eleventh at St. Petersburg and thanks to a lot of attrition at Long Beach came home in ninth, his third career top ten finish, despite stalling on the grid. After that it was all down hill for the Colombian. He had a promising run at Barber after staying out on wet tires longer than anyone else, led 11 laps and was in contention for a podium but because he was pitting out of sequence, he ended up finishing 18th.

He took a surprise pole position for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after Ryan Hunter-Reay brought out the red flag to end the final qualifying session but, just like at Long Beach, Saavedra stalled on the grid and gave the inaugural IndyCar race around the IMS road course it's Roberto Guerrero moment after his fellow countryman Carlos Muñoz and Mikhail Aleshin ran into the back of him. In the Indianapolis 500, he started in the middle of the last row but finished on the lead lap for the first time on an oval in his IndyCar career in 15th.

The rest of Saavedra's summer was a string of mid-pack finishes with a few retirements. He finished 14th in Belle Isle 1 and he would not finish on the lead lap again until Sonoma. He started ninth for Belle Isle 2 and he would only start in the top fifteen once in the following eleven races. Saavedra actually had a pattern from Texas to Iowa in his finishes with a 17th followed by 15th, 17th, 15th and 17th at Iowa. And Iowa was his best race of his career to this point! He was driving to the front, picking off the likes of Montoya, Castroneves, Power and Dixon and was running down Kanaan who dominated at Iowa. But then he put into the wall and let the air out of the balloon that was everyone thinking he had finally found his rhythm in IndyCar. After Iowa, his best finish was 16th at Sonoma.

Sebastián Saavedra's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 21st (291 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 1
Laps Led:
Poles: 1
Fast Sixes: 1
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 16.777 (23rd)
Average Finish: 17.176 (23rd)

Head-to-Head
Better Finish: Sébastien Bourdais def. Sebastián Saavedra 13-5.
Better Qualifying Position: Bourdais def. Saavedra 15-3.

Bourdais showed he still has it to compete with the big boys and I only have to think if he had a teammate to match his skill set at KV Racing, that team would be able to take a step to the next level. I don't understand why Gary Peterson continues to fund Saavedra's career when the likes of JR Hildebrand, James Davidson, Sam Bird, Martin Plowman, Tristan Vautier, Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey are on the outside. Saavedra is only 24 and I know I defend the likes of Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal for still being relatively young and having plenty of years ahead of them to win races and championships but it least we have seen Andretti and Rahal compete at the front of races and show some type of promise. Saavedra has done nothing in IndyCar to show he is capable of being a top driver. In 56 starts, he has finished on the lead lap only 16 times and out of his 21 oval starts, this year's Indianapolis 500 is his only lead lap finish on an oval.

I wish Indy Lights can develop into a series where a driver could actually have a career at the second level just like what Jason Keller did in the NASCAR Busch, now-Nationwide, soon-to-be-Xfinity Series because Saavedra would make a great career Lights driver who could make attempt the Indianapolis 500 every year but when it comes to IndyCar full-time, he just isn't cut to be there.

He is holding KV back and that team has potential to take a step forward, pass the likes of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Other than Indianapolis the team struggled on ovals and with the triple crown races worth double points, one bad run could cost you four or five spots in the championship. I expect Bourdais to return the only question is will he have a teammate that can keep up with the four-time champion?



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.

Coverage:
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.  

Over/Unders
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).

Predictions
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.