Friday, September 4, 2015

Friday Five: Monza, Darlington, Algarve, Paul Ricard

Historic tracks are themes of the weekend. A Labor Day tradition returns while one of the greatest racetracks in Europe was be filled with tifosi and become a sea of red. There will also be a few sprint races in Europe.

Italian Grand Prix
The 12th round of the 2015 Formula One season heads to Autodromo Nazionale Monza plays host to the Italian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton holds the world championship lead with 227 points, 28 points ahead of his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton is coming off his sixth victory of 2015 after winning the Belgian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel heads to his first Italian Grand Prix as a Ferrari driver third in the championship, trailing Hamilton by 67 points. Vettel's Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen sits tied for fourth in the world championship with former Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa on 82 points.

Valtteri Bottas is three points behind his Williams teammate in sixth. Red Bull drivers Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo are seventh and eighth and 57 and 51 points respectively in the world championship. Romain Grosjean is ninth in the world championship and the final driver mathematically eligible after finishing third in Spa. The Frenchman sits on 38 points.

Vettel leads all active drivers with three Italian Grand Prix victories. A fourth win at Monza would tie Vettel with Nelson Piquet for second all-time in Italian Grand Prix victories. Hamilton and Fernando Alonso each have two Italian Grand Prix victories. Alonso is the last driver to win the Italian Grand Prix driving for Ferrari when he won in 2010.

Rosberg scored his first career podium at Monza last year when he finished second to Hamilton. A Finn has never won the Italian Grand Prix. Williams has not won at Monza since Juan Pablo Montoya scored his first career Formula One victory at the track in 2001.

Southern 500
For the first time since 2003, the Southern 500 will be held on Labor Day weekend as NASCAR returns to Darlington Raceway.

Kevin Harvick leads the championship and has finished in the top three in fifteen of the first 24 races and is the defending Southern 500 winner. Joey Logano is second and has won two of the last three races and has just two top ten finishes in six Darlington starts. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is third in the championship and finished second in last year's Southern 500. Brad Keselowski is fourth with Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top five.

Martin Truex, Jr. is sixth with past Southern 500 winner Matt Kenseth, who has won two of the last four races, in seventh. Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray round out the top ten. McMurray is the highest driver in the championship without a race victory. The next three drivers in the championship, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Jeff Gordon, are all also winless this season. Gordon is the all-time leader in Southern 500 victories with six. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are the only two race winners outside the top ten in the championship. All 11 race winners are locked into Chase. Clint Bowyer sits 15th and currently holds the final Chase position. At least three Chase positions will go to drivers based on points.

Greg Biffle currently is winless and is three positions behind Bowyer in the standings. Biffle is a two-time Southern 500 winner and he is the last Ford driver to win at Darlington, nine years ago. Team Penske enters Darlington 40 years after Bobby Allison won their lone Southern 500 in 1975 driving an AMC Matador.

GP2 Series at Monza
GP2 enters Monza with four rounds to go in the 2015 championship. Belgian ART Grand Prix driver Stoffel Vandoorne has a commanding championship lead as the McLaren development driver has 233 points and sits 105 points clear of Racing Engineering's American Alexander Rossi. Vandoorne could clinch the title this weekend if he leaves Monza with a 144-point lead over second place. Vandoorne and Rossi split the races at Spa two weeks ago.  Rossi is 19 points ahead of Rio Haryanto of Campos Racing and Sergey Sirotkin of Rapax. Alex Lynn of DAMS rounds out the top five with 81 points.

Lynn's teammate Pierre Gasly is sixth with 61 points. The Frenchman is three points ahead of Trident Racing's Raffaele Marciello. One points behind the Italian is New Zealander Mitch Evans who drives for Russian Time. Vandoorne's ART teammate Nobuharu Matsushita is ninth on 48 points with Rossi's Racing Engineering teammate Jordan King rounding out the top ten on 42 points. King is the last driver mathematically eligible for the championship.

There will be a few driver changes at Monza in GP2. Nissan LMP1 driver Jann Mardenborough will make his GP2 debut driving for Carlin and teaming with Julián Leal. At Team Lazarus, Swiss driver Patric Niederhauser will replace Nathanaël Berthon. Niederhauser will also be making his GP2 debut.

Last year at Monza, Vandoorne won the feature race while eventually 2014 GP2 champion Jolyon Palmer won the sprint race driving for DAMS.

4 Hours of Le Castellet
The European Le Mans Series heads to their penultimate round of 2015 at Circuit Paul Ricard. Twenty-nine cars are entered across the four class.

A dozen cars are entered in LMP2. The #38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan driven by Simon Dolan, Filipe Albuquerque and Harry Tincknell, leads the championship with 60 points, two clear of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Tristan Gommendy. The only difference between Jota Sport's and Thiriet by TDS Racing's season is Jota Sport's two pole positions as each car has finished first, second and third this season. The #41 Greaves Motorsports Gibson-Nissan of Gary Hirsch, Björn Wirdheim and Jon Lancaster are third in the championship, ten points back of Jota. The American #40 Krohn Racing Ligier-Judd of Tracy Krohn, Oswaldo Negri, Jr., and Olivier Pla are fourth on 32 points.

Nathanaël Berthon is not at Monza because he is at Paul Ricard as one of three drivers in the #48 Murphy Prototypes Oreca-Nissan alongside Michael Lyons and Mark Patterson. Eurasia Motorsport is six points behind Murphy Prototypes as the #33 Oreca-Nissan will be driven by Pun Jun Jin, Nico Pieter De Bruijn and Richard Bradley. The SMP Racing BR01-Nissans have been rebranded for this race as AF Racing with the #20 being driven by Maurizio Mediani, David Markozov and Nicolas Minassian and Mikhail Aleshin, Kirill Ladygin and Victor Shaytar in the #21.

In GTE, Formula Racing has 48 points and leads that championship with Mikkel Mac, Johnny Laursen and Andrea Rizzoli in the #60 Ferrari F458 Italia. Five points behind them is the #55 AF Corse Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott. Last year, Cameron and Griffin won at Paul Ricard with Michele Rugolo as their third driver. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Richard Lietz, Marco Mapelli and Christian Ried are ten points back of Formula Racing. The Imola-winning #56 AT Racing Ferrari of Alexander Talkanitsa, Sr., Alexander Talkanitsa, Jr. and Alessandro Pier Guidi and the #52 Marc VDS BMW Z4 GTE of Andy Priaulx, Henry Hassid and Jesse Krohn are tied on 36 points. A point behind them is Silverstone winners, the #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche of Adam Carroll, Michael Wainwright and Phillip Keen.

The #59 TDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont leads GTC with 56 points. Four points back is the #62 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia GT3 of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Stuart Hall. Mads Rasmussen, Adrien De Leener and Francisco Guedes will drive the #64 AF Corse Ferrari and are third in GTC with the #63 AF Corse Ferrari of Giorgio Roda, Ilya Melnikov and Marco Cioci is fourth. The #68 Massive Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 will be driven by Casper Elgaard, Kristian Pouslen and Simon Moller.

The #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan of Chris Hoy and Charlie Robertson have won two of three races and lead the LMP3 championship. Michael Simpson and Gaëten Paletou will drive the #2 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan. Konstantin Calko, Mirco Van Oostrum and Dainius Matijosaitis are entered in the #15 SVK by Speed Factory Ginetta-Nissan and Roberto Lacorte and Giorgio Semagiotto will drive the #5 Villorba Corsa Ginette-Nissan.

Blancpain Sprint Series at Algarve
Fifteen cars are entered for the Blancpain Sprint Series weekend at Algarve International Circuit. Robin Frijns and Laurens Vanthoor leads the championship in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra. They have 78 points and lead the most recent winners in the BSS of Vincent Abril and Maximilian Buhk in the #84 Bentley Continental GT3. The #77 BMW Sport Trophy Team Brasil of Valdeno Brito and Atila Abreu are third in the championship with 59 points. The Monegasque pairing of Stéphane Richelmi and Stéphane Ortelli has the #3 Audi fourth in the championship with 46 points. The #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari F458 Italia of Marco Seefried and Nobert Siedler round out the top five with 40 points.

Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Nicky Castsburg won the qualifying race at the last BSS round at Moscow Raceway and they return in the #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4-R-EX. JRM Racing have entered the #173 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for Sean Walkinshaw and Craig Dolby.

1. Over or Under: 2.5 penalties to drivers for exceeding track limits during the race?
2. Over or Under: 9.5 cautions in the Southern 500?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 average finish for Stoffel Vandoorne between the two races at Monza?
4. Over or Under: 3.5 Ferraris on the podiums between GTE and GTC?
5. Over or Under: 4.5 retirements between the two BSS races at Algarve?

1. A Ferrari scores fastest lap at Monza.
2. Someone scores their first victory of the season at the Southern 500.
3. Richie Stanaway scores points this weekend for the first time since his Monaco victory.
4. There will be the first repeat overall winner in ELMS this season at Paul Ricard.
5. One of the two BMW Sport Trophy Team Brasil entries get a victory at Algarve.