Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Five: Suzuka, Aragón, Nürburgring, Loudon, Shanghai

Asia is busy hosting two world championships. Spain will host two-wheels. The Nürburgring is busy for a second consecutive weekend and NASCAR heads to the second race of their chance. See a pattern this weekend?

Japanese Grand Prix
Four drivers enter Suzuka mathematically eligible for the World Drivers' Championship. Lewis Hamilton is coming off his worst race of the season after a power unit failure at Singapore. The defending world champion is still on 252 points and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has closed the deficit to 41 points.

Sebastian Vettel is coming off his third victory of the season and is now within 49 points of Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen's championship hopes stayed alive after Hamilton's retirement. The Finn trails Hamilton by 145 points with 150 points remaining on the table. The only way Räikkönen can remain mathematically championship eligible heading to Sochi is if he wins this weekend.

Friday practices from Suzuka saw massive rain storms and only a dozen drivers made a lap in FP1. In FP2, Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat was fastest with a lap of 1:48.277. Rosberg was 0.023 seconds back in second with Hamilton over a half second back of the Russian in third. Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, over eight-tenths behind his teammate. Vettel round out the top five with Räikkönen in sixth, over two seconds back. The Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Max Verstappen were seventh and eight respectively. Felipe Nasr was ninth and Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top ten.

Alexander Rossi was the slowest driver in the session. Valtteri Bottas did not participate in the second practice to save tires.

Vettel has the most Japanese Grand Prix victories among active drivers and is second all-time. All four of the Germans Japanese victories have come at Suzuka. Hamilton has two wins in Japan, one at Fuji and one at Suzuka. Fernando Alonso also has two wins in Japan and like Hamilton has won at both Fuji and Suzuka. Räikkönen's lone Japanese win came after a thrilling last lap pass on Giancarlo Fisichella a decade ago. Jenson Button won the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix and it was the ninth time McLaren has won the Japanese Grand Prix, more than any other manufacture. 

Aragón Grand Prix
MotoGP makes their final European stop before their three-week Asia-Pacific tour at Moorland Aragón. Valentino Rossi is coming off his worst race of 2015 after finishing fifth at Misano. The finish ended a 16-race streak of podium finishes for Rossi. The good news for Rossi was he didn't lose any ground to his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo at Misano because the Majorcan retired after having an accident. Rossi has 242 points to Lorenzo's 224.

Marc Márquez won the dry-to-wet-to-dry spectacular at Misano, his first victory at the track in MotoGP. The defending double world champion trails Rossi by 63 points with five races to go. Andrea Iannone has only two podiums this season but the Ducati rider is fourth in the championship, 88 points behind his fellow Italian.

Bradley Smith rounds out the top five of the championship after scoring his best career finish at Misano when Smith came home in second. The Tech3 rider is 112 points behind Rossi. Andrea Dovizioso is the final rider mathematically eligible for the championship as he is 119 points back of Rossi. Dovizioso has four podiums, the fourth-most but he has retired from races on three occasions.

This is the sixth time MotoGP has gone to Aragón. Last year, Lorenzo scored Yamaha's first victory at the track after switching to the wet weather bike at the right time while Márquez and Dani Pedrosa had their races ruined by stretching their stint on the dry weather bike and both falling. The last four Aragón races have been won by four different riders. Casey Stoner is the only rider with multiple victories in MotoGP at the track.

DTM Nürburgring
DTM enters their penultimate weekend of the 2015 season and 16 drivers are still mathematically eligible for the title.

Mercedes' Pascal Wehrlein took the championship lead after Oschersleben after Mattias Ekström and Audi as a whole had a disastrous weekend. Wehrlein leads the Swede and two-time DTM champion by 14 points. Thirty points back of Wehrlein is Edoardo Mortara. Jaime Green won three of the first four races but hasn't been on the podium since. The Brit trails by 33 points with Bruno Spengler, the top BMW driver, rounding out the top five, 36 points back of Wehrlein.

Defending champion Marco Wittmann is 42 points back of Wehrlein. Gary Paffett has yet to win this season and he is 65 points back. Augusto Farfus has also not won yet this season and he is two points behind Paffett. António Félix da Costa scored his first career DTM victory at Zandvoort and is two points behind Farfus. Mike Rockenfeller rounds out the top ten, 73 points back.

Norisring winner Robert Wickens is 11th on 57 points. Timo Glock scored his first victory of the season at the last round at Oschersleben and is a point behind the Canadian and is tied with Christian Vietoris. Paul di Resta has two podiums this season and has 48 points, two points ahead of Maxime Martin. Tom Blomqvist scored his first career DTM victory at Oschersleben and stayed championship eligible as the British driver has 41 points.

Six active drivers have won at the Nürburgring and there have been four different winners in the last four races (Ekström, Spengler, Wickens, Wittmann). Spengler and Martin Tomczyk lead all active drivers with two wins at the track. Paffett's Nürburgring victory came 11 years ago.

Sylvania 300
The second race of the Chase takes place at New Hampshire International Speedway. Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland and clinched a spot in the second round.

Despite the victory, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth leads the championship standings and leads a Gibbs 1-2-3-4 in the standings. Kenseth is two points ahead of Hamlin with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch tied for third, three points back of Kenseth. Kurt Busch and Joey Logano are tied for fifth and both are a point behind of Edwards and his brother Kyle.

Jimmie Johnson is seventh and is seven points behind Kenseth. Ryan Newman is eighth, a dozen points back with Brad Keselowski a point behind Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a point behind Keselowski, rounding out the top ten. Martin Truex, Jr. is 11th, 17 points behind Kenseth. Jeff Gordon holds the final second round position in 12th on 2031 points.

Jamie McMurray is the first driver on the outside looking in as the Missourian is three points behind Gordon. Paul Menard is four points behind Gordon. Kevin Harvick is 22 points back after having an accident end his race at Chicagoland. Clint Bowyer sits on 2000 points after being penalized 25 points for an technical infraction at Chicagoland.

Eleven of the Chase drivers have won at Loudon. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newmann each have three victories. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer each have two win. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at the one-mile oval. Keselowski has the best average finish at Loudon at 10.2 with Hamlin and Johnson at 10.7.

The Loudon Chase race has never been won by a non-Chase driver. 

Race of China
The World Touring Car Championship will be in Shanghai for the antepenultimate round of their 2015 season. Three Citroën drivers will fight it out for the title.

Defending champion José María López has 351 points and is 74 points ahead of teammate Yvan Muller. If the Argentine exits China with a lead greater than 110 points, he will clinch his second consecutive world championship. Sébastien Loeb is the other driver alive for the title. Loeb is 98 points behind López.

López has won seven of 18 races while Muller has four victories and Loeb has three. Citroën's fourth factory driver, Ma Qing Hua is fourth in the champion and won in Portugal. Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro each have victories this season. Michelisz won at his home track, the Hungaroring in May. Monteiro won in Russia and the most recent race at Motegi.

Last year at Shanghai, López split the weekend with Moroccan Mehdi Bennani.

1. Over or Under: 16.5 finishing position for Alexander Rossi?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 British riders in the top eight finishers?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 total podiums for BMW at Nürburgring?
4. Over or Under: 25.5 laps being the average green flag run at Loudon?
5. Over or Under: 86.5 points being José María López's championship lead after Shanghai.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: There was one Blancpain Endurance Series Champion who was not leading entering the weekend. That was the #23 Nissan of Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo.
2. Over: There were six German cars on the WEC podiums (3 in LMP1, 2 in GTE-Pro, 1 in GTE-Am)
3. Under: Only one class winner in the IMSA race started on pole position. That was the #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley of Joey Hand and Scott Pruett.
4. Over: It took Sebastian Vettel over 121 minutes to complete the Singapore Grand Prix.
5. Over: Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola finished in the top ten at Chicagoland.

1. A driver who did not score points at Singapore and is not named Lewis Hamilton will score points at Suzuka.
2. A rider who has yet to retire from a race this season will at Aragón.
3. At least five drivers will be championship eligible after the Nürburgring round.
4. A Chevrolet driver will clinch a spot in the second round.
5. Someone scores their first WTCC victory of the season at Shanghai.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The Pro Cup champion will have a race victory (Correct. The #23 Nissan won at Paul Ricard).
2. An American will finish on a class podium in the WEC race (Wrong. No Americans were on the podiums).
3. There will be a new championship leader in GTD after Austin (Wrong. Christina Nielsen still leads).
4. A Red Bull finishes on the podium (Correct. Daniel Ricciardo finished second).
5. At least one Chase driver finishes outside the top 30 (Correct. Kevin Harvick finished 42nd).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 8/15