Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday Five: Shanghai, Mexico City, Martinsville, Autopolis, Buriram

A few championships head to their penultimate rounds of their respective 2015 seasons. Formula One returns to Mexico for the first time in over two decades. NASCAR heads to a short track. World Touring Car Championship heads to a new country. FIA World Endurance Championship returns to China. There will be some more racing in Japan.

Shanghai
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the championship lead after the trio won its third consecutive race at Fuji. They have 129 points and lead the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer by one point. The #7 Audi has finished on the podium in every single race and won the first two races. The #17 has finished on the podium in every race but Silverstone when they retired.

The #18 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani has finished second in four of six races and has 95.5 points. The #8 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis is fourth in the championship with 79 points and one podium, a third at Austin. Toyota's struggle continues. The defending champions Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi have 59 points. The #2 Toyota of Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Alexander Wurz have 54 points.

In LMP2, the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Sam Bird, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov have taken the championship leader after winning their second consecutive race and third of the season. The #26 leads with 126 points. Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley lost the LMP2 championship lead after their #47 Oreca-Nissan retired at Fuji and now trail the #26 G-Drive Ligier by 12 points. Nick Tandy will be the third driver in the KCMG entry. The #27 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Gustavo Yacamán, Ricardo González and Pipo Derani has a victory, four consecutive third places finishes and is 15 points behind their teammates.

Richard Lietz holds a seven-point lead over the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Davide Rigon. Defending champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won their second race of the season and has the #51 AF Corse Ferrari is 16.5 points behind the Austrian. Lietz' #91 Porsche co-drive Michael Christensen is fourth, a point and a half behind Bruni and Vilander. Frédéric Makowiecki rounds out the top five with 78 points. The #92 Porsche of Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet have finished second in class in the last three races.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari could lock up the GTE-Am championship in Shanghai. Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov have 140 points and have three victories this season. The Russian team holds a 29-point lead over the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas and has finished on the podium in every race this season. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long and Marco Seefried picked up their first victory at Fuji and trail the #72 Ferrari by 36 points. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won the first two races of the season and trails the #72 Ferrari by 41 points.

Mexico City
The championship has already been decided. Lewis Hamilton heads to Mexico coming off his tenth victory of 2015 and clinching his third World Drivers' Championship in Austin. Hamilton could become the second driver to win all three North American Grand Prix (Canada, United States, Mexico), joining Ayrton Senna who won in Canada in 1988 and 1990, won in Mexico in 1989 and won consecutive United States Grand Prix in 1990-91. Hamilton could become the first driver to ever win the United States Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix in the same season.

The battle is now for second as Sebastian Vettel holds a four-point advantage over his fellow German Nico Rosberg. Vettel has five consecutive podium finishes while Rosberg has two runner-up finishes and two races he failed to finish in that time span.

While two Germans are battling for second, two Finns battle for fourth and they have already gotten together on the racetrack. Kimi Räikkönen is 12 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Both drivers retired from the United States Grand Prix. Two points behind Bottas is his Williams' teammate Felipe Massa. Thirty-three points behind Massa is Daniil Kvyat. Daniel Ricciardo is two points behind his Red Bull teammate. Sergio Pérez heads to his first ever Mexican Grand Prix and is coming off a third in Russia and a fifth in the United States. With his fourth in Austin, Max Verstappen jumped into the top ten of the championship, passing Romain Grosjean and Nico Hülkenberg, with 45 points.

Thirteenth through 16th all scored points at Austin. Felipe Nasr finished ninth, Pastor Maldonado finished eighth, Carlos Sainz, Jr. finished seventh and Jenson Button came home in sixth. Button jumped his McLaren teammate in the championship as the Brit has 16 points to Fernando Alonso's 11 points. Marcus Ericsson has nine points. Alexander Rossi is coming off a career-best 12th in his home race and Will Stevens picked up his second retirement of the season in the most recent round.

This will be the 17th Mexican Grand Prix and 16th on the Formula One calendar. Only once has a German engine won the race. Gerhard Berger won the 1986 race driving a Brabham-BMW. Williams has won the last two Mexican Grand Prix with Riccardo Patrese in 1991 and Nigel Mansell in 1992. A Honda engine has won the Mexican Grand Prix four times, including the manufactures first Grand Prix victory in 1965 with Richie Ginther.

Jim Clark won three Mexican Grand Prix, but only two of those were Formula One rounds. Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell also won the Mexican Grand Prix twice.

Martinsville
The semifinal round of the Chase opens from Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano won all three races in round two. Four other drivers who advanced to round three had top tens in all three second round races. Carl Edwards' best finish in round two was fifth at Talladega. Jeff Gordon scored his first top five of the Chase with his third at Talladega after starting on pole position. Kurt Busch quietly has four top tens in six races with fifth at Charlotte being his best finish of round two. Brad Keselowski had two ninths and a fourth in round two.

Martin Truex, Jr. advanced after getting a third, 15th and seventh in the second round. Kevin Harvick finished second in the first race of round two but finished 16th and 15th in the next two races. Kyle Busch finished fifth at Kansas but failed to finish in the top ten in other two races.

Chevrolet has won ten of the last twelve autumn Martinsville races with Hendrick Motorsports winning the last three with three different drivers. Toyota's two victories in the autumn Martinsville race were by Denny Hamlin in 2009-10. Ford has not won at Martinsville since October 20, 2002 when Kurt Busch won with Roush Racing.

Only three of the remaining eight drivers have won at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon leads with eight victories. Kurt Busch has two and won the 2014 spring race. Kevin Harvick's lone Martinsville win was the 2011 spring race. Of none-Chase drivers, Jimmie Johnson has eight Martinsville race, Denny Hamlin has five, Tony Stewart has three and Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. each have one victory. Earnhardt, Jr. won last year's autumn race, the week after being eliminated from the Chase.

Jeff Gordon has 28 top fives at Martinsville while the other seven Chase drivers combine for 23 top fives at the short track. Kyle Busch has eight top fives while Joey Logano has four, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have three, Martin Truex, Jr. and Brad Keselowski have two and Carl Edwards has one. 

Autopolis
The penultimate round of the Super GT season will be at Autopolis.

In GT500, the #12 Team Impul Nissan GT-R of João Paulo de Oliveira and Hironobu Yasuda leads the championship with 51 points but has yet to score a victory this season. Takuya Izawa and Naoki Yamamoto are second, two points behind the #12 Nissan after they drove the #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda NSX-GT to victory in the most recent round at Sportsland SUGO. The #46 MOLA Nissan GT-R of Satoshu Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida are third on 45 points and were the winners in Buriram, Thailand earlier this season. Super Formula points leader Hiroaki Ishiura and Yuji Tachikawa is tied with the #46 MOLA Nissan. The #38 Team Zent Cerumo Lexus RC F has two runner-up finishes and a third this season. James Rossiter and Daisuke Ito won Suzuka 1000km in the #36 Lexus Team Petronas TOM's RC F and rounds out the top five of the championship with 43 points and the defending champions, the #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli are tied with the #36 Lexus.

In GT300, André Couto leads with 74 points and is 20 points ahead of Katsumasa Chiyo. Couto and Chiyo both drive the #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R GT3. Chiyo missed the Fuji and Sportsland SUGO races due to Blancpain GT Series duty. Couto and Chiyo won at Fuji and Suzuka. Twenty-five points behind Couto are Koki Saga and Yuchi Nakayama, drivers of the #31 apr Toyota Prius GT. Saga and Nakayama won the season opener at Okayama. Ryuichiro Tomita is 29 points behind Couto but is the third driver in the #10 Nissan GT-R GT3. Tomita replaced Chiyo in the rounds he missed and ran Suzuka. The #3 NDDP Racing Nissan GT-R GT3 of Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi trail by 33 points and won in Thailand. Also 33 points back is the #11 Gainer Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Katsuyuki Hiranaka and Björn Wirdheim. Hirananka and Wirdheim have three podiums this season.

Buriram
The World Touring Car Championship season heads to it's penultimate round of the 2015 season at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand for the inaugural Race of Thailand and two drivers are eligible for the title.

Defending champion José María López leads with 396 points and looks to clinch his second consecutive title this weekend. López's Citroën teammate Yvan Muller trails the Argentine by 75 points and will have to outscore López by twenty points to keep his title hopes alive. Muller is a four-time WTCC champion.

López has eight victories this season to Muller's five. López has 16 podiums from 20 races while Muller has 12 podiums.

Citroën drivers have the top four in the championship as Sébastien Loeb is third with 282 points and Ma Qing Hua is fourth on 178 points. Zengõ Motorsport's Norbert Michelisz rounds out the top five on 172 points with Gabriele Tarquini of Honda one point behind the Hungarian. Tiago Monteiro is seventh on 165 points.

Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 189.5 laps completed in the 6 Hours of Shanghai?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 safety car periods in the Mexican Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 Chase drivers finishing in the top five in Martinsville?
4. Over or Under: 2.5 European drivers on the two podiums at Autopolis?
5. Over or Under: 0.5 retirements for Citroën drivers?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Vettel went from 13th to third in the United States Grand Prix.
2. Under: One Ducati finished in the top ten at Sepang. That was Danilo Petrucci, who finished sixth.
3. Over: Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell's average finish at Surfers Paradise was 15.5.
4. Under: There were zero red flag periods at Talladega.
5. Over: Volkswagen won 17 stages at Rally Catalunya.

Predictions
1. There will be at least two different class winners from the Fuji race.
2. Lewis Hamilton does not finish on the podium.
3. No one clinches a spot for the Homestead season finale.
4. There will be a first time winner in 2015 at Autopolis.
5. A driver outside the top seven in the champion scores a podium in Buriram.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Lewis Hamilton clinches the World Drivers' Championship (Correct).
2. Valentino Rossi finishes ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (Wrong. Lorenzo 2nd. Rossi 3rd).
3. Someone scores their first career victory at Surfers Paradise (Correct. Both James Courtney and Jack Perkins scored their first victories at Surfers Paradise).
4. At least one former Cup champion is eliminated at Talladega (Correct. Matt Kenseth is out).
5. The winner of the Power Stage is not the winner of Rally Catalunya (Wrong. Andreas Mikkelsen won both).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 21/40


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's 2015 Season

The antepenultimate Wednesday Wrap-Up looks at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which went from the worst team in IndyCar to championship contenders in one season. The team surprisingly was the best Honda team despite not developing the Honda aero kit during the offseason. The team did not have any mechanical failures take them out of a race and outside of one race, all of RLLR's poor results where not of their making.

It was a dream season for Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal
This was the season people having been waiting for from Graham Rahal since 2009. The first race saw Rahal be penalized when he made contact with Charlie Kimball's wounded car but he recovered to finish 11th. He survived the rain at NOLA to finish eighth and picked up another 11th at Long Beach. The natural-terrain road courses are where we got to see the strength of the Honda aero kit. Rahal started eighth and used pit strategy to put him into the lead. He had to make an additional pit stop but he was on fresh tires, was running laps two seconds faster than other drivers and drove his way to second until the checkered flag was displayed and he was 2.2 seconds behind Josef Newgarden.

Rahal developed a tendency to get at least one podium a year but the next race showed he had found a groove. He had to use pit strategy again to get from 17th to the front but he was running competitive lap times to Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya and the other front-runners. He got within 1.5 seconds of Power but once again fell a few laps short. He started 17th in the Indianapolis 500 and his car improved as the race went on. He worked his way into the top ten and then into the top five. He couldn't get to the Penskes of Power and Monotya or the Ganassis of Kimball and Dixon and finished fifth.

Belle Isle 1 was the first bump in the road for Rahal as Stefano Coletti and James Jakes got together, leaving him and Tony Kanaan as collateral damage and ending Rahal's race on lap five. An early exit like this one would have killed Rahal's season in previous years. The next race he would driven too hard, bounced off the barrier, get even more frustrated, have it carry over to the next race and it would be all downhill. But race two saw Rahal benefit from qualifying being rained out, started fifth, benefitted from Power, Hélio Castroneves and Dixon being taken out and from others needing to conserve fuel to finish third. Texas was the only race that Rahal can pin on him and the team. He started sixth, got the set-up wrong for the race and finished 14th. He was the top Honda in eighth at Toronto made some aggressive passes to get there.

Then there is Fontana. Some races you win because you catch breaks. Rahal caught breaks at Fontana. He drove well all race and worked his way to the front but benefitted from not being penalized for leaving the pit lane with the fuel nozzle still attached and benefitted for not being called for multiple blocks near the end of the race. He broke his drought of 124 starts between victories. He had another solid run at Milwaukee where he ran in the top ten all race and ended up on the podium once again. At Iowa, he came back from a gearbox issue and falling a lap down to finish fourth. This led into his home victory at Mid-Ohio. He pitted at the right time when a caution came out and ended up on the top step of the podium.

Unfortunately, the storyline took a turn for the worst after Mid-Ohio. A botched pit stop at Pocono dropped him from the top ten to the back of the field. Tristan Vautier attempted a move into turn three that was never going to work and Rahal just happened to be the driver Vautier dove under. He still had a shot at the title despite the incident with Vautier and was running in the top ten at Sonoma until Sébastien Bourdais punted him and dropped him to 18th in the final race of the season and from second in the championship to fourth.

Graham Rahal had a championship season. Equipment was reliable. He turned top tens into top fives and top fives into podiums. Could he have been more conservative at Pocono? Who knows? He couldn't have seen the amount of attrition based off the previous two Pocono races. Belle Isle 1 and Sonoma were out of his control. Texas was the lone race that he and his name can hang their head on and even then he wasn't the only one to get the set-up wrong at Texas (Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are in the same boat). Rahal seems to be in a better place. He is settling down and getting married and perhaps that is a reason for his better on-track success.

Now the pressure is on Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Can they replicate these results? Andretti Autosport came on strong at the end of 2015 and history has shown us that Andretti Autosport can rebound. Penske and Ganassi will still be there. Maybe CFH Racing remains a contender. Perhaps KV Racing and Sébastien Bourdais makes that next step forward. RLLR has plenty of teams breathing down its neck to compete for the championship. The team is not expanding to two full-time teams but Spencer Pigot will be driving for the team at St. Petersburg and the two Indianapolis races and full-time hasn't been entirely ruled out. If they do bring on the Indy Lights champion, can the team develop him and not take a step back?

After having many competitive races in 2012 with Takuma Sato, RLLR were flat in the following two seasons. After winning three races in 2004, including the Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Rice, RLLR didn't win another race until Ryan Hunter-Reay at Watkins Glen in 2008. Can RLLR prevent the rollercoaster pattern from continuing in 2016?


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2016 IndyCar Schedule Released: Some Positives, Some Negatives

The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule was released today and it has the positives we have all been dying for and negatives that we were all hoping IndyCar would be missed after years of making the same mistakes over and over again.

St. Petersburg will kick off the season on March 13th followed by two weeks off, one because of Easter Sunday. The week after Easter is when IndyCar gets it's chocolate egg and returns to Phoenix International Raceway for a night race on Saturday April 2nd. After another week off, the series will have a back-to-back with Long Beach and Barber to close out the month of April.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be on Saturday May 14th with Indianapolis 500 qualifying the Saturday and Sunday after that and the 100th Indianapolis 500 will take place on May 29th. The Belle Isle doubleheader will be June 4th and 5th and close out the first half of the IndyCar season.

Texas kicks off the second half of the IndyCar season on Saturday June 11th and will be followed by an off-weekend, allowing IndyCar drivers to potentially drive in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The first race of the summer will be at Road America on June 26th and that will be followed by an off-weekend on 4th of July weekend. Iowa will be Sunday July 10th with Toronto the week after that on July 17th.

After a week off for the Brickyard 400 weekend, the final quarter of the IndyCar season will begin at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 31st. IndyCar teams will then get a two-week summer vacation before returning to Pocono Raceway on August 21st. IndyCar is scheduled to make its debut on the streets of Boston on September 4th, Labor Day weekend. Sonoma Raceway will close out the season for the second consecutive season on September 18th.

The Good:
Phoenix is back.
Road America is back.
Pocono is back.
Season starts a little earlier.
Season ends a little later.
Teams get a little more breathing room in-between races.

The Bad:
No Milwaukee, a staple to the IndyCar calendar. It is to IndyCar what Monza is to Formula One.
Phoenix is the same night as the Final Four, which means people will likely choose that over the race and if Indiana, Butler and/or Arizona are playing, that will kill the event in terms of attendance and TV audience in its return.
Iowa is going to be on a Sunday at 4:00 p.m. local time even though there is not NASCAR race that day.
Toronto and Mid-Ohio will be getting the CNBC treatment.
Sonoma is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday, the very narrow window between the end of the 4:05 p.m. ET NFL games and Sunday Night Football, also known as the most-watched television program in the United States.

I have sounded pretty negative about the schedule but just looking at the races, it is as close to great as IndyCar has been since reunification. Phoenix and Road America are finally back. Both were gone way too long. The losses of Milwaukee and Fontana are cancelled out on paper but are not cancelled out emotionally. Boston is still up in the air and if that falls through (I think it will), IndyCar will be left scrambling for a replacement.

The television times are what I am most irked about. I like the idea of Phoenix as a night race but not against the Final Four. IndyCar can't always avoid other sporting events but there are certain events you definitely should avoid. The Super Bowl, the Daytona 500, the Final Four, the FIFA World Cup Finals. Those are the five you avoid and two of those aren't yearly events. We will have to see how year one goes but I bet Phoenix is going to be using a whole lot of hindsight come the morning of April 3rd.

Iowa is on Sunday because NASCAR is at Kentucky the Saturday night of that weekend. In a perfect world, IndyCar would flip Iowa and Toronto so Toronto would be the Sunday after Kentucky and Iowa would be the Saturday night before NASCAR at Loudon. That is a simple fix for 2017 that IndyCar and NBCSN should make. However, seeing as how every IndyCar event that isn't the Indianapolis 500 is on life support, could one bad Sunday afternoon kill Iowa? It absolutely could and then IndyCar will be caught with their pants around their ankles once again.

Pocono is starting too late at 3:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday. If a 500-miler takes around three hours, it would not be over until 6:00 p.m. ET and most people won't get home until after 8:00 p.m. ET. I know the day of the Pocono race is the final day of the Summer Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro and had these Olympics been in Europe or Asia, this wouldn't have been a problem but, once again, every IndyCar race is on life support and a 3:00 p.m. ET on a Sunday to help TV is screwing Pocono Raceway over royally.

IndyCar got the Sonoma finale wrong. I understand what IndyCar is trying to do but it makes no sense to try and squeeze in before the final football game on Sunday. What IndyCar should have tried is to start the race at 5:00 p.m. ET like this year, after all the 1:00 p.m. ET games are over and right around halftime for the 4:00 p.m. games.

Head-to-head conflicts are going to happen so it's not that big of a deal that Toronto and Mid-Ohio are going to be on CNBC but it would be nice if IndyCar considered my "brunch series" idea of having races around 11:00 a.m. ET so they could end and lead into NASCAR races.

This could have definitely been better but it's not horrifically terrible. If IndyCar let me get my paws on the schedule I would have made sure Milwaukee and Fontana stayed, put Milwaukee the week after the Indianapolis 500 where it belongs, moved Belle Isle back to Labor Day weekend because Boston is not going to happen, flipped Iowa and Toronto, moved Fontana to the Saturday night after Petit Le Mans (October 8th) and work out a deal with Circuit of the Americas and the FIA to have the IndyCar finale be the Saturday (October 22nd) of United States Grand Prix weekend after Formula One qualifying because it would be the largest crowd for an IndyCar race outside of the Indianapolis 500.

Of course, we don't live in a perfect world.


Monday, October 26, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Heard It In A Press Release

Lewis Hamilton clinched his third World Drivers' Championship with victory in Austin after a hurricane of a weekend. Valentino Rossi controversially ended Marc Márquez's race. There was a blow out in Beijing. There was a dramatic victory at Surfers Paradise. Rally Catalunya was dramatically decided on the final stage and gave us a surprise winner. The NASCAR race was a mess. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Heard It In A Press Release
Spencer Pigot announced whom he will be driving for in at least three races next season. The Indy Lights champion will be driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at St. Petersburg, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500.

How was the news broken? By an out-of-the-blue press release around 10:00 a.m. ET on a Tuesday.

Pigot deserved better than that. Look at it this way: This is IndyCar's top prospect. This is the #1 draft choice. This could be a future star and the news of his arrival to IndyCar couldn't have been announced any less spectacular. He deserved a press conference, not a teleconference. He should be made into a big deal and someone the fans should get excited about. A press release is what Dale Coyne's flavor of the month should get, not a respected up-and-coming driver who just won the second-tier championship in the Road to Indy ladder system.

People need to see Pigot in the flesh, not hearing his voice or reading his quotes. IndyCar, Indy Lights and Indianapolis Motor Speedway should have hosted a press conference for Pigot and had him speak with Bobby Rahal to his left and his new teammate Graham Rahal to his right. He should have been put on center stage. While diehard IndyCar fans might know who Pigot is, there will be those who haven't a clue who he is. There are probably media members who have only every heard Pigot's name in passing and have never seen him race. This could have been an opportunity for a proper introduction.

If IndyCar wants to be big time then it has to start treating drivers like they are big time. The larger purses and base salaries are harder to come by but exposure is as cheap as ever in this social media world. With the ridiculously long offseason it is very easy for IndyCar and its driver to go out of sight and out of mind. IndyCar can't let that happen if it wishes to grow. They need to make everything into a big deal. Driver announcements, sponsor announcements, schedule announcements (which might be coming Tuesday), whatever it is, it should be a promoted event and streamed online. I am not saying they should be at the 1990s Formula One team launch level but they should be events for the public to witness.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sébastien Buemi and Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Dani Pedrosa won the MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega.

Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb won race one of the Gold Coast 600. James Courtney won on his return weekend with Jack Perkins in race two.

Andreas Mikkelsen scored his first career World Rally Championship victory at Rally Catalunya after Volkswagen teammate Sébastien Ogier had an accident on the final stage while leading.

Johann Zarco won the Moto2 race from Malaysia. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3 and kept his championship hopes alive as he trails Danny Kent by 24 points with 25 left on the table.

Timothy Peters won the NASCAR Truck races from Talladega.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One returns to Mexico for the first time since 1992.
FIA World Endurance Championship heads to its penultimate round at Shanghai.
NASCAR starts its semifinal round at Martinsville.
Super GT will be at Autopolis.
World Touring Car Championship will make its Thailand debut.



Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lewis Hamilton Wins 4th United States Grand Prix, Clinches 3rd World Championship

After a race that featured eight retirements, two virtual safety cars, two safety cars and a slew of on track passes, Lewis Hamilton won the 2015 United States Grand Prix and clinched his third World Drivers' Championship as his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg finished second and Sebastian Vettel finished third from 13th on the grid. Rosberg had been leading but slipped off circuit with less than ten laps to go, allowing Hamilton to pass him for the lead. Vettel made a late charge on Rosberg as the Ferrari driver would have kept his title hopes alive with a second place finish but he could not get by his fellow German. Rosberg scored fastest lap of the race.

Max Verstappen matched his career best finish with a fourth. This is the best finish ever for a Dutch driver in the United States Grand Prix besting Christijan Albers' fifth in 2005. Sergio Pérez finished fifth with Jenson Button. finishing in sixth position and scored points in consecutive races for the first time this season. Carlos Sainz, Jr. finished seventh . Pastor Maldonado finished eighth with Felipe Nasr over coming contact early in the race with his Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson to finish ninth.

Daniel Ricciardo had to overcome contact from Nico Hülkenberg and a late pit stop to finish tenth and pick up one point. Fernando Alonso had been running in the points but had to nurse an ailing car home and finished 11th. American Alexander Rossi finished 12th and on the lead lap in his first ever United States Grand Prix start.

Daniil Kvyat was running in the front all race and was competing for a podium when he spun after running on damp surface and hit the barrier just before pit in. The Russian's accident did bring out a safety car but Kvyat was ok. Hülkenberg retired after his contact with Ricciardo. This is the German's third retirement in the last four races. Marcus Ericsson caused the first safety car when he stopped on circuit on exit of turn 11. Kimi Räikkönen went off circuit and collided with the barriers but kept running only to retire a few laps later. Romain Grosjean and Valtteri Bottas each retired after switching over to slick tires and falling a lap down. Will Stevens made contact with his Manor teammate in the first corner but made it make to the pit lane where he retired from the race.

This is Hamilton's fourth United States Grand Prix victory, second all-time to Michael Schumacher who won five United States Grands Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The now three-time world champion has ten races this year including the last three. Hamilton is the first driver to clinch the World Drivers' Championship on American soil since Keke Rosberg in 1982. It is the seventh overall time the World Drivers' Championship has been decided on American soil. This is the first time ever that a British driver has clinched the title on American soil.

Formula One will head to Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez next week for the first Mexican Grand Prix since 1992.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Buemi Blows Out Field, Wins Beijing ePrix

The first race of the 2015-16 Formula E was arguably the first blow out in the series' short history.

Renault e.dams driver Sébastien Buemi led 25 of 26 laps from pole position and set fastest lap on his way to a record-extending fourth Formula E victory. The Swiss driver was never challenged as he opened up to a seven-second lead early in the first stint and led by over 11 seconds at the time of the pit stop on lap 14. This is the first time in series history a driver has scored the maximum of 30 points with first place paying 25 points, pole position paying three points and fastest lap getting two points.

Last year's Beijing winner Lucas di Grassi came home in second. The Brazilian had nothing for Buemi but he did have to battle with Buemi's teammate Nicolas Prost for position. The French driver, however, would tap the barrier and lose his right rear pod, which caused his rear wing to askew. Prost faced a black flag and retired with four laps to go. Prost's retirement gave third position to Nick Heidfeld. The German faced a hefty challenge from the Dragon Racing drivers Loïc Duval and Jérôme d'Ambrosio. Both Dragon cars went a lap further on their first stint and Duval led when Buemi was in the pit lane. Heidfeld would hold off the Dragon drivers, handing Mahindra Racing the team's first podium in Formula E.

Oliver Turvey finished sixth after going a lap longer on the first stint and benefitted from a full-course yellow involving Venturi's Jacques Villeneuve and Aguri's António Félix da Costa as the Brit was on the pit lane when the incident occurred and forced the other drivers on track to slow to 50 KPH. Sam Bird finished seventh with Aguri driver Nathanaėl Berthon scoring on debut after also benefitting from the incident that ended his teammates race. Stéphane Sarrazin finished ninth with the rookie and Andretti driver Robin Frijns finishing tenth, pickup one point on debut. Daniel Abt had finished ninth but was handed a 10-second penalty for unsafe release on his pit stop.

Jean-Éric Vergne started in the top five but finished 12th. Bruno Senna ran in the top five for most of the first stint but finished 13th. Villeneuve was able to continue despite the contact with da Costa and finished 14th. Defending champion Nelson Piquet, Jr. was the final finisher in 15th. The Brazilian started last but was another driver who benefitted from the Villeneuve-da Costa caution. He was in the top ten when he stopped on circuit only to regain power.

The third retirement of the race was Simona de Silvestro, who nosed her car in the turn two barriers on lap three. This brought out the first full-course caution of the season.

Buemi leads the championship with 30 points and is 12 points clear of di Grassi. Fifteen points back is Heidfeld with Duval sitting on 12 points. D'Ambrosio has 10 points with Turvey on eighth, Bird on six, Berthon on four, Sarrazin on two and Frijns on one.

In the Teams' Championship, Renault e.dams has 30 thanks to Buemi with Dragon Racing eight points back. Twelve points behind Renault e.dams is ABT Audi Sport. Mahindra is fourth on 15 points. NEXTEV TCR rounds out the top five with eight points. DS Virgin Racing has six points. Team Aguri is on four points, Venturi has two and Andretti has one. The team that did not get on the board was Trulli Formule E. Trulli did not contest round one with drivers Vitantonio Liuzzi and Salvador Durán after they failed to get their cars through scrutineering.

The second round of the 2015-16 Formula E season will take place in a fortnight, November 7th, from Putrajaya, Malaysia. Sam Bird is the defending winner of that race.


Friday, October 23, 2015

2015-16 Formula E Season Preview Special

The second FIA Formula E season is set to commence this Saturday from Beijing, China. All ten teams from 2014-15 season return with a few new faces on the grid. Ten rounds, 11 races make up the 2015-16 schedule with one round still to be announced.

This preview special will go team-by-team looking at each driver contracted for the Beijing ePrix.

NEXTEV TCR
The team formerly known as China Racing brings back inaugural Formula E champion Nelson Piquet, Jr. and he will be joined by Oliver Turvey, who competed for the team in the final round of the 2014-15 season in London. The team has developed its own powertrain for the 2015-16 season. Their 2015-16 entry will be the NEXTEV TCR Formula E 001.

Nelson Piquet, Jr.: #1 NEXTEV TCR Formula E 001
The Brazilian won the title by one points over e.dams' driver Sébastien Buemi. Piquet, Jr. won two races (Long Beach and Moscow) and finished on the podium on five occasions. He finished in the points in ten of 11 races. Piquet, Jr. did not win a pole position last season but he did score two fastest laps, tied for the most. His lone retirement came at Putrajaya. He finished eighth at Beijing last year.

Oliver Turvey: #88 NEXTEV TCR Formula E 001
The British driver didn't make his Formula E debut until the final round of the inaugural season in his home country. Turvey finished ninth in both races, scoring more points than his predecessors Ho-Pin Tung, Antonio García and Charles Pic in the #88 China Racing entry. Turvey has spent most of 2015 competing in the Super GT championship.

Renault e.dams
Renault e.dams was one of four teams to run the same two drivers in all ten rounds of last year's championship. Sébastien Buemi fell a point shy of the Drivers' championship but he and Nicolas Prost led the French team won the Teams' championship with 232 points from four victories, seven podiums and five pole positions. Their powertrain will be the Renault Z.E. 15.

Sébastien Buemi: #9 Renault Z.E. 15
The Swiss driver is the all-time leader in Formula E victories with three. The Toyota factory driver and defending world champion in the FIA World Endurance Championship won at Punta del Este, Monaco and London 1. He is also tied for the all-time lead in Formula pole positions with three. Buemi is the only driver to win from pole position in Formula E history and he did it at Monaco and London.

Nicolas Prost: #8 Renault Z.E. 15
The son of Alain Prost won the first two pole positions in Formula E history and gave the series it's first memorable moment last year in the inaugural event when he blocked his FIA WEC Rebellion Racing teammate Nick Heidfeld going into the final corner on the final, causing the top two cars to retire and handing history to Lucas di Grassi. Prost would win at Miami but had only one other podium in the inaugural season.

Dragon Racing
The American team Dragon Racing finished second to e.dams in the first Teams' championship and came on strong in the second half of the season. All five of Dragon Racing's podiums came in the final four races of the season. Jérôme d'Ambrosio ran the full season last year and will return. Loïc Duval replaced Oriol Servià after four rounds last year and he will be back for the 2015-16 season. Dragon Racing will using Venturi Grand Prix's VM200-FE-01.

Jérôme d'Ambrosio: #7 VM200-FE-01
The Belgian driver finished fourth last year in the drivers' championship as he finished first or second in three of the final four races. He won the Berlin round after Lucas di Grassi was disqualified for using a modified front wing. D'Ambrosio was the only driver to take the checkered flag in every single race in 2014-15.

Loïc Duval: #6 VM200-FE-01
The 24 Hours of Le Mans winner was able to finish ninth in the Drivers' championship despite missing the four races. Duval finished third at Berlin and in London 2. His lone retirement came at Monaco. Duval has two rounds remaining in the FIA WEC for Audi but neither clash with his Formula E commitments.

ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
The winners of the inaugural Formula E race, ABT Audi Sport, had a chance at the Drivers' championship entering the final race of the season with Lucas di Grassi but the Brazilian had to settle for third. Both Di Grassi and Daniel Abt return for the 2015-16 season after both ran all 11 races in 2014-15. The German team's powertrain will be the ABT Schaeffler FE01

Lucas di Grassi: #11 ABT Schaeffler FE01
Di Grassi made history last year at Beijing and he will get a chance to make more this year and become the first driver to win at a track multiple times. He finished on the podium in the first three races last year and would score three more podiums over the course of the season. His lone retirement was at Buenos Aires when he suffered a suspension failure. The disqualification at Berlin arguably cost him the title.

Daniel Abt: #66 ABT Schaeffler FE01
The German finished third on track last year at Beijing but was given a time penalty for exceeding maximum power usage and dropped to tenth. It was just a sign of things to come. Despite finish tenth in the next round at Putrajaya and finishing third at Miami, Abt finished outside the points in seven of 11 races and finished just outside the top ten in the championship. He won pole position at Long Beach and scored fastest lap at Punta del Este.

DS Virgin Racing
The British team closed out the inaugural with a victory on home soil with British driver Sam Bird. Bird won two races in 2014-15 and finished third last year at Beijing and will return for year two with Virgin Racing. He will have a new teammate in Jean-Éric Vergne, arguably the biggest signing of the Formula E offseason. Their powertrain will be called the Virgin DSV-001.

Sam Bird: #2 Virgin DSV-001
Bird finished third in Beijing and won the next round in Putrajaya. He scored fastest lap at Buenos Aires but finished seventh after a penalty for ignoring the red lights at the end of the pit lane. Every race he finished, he finished in the points but he couldn't get back on the podium until the London finale, when he took victory and scored his second fastest lap of the season and he finished fifth in the championship.

Jean-Éric Vergne: #25 Virgin DSV-001
The Frenchman did not join Formula E until the third round at Punta del Este for Andretti Formula E but he won pole position on debut and nearly won on debut only to have his suspension with two laps to go while in second. He would win another pole position in Miami only to have his race end two laps early when he ran out of power. A second at Long Beach, a third pole at Moscow and a third in London 1 were the highlights of his season.

Andretti Formula E
Despite having many promising rounds with Jean-Éric Vergne, the American team could not break through and get their first victory. The team scored four podiums, three of those were runner-up finishes, including second in the inaugural round with Franck Montagny. Eight drivers drove for the team in year one. Simona de Silvestro ran the season finale at London and will return. Her teammate will be Dutch driver Robin Frijns. Andretti will be one of two teams continuing to drive the SRT01-e powertrain.

Simona de Silvestro: #28 SRT01-e
The Swiss driver finished 11th and 12th in her lone two starts in London last spring. De Silvestro will be the lone female driver on the grid at Beijing. A woman has yet to score a point in Formula E. De Silvestro drove three races for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar this year and she made her Bathurst 1000 debut a few weeks ago pairing with Renee Gracie. They finished 21st, 40 laps down.

Robin Frijns: #27 SRT01-e
Frijns will be making his Formula E debut and he should become the first Dutch driver in the series history. Frijns won the 2012 Formula Renault 3.5 championship over Jules Bianchi, Sam Bird, António Félix da Costa and Kevin Magnussen. He won in his third GP2 start in 2013 driving for Hilmer Motorsport in Barcelona. Frijns won the 2015 Blancpain GT Series championship with five victories, all in the Blancpain Sprint Series and two podiums in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

Team Aguri
Team Aguri picked up a victory in the inaugural season of Formula E and the Japanese team will bring back Portuguese driver António Félix da Costa for season two. The team has hired Frenchman Nathanaël Berthon to team with da Costa. Last year, Aguri had five drivers compete for the team, including Takuma Sato, who scored fastest lap in the inaugural race. Aguri is the other team that will continue to use the SRT01-e powertrain.

António Félix da Costa: #55 SRT01-e
Da Costa missed the inaugural round last year in Beijing because of DTM duty. He would also miss the London round due to DTM commitments. He won at Buenos Aires after a handful of drivers retired due to contact with the barriers. He finished in the points in six of eight starts with only one retirement. This year in DTM, da Costa scored his first career victory in the series at Zandvoort.

Nathanaël Berthon: #77 SRT01-e
Berthon will become the seventh Frenchman to race in Formula E. He has spent the better part of the last four seasons competing in GP2. His lone victory came at the Hungaroring in 2013. He finished second in the sprint races at Barcelona and Hungaroring in 2012. He finished third in the Bahrain sprint race earlier this spring. In 84 GP2 starts, Berthon has scored 122 points. He has one victory in Formula Renault 3.5. That came at Magny-Cours in 2010.

Mahindra Racing
The Indian team had only six finishes in the points last year and were one of two teams not to score a podium in the inaugural season of Formula E. Bruno Senna will return after running every round in 2014-15. The team has brought in Nick Heidfeld from Venturti Formula E to replace Karun Chandhok. In 2011, Senna replaced Heidfeld at Lotus Renault GP prior to the Belgian Grand Prix. Mahindra's powertrain will be known as the Mahindra M2ELECTRO.

Bruno Senna: #21 Mahindra M2ELECTRO
Senna failed to finish the first two races of inaugural Formula E season (he failed to complete a lap at Beijing) but did go on to finish in the points in the two South American rounds. He would finish fifth at Long Beach and fourth in the finale from London but he finished outside the top fifteen in six of the 11 races. He finished tenth in the championship with 40 points.

Nick Heidfeld: #23 Mahindra M2ELECTRO
The German infamously was blocked by Nicolas Prost last year at Beijing, costing Heidfeld a shot at history. He would recover to finish in the points in five races, including a third at Moscow. Heidfeld was one of four drivers to be disqualified from a race in the inaugural Formula E season. At Putrajaya, he was disqualified for changing his car outside his permitted area during a pit stop.

Venturi Formula E
The Monegasque nearly won at Beijing last year and appeared to have won the season finale in London only to have that be taken away due to exceeding the maximum power usage. Venturi is the oldest team on the grid, as their two drivers average age is 41.5 years old. Stéphane Sarrazin returns and his teammate will be the decorate Jacques Villeneuve. Venturi's powertrain will be the VM200-FE-01

Stéphane Sarrazin: #4 VM200-FE-01
The Frenchman scored points at Beijing last year and finished in the points a total of six times in 2014-15. He scored pole position for the finale at London and crossed the start/finish line first but was handed a 49-second penalty for exceeding maximum power usage and dropped him to 15th. He suffered two retirements, both because of suspension failures.

Jacques Villeneuve: #12 VM200-FE-01
Villeneuve will become the first Canadian to ever compete in Formula E history and he will become the oldest driver in the series' history. The 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1995 IndyCar champion and 1997 World Drivers' champion last competed in a competitive race earlier this year when he ran the Stock Car Brasil season opener alongside Ricardo Zonta. His last open-wheel race was the 2014 Indianapolis 500, where he finished 14th.

Trulli Formula E
Jarno Trulli's team was the cellar dweller in 2014-15. The team finished in the points once twice with Trulli scoring the team's best finish at Punta del Este, where he came home from fourth. Vitantonio Liuzzi returns to the team after running in five races last year. Salvador Durán joins the Italian team after running ten races with Aguri in 2014-15 season. The powertrain for Trulli Formula E will be known as Motomatica JT-01. Trulli Formula E will miss the opening round at Beijing after failing to submit their cars for scrutineering.

Vitantonio Liuzzi: #10 Motomatica JT-01
The Italian replaced fellow Italian Michele Cerruti in the #18 last year and the former Red Bull development driver scored two points with a ninth place finish in Berlin. He missed the final round in London because of GT Asia Series duty. He won that weekend in GT Asia driving the #55 FFF Racing Team by ACM McLaren 650S GT3 alongside Hiroshi Hamaguchi. He is missing the GT Asia finale in Shanghai to run Beijing.

Salvador Durán: #18 Motomatica JT-01
The Mexican driver replaced Katherine Legge after two races at Aguri. He finished eighth in his second start at Buenos Aires but was disqualified for exceeding maximum power usage. In the next round in Miami, he would pick up his first point with a tenth place finish. Durán finished sixth at Moscow and eighth in the finale in London.

Schedule
Eight rounds return from the inaugural Formula E season. The schedule remains the same in autumn 2015 and winter 2016. Putrajaya, Malaysia will follow Beijing in a fortnight on November 7th. Punta del Este will be the final race of the calendar year on December 19th. After a month and a half off, Formula E will return to South America for the Buenos Aires round on February 6th.

There is currently a TBA for March 12, 2016. Miami was held on that weekend last year but with that race being without a promoter, a new venue appears likely to take that spot on the calendar. Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has been the rumored venue for the March date.

Formula E will return to Long Beach on the first weekend of April. Paris replaces Monaco and will take place on April 23rd. Berlin will be May 21st with Moscow a fortnight later on June 6th. The London season finale is scheduled for July 2nd and 3rd but location is still to be determined, as Battersea Park has not committed to host that round.

Predictions
1. At least two races will feature a last lap pass for the victory.

2. No more than four drivers are disqualified from races this season due to technical infractions.

3. At least two drivers score their first career victory this season.

4. There will be at least two drivers who enter in the middle of the season and score a podium.

5. A non-European driver wins a pole position.

6. A driver will win a race from pole position and also score fastest lap.

7. A female driver will score points this season.

8. A driver wins consecutive races.

9. There will be at least one race entirely run in the rain.

10. The 2015-16 Formula E champion will not be one of the top three finishers from the 2014-15 Formula E championship.


Friday Five: Austin, Sepang, Surfers Paradise, Talladega, Catalunya

Two championships could be crowned this weekend on two different continents. Something could occur for the first time in over thirty years. A doubleheader will occur on the Gold Coast. Four drivers will have their title hopes will end in Alabama and World Rally is competing as we speak in Catalunya.

Austin
The 2015 World Drivers' Championship could be clinched at the 2015 United States Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton holds a 66-point lead over Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and a 73-point lead over his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

If Hamilton were to win his second consecutive United States Grand Prix and fourth all-time and Vettel to finish third or worse, Hamilton would clinch his third world title. If Hamilton finishes second and neither Vettel nor Rosberg win the race, the Brit would need Vettel to finish sixth or worse to clinch the title. If Hamilton finishes third, he would need Vettel to finish seventh or worse and Rosberg to finish behind him to clinch. If Hamilton finishes fourth, Vettel would have to finish ninth or worse and Rosberg would have to finish behind him. The worst Hamilton can finish and clinch is fifth and for that to happen he would need Vettel to finish tenth or worse and Rosberg to finish behind him.

As torrential rain storms threaten Austin this weekend, if the race does not reach 75% of the schedule about of laps (42 of 56) and half points are awarded, Hamilton would need to win the race and have Vettel finish seventh or worse to clinch the title.

Vettel will serve a ten-grid spot penalty as Ferrari has decided to change engines in both cars for the United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton could become the first driver to clinch the World Drivers' Championship in the United States since Keke Rosberg in 1982. The Finn and father to Hamilton's teammate clinched his lone title with a fifth in the final time Formula One ran the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. A British driver has never clinched the World Drivers' Championship in the United States. Hamilton could tie Jackie Stewart for most world championships by a British driver with three.

Sepang
The penultimate round of the 2015 MotoGP season takes place in Malaysia. Eleven points separate the Yamaha teammates of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

Rossi could clinch the title with a finish of third and Lorenzo finishing outside the points. If Rossi finished second, he would need Lorenzo to finish 11th or worse. If Rossi wins the race, Lorenzo would have to finish sixth or worse for the Italian to lock up his tenth world championship. Lorenzo owns the tiebreaker with six wins to Rossi's four, so Rossi needs to exit Malaysia with a 26-point lead to clinch the title.

Rossi is the all-time leader in Malaysian Grand Prix victories with seven and a record six in the premier class. Rossi has not won in Malaysia since 2010 and Honda has won the last three Malaysia races. The 2011 race was cancelled after the accident that took the life of Marco Simoncelli. Lorenzo has never won in Malaysia in the premier class and his lone Malaysian victory was in 2006 in 250cc.

Surfers Paradise
The final endurance round of the 2015 V8 Supercars Season is the Gold Coast 600.

Mark Winterbottom not only leads the V8SC championship but also leads the Endurance Cup with co-driver Steve Owen after winning at Sandown and finishing second at Bathurst. The Ford driver holds a 399-point lead over Bathurst winner Craig Lowndes. Lowndes is fourth in the Endurance Cup with co-driver Steven Richards. David Reynolds is 432 points behind Winterbottom and he and Dean Canto round out the top five in the Endurance Cup.

Chaz Mostert is fourth in the championship but will miss Gold Coast after breaking his left femur and left wrist in a qualifying accident at Bathurst. Mostert's co-driver Cameron Waters will be the lead driver and Russell Ingall will join Waters in the #6 Ford.

Fabian Coulthard rounds out the top five, 557 points behind Winterbottom and will have Luke Youlden as his co-driver. Garth Tander and Warren Luff are second in the Endurance Cup and Tander trails Winterbottom by 599 points. Shane Van Gisbergen is a further 92 points back and will have Jonathon Webb as his co-driver. Defending champion Jamie Whincup trails by 803 points and he and Paul Dumbrell have finished 15th and 18th in the first two Endurance Cup races. Scott McLaughlin and Rick Kelly round out the top ten in the championship and they will be joined by Alexandre Prémat and David Russell respectively.

James Courtney returns to V8SC competition after missing the last three rounds due to injury. He is 11th in the championship and Jack Perkins will be his co-driver. Tim Slade, Michael Caruso and Jason Bright and the final drivers mathematically eligible for the title. Their co-drivers will be Tony D'Alberto, Dean Fiore and Andrew Jones respectively.

Talladega
The second round of The Chase comes to a close at Talladega and four more drivers will be eliminated.

Joey Logano is the only driver to have won in round two and therefore is the only driver locked into the semifinal round. Denny Hamlin is second in points and trails Logano by 13 markers. Kurt Busch is third, a further five points behind Logano. Carl Edwards is a point behind his former Roush Racing teammate and the defending champion Kevin Harvick rounds out the top five with him, Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski all tied on 3071 points. Martin Truex, Jr. is in the final position to advance to round three on 3070 points.

Kyle Busch is ninth, six points behind his 2004 NASCAR Busch Series championship rival. Ryan Newman is two points behind the Gibbs driver. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is 31 points behind Truex, Jr. and Matt Kenseth trails the New Jerseyan by 35 points.

Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr. lead all Chase drivers with six career victories at Talladega but Gordon has not won at the track since 2007. Earnhardt, Jr. won this year's spring race. Keselowski is the only other Chase driver with multiple victories at the track as the Michigan-native has three. Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Kenseth each have one victory at the track.

Six of the previous 11 Talladega Chase races have featured a green-white-checkered finish. NASCAR has changed the rule that only one attempt will be made for a green flag finish at Talladega instead of three.

Catalunya
The penultimate round of the 2015 World Rally Championship is taking place in Catalunya. Sébastien Ogier clinched the title two rounds ago in Australia. The Frenchman failed to finish in the points in his home rally earlier this month but did pick up three points for winning the Power Stage. Ogier's Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala is second in the championship, 78 points back with the third Volkswagen driver, Andreas Mikkelsen in third, trailing Ogier by 112 points.

Citroën driver Mads Østberg is fourth with 98 points and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville rounds out the top five, 12 points behind Østberg. Rally Argentina winner Kris Meeke is three points behind Neuville with fellow British driver Elfyn Evans two points behind Meeke.

New Zealander Hayden Paddon has 66 pints and is in eighth, three points ahead of Ott Tänak. Dani Sordo rounds out the top ten, as the Spaniard is a point behind the Estonian Tänak.

Through four stages of Rally Catalunya, Robert Kubica leads and has one stage win. The Polish driver is 3.2 seconds ahead of Østberg. Paddon is 6.5 seconds behind Kubica with Tänak a further four-tenths back. Sordo rounds out the top five, 9.7 seconds back. Ogier trails Kubica by 10.2 seconds in sixth with Latvala in seventh, 15.1 seconds back. Mikkelsen is four-tenths behind his Finnish teammate with Neuville two-tenths behind Mikkelsen. Meeke rounds out the top ten, 18.4 seconds behind Kubica.

Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 7.5 position difference from Sebastian Vettel's starting position to his finishing position?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 Ducatis in the top ten at Sepang?
3. Over or Under: 6.5 average finish for Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell at Surfers Paradise?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 red flag periods at Talladega?
5. Over or Under: 16.5 stage victories for Volkswagen drivers in Catalunya?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Neither race at Hockenheim was won from pole position.
2. Over: 37 laps separate the winner at Estoril and the final classified car.
3. Under: Italian bikes score three podiums at Qatar.
4. Under: The margin of victory between Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo was 0.249 seconds.
5. Under: Only two Honda finished in the points at Sportsland SUGO

Predictions
1. Lewis Hamilton clinches the World Drivers' Championship.
2. Valentino Rossi finishes ahead of Jorge Lorenzo.
3. Someone scores their first career victory at Surfers Paradise.
4. At least one former Cup champion is eliminated at Talladega.
5. The winner of the Power Stage is not the winner of Rally Catalunya

Last Week's Predictions
1. At least one race winner at Hockenheim also ends up with fastest lap of the race (Correct. Timo Scheider won race one and scored fastest lap in that race).
2. At least four British drivers are victorious across the four classes at Estoril (Wrong. Only two Brits won. Michael Simpson in LMP3 and Andy Priaulx in GTE).
3. British riders sweep the weekend in Qatar (Wrong. Spaniard Jordi Torres won race one).
4. Only one factory Yamaha rider finishes on the podium at Phillip Island (Correct. Valentino Rossi finished fourth).
5. At least three drivers are eligible for the Super Formula championships after Sportsland SUGO (Correct. Four drivers are eligible).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 18/35


Thursday, October 22, 2015

1000 Things

Back when I completed my 700th post, I decided I wanted to do something special for #1000. I didn't know what to do. I guess one night after probably a Trackside episode or reading articles when things were just negative I realized I was tired of it. It is tiring being angry. It is not good for your health either.

That's when I decided to start a list of all the things I love about motorsports. From past races to drivers. Race tracks to specific corners. From specific memories to concrete objects. It took about a year to get to from thinking about post #1000 to actually posting. The first three hundred came quickly. The rest took a lot of time. There would be binges where drivers, racetracks, past races, etc. were added and then there would go a month without looking at the list.

After reading over the list a few times, I am calm. My blood pressure is down. My head no longer aches. I am at ease. Perhaps this is something we should all do. When times get difficult and you just feel like throwing in the towel, you just need to list all the things you love. You don't need to hit 1000 but I am sure you could hit 100 if you gave yourself a day or two to think about it and go through your memory bank or your Twitter feed or old photo albums.

I hope this list can make you feel relaxed just like it made me. (Note: For time and convenience I screenshot the list into twelve parts).

This isn't all that I love about motorsports and this isn't in order from what I love the most to what I love the least. This is just a list of 1000 thing I love. There are plenty of people, cars, races, sights, sounds and moments I forgot. I am only human. I can only remember so much. 

1000 posts down. Here is to 1000 more.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: CFH Racing's 2015 Season

This Wednesday Wrap-Up will profile CFH Racing's 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. The newly formed team after the merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing had a highly successful first season together and the team was fighting for the championship entering the final race of the season. The team faced some adversity as a fair share of equipment was torn up but the team showed it had the pace to keep up with the established IndyCar teams.

Josef Newgarden stepped up to the next level in 2015
Josef Newgarden
The young American had a breakout season in 2015. He improved on each of his first four races. A 12th at St. Petersburg followed by a ninth at NOLA and seventh at Long Beach. Then came Barber. Qualified fifth. Made a few great passes early in the race and was in the right place when the first caution came out. While Graham Rahal went off strategy, Newgarden held the advantage and though he was being run down by Rahal, he had just enough of a gap to hold him off when he completed the 90th lap of the race, securing him his first career IndyCar victory.

Newgarden was not a factor in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis but he had a much better run later that month. He started ninth and finished ninth but he earned that finish. He was up and down the field all race and recovered at the end to scored his first career top ten in the Indianapolis 500. However, he wasn't the best CFH car in this year's Indianapolis 500. J.R. Hildebrand earned that honor with an eighth place finish. Newgarden would finish eighth six days later in race one from Belle Isle but race two ended with an accident.

CFH had a terrible night in Texas and both cars retired. Needing a break, Newgarden had one fall into his lap. A caution for James Jakes stalling fell right after Newgarden made a pit stop and he was sitting pretty as the rest of the field had to stop. He dominated the second half of the race and led CFH Racing's first ever 1-2 finish with Luca Filippi in tow. However, it was back into the cellar for Newgarden at Fontana where he and co-owner Ed Carpenter came together.

After a few weeks off, he came back and won his first career pole position at Milwaukee. He led 95 of the first 100 laps however Sébastien Bourdais dominated the second half of the race and Newgarden had nothing for the Frenchman and settled for fifth. At Iowa, he started seventh and was the man to beat after Tony Kanaan retired. He led over a third of the race but Ryan Hunter-Reay turned up the wick, passed him with 37 to go and never looked back, leaving Newgarden with a second place finish. A 13th at Mid-Ohio followed and he would go on to finish second at Pocono after starting the race very well but disappearing for 70% of the race only to find himself in contention in the closing laps. He entered Sonoma with a slim chance but a chance nonetheless for the Astor Cup only to have his hopes squashed when he stalled in the pit lane, caught fire and went down a lap to finish 21st for a fourth time in 2015.

The Italian Luca Filippi had a respectable season
Luca Filippi
The Italian got his first significant crack at IndyCar in 2015 and scored a ninth place finish on his CFH debut with a tenth in his second race for the team. Through two races, Filippi had as many top ten finishes as his predecessors as Mike Conway. He stalled on pit lane at Long Beach and never recovered. At Barber, he had a decent race and finished 11th. At the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he finished 14th.

He got another ninth at Belle Isle but hydroplaned into the turn one tire right when the red flag was displayed. In the second race, he spun and he never recovered and had to settle for 17th. In Toronto, he had a great race. Newgarden won but Filippi went from sixth on the grid and passed Hélio Castroneves to give CFH the 1-2 finish. After nearly two months off, Filippi didn't return until Mid-Ohio and he had a better day than the result will show. He finished 21st but ran out of fuel on the final lap after spending most of the race in the top ten. At Sonoma, an electrical gremlin put him two laps down and he finished 24th.

Misfortune, whether of his doing or not, followed Ed Carpenter all year
Ed Carpenter
Accidents were a big part of Ed Carpenter's 2015 season. His accident prior to Indianapolis 500 qualifying was the straw that broke the camel's back and nearly caused anarchy, which led to the regulation changes. In the race, he got together with Oriol Servià and finished 30th, his worst Indianapolis 500 finish since his 31st on debut. An engine failure ended his day at Texas and he and Newgarden got together at Fontana.

At Milwaukee, he brought the car home in one piece and in tenth position. At Iowa, he had a memorable battle with Sage Karam and finished sixth. Pocono was a struggle for Carpenter and he retired with another engine failure.

Year one for CFH Racing was a success and with Newgarden slated to return and Carpenter likely to return, the team has plenty to build on in 2016. Filippi has not been confirmed to be back but he definitely should. He didn't win like Mike Conway did but he drove better than Conway. He has the pace to compete at the front and if CFH can find a way to improve in road course qualifying then they might be a bigger challenge to the likes of Penske and Ganassi.

Finances have been a concern for the team. With oil prices dropping, Wink Hartman's wallet is a little leaner than it was when he first started working with Sarah Fisher. Josef Newgarden got sponsorship-worthy results and he is very personable. Locking down a sponsor for a large majority of the races for Newgarden could go a long way for the long-term security of the team.

Carpenter's results in 2015 showed how fickle running a short season could be. There are only so many opportunities and one bad race is not a big deal but two bad races kill your season. He had two engine failures but at Texas he wasn't close on pace prior to the problem. With Fontana likely not returning and the futures of Phoenix, Milwaukee and Pocono up in the air, Carpenter has to be concerned about how much work he will get in the future. If there is anyone who should be promoting IndyCar oval races, it's Carpenter. Six races aren't enough for Carpenter. He needs at least eight and ten would be heavenly.

I am concerned for CFH but not because Wink Hartman isn't as rich as he once was. I am concerned because they were a championship contender in year one. The bar has been set above their eyeballs. The daunting task to live up to the expectations could break the team. They kept Newgarden for 2016 but what about 2017? Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves aren't getting any younger and eventually Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske will be looking for the best driver they don't have and that arguably could be Newgarden. If Newgarden is able to pick up where he left off in 2015, find the ability to close out races he is dominating and keep the car out of the barrier, he can pull out an extraordinary championship for the little teams that could.


Monday, October 19, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Expanding The Farm

MotoGP might have put on the race of the year at Phillip Island. Joey Logano spun Matt Kenseth and went on to win at Kansas. Jota Sport lost another championship on the final day of the season and it was just as painful as last year. Four drivers kept themselves alive for the Super Formula title after the Sportsland SUGO race. One Spaniard ended Britain's stranglehold on the World Superbike Championship. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Expanding The Farm
Andretti Autosport could expand to four cars in Indy Lights in 2016. Chip Ganassi Racing is considering a Lights operation. Considering the first year of the IL-15 chassis was a minimal gain after many expected increases by leaps and bounds, potentially four more cars on the grid in 2016 would be outstanding for the series. 

However, there is no guarantee Ganassi is going to expand to Lights and the expansion at Andretti could come at a loss of its Pro Mazda teams. 

While it would be nice to see the Indy Lights grid grow, it shouldn't come at the cost of Pro Mazda. Andretti Autosport has long had their hands in the ladder system, helping drivers up the ladder and a few into IndyCar as has Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and more IndyCar teams should have a presence in one of the three series. You wonder if IndyCar car owners care at all about the drivers that are coming through the pipeline. 

IndyCar teams don't need to go NASCAR or Red Bull crazy and contract eight development drivers only to have one make it and leave the other seven on the sidelines to fend for themselves. That system has ruined more careers than helped but help a handful of drivers develop and stay in the ladder system for a few years.

What I have been thinking of the last few days is if there was any way the ten IndyCar teams could form five partnerships and work together on developing drivers in at least the two rungs of the ladder just below IndyCar? I am not saying full-blown two cars in Lights, two in Pro Mazda but at least one in each with one team taking care of the Lights team and the other taking car of the Pro Mazda operation. Of course, if these partnerships would like to run additional entries in either series then they by all means should and Andretti and SPM should continue to run 3-4 cars if they would like. 

Since IndyCar teams are split six-to-four across the manufactures, you could have the teams pair up without having to cross the manufactures' line in the sand. Penske and CFH could partner while Ganassi and KV could team up. Andretti could buddy with Bryan Herta Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Foyt and SPM with Dale Coyne Racing. We could be looking at an addition of at least three cars on the Indy Lights grid (Penske/CFH, Ganassi/KV, RLLR/Foyt) with possibly more and at least four additional cars in Pro Mazda. 

Of course, the one thing standing in the way of all this is money. The whole ladder, from IndyCar at the top to U.S. F2000 at the bottom, needs money to be pumped into it. That won't happen over night. Mazda has done a great job providing scholarships to champions of each three of these series but there needs to be more exposure for these series to draw sponsors otherwise these top teams won't be interested in the lower rungs. 

Champion From the Weekend
Pascal Wehrlein clinched the DTM championship in the Saturday race with a ninth place finish as Timo Scheider won his first DTM race in 55 starts. Wherlein finished 21st on Sunday as Jamie Green won the dead rubber to bookend the season with victories. 

The #41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan of Gary Hirsch, Björn Wirdheim and Jon Lancaster won the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship with a second at Estoril. The #46 Thireit by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Ludovic Badey, Pierre Thiriet and Nicolas Lapierre won the race.

In GTE, the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Mac, Johnny Laursen and Andrea Rizzoli won the championship with a fifth. The #52 BMW Team Marc VDS of Andy Priaulx, Henry Hassid and Jesse Krohn won the race.

The #59 TDS Racing BMW of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont won the GTC championship with a second place finish in class. The #63 AF Corse Ferrari of Giorgio Roda, Marco Cioci and Ilya Melnikov won the race. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Timo Scheider, Jamie Green, the Estoril results and Joey Logano but did you know...

Marc Márquez won the MotoGP Australian Grand Prix after passing Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Iannone on the final lap.

Spaniard Jordi Torres scored his first World Superbike victory in race one from Qatar, ending British riders' winning streak of 22 consecutive races. Leon Haslam won race two. 

André Lotterer won the Super Formula round from Sportsland SUGO.

Álex Rins won the Moto2 race from Phillip Island. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3.

In the LMP3 class at Estoril, the #2 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan of Michael Simpson and Gaëtan Paletou took their first victory of the season.

Kyle Smith won his first career World Supersport race at Qatar.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Kansas. 

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix from Circuit of the Americas.
Formula E starts their second season in Beijing. 
NASCAR ends the second round at Talladega.
MotoGP ends their Asia-Pacific road trip in Sepang. 
V8 Supercars rumble into Surfers Paradise. 
World Rally will be in Catalunya. 


Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Five: Hockenheim, Estoril, Qatar, Phillip Island, SUGO

Three seasons come to a close this weekend and four champions will be crowned. History could be made in Germany. A Portuguese driver hopes to claim a title on home soil. World Superbike will finish under the lights. MotoGP heads to the antepenultimate round of their season. Five drivers from three countries battle for a title in Japan.

Hockenheim
Four drivers head to the DTM season finale at Hockheimring eligible for the title. Mercedes-Benz driver Pascal Wehrlein has 165 points and leads the championship. He has two victories and five podiums this season and his scored points in 14 of 16 races. Wehrlein turns 21 years old on the final day of the season and is set to become the youngest DTM champion, beating the record of 24 years, 10 months and 25 days set by Marco Wittmann last year.

Italian Edoardo Mortara is second in the championship. The Audi driver trails Wehrlein by 37 points. His lone victory came at Red Bull Ring and he has five podiums. Two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekström trails Wehrlein by 38 points despite having the same amount of victories and same amount of podiums. The Swede has only scored 16 points in the last six races compared to Wehrlein's 71 points.

Bruno Spengler is the final championship contender but the 2012 champion will need to sweep the weekend if he hopes to claim his second title. The Canadian has six podiums this season but has yet to make it to the top step of the podium. Spengler has not won in 33 races. His last victory was Red Bull Ring 2013. This is the longest drought of Spengler's career.

Last year, Ekström picked up his fourth career victory at Hockenheimring, however, last year's victory was his first in the autumn Hockenheim race. Ekström won the second race of this season at Hockenheim. Spengler has three Hockenheim victories, including two in the autumn race. While Mortara could leave Hockenheim as champion, the Italian has yet to win a Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters race in Deutschland. He has two wins at Red Bull Ring and he won at Zandvoort in 2012. Mortara finished second to Ekström at Hockenheim earlier this season. Wehrlein entered the 2015 season having never finished in the points at Hockenheim, however, he finished second to Jamie Green in this year's season opener.

If Wehrlein wins the championship, it will be the first time since DTM returned in 2000 that Germans have won three consecutive championships. He would also be the first Mercedes-Benz driver to win the title since Paul di Resta in 2010.

Estoril
The 2015 European Le Mans Series finale from Estoril features 30 cars on the entry list and three championships to be decided.

In LMP2, the #38 Jota Sport Gibson-Nissan of Simon Dolan, Filipe Albuquerque and Harry Tincknell lead the championships with 76 points, one more than the #41 Greaves Motorsport Gibson-Nissan of Gary Hirsch, Björn Wirdheim and Jon Lancaster. The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Pierre Thiriet, Ludovic Badey and Nicolas Lapierre are the final championship eligible team in class with 66 points. Greaves Motorsport has two victories while Jota Sport and Thiriet by TDS Racing each have one victory. The #41 was awarded the victory in the most recent round at Paul Ricard after the #38 Gibson was assessed a time penalty for Filipe Albuquerque exceeding maximum drive time, dropping them from victory to third.

In GTE, the #60 Formula Racing Ferrari F458 Italia of Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Andrea Rizzoli has won the last two races and leads the championship with 73 points. Nineteen points back of Formula Racing is the #52 BMW Team Marc VDS Z4 of Andy Priaulx, Henry Hassid and Jesse Krohn. Twenty-two points back in third is the #55 AF Corse Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR of Christian Ried is 23 points behind Formula Racing and Ried will be joined by Richard Lietz and Sebastian Asch. Rounding out the top five is the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Robert Smith, who is 24 points back. James Calado and Rory Butcher will join Smith in the #66.

Only two teams have a shot for the GTC title. The #59 TDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 of Franck Perera, Dino Lunardi and Eric Dermont lead with 82 points. The #62 AF Corse Ferrari of Francesco Castelacci and Stuart Hall trail by 13 points and will be joined Thomas Flohr. Both teams have two victories and a second place finish. The difference is the #59 finished fourth at Imola while the #62 retired at Silverstone.

The LMP3 title was clinched at Paul Richard after the #3 Team LNT Ginetta-Nissan of Charlie Robertson and Sir Chris Hoy won their third race of the season.

Qatar
The 2015 World Superbike champion has already been decided but Jonathan Rea could make history this weekend in the season finale from Losail International Circuit in Qatar. The champion-elect has won 14 of the first 24 races, has 22 podiums and his worst finish in 2015 is fourth in both Jerez races. Should Rea sweep the weekend, he will end the season with the second-most victories in a WSBK season behind only Doug Polen's 17 in the 1991 season. If Rea were to finish on the podium in both races, he would end with 24, the second most podiums in a season behind Colin Edwards' 25 in the 2002 season.

Chaz Davies is second in the championship with 383 points, 16 points ahead 2013 World Superbike champion Tom Sykes. Davies has five victories to Sykes' four. Leon Haslam is fourth in the championship with 297 points and he has won victory. British riders have won all 24 races this season.

Jordi Torres rounds out the top five 222 points. The Spaniard has three podiums with his best finish being second in race two from Jerez. Defending champion Sylvain Guintoli is sixth in the championship with 201 points and he scored his first podium of the season in race one at the most recent round at Magny-Cours. Last year, Guintoli swept the weekend at Qatar and came from behind to win the title by six points over Sykes.

In the five previous WSBK appearances at Losail, only one British rider has won at the track. Two-time champion James Toseland won at the track in 2006 and 2007.

Phillip Island
The 2015 MotoGP championship will be won by a Yamaha rider. Valentino Rossi leads Jorge Lorenzo by 18 points after Rossi finished second at Motegi to Dani Pedrosa while Lorenzo finished third. Marc Márquez was eliminated from championship contention at Motegi after finishing fourth.

Rossi is the all-time leader in Australian Grand Prix victories with eight and is tied with Australian Casey Stoner for most Australian Grand Prix victories in the 500cc/MotoGP class with six. The Italian won last year's race at Phillip Island after Márquez fell while leading. Lorenzo has three Australian Grand Prix victories but his lone MotoGP victory down under came in 2013. The Majorcan won back-to-back 250cc race at Phillip Island in 2006-07. Márquez's lone win at Phillip Island was the 2010 125cc race.

Márquez is still third in the championship with 197 points. Ducati rider Andrea Iannone is 25 points behind Márquez after he suffered his first retirement of 2015 at Motegi when he had an engine failure. Pedrosa's victory at Motegi jumped him up to fifth in the championship, two points ahead of Tech3 Yamaha rider Bradley Smith. Andrea Dovizioso is seventh, four points behind Pedrosa with 150 points. Cal Crutchlow is eight with 98 points. Danilo Petrucci has retired from the last two races after finishing in the points in 14 consecutive races. He is five points behind Crutchlow. Pol Espargaró is edging out his brother Aleix for the final spot in the top ten. Pol has 88 points to Aleix's 81 points.

Sportsland SUGO
Five drivers are still alive for the Super Formula title as the series heads to their penultimate round of the season.

Hiroaki Ishiura leads with 41 points and he has two victories and four podiums from five races. Ishiura's worst finish of the season was fifth at the season opener at Suzuka. Defending champion Kazuki Nakajima trails Ishiura by seven points. Nakajima won the most recent round at Autopolis and has three runner-up finishes this season. Nakajima missed the Okayama round in May after recovering from injuries suffered at the FIA World Endurance Championship round at Spa-Francorchamps.

Twelve points back in third is João Paulo de Oliveira. The Brazilian won at Fuji in July and is looking for his first Super Formula title since 2010. André Lotterer is the final championship eligible driver and he is 21 points back of Ishiura. Lotterer won the season opener at Suzuka. Super Formula rookie Kauai Kobayashi is fifth and is 27 points behind Ishiura with 29 points left on the table. The former Sauber F1 and Caterham driver finished second to Ishiura at Okayama and third at Autopolis.

Ishiura's lone podium at Sportsland SUGO was a second place finish in 2013. He finished in the points in all five of his SUGO starts. Nakajima finished second last year at SUGO and has two points in four starts at the track. Sportsland SUGO is one of de Oliveira's worst tracks. The Brazilian's best finish in seven starts is sixth and he has three retirements and one disqualification at the track. Last year, his race ended on lap one after he and Lotterer made contact. The German has one victory and five podiums in 12 starts at SUGO. This will be Kobayashi's first career start at SUGO

Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 0.5 races being won from pole position at Hockenheim?
2. Over or Under: 25.5 laps between the overall winner at Estoril and final classified car?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 podiums in Qatar for Italian bikes?
4. Over or Under: 6.25 seconds being the difference between first and second at Phillip Island?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 Honda drivers finishing in the points at Sportsland SUGO?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Three of the top ten finishers in the Bathurst 1000 started outside the top ten. Those three just happened to be the three teams to stand on the podium
2. Over: There were nine cautions at Charlotte.
3. Under: The only French driver to win at Fuji was Julien Canal.
4. Over: Nicky Hayden scored three points at Motegi
5. Over: The McLaren cars completed a combined 106 laps at Sochi.

Predictions
1. At least one race winner at Hockenheim also ends up with fastest lap of the race.
2. At least four British drivers are victorious across the four classes at Estoril.
3. British riders sweep the weekend in Qatar.
4. Only one factory Yamaha rider finishes on the podium at Phillip Island.
5. At least three drivers are eligible for the Super Formula championships after Sportsland SUGO.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Two European drivers finish in the top ten (Correct. Alexandre Prémat and Sébastien Bourdais both finished in the top ten).
2. Jimmie Johnson finished ahead of at least six Chase drivers (Wrong. He finished ahead of one Chase driver after his engine expired).
3. A team gets their first victory of the season at Fuji (Correct. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche scored their first victory of the season in GTE-Am).
4. Andrea Dovizioso finishes ahead of his Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone (Correct. Andrea Dovizioso finished fifth and Andrea Iannone retired).
5. Nico Hülkenberg leaves Sochi ahead of his Force India teammate Sergio Pérez in the championship (Wrong. Hülkenberg's race ended on lap one. Pérez ended up on the podium).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 15/30



Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2015 Season

The sixth team review features Andretti Autosport. While the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season seemed to have gone the wrong way for the championship winning and Indianapolis 500 winning team, consider this: They had just as many victories as Penske and Ganassi and was the winningest Honda team in 2015. The team also had a driver finish with the third-most top ten finishes. Their season just really didn't get going until summer.

Ryan Hunter-Reay ended on a high note
Ryan Hunter-Reay
The 2012 IndyCar champion's 2015 season started out well but it never seemed good enough. He was the top Honda at St. Petersburg in seventh, he was set for a top ten at NOLA before his accident with Simon Pagenaud and Sébastien Bourdais, he qualified fourth at Long Beach but faded to 13th in the race and after using pit strategy to his favor at Barber, Hunter-Reay came home with a fifth place finish.

The month of May was not as happy as May 2014 for Ryan Hunter-Reay. An 11th in the IMS road course race and he started 16th in the Indianapolis 500 but this wasn't a repeat of his 2014 drive, from the middle of the pack to the front and into victory lane. He stayed mid-pack all race and finished 15th. In the first Belle Isle race, he made contact with the back of Conor Daly while both were in the top ten and he had to settle for 13th. In the second race, he broke his string of bad results with an eighth place finish.

It appeared everything would turn around at Texas but a practice accident squashed all his momentum and he settled for an 18th place finish with Toronto being another disaster and his race ending due to a mechanical failure with a lap to go. He didn't lead his first laps of the season until Fontana and he was in position for a top ten finish but we all know how that ended. Milwaukee was his best race within the third quarter of the season and he finished 13th in that race.

Iowa turned their season around. Hunter-Reay started ninth and hung around the top five all race. Did he benefit from front-runners Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya having issues and being taken out of contention? Yes but on the racetrack he beat Josef Newgarden, who led 111 of 300 laps. Hunter-Reay led the final 37 laps and Newgarden could not catch him. A seventh at Mid-Ohio was followed by a bittersweet victory at Pocono but a race that Hunter-Reay took from the rest of the field. He overcame a handful of bad pit stops and made daring passes on Montoya, Takuma Sato and Gabby Chaves for the victory. Hunter-Reay ended the season strong at Sonoma. He started third, his best starting position of the season. He hung around the front all race and finished second, his lone road course podium in 2015.

Another good season for Marco Andretti but victory continues to elude him
Marco Andretti
It was another season of consistent results for Marco Andretti. He scored three top tens in the first four races and his worst finish in the first quarter of the season was 13th. His tenth at St. Petersburg was his third top ten at the track while he scored his third consecutive top ten finishes at Long Beach and Barber.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was not a great race as he started 24th and finished 16th but he qualified eighth for the Indianapolis 500 and while the Hondas struggled at the start to keep up with the Chevrolets, Graham Rahal and Andretti came on strong at the finish and Andretti finished sixth, his seventh top ten in ten Indianapolis 500 starts. He nearly stole Belle Isle 1 when he decided to stay out on slicks longer than everyone else but Carlos Muñoz. His teammate was able to go a few more laps and was able to pit and keep the lead while Andretti settled for second. In race two, he worked strategy again to his favor and didn't have to conserve fuel during the closing laps and was able to finish fifth.

He scored his second consecutive top five by stretching final stint at Texas to over 50 laps on one set of tires. He was the top Andretti Autosport car at Toronto but Toronto was a disaster weekend for the entire team and all it took to be the best Andretti Autosport car was 13th. At Fontana he started toward the front but faded only to rebound by taking tires late while other stayed out and he worked his way to a third place finish.

Andretti would score top tens in the following three races at Milwaukee, Iowa and Mid-Ohio. He had completed every lap through the first 14 races but that streak ended at Pocono when he had an accident with 62 laps to go. At Sonoma, he hung around the back half of the top ten all race but could only settle for 11th.

Carlos Muñoz's sophomore season was respectable
Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian started his sophomore season by improving on each race. After a 14th at St. Petersburg, he finished 12th at NOLA, ninth at Long Beach and sixth at Barber. He finished 13th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and he started 11th in the Indianapolis 500. He was never really a factor at Indianapolis but did the best he could. He and Justin Wilson decided to stretch their fuel as long as they could on the final stint and Muñoz led three laps, the first three of the season for Andretti Autosport while Wilson would lead the following two but both would fade and have to stop and Muñoz finished 20th, the final car on the lead lap.

Then there was Belle Isle. Muñoz was able to stay out longer than anyone on slicks while other teams switched to the wet weather tires while the rain was still minutes away from the race track. Muñoz opened up a mammoth lead and by the time the heavy stuff and the lightning came, IndyCar was past halfway and IndyCar called it, handing Carlos Muñoz his first career victory. The following day, he had a mechanical failure and finished last. He used the same strategy as Andretti at Texas and finished sixth and had an engine failure at Toronto.

He would finish outside the top ten at Fontana and Milwaukee but the final quarter of his season would be full of solid finishes. He would finish fifth at Iowa, the top non-American driver in that race, before getting a ninth at Mid-Ohio and a fifth at Pocono. The only bad race he had in the final quarter of the season was the final one. He ended the season with a 22nd at Sonoma.


What Could Have Been?
Justin Wilson
Justin Wilson's 2015 season began at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and that race ended early with a broken gearbox. He was the top Andretti Autosport and Honda driver in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, where he started sixth, a career best for him in the famed race. However, he wasn't able to stay at the front and he finished a lap down in 21st but led two laps.

Wilson was absent from the grid for the next five races and would return at Milwaukee, where he suffered an engine failure. At Iowa, he was in the back half of the grid all race and finished 18th. At Mid-Ohio however, Wilson benefitted from the same caution that eventual race winner Graham Rahal benefitted from. Wilson gave Rahal a good battle but ended up second, the fourth Andretti driver of the season to finish on the podium.

Then there is Pocono. There is no easy way to talk about Pocono. Wilson started seventh. He was running in the top five for majority of the first stint and was second on the restart after the caution for Jack Hawksworth's loose tire. He hung around the top ten for most of the race. He had a bad pit stop on lap 134 and that sent him to the back. He led two laps under caution before pitting himself on lap 170. He restarted 14th and was running 13th when Sage Karam had his accident while leading.

Only three races but Simona de Silvestro showed why she should be in IndyCar
Simona de Silvestro
The Swiss driver returned to IndyCar after a year away pursuing her Formula One dream with Sauber F1. At St. Petersburg, she started 11th but made contact with James Jakes and had to serve a penalty. She was the final car on the lead lap in 18th. At NOLA, she made a few impressive moves considering that there was so little green flag action for such moves to be made and finished fourth. Her final race was the Indianapolis 500, where she started 18th and finished 19th with her only notably action from the race being when she ran into the back of Juan Pablo Montoya, damaging both their wings and delaying the first restart of the race.

I think this was a very good season for Andretti Autosport even though it started off pretty rough. Entering the final quarter of the season, Ryan Hunter-Reay was 14th in the championship. After two victories, three podiums and four top tens in the final four races, he shot up to finish sixth in the championship. Did double points benefit Hunter-Reay more than other? Sure but that still doesn't take away that he still had three podiums and four top tens, something no other driver did in the final quarter of the season.

This season reminded me a lot of Andretti Autosport's 2011 season. They had a terrible start to the season. They had two cars fail to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. They had the Danica Patrick distraction. There was a lot of in-team fighting but when the season ended Marco Andretti had won a race, Ryan Hunter-Reay had won a race, Mike Conway won a race and things were looking up to 2012. Unfortunately, just like 2011, Andretti Autosport ends 2015 losing a driver they hoped would be with them the following season.

Whether Andretti Autosport expands to four full-time cars in 2016 still hangs in the air. Justin Wilson was a great addition to the team and it would have been great to see what he could finally do in top equipment. If Andretti does expand to four cars, who would take the #25 seat? Oriol Servià ran at Sonoma but I feel that will only be a one-off as Servià has an executive position with Dragon Racing in Formula E. Simona de Silvestro will be driving for Andretti Autosport full-time in Formula E starting later this month in Beijing. Depending on how she does in the first handful of races, she could skip the latter half of the season to switch to IndyCar full-time in the spring but for now she is a Formula E driver and will probably not be full-time in IndyCar in 2016. However, the door could be open for her to return for the 100th Indianapolis 500.

Andretti Autosport has a good thing going. Hunter-Reay ended strong. Andretti has proven he can finish races and finish races well. Now can he finish first? Muñoz scored a victory and while he finished 13th in the final championship standings, IndyCar is very competitive and he had a respectable season. The team definitely could find themselves in championship contention in 2016 if they are able to build off of how they finished in 2015.