Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday Five: Valencia, Suzuka, Putrajaya, Texas

Three championships will be decided this weekend. Two of them are motorcycle championships; the other is a formula series. Malaysia hosts two races but we will only talk about one of them (sorry, Asian Le Mans Series. Next time, I promise). And the latest hubbub with NASCAR (I know. But we have to do it).

The 2015 MotoGP season finale from Valencia pits Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo against one another for the world championship but the ball is in Lorenzo's court despite the Italian holding a seven-point lead.

Rossi will have to start from the back of the grid after being penalized for contact with Honda rider Marc Márquez at the previous round at Malaysia. The Italian ran the Spaniard wide and kicked the two-time world champion Márquez's bike, ending his race. Rossi when on to finish third while Lorenzo came home in second.

If Lorenzo were to win at Valencia, Rossi would have to finish second to claim the title. If Lorenzo finished second, Rossi would have to finish third as fourth would leave him level with Lorenzo but Lorenzo owns the tiebreaker with six victories to Rossi's four. A third for Lorenzo would mean Rossi would need to finish at least sixth. If Lorenzo misses the podium and finishes fourth, Rossi would need to finish ninth. If Lorenzo finished fifth, Rossi would need to finish 11th. The worst Lorenzo can finish is ninth if he hopes to win the world title.

Marc Márquez has clinched third in the championship but his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa will be in a fight for fourth. The winner of two of the last three MotoGP rounds has a two-point lead over Andrea Iannone. The Ducati rider has retired from the two races Pedrosa has won this season. Bradley Smith has a slim shot at fourth in the championship as he sits on 171 points, 19 behind Pedrosa and Smith is 18 ahead of Andrea Dovizioso, who can finish no worse than seventh in the championship. Cal Crutchlow is eighth on 118 points and 11 points ahead of Danilo Petrucci. The Espargaró brothers and Maverick Viñales will battle it out for tenth in the championship. Pol has 103 points, six head of his brother Aleix and 11 points ahead of Aleix's Suzuki teammate Viñales.

This will be the final MotoGP race for Nicky Hayden. The 2006 world champion will be heading to World Superbikes in 2016 to ride for Honda World Superbike Team.

Rossi and Lorenzo each have two victories at MotoGP and both riders have only ever won in the premier class at Valencia; Rossi in 2003 and 2004; Lorenzo in 2010 and 2013. Pedrosa has six victories at Valencia; three in MotoGP (2007, 2009, 2012), two in 250cc (2004, 2005) and one in 125cc (2002). Márquez won last year's race to put the cherry on top of his second world championship.

The Moto3 title will also be decided at Valencia.

British rider Danny Kent has had multiple opportunities to seal the title but has failed on each occasion. The Leopard Racing Honda rider holds a 24-point lead over Red Bull KTM Ajo's Miguel Oliveira. The Portuguese rider has won three of the last five races and finished second in the other two. Oliveira has to win at Valencia and have Kent finish outside the points to take the world title.

Kent has not finished on the podium since he won his home race at Silverstone. Since then, he has two retirements and has not finished better than sixth. Kent has six victories, nine podiums and 14 points finishes to Oliveira's five victories, eight podiums and 14 points finishes. Kent also had the edge in pole positions with six to Oliveira's one.

Other contenders for the race victory are Italians Enea Bastianini, Romano Fenati and Niccolò Antonelli. Bastianini's victory at Misano was the first of his career. Since Fenati's lone victory at Le Mans, he has only two podium finish. Antonelli won at Brno and Motegi. Efrén Vázquez has yet to win this season but has five podiums. South African Brad Binder has four podiums, including the last two races. Jorge Navarro has finished on the podium in three of the last for races.

Four drivers enter the Super Formula season finale doubleheader from Suzuka with a shot at the title.

Hiroaki Ishiura leads with 45 points from two victories, four podiums and finishing in the top five in all six races. Ishiura scored his first Super Formula victory this season at Okayama, his 45th career start in the series. He will set a career-best championship finish regardless where he finishes, improving from fifth last year.

Kazuki Nakajima trails Ishiura by six points and has one victory, three second place finishes and a fourth. He missed the Okayama round after suffering injuries at the FIA WEC round at Spa-Francorchamps. Nakajima is the defending Super Formula champion and he also won the title in 2012. He could become the first driver to win consecutive title since Tsugio Matsuda in 2007-08.

André Lotterer and João Paulo de Oliveira are both 14 points behind Ishiura. Lotterer won the season opener from Suzuka and the most recent round from Sportsland SUGO. Outside of those two victories, the German's best finish is fourth. The Brazilian de Oliveira won at Fuji and finished third at Motegi and has finished in the points in all six races.

The second round of the 2015-16 Formula E season takes place from Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Sébastien Buemi dominated the season opener from Beijing, leading all but one lap from pole position and scoring fastest lap and became the first driver to score the maximum of 30 points in a race. The Swiss driver has a 12-point championship lead over Lucas di Grassi and a 15-point lead over Nick Heidfeld. The Dragon Racing drivers of Loïc Duval and Jérôme d'Ambrosio rounded out the top five in Beijing.

Brits Oliver Turvey and Sam Bird are sixth and seventh in the championship. Bird is the defending Putrajaya race winner. Bird led 21 of 31 laps last year and won by over four seconds to di Grassi. Nathanaël Berthon, Stéphane Sarrazin and Robin Frijns round out the podiums. For the second consecutive season opener, Daniel Abt was penalized and lost points. The German received a 10-second penalty for unsafe release on the pit lane.

Defending champion Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Nicolas Prost will look to rebound after both failed to finish in the season opener. Trulli Formula E will miss their second consecutive round after their Motormatica JT-01 did not pass all the mandatory checks in scrutineering. Jarno Trulli was going to replace Salvador Durán after the Mexican reported had a breach of contract. Vitanonio Liuzzi was to be the other Trulli driver.

This year's race has been extended by two laps to 33 circuits around the 1.59-mile street circuit.

The penultimate race of the penultimate round of the Chase will take place at Texas Motor Speedway.

Jeff Gordon's victory at Martinsville clinched him a spot at the championship in the season finale at Homestead. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. are tied for top Chase driver in points not locked into the next round. Busch finished fifth at Martinsville while Truex, Jr. was sixth, however, Truex, Jr. picked up a bonus point for leading a lap. Two points behind Busch and Truex, Jr. is defending champion Kevin Harvick.

Carl Edwards is on the bubble, seven points behind Harvick. Twenty-three points behind Harvick is Brad Keselowski while Kurt Busch is 26 points back of his teammate and Joey Logano trails fourth by 28 points.

Matt Kenseth has been suspended for the next two races after he caused an accident with Logano at Martinsville. Logano was leading the race at the time and Kenseth was nine-laps down after getting into an accident earlier in the race.

Five of the eight Chase drivers have won at Texas. Carl Edwards is the only one with multiple victories. He has three but has not won at the track since 2008. Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch's lone victories at the track both came in 2009. Kyle Busch won the spring race in 2013 while Joey Logano won the 2014 spring race. All eight Chase drivers have led over 100 laps at Texas but none average a finish of 10.0 or lower. Kevin Harvick is the top Chase driver in average finish at 12.7 and he has never won at Texas. He has finished second in the last two Texas race. Kyle Busch is just behind Harvick in average finish at 12.9. The next best are Martin Truex, Jr. and Carl Edwards; both average a 15.0.

Jimmie Johnson has the last two Texas races and four of the last six and leads all drivers with five victories at Texas.

1. Over or Under: 9.5 positions gain by Valentino Rossi from his starting position in Valencia?
2. Over or Under: 4.461 seconds being the margin of victory in the Moto3 race from Valencia?
3. Over or Under: 0.5 podiums for Honda cars at Suzuka?
4. Over or Under: 2.5 drivers finishing in the top ten at Putrajaya after starting outside the top ten?
5. Over or Under: 3.5 Chevrolets in the top seven at Texas.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Only 169 laps were completed in the 6 Hours of Shanghai.
2. Over: There was one safety car after Sebastian Vettel spun into the turn seven barriers.
3. Under: Two Chase drivers had top fives at Martinsville. Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.
4. Under: Two Europeans finished on the Autopolis podiums. Ronnie Quintarelli in GT500, Jörg Müller in GT300.
5. Over: Yvan Muller retired from both races in Thailand (Quick WTCC note: Tiago Monteiro was disqualified from race two in Thailand, giving Sébastien Loeb the victory. Monteiro and Honda are appealing the penalty).

1. At least two riders outside the top sixteen in the MotoGP championship score points at Valencia.
2. Miguel Oliveira finishes ahead of Danny Kent but does not win the Moto3 championship.
3. André Lotterer wins at least one race at Suzuka.
4. A driver scores their first career Formula E podium in Putrajaya.
5. A Chase driver is involved in a caution at Texas.

Last Week's Predictions
1. There will be at least two different class winners from the Fuji race (Correct. Three different class wins at Shanghai from Fuji. The #36 Signatech Alpine in LMP2, the #91 Porsche in GTE-Pro and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari in GTE-Am).
2. Lewis Hamilton does not finish on the podium (Wrong. Hamilton finished 2nd).
3. No one clinches a spot for the Homestead season finale (Wrong. Jeff Gordon did).
4. There will be a first time winner in 2015 at Autopolis (Wrong. The #1 NISMO Nissan and the #3 NDDP Racing with B-MAX Nissan each picked up their second victories of 2015).
5. A driver outside the top seven in the champion scores a podium in Buriram (Wrong. All podium finishers came from within the top four in the championship).
Overall: 1/5 Running Tally: 22/45