Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2016 Et Cetera Predictions

Last week, we went over predictions for the 2016 NASCAR season, now it is time to look over a plethora of series, most of the four-wheel variety but a few that compete on two-wheels. From single-seaters to sports cars, touring cars to motorcycles, here are ten things from ten series to look out for in 2016.

1. MotoGP: Suzuki Scores At Least Three Podiums
In testing from Valencia, the Suzuki team appeared to take a massive step forward. After what I would call a successful return season in 2015 (Aleix Espargaró and Maverick Viñales finished 11th and 12th in the championship respectively and Espargaró won pole position in Barcelona), the team was second and fourth in testing with Viñales ahead of his senior teammate. It isn't wise to take too much from the first tests. Yamaha will still be a championship contender and there is still a lot of time until the season opener but I think Suzuki will have a few races where they will end up getting a bike on the podium. I don't think they can beat the likes of Honda and Yamaha but with the adoption of unified electronic packages for all bikes in 2016, the playing field may be more level than ever in MotoGP.

2. Indy Lights: The Champion Does Not Come From Juncos Racing or Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Juncos Racing won last year's title with Spencer Pigot but I don't see the team repeating. Kyle Kaiser is a decent driver but he needs to work on bringing the car home in one piece first before he can think about winning a championship and the team has brought in Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo, who spent 2015 running a handful of Formula Renault races. DeMelo's sample size from 2015 is quite small but his best finish in nine races was 11th.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has won a lion's share of Indy Lights title and RC Enerson will return after finishing fourth in his rookie season. The only other driver SPM has announced is Ethan Ringel, who is awful and has been awful in every series that he has raced in that are worth a damn. SPM normally runs three or four cars and tested Heamin Choi and James French at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in Austin last month.

However, with Ed Jones returning to Carlin and if Carlin runs four cars and brings over some impressive drivers from Europe, the title could be heading to the team with blue liveries. Andretti Autosport is also talking about running four cars but Shelby Blackstock was not great in 2015 and he is slated to return and Dalton Kellett will be promoted from Pro Mazda but the Canadian Kellett has never finished better than 10th in a championship and in 60 starts between U.S. F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights (he ran at Baltimore in 2013) Kellett has two career podiums. Then there is Team Pelfrey, which bought the 8 Star Motorsports Indy Lights operation. If Team Pelfrey can retain Sean Rayhall, they could be a serious title contender in 2016. Let's not forget that Zach Veach will return after a sabbatical and will drive for Belardi Auto Racing.

3. Super Formula: Honda Wins More Than Two Races
If you think Honda struggles in IndyCar, wait until you see it's track record in Super Formula. One victory last year, in the final race, in a torrential rainstorm. In 2014, Honda had one victory. In 2013, Honda had two victories. Honda hasn't won at least three races in a season since 2012. They are bound to get off the snide and they could be bringing in a big gun to take the fight to the Toyotas. Stoffel Vandoorne has long been rumored to be heading to Super Formula as the Belgian is coming off a GP2 championship but can't return to that series and McLaren and Honda don't have room for him in Formula One. Vandoorne didn't light the world on fire in his test but passed Super Formula champion Naoki Yamamoto won the 2015 finale and did well in the test and Richie Stanaway also did a good job driving for Honda. Honda is bound to have a good season. It mind as well be 2016.

4. Super GT: James Rossiter Does Not Win the Suzuka 1000km
James Rossiter became the eighth driver to win consecutive Suzuka 1000kms. No driver has ever won the race three consecutive times. I don't see that changing in 2016 although I am sure Rossiter will give it a valiant effort.

5. V8 Supercars: Red Bull Racing Australia Wins at Least Fourteen Races
With Shane van Gisbergen joining Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup at Red Bull Racing Australia, I think the Holden team will be take the fight back to the Prodrive Fords. Whincup is three victories away from hitting the century mark. Lowndes has 103 victories and is coming off a runner-up finish in the championship. Van Gisbergen is coming off another year winning the season finale. Red Bull Racing Australia won fourteen races last year and van Gisbergen won two races driving for Tekno Autosports. There is no reason why they shouldn't match that number in 2016.

6. DTM: There Will Be At Least Two Driver Changes at Mercedes-Benz
Audi and BMW have announced their 2016 DTM driver line-ups and both manufactures are retaining all their 2015 drivers. I can't see there being zero turnover and seeing as how defending champion Pascal Wehrlein is in the running for a seat at Manor in Formula One and tested a GP2 car last month, I think Wehrlein will be at least one driver change. Who is the other? Daniel Juncadella has struggled in three seasons in DTM. The Spaniard scored 26 points in 2015 and in his previous two seasons, each which were only 10 races in length, he tallied 21 and 22 points respectively.

Who could join Mercedes-Benz? Kevin Magnussen tested for the team, as did Marvin Kirchhöfer, who has finished third the last two seasons in GP3. Then there is Maro Engel, who won the inaugural FIA GT World Cup driving for Mercedes at Macau and started 42 DTM races from 2008-11.

7. WSBK: Nicky Hayden Scores At Least One Podium but Finishes Behind Michael van der Mark in the Championship
Nicky Hayden heads to World Superbikes after 13 seasons in MotoGP. He joins Michael van der Mark at Honda's factory supported team. While I would like to see Hayden experience a rebirth in WSBK, I think he will have some success but won't be anything spectacular. Last year, van der Mark finished on the podium three times and finished seventh in the championship behind his teammate Sylvain Guintoli, who finished on the podium only once. I think van der Mark will take a big step forward and finish ahead of Hayden.

8. WSS: Less than 25 Points Decides the Championship
Kenan Sofuoglu won his fourth World Supersport title by 37 points over PJ Jacobsen. Jules Cluzel gave the Turkish rider a hard fight until an injury caused him to miss the final three races. Sofuoglu, Jacobsen and Cluzel are all slated to return in 2016, as is Lorenzo Zanetti, who finished third in the championship in 2015. Kyle Smith won the season finale in his rookie season. I think with the amount of talent on the WSS grid, the championship just won't be decided before the season finale and there could be as many three riders vying for the title in the final race.

9. World Rally Championship: Ford Wins at Least One Rally
To be honest, this is an off-the-wall prediction. I think Volkswagen will still be the best team but won't dominate like they have. Volkswagen appears to be getting bored walloping the competition in WRC. Citroën will be competitive but I think either Mads Østberg or Ott Tänak get a victory.

10. World Touring Car Championship: There Will Be More Race Winners Than in 2015
There were seven race winners in 2015. The major change in the WTCC will be the decision to reverse grids for race one instead of race two in 2016 and I think there will be more race winners. José María López, Yvan Muller and Citroën will still be the favorites but I think the change to the sport regulations will give more teams an opportunity to grab a race victory while the best teams charge from the back.