Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Five: Aragón, Loudon, Spa, Budapest, Sportsland SUGO

Five championships take place this weekend in five different countries. Three championships head to their penultimate rounds of the 2016 season. One will be returning to a historic race track. Another could see a champion be crowned for a second time. The third will be going to the wire regardless of the results this weekend. Nicky Hayden returns to MotoGP this weekend. NASCAR heads to New England.

Aragón Grand Prix
With five races remaining in the 2016 MotoGP season, six different riders have a shot at the title and eight different riders have won the last eight races dating back to the Italian Grand Prix in May.

Marc Márquez leads the championship with 223 points but has not won since Germany in the middle of July. Despite having only one podium in the last four races, Márquez has finished every race this season and has one finish outside the top five after having retired from four races at this time last season. Márquez has had accidents the last two years at Aragón. In 2014, he fell while leading in the wet but prior to switching bikes and last year he had an accident on lap two while running down Jorge Lorenzo.

Valentino Rossi has three consecutive podium finishes and has finished ahead of Márquez in the last four races but Rossi trails Márquez by 43 points. Rossi has two podiums in six starts at Aragón and has finished outside the top five in three starts with one retirement. Jorge Lorenzo is third in the championship, 51 points behind Márquez despite winning three of the first five races. Since his victory at Mugello, Lorenzo has two podiums and two races where he failed to score points. Lorenzo has won the last two years at Aragón and has five consecutive podium finishes.

Dani Pedrosa jumped up to fourth in the championship after his victory at Misano and trails his Honda teammate by 78 points. Pedrosa has one victory and four podiums in six Aragón starts. He has not won consecutive races since winning at Spain and France in 2013. Suzuki rider Maverick Viñales finished fifth at Misano after winning at Silverstone, 87 points behind Márquez. Viñales won at Aragón in Moto2 in 2014. Andrea Dovizioso is championship-eligible by one point. The Ducati rider could extend the streak to nine different riders to win the last nine consecutive races.

Nicky Hayden makes his MotoGP return substituting for Dutch TT winner Jack Miller, who is recovering from a fractured wrist. Hayden finished third in the inaugural Aragón Grand Prix in 2010. Last year, Hayden finished 15th and score one point at Aragón. In World Superbike this season Hayden has one victory, four podiums and sits fifth in the championship.

Bad Boy Off Road 300
The second round of NASCAR's Chase takes place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. After his victory at Chicagoland Speedway last week, Martin Truex, Jr. leads on points and has advanced to the second round of the Chase. It was Truex, Jr.'s third victory of the season. He has one top ten finish in his last five starts at Loudon.

Brad Keselowski is second in the championship with Kyle Busch three points behind him in third. Keselowski's only New Hampshire victory came in July 2014. Busch won the summer race at Loudon last year. Keselowski has led one lap in ten consecutive Loudon races. Busch led 133 laps at Loudon in July only to finish eighth. Denny Hamlin is a point behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Hamlin has the best average finish among the Chase drivers at Loudon at 10.2. Joey Logano rounds out the top five. Logano has four consecutive top five finishes at Loudon.

Chase Elliott is sixth in points and he finished 34th, seven laps down in his Loudon debut in July. Matt Kenseth won the July race and is a point behind Elliott. Kenseth has won the last two races at Loudon and has six top ten finishes in seven Loudon starts with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jimmie Johnson is a point behind Kenseth and has not won at Loudon since June 2010. Carl Edwards trails Johnson by five points. Edwards has one top five finish in his last 15 Loudon starts. Kurt Busch rounds out the top ten in points. Since 2011, Kurt Busch has two top ten finishes in 11 starts.

Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart are currently the final two drivers that would advance to round two. McMurray is three points to the good while Stewart is only one point ahead of Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon in 12th. Kyle Larson is four points behind Stewart and Chris Buescher trails by 14 points.

4 Hours of Spa
The penultimate round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series season takes place at Spa-Francorchamps. It is the first time the series has visited the Belgian circuit since 2011.

Six teams are fighting for the title in LMP2. The #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan of Mathias Beche, Pierre Thiriet and Ryō Hirakawa has won the last three and leads the championship with 77 points. Hirakawa missed the most recent round at Circuit Paul Ricard due to Super GT commitments. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell won the season opener at Silverstone and trail the #46 Oreca by nine points. The #32 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan has 60 points after finishing second at Paul Ricard and the team will see a driver change as former Formula One driver Vitaly Petrov replaces Julián Leal as the third driver alongside Stefano Coletti and Andreas Wirth.

The #33 Eurasia Motorsport Oreca-Nissan of Nick de Bruijn, Tristan Gommendy and Pu Jun Jin has 40 points, nine clear of the #21 Dragonspeed Oreca-Nissan of Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman and Nicolas Lapierre. The #40 Krohn Racing Ligier-Nissan of Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson and Olivier Pla has 26 points.

In LMP3, three teams are still alive but the title could be wrapped up this weekend. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Christian England and Mike Guasch sits on 90 points after winning the first three races and finishing third at Paul Ricard and a victory would clinch the title for the team.

Thirty points behind the #2 United Autosports Ligier is the #19 Duquiene Engineering Ligier-Nissan of David Hallyday, Dino Lunardi and David Droux after the all-French team finished fourth in the first two races and second in the later two. The #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Paul Petit, Eric Trouillet and Enzo Guibbert won at Circuit Paul Ricard and is 38 points back.

All eight GTE teams are still alive for the championship. The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith has won the last two races and has three consecutive podiums, giving the team 68 points and the championship lead. Five points behind the #66 Ferrari is the #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard. The #99 Aston Martin won at Silverstone and finished third at Paul Ricard. The #56 AT Racing Ferrari finished the first three races on the podium before a fourth at Paul Ricard giving the team 60 points. Belorussians Alexander Talkanitsa Sr. and Jr. will be joined by Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #56 Ferrari for Spa. The Imola winning #77 Proton Competition Porsche of Mike Hedlund, Wolf Henzler and Marco Seefried rounds out the top four on 46 points.

The #60 Formula Racing Ferrari and #55 AF Corse Ferrari are tied on 34 points. The all-Danish lineup of Johnny Laursen, Mikkel Mac and Christina Nielsen hold the tiebreaker over the trio of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott. The #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Christian Reid, Gianluca Roda and Matteo Caroli has 31 points while the #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Rui Águas, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini is a point behind the #88 Porsche.

DTM Budapest
Ten drivers head to the penultimate round of the DTM season at the Hungaroring with a shot at the title but the 2014 champion Marco Wittmann has a firm grasp on the lead. The BMW driver has 170 points and has won two of the last three races. Wittmann has finished in the points in 12 of 14 races this season. Wittmann won the only DTM race ever held at Hungaroring in 2014

Edoardo Mortara trails Wittmann by 33 points and won the most recent race of the DTM season at Nürburgring. The Audi driver has three victories, as many as Wittmann but has failed to score points in four races this season. Mercedes-Benz driver Robert Wickens is third in the championship, 50 points behind Wittmann. Wickens has two victories and five podiums but has failed to score points in six races.

British drivers take the next three spots in the championship. Jamie Green sits on 119 points with Paul di Resta on 100 points and Tom Blomqvist has 93 points. Green won at Zandvoort in July and has five podiums this season but has six finishes outside the points. Di Resta won the second race at the opening round at Hockenheim but only has two podiums since his victory. Blomqvist has four second-place finishes this season, the most of any driver. Blomqvist won last year at Oschersleben.

Mattias Ekström has 82 points and has not won since the infamous "Schieb Ihn Raus" round at the Red Bull Ring last year. Swiss driver and Norisring winner Nico Müller sits on 78 points and has scored in the second race in six of seven rounds this season but has failed to score in the first race of a weekend in the last four rounds. Two points behind Müller is Maxime Martin. The Belgian driver has two podium finishes this season. Gary Paffett rounds out the top ten in the championship on 73 points. Paffett's most recent DTM victory was Lausitzring in 2013.

Sportsland SUGO
With two rounds remaining in the 2016 Super Formula Championship, nobody is mathematically eliminated from the championship as 29 points remain on the table.

Yuji Kunimoto is coming off his first career Super Formula victory at Okayama and he leads the championship with 23.5 points. Kunimoto finished second in the first race of the Okayama weekend and second at the season opener at Suzuka. He leads defending Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura by 4.5 points. Ishiura won at Okayama in May and finished third at Motegi and in the second race of the Okayama September weekend.

André Lotterer sits on 18 points and is third in the championship. The German's only podium this season was second at Motegi. Lotterer won at Sportsland SUGO last year. Yuhi Sekiguchi won at Motegi and he has 17 points. Sekiguchi's only other finish in the points was a third at Fuji. McLaren reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne sits fifth in the championship on 16 points. He won the first race of the Okayama weekend and has scored in the last three races.

Season opener winner Naoki Yamamoto has not finished on the podium since his victory at Suzuka. He has 15.5 points and Kazuki Nakajima sits on 15 points with the Toyota-factory driver having two runner-up finishes this season. Fuji winner João Paulo de Oliveira has 12.5 points and finished eighth and fifth at Okayama. James Rossiter and Koudai Tsukakoshi are tied on 11 points.

1. Over or Under: 1.5 points scored by Nicky Hayden at Aragón?
2. Over or Under: 32.5 laps being the average green flag run at Loudon?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 Ligiers on the overall podium at Spa?
4. Over or Under:  33.5 points scored by German drivers at Budapest?
5. Over or Under:  4.5 Japanese drivers in the points at Sportsland SUGO?

1. Aleix Espargaró finishes ahead of Maverick Viñales and in the top five.
2. The Loudon race winner leads fewer than 65 laps.
3. United Autosport clinches the LMP3 championship but doesn't win the race.
4. A driver gets his first DTM podium of the season.
5. The average age of the Sportsland SUGO podium will be over 32 years of age.