Thursday, October 27, 2016

Three For Your Thursday: Audi, Limits and Dates

Normally I don't write a spur of the moment reaction to news. I do my weekly Musings From the Weekend column on Mondays but that is normally thought out over a few days and normally offers ideas and solutions and can be a brainstorming session. The Monday column is something I hope gets people thinking and considering new ideas. The last day or so has me want to write about my feelings about the recent news. Here you go and enjoy.

Audi's Departure From LMP1
After nearly two decades dominating the top echelon of sports car racing, Audi will be exiting LMP1 and the FIA World Endurance Championship after this season. Since debuting in 1999, Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times putting Audi second all-time in Le Mans victories behind only Porsche. It had at least one car on the overall Le Mans podium since 1999. Audi won the 12 Hours of Sebring on 11 occasions behind only Porsche and Ferrari. To put into perspective Audi's success, when it debuted at Le Mans in 1999, Ferrari was second all-time in Le Mans victories with nine and Nissan was third all-time in Sebring victories with four.

This isn't even mentioning two World Endurance Manufactures' Championships, nine consecutive American Le Mans Series championships, an ungodly amount of victories in the ALMS, the 2008 Le Mans Series title after trailing Peugeot the entire season entering the final round, nine consecutive Petit Le Mans victories including Allan McNish's masterful performance after the team started two laps down because of an accident during the morning warm-up.

I am not devastated Audi is gone. The rumors have been there for a while that 2016 could be it. Maybe if the team didn't get disqualified at Silverstone and hadn't coughed away Nürburgring, Mexico City and Austin the team would have saw out the planned 2017 season and left in 2018 but we will never know. Audi and the entire Volkswagen Group has been marred by the emissions scandal for the last year and when that news broke and the reported fines started to be calculated we had to know cuts were going to be coming especially to the motorsports department.

Audi is still going to have its fingers in motorsports. The DTM program isn't going anywhere and it is diving in with Abt Sportsline in Formula E. They will still be present in GT3 series around the globe. There are going to be a few drivers looking for work. Lucas di Grassi has Formula E to fall back on, as does Loïc Duval. André Lotterer will probably still run Formula E but he is going to need more than those eight races to keep him busy. Oliver Jarvis will need a job. Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer will both be 40 years old at the end of the years (Tréluyer is sneaky old) and I am sure there will be GT3 opportunities for them.

Never is a long time and I won't say never to Audi returning to Le Mans. Maybe it will be a decade, maybe it will be two but Porsche returned. Ford returned this year. Toyota returned a few years ago and Peugeot has been in the rumor mill of returning for the last few months. Le Mans won't be the same next year. Something will be missing but hopefully Porsche and Toyota up the ante and run three cars next year to fill the void.

NASCAR Driver Limits
About a decade late, NASCAR has issued limits to the amount of races full-time Cup drivers can run in the lower two national touring series. Cup drivers with more than five years of Cup experience can run up to ten Grand National Series races a year and seven Truck races a year (Ironically, I actually suggested limiting championship ineligible drivers to seven Truck races a season almost three years ago).

It is a step in the right direction. There are still holes. The limit not coming into affect until a driver reaches five years of Cup experience makes it sort of like the silver rating when it comes to the FIA WEC, ELMS, IMSA and more. There are some drivers who are incorrectly marked as amateurs but are actually professional and a team can draft them in and give them an advantage. While Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will be limited, the likes of Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Chris Busecher, Erik Jones and company are still in the clear for the next few seasons. I think the limit should be a clear mark in the sand and should be lower than five years of Cup experience. Make it if you declare eligibility for the Cup championship and have 80 Cup starts or more then you are limited in the lower divisions.

Looking at this year, only Kyle Busch, Logano and Keselowski and technically Timmy Hill (who has raced in at least one Cup race in each of the last five seasons but has only made 48 Cup starts in his career) have exceeded the limit of ten. The problem hasn't been that Cup guys run too much in the second division but a handful of Cup guys run too much in the second division and they win a higher proportion of the races.

I am not against Cup guys running in the lower divisions. I actually like seeing it from time to time and making it a special occurrence but when a driver runs 15-20 races in the lower divisions, then it isn't special. I like the idea of Jimmie Johnson showing up and running a Truck race at Bristol. I like the idea of Clint Bowyer or Carl Edwards going to run the Eldora Truck race. I remember when Tony Stewart ran at Kansas in the Grand National Series in 2004 and my uncle made it a viewing appointment because Stewart didn't run in the other two national touring series that often. It became a special race for some to tune in to. When a driver runs 2/3rds of the season, novelty doesn't exist when they venture to the other series.

As for barring drivers from the Chase races in the lower two divisions, I am ok with that. As for the Dash 4 Cash races, the four meaningless and subjective races that more money is put down on, who cares?

I wonder how effective the limits will be. Joey Logano probably won't try to get around it and enter a race as Logan Josephson but think about it this way and let's use Penske's #22 Ford as an example: Logano could run ten races in that car, Keselowski could run ten races in that car and Ryan Blaney could run the remaining 13 races but in all likelihood end up running ten to 11 races and let Alex Tagliani do a road course or two. Other than having Logano and Keselowski run four or five fewer races, that is basically what Penske is doing with that car this season, which makes me wonder if the rules is going to change anything and if it doesn't how will fans react? I know how they will react, they will call for tighter restrictions but will NASCAR be quick to trigger like it has been with altering the Chase format almost every other year since 2004 or will it say they tried and move on?

I am interested to see how it plays out and if it solves the problems that have followed NASCAR's second division for the last decade or so. I am concerned it could affect entries and hope we don't see races with only 35 cars entered but I think teams will make it work and it could lead to more Cup driver competing as a sponsor might want a Cup driver to be associate with and could lead to teams needing to call someone in for a handful of races.

United States Grand Prix Wants Mexican Grand Prix to Move to June
Just days after having the largest weekend crowd since taking over hosting duty of the United States Grand Prix in 2012, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein complained that the United States Grand Prix has suffered in terms of ticket sales by having the Mexican Grand Prix the week later and he thinks the Mexican Grand Prix should move to June and be paired with the Canadian Grand Prix.

I am going to tear Epstein apart. Where does he have the gall to declare Mexico should move to June when he damn well knows that would be putting the race in the heat of the early summer, the same thing his event is avoiding by running in the middle of October? Did the Mexican Grand Prix take away spectators from last year's race in Austin? Hell yeah it did because now fans didn't have to cross the border to see Sergio Pérez. Has the Belgian Grand Prix seen an uptick in spectators since Belgian-born Dutch-national Max Verstappen has blossomed? Hell yeah and would the race see a decrease if the Dutch Grand Prix returned at Zandvoort? You bet.

If Epstein wants to maximize it's potential race crowd, it should move and rearrange its dates. Maybe the United States Grand Prix should kick off the season in March. I have been to Austin in March. It is lovely. You could still have a concert or two. The race would get away from going head-to-head from the NFL and it could be done the weekend before the NCAA Tournament starts, that final weekend of the late-winter lull in the American sports calendar.

If Epstein wants what is best for his race, he should seek making it better not suggesting others should change because they are more successful.