Monday, November 14, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Fresh Blood

Lewis Hamilton survived a monsoon to win the Brazilian Grand Prix and keep his championship hopes alive while Nico Rosberg finished second, meaning all the German needs at the season finale at Abu Dhabi is a podium to take the world championship. Max Verstappen stole the show with his daring moves and drive from 16th to 3rd in the final 17 laps. One of Hamilton's former teammates and Rosberg's former championship rivals won a championship. Formula E had technical difficulties. NASCAR drivers realize how terrible their championship format is. A few riders have spectacular farewells in Valencia. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Fresh Blood
With Race of Champions be held in Miami this year, a fair amount of Americans will be competing. In fact, five of the 11 drivers announced for the January 21-22nd event are American drivers. You have the familiar American ROC faces of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Travis Pastrana; you have the defending Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, former NASCAR champion and previous ROC competitor Kurt Busch. And Scott Speed.

Along with the collection of Americans, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Felipe Massa, Tom Kristensen, Petter Solberg and defending Champion of Champions Sebastian Vettel have all been announced as competing with at least another five to nine spots to be filled.

The Race of Champions is an event I have enjoyed. It was a great cap to the racing season when it was in December but as the Formula One calendar as expanded to the end of November and with the event coming to the United States, moving to January is a good decision. It won't go head-to-head with the end of football season and it comes at a good dead point in the offseason where Formula One drivers can compete.

As the list of Americans has been announced, I have been pleased but slightly disappointed. Hunter-Reay, Busch and Rossi are all really good drivers and all make a case to be in the top ten active American drivers but there is something missing. Maybe it is because Hunter-Reay, Pastrana and Busch aren't fresh names in terms of Race of Champions. This will be Hunter-Reay's fourth Race of Champions and Busch's second. Pastrana will be in his sixth Race of Champions, which has to be close to the most all-time and while Pastrana literally nearly single-handily won the 2006 Nations' Cup (he was the lone US competitor after Jimmie Johnson got hurt and Scott Speed was ill) I feel there needs to be fresh American blood in the competition.

We get that with Rossi but wouldn't it be nice if Brad Keselowski participated or Kyle Busch or maybe Patrick Long or the Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan? The United States has many talented racing drivers and if there are going to be five or six or seven competing in the first Race of Champions held in the United States, then why not have an array of Americans from different forms of motorsports?

Race of Legends
While thinking of the Race of Champions and seeing who has been announced, I thought of Mario Andretti. While he has not contested a major race since 2000, Mario Andretti has not lost the competitive spirit. It was just over 13 years ago he tested an IndyCar at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in place of the injured Tony Kanaan and then when for multiple flips. The running joke has been Mario is always egging his son Michael for another race but here is an event where he could go head-to-head with some of the best in the world and can do it in a stranger's equipment.

The more I thought of it, the more I wondered if Race of Champions could have a "Race of Legends" component to it where retired drivers from different eras. Mario Andretti never raced against Jeff Gordon but Race of Legends would make that possible. You could throw in Carlos Sainz, Bernd Schneider, Mike Häkkinen, Damon Hill and now Mark Webber and maybe a few more. Eight retired drivers would be enough, break them into two groups of four and take the top two from each group for the knockout stage.

Champions From the Weekend
The #39 Team Lexus SARD of Heikki Kovalainen and Kohei Hirate won the Super GT GT500 championship with their victory in the final race of the season at Motegi.

The #25 VivaC Team Tsuchiya Toyota 86 of Takamitsu Matsui and Takeshi Tsuchiya won the Super GT GT300 championship with a victory in the final race of the season at Motegi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Hamilton and half the events from Motegi but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Valencian Community Grand Prix. Johann Zarco rounded out his Moto2 championship season with a victory. Brad Binder capped off his Moto3 championship season with a victory.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Phoenix. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race. Daniel Suarez won the Truck race.

Sébastien Buemi won again, this time he won the Marrakesh ePrix.

The #24 Kondo Racing Nissan of Daiki Sasaki and Masataka Yanagida won the first Super GT race from Motegi with the #21 Team Hitotsuyama Audi of Richard Lyons and Tomonobu Fuji victorious in GT300.

Coming Up This Weekend
FIA World Endurance Championship ends in Bahrain.
NASCAR season ends at Homestead.
The World Rally Championship wraps up the 2016 season in Australia.