Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Sports Car Predictions

The 2017 sports car season will see a slew of changes. Audi is gone. Porsche is back in GTE. IMSA has a new prototype class and a couple new manufactures in GTD.  There are new LMP2 cars. Pirelli World Challenge will have a new race weekend format for half the season. But what else could happen?

1. WEC: Porsche Runs Three Cars at Le Mans
I know Porsche has said it won't be running a third car at Le Mans but I think Porsche is lying and with no Audi on the grid and Toyota likely to run a third entry, I think Porsche will want to enhance its odds of getting its 19th Le Mans victory and third on the trot. While I am at it, let's speculate that Fernando Alonso will be one of the drivers because there are no clashes with the 6 Hours of Spa, Le Mans test day or Le Mans and he wants to do it. I think Juan Pablo Montoya will be one of the drivers because he won't be busy and why not bring Nico Hülkenberg back?

2. Sébastien Buemi Gets Back on the Top Step of the Podium
The Swiss driver hasn't won in WEC since he and Anthony Davidson won the title in 2014. Toyota found its footing in 2016 but the Buemi-Davidson-Nakajima trio couldn't catch a break after a retirement, two finishes outside the top fifteen and the car stopping at Le Mans. With Porsche and Toyota down to two full-time entries each, numbers are in favor of Buemi winning at least one race.

3. Aston Martin Finally Wins the GTE-Am Title
Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda has finished in the top two of 12 of the last 17 races and dating back in 2014, Dalla Lana and Lamy have finished in the top two in 17 of 25 races. However, the team has yet to win a title. That has to end. This team won't get bit at Le Mans. They will still win a handful of races and now that Emmanuel Collard and François Perrodo are gone that is one less combination the team will have to worry about.

4. IMSA: Mazda Wins at Least Two Races
This is the prediction I feel least confident about. I am making it because Mazda came close to getting a handful of victories last year and I think they will correct that. At the same time, after watching how long it took Mazda to get its last prototype to a competitive level, I think this could be another season of Mazda sloshing along at the back behind the Cadillacs, Nissans and the global LMP2 cars.

5. Acura, Lexus and Mercedes-AMG All Win at Least Once in GTD
Lexus better win because the RC F GT3 was suppose to be on the grid in 2016 and it never got off the ground and I guess Scott Pruett and Sage Karam spent a lot of time testing the car. They should have been. Plus, Jack Hawskworth will be hungry and Robert Alon is a decent driver. Michael Shank Racing is a top-notch team and the two cars have stout driver line-ups of Oswaldo Negri-Katherine Legge and Andy Lally-Jeff Segal. The Mercedes-AMG GT3 is already a proven car and Riley Motorsports will field one and the WeatherTech Racing will field another.

6. Penske Enters a Car Late in the Season and Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves Are the Drivers
It seems like I should feel less confident about this prediction than the Mazda one but I think Penske will field a prototype but we won't see it until Laguna Seca at the earliest. I don't think Penske offered Montoya the Indianapolis 500 one-off and sports car ride if there wasn't a sports car ride. I think Castroneves will be the second driver because I think Castroneves' 2017 season will be what Montoya's 2016 season was. Castroneves will be phased out from IndyCar and still have a ride for the Indianapolis 500 but come 2018, he will be a full-time sports car driver and that career switch will start late in 2017.

7. ELMS: Racing Team Nederland Does Not Win a Race With Rubens Barrichello and Jan Lammers as Drivers
I am not sure you could get two older drivers in an LMP2 car. Barrichello is still only 44 but Lammers is 60 years old. I don't believe in these older driver line-ups. Lammers hasn't run prototypes seriously in almost a decade. There are a lot of stronger teams in ELMS and I am not sure a new team can enter and compete at the top of the class, although with the new LMP2 regulations maybe it opens the door but I could see either Lammers quit mid-year because he tires out or Barrichello strictly focus on Stock Car Brasil after the first few rounds.

8. At Least One Class has Four Different Entries Win a Race
In 2016, all three ELMS classes only had three winners. In LMP2, G-Drive, Thiriet by TDS and DragonSpeed were the winners. In LMP3, it was United Autosports, Graff and M.Racing - YMR were the winners. In GTE, Aston Martin Racing, JMW Motorsport and Proton Competition were the winners. I think one class will have at least four different winners in six races.

9. An AF Corse-operated Ferrari Finishes in the Top Three of the GTE Championship
AF Corse did not have a great year in 2016 in ELMS. The team's two entries finished fifth and seventh in the ELMS GTE championship. It is AF Corse. The team doesn't stay down that long. I think it will bounce back in 2016.

10. Pirelli World Challenge: The Sprint Champion is Different from the Sprint X Champions
I am not sure how championships will be handed out in PWC in 2017. Will it be like the Blancpain GT Series where a title is handed out for each format and then an overall title? PWC could do that. There could be PWC Sprint champions, Sprint X champions and an overall PWC champion for the top driver from the combination of the two. Either way, I am not sure if many teams or drivers will do both. Granted I think teams will end up running both since it doesn't make sense just to run the five sprint weekends. I don't think one team will have the same type of success in both. It's too unpredictable.

11. Ryan Dalziel is the Patrick Long of 2017
Patrick Long returned to PWC in 2016 and was a handful of corners away from winning the title. Ryan Dalziel will return to PWC in 2017 driving a Mercedes-AMG GT3 for CRP Racing. CRP Racing has been a competitive team in PWC and Dalziel has had his fair share of success in PWC. Nobody would be surprised if Dalziel is a title contender and I would almost lock him into finish in the top five of the championship.

12. American Manufactures Win at Least Eight GTS Races
GTS saw an influx of new vehicle as the KTM X-Bow GT4, SIN R1 GT4 and Ginetta G55 GT4 all entered the championship and won a handful of races. While the new vehicles from Europe had a fair amount of success, the American muscle stalwarts Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang still held their own. With the new Ford Mustang GT4 set to make its debut and Blackdog Speed Shop still being the top GTS team, I think the American makes can still have a good run in the championship although the competition just gets a little bit deeper as the McLaren 570S GT4 enters with Klenin Performance Racing.

We are halfway through predictions and expect another to come tomorrow. Until then, look back on the NASCAR predictions and Et Cetera predictions.