Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Four: Homebush, Fuji, Thunderhill, Laguna Seca

We have entered the final month of 2016 but the motorsport season is still kicking. A championship ends, another reaches the halfway point and an endurance race is held in Northern California. Plus, a young driver will become $200,000 richer at Laguna Seca.

Homebush Street Circuit
The final round of the 2016 Supercars season is the Sydney 500 from the Homebush Street Circuit, which will be hosting the Supercars for the final time. The round has been the season finale every year on the calendar since the inaugural running in 2009.

The championship will come down to one of two drivers and both drive for Red Bull Racing Australia. Shane Van Gisbergen enters with the championship lead on 3,089 points, 191 points ahead of Jamie Whincup. Van Gisbergen heads to the finale with seven victories and has eight consecutive podium finishes. Whincup has six victories this season, including three victories and five podium finishes in the last six races.

Van Gisbergen could become the third New Zealander to win the Supercars championship and be the first to do it since Jim Richards won his fourth title in 1991. The other New Zealander to take top honors was Robbie Francevic in 1986. Whincup is looking for his record extending seventh championship. Van Gisbergen and Whincup have combined to win the last eight races on the Homebush Street Circuit with Whincup holding the advantage of five victories to Van Gisbergen's three.

Craig Lowndes is trying to make it a clean sweep of the top three of the championship for Red Bull Racing Australia but Lowndes has not finished in the top five in the last eight races. He holds a 21-point advantage over Volvo's Scott McLaughlin, who has four podium finishes in the last six races. Will Davison rounds out the top five in the championship with 2,403 points, 19 points ahead of his former teammate and defending champion Mark Winterbottom.

Chaz Mostert is seventh in the championship on 2,235 point and is the top driver without a victory. Michael Caruso is the top Nissan driver in the championship in eighth on 2,110 points, 27 points ahead of Tim Slade. Garth Tander rounds out the top ten in the championship with 1,976, 12 points ahead of Fabian Coulthard and 27 points ahead of James Courtney.

The first race of the weekend will take place at 11:45 p.m. ET on Friday December 2nd. The season finale will take place at 11:40 p.m. ET on Saturday December 3rd.

Fuji Speedway
The second round of the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series season takes place at Fuji Speedway.

The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes and Ho-Pin Tung won the season opener at Zhuhai and will be joined by Thomas Laurent this weekend. Korean driver Tacksung Kim finished second at Zhuhai in the #24 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Judd and he will be joined by Jonathan Hirschi and Mark Patterson this weekend. The #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Nissan finished third at Zhuhai but the only returning driver is Michael Munemann, who will be joined by Andrea Roda and Andrea Pizzitola. The final LMP2 entry is the #8 Race Performance Oreca-Judd of Giorio Maggi, Struan Moore and Fabien Schiller.

Nine cars are entered in LMP3. The #1 Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier-Nissan of David Cheng, James Winslow and Pu Jun Jin won the season opener by over two laps in class over the #26 Tockwith Motorsports Ligier of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson. The #85 G-Print by Triple 1 Racing Ligier of Hanss Lin and Julio Acosta finished third in the season opener but only Lin is on the entry list for Fuji. The ARC Bratislava Ginettas finished fourth and fifth in class with the #4 Ginetta of Miro Konopka, Darren Burke and Mike Simpson ahead of the #7 Ginetta of Neale Muston and Konstantins Calko.

Fifteen cars are entered in the GT class. The #38 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Rui Águas, Marco Cioci and Nasrat Muzayyin won the season opener ahead of the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Mok Weng Sun, Keita Sawa and Matt Griffen. Key Cozzolino and Corey Lewis finished third at Zhuhai and they will be joined by Super GT driver Yuhi Sekiguchi in the #6 VS Racing Lamborghini. The #5 DH Racing Ferrari finished fourth in Zhuhai and Michele Rugolo will be joined by Matthieu Vaxivière and Stéphane Lémeret. The #2 Absolute Racing Audi of Cheng Congfu, Stephen Lin and Alessio Picariello finished fifth in class at Zhuhai.

The 4 Hours of Fuji will start at 10:45 p.m. ET on Saturday December 3rd.

25 Hours of Thunderhill
This weekend marks the 15th running of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Flying Lizard Motorsports won last year's race and returns with two cars. The #45 Audi has Darren Law, Johannes van Overbeek, Dion von Moltke and Mike Hedlund as the line-up with Thomas Sadler III, Andy Wilzoch, Will Owen and Charlie Hayes in the #74 Porsche.

Bryan Herta returns to competition for the first time since 2008 in the #5 Ryno Racing Team Ginetta LMP3 car. His son Colton joins him as well as Colin Braun, Parker Chase and Ryan Carpenter. Herta isn't the only former IndyCar race winner in the event. Al Unser, Jr. returns for another year in the #52 JFC Racing Wolf with Ryan Eversley, Miles Jackson and Todd Harris as his co-drivers.

Le Mans winner and runner-up in the 1996 Indianapolis 500 Davy Jones drives the #19 Patent It! Panoz GTS with Paul Edwards, Anthony Lisa, Steven Lisa and Chuck Hemmingson. Indy Lights race winner Sean Rayhall leads the #67 One Motorsports/Desert West Radical with John Falb, Todd Sluher and Jesse Menczer.

Mazda has entered three Global MX-5 Cup cars. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher C.J. Wilson is entered in the #55 Mazda with Taz Harvey, Richard Fisher and Scott Clark. Michael Brockman, Ben Robertaccio, Camden Jones and Thomas Bogar make up the #56 Mazda. Liam Dyer, Spencer Brockman, Mark Abouzeid and Steve McAleer are in the #70 Mazda.

The 25 Hours of Thunderhill starts at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturyda December 3rd.

Mazda Road to Indy Shootout
While not occurring this weekend but in the middle of next week, one driver will win a $200,000 scholarship to compete in U.S. F2000 in 2017. Eighteen drivers from eight countries head to Laguna Seca for the two-day Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.

Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood lead the driver line-up heading to Laguna Seca. Peter Portante, who made 30 U.S. F2000 starts from 2013-15 and has four career podiums, will participate after finishing runner-up in the F1600 championship to Neil Verhagen, who also won the Formula F1600 championship at the SCCA Runoffs but Verhagen will not be participating in the Shootout. Texan Trenton Estep won the Toyo Tires F1600 championship in Canada. Another Texan in the Shootout will be Skip Barber Racing Series champion Timo Reger. Oklahoman Nigel Saurian qualifies after winning the Formula Continental championship at the SCCA Runoffs.

Pacific F2000 champion Tim de Silva and Formula Car Challenge representative Jonathan Sugianto both hail from California. Pittsburgh's Matthew Machiko qualified after winning the Formula Mazda championship at the SCCA Runoffs and at 25 years old, he is the oldest driver in the competition. Austin Garrison rounds out the Americans in the competition after winning the Rotax MAX Challenge.

There are eight international drivers coming to the United States to compete in the Shootout. Scottish Formula Ford 1600 champion Neil MacLennan, Mountney Formula Ford Super Series champion Oliver White and BRSCC F1600 champion Niall Murray all come from across the Atlantic. New Zealander Michael Scott earned a spot after winning the New Zealand Formula Ford Championship, the same series Scott Dixon won almost twenty years ago. Australia's Will Brown finished second in Australia Formula Ford and won the Australia Formula Four championship.

MMSC MRF F1600 India Championship sends championship runner-up Karthik Tharani to the Shootout. Mexican Axel Matus won the Formula Panam Championship and the final driver in the Shootout is Mazda Road to Indy Brazil champion Marcel Coletta, the youngest driver in the competitions at 14 years of age.

Unlike a traditional race weekend, the drivers will be split into four groups and each group will get three-30 minutes sessions on Tuesday December 6th. On Wednesday December 7th, the drivers will be split into four groups again and each group will have another 30-minute session. In the afternoon, the 18 drivers will be split into two groups and each group will have a 30-minute qualifying session before the 30-minute simulation race, which will be held at 4:30 p.m. ET.

The winner of the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship will be announced at 6:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday December 7th.

1. Over or Under: 162.5 points scored this weekend by Michael Caruso at Homebush?
2. Over or Under: 1.5 LMP3 cars on the lead lap in class at Fuji?
3. Over or Under: 10.5 cars completing 600 laps in the 25 Hours of Thunderhill?
4. Over or Under: 7.5 American drivers mentioned in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout recap?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Nine cars finished within a minute of Lewis Hamilton at Abu Dhabi.
2. Over: There were six retirements during the GP2 weekend.
3. Under: Santino Ferrucci scored two points at Abu Dhabi.
4. Under: José María López ended the 2016 WTCC season with 381 points.

1. Someone other than Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup will win at Homebush.
2. There will be at least four European drivers represented in the three class winners.
3. The Ryno Racing Ginetta finishes in the top five overall.
4. A driver between the ages of 18 and 19 win the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout.

Last Week's Predictions 
1. One of the top six in the championship retire from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Wrong. The top six all finished).
2. At least one GP2 race features two drivers from the same country on the podium (Wrong. Six podium places, five nationalities but Sergey Sirotkin and Artem Markelov finished on the podium in separate races).
3. Charles Leclerc wins one of the GP3 races this weekend (Wrong. Leclerc's best finish was ninth).
4. Citroën puts two cars on the podium in each race from Qatar (Half right. There were two Citroën's on the podium for the second race).
Last Week: 0.5/5 Overall: 25.5/49