Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Five: Laguna Seca, Aragón, Spa, Sportsland SUGO, Loudon

IndyCar season is over and we are back to the annual autumnal tradition of searching the globe for motorsports and touching on many different stories lines from many different disciplines. This weekend is the weekend of penultimate rounds. Three series are down to two rounds to go while another series is down to the penultimate round of this segment of the season and another has a penultimate round on a continent.

Laguna Seca
IMSA has its penultimate round of the 2017 season and three of the classes will race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Two championships could be locked up this weekend.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan Taylor and Ricky Taylor lead the Prototype championship with 258 points and the American duo can clinch the championship with a second place finish. The Taylor brothers won the first five races of the season and finished second at the most recent race at Road America. Jordan won at the track in Grand-Am in 2013 with Max Angelelli as his co-driver.

Twenty-six points back is the #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac of Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa and its teammates and defending champions the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are a further five points back. The #85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca of Misha Goikhberg and Stephen Simpson are fourth on 227 points.

Extreme Speed Motorsports won the most recent round at Road America with Johannes van Overbeek and Pipo Derani in the #22 Nissan. Van Overbeek won at Laguna Seca two years ago. Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel have finished on the podium in the last two races. VisitFlorida Racing won at Laguna Seca two years ago and Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande will be in the #90 Ligier. Van der Zande won at Laguna Seca in the PC/GTD race in 2015. Jose Gutiérrez and Olivier Pla are back in the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier.

Jan Magnussen and Antonio García need a little more help to clinch the GTLM championship. The #3 Corvette has 274 points and it has to win and have the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims to finish third without picking up pole position or worse.  Magnussen and García won at Laguna Seca in 2014. RLLR BMW won in GTLM in 2015. The #3 Corvette has won three races this season including the most recent round at VIR. Auberlen and Sims have two victories this season.

The #66 Ford of Joey Hand and Dirk Müller and #67 Ford of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are tied for third and each are a point behind the #25 BMW. Hand and Müller have two victories this season while Briscoe and Westbrook, last year's winner in GTLM at Laguna Seca, have the most podium finishes in GTLM this season with five but they have yet to win with the duo having three runner-up finishes, including the most recent race at VIR.

Porsche is looking for its first GTLM victory at Laguna Seca. The #911 Porsche of Patrick Pilet and Dirk Werner won at Lime Rock Park in July. Gianmaria Bruni and Laurens Vanthoor in the #912 Porsche and the Italian-Belgian duo finished second in two of the previous three races. John Edwards won at Laguna Seca in 2014 in GTLM and he and Martin Tomczyk are looking for their first victory of the season in #24 BMW. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won the only other IMSA round in California at Long Beach in April in the #4 Corvette. The #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari returns for its sixth race of the season with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander. The team has finished third-place in three of its five starts this season.

Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan are looking their second consecutive GTD championship and the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari leads the championship with 282 points to 269 points held by Jeroen Bleekemolen of the #33 Riley Motorsports - Team AMG Mercedes. Nielsen and Balzan have not won a race this season but had six consecutive podium finishes including four runner-up finishes. Bleekemolen has won twice this season. Jens Klingmann is 30 points back in the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW and he has finished first and second in the last two races. The #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow sit in fourth on 248 points.

The IMSA race takes place at 5:00 p.m. ET on Sunday September 24th.

Ten riders are alive for the MotoGP championship as the series heads to Motoland Aragón, the penultimate European round of the season and final round before the series heads on its three-week Asia-Pacific tour.

Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso are tied for the championship lead on 199 points. Both riders have four victories but Márquez has three runner-up finishes to Dovizioso's one runner-up finish. Márquez won last year at Aragón, his third at the track, while Dovizioso's best finish at the track was third in 2012. Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales trails the tied duo by 16 points. Viñales won three of the first five races but has only three podium finishes since then. He won in Moto2 at the track in 2014 and he finished fourth in last year's MotoGP race.

Valentino Rossi will try to compete this weekend after breaking his leg in training and caused him to miss the Misano round. He has 157 points and is fourth in the championship. Rossi has never won at Aragón. Yamaha's World Superbike rider Michael van der Mark is on standby to replace Rossi. Dani Pedrosa is seven points behind Rossi. He won the 2012 race at Aragón. Tech3 Yamaha rider Johann Zarco sits on 110 points, 15 points clear of Danilo Petrucci, who finished second at Misano. Cal Crutchlow sits on 92 points; two ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and Jonas Folger rounds out the top ten on 84 points.

The Aragón Grand Prix will be at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 24th.

The European Le Mans Series has its penultimate round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps for the second consecutive season.

The #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca leads the LMP2 championship with 80 points. Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel have contested every race this season in the #22 Oreca and won at Monza and finished second in the other three races. Ryō Hirakawa returns to the #22 Oreca after missing the last two rounds. The #32 United Autosport Ligier of Felipe Albuquerque, Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer have won two of the four races this season but trails the #22 Oreca by 12 points. The #39 Graff Racing Oreca of James Allen and Richard Bradley trails the #22 Oreca by 31 points after consecutive third-place finishes. Gustavo Yacamán returns for his third consecutive race in the #39 Oreca.

In LMP3, the #2 United Autosport Ligier of Sean Rayhall and John Falb leads the championship after two victories and a second place finish with 70 points. Twelve points back is the all-French line-up in the #18 M.Racing - YMR Ligier of Alexandre Cougnard, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci, which has yet to win this season but has three consecutive podium finishes. Another all-French line-up is third in the championship. The #17 Ultimate Ligier of François Hériau, Jean-Baptiste Lahaye and Matthieu Lahaye sit on 53 points. Giorgio Mondini and Davide Uboldi won at Red Bull Ring in the #11 Eurointernational Ligier and are fourth in the championship on 47 points.

The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin has finished on the podium in all four races, including a victory in the season opener at Silverstone. With those results, Euan Hankey, Nicki Thiim and Salih Yoluc lead the GTE championship with 77 points. JMW Motorsport won at Monza and has three consecutive podium finishes and sits nine points back of the #90 Aston Martin. Jody Fannin and Robert Smith are back in the #66 Ferrari and Will Stevens joins the duo for Spa-Francorchamps. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott have won the last two rounds and they are 13 points back.

The 4 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place at 6:00 a.m. ET on Sunday September 24th.

Sportsland SUGO
The Super Formula Championship heads to its penultimate round of the season and 17 drivers are still alive for the title.

The 2015 champion Hiroshi Ishiura leads the championship with 30.5 points and he is 4.5 points clear of Red Bull development driver Pierre Gasly. Gasly has won the last two races at Motegi and Autopolis while Ishiura won the race prior to that at Fuji. Six points off Ishiura and fresh off three consecutive podium finishes is Felix Rosenqvist.

André Lotterer trails Ishiura by 10.5 points in fourth in the championship after a victory in Okayama. Kazuki Nakajima has not stood on the podium since he won the season opener at Suzuka. He is 14.5 points back of Ishiura. Yuhi Sekiguchi split the Okayama doubleheader with Lotterer and he is a point behind Nakajima. Kamui Kobayashi finished second two rounds ago at Motegi and he is still looking for his first career Super Formula victory. He has 14.5 points. Defending Super Formula champion Yuji Kunimoto sits eighth in the championship on 11 points with his only podium finish being third in the season opener at Suzuka.

Gasly could become the first driver to win three consecutive Super Formula races since Lotterer won the final three races of the 2011 season at Sportsland SUGO and sweeping a doubleheader at Motegi. Lotterer won the title that season and he is the most recent European champion in the series. That was also the last time the Sportsland SUGO winner has gone on to win the championship.

For the final time, New Hampshire International Speedway hosts a NASCAR Chase race and it is the second of three races that makes up the first round of this year's Chase.

Martin Truex, Jr. has assured himself a spot in the second round after his victory at Chicagoland. He also has the most points on 2,102 points. The New Jerseyan has never won at Loudon in the Cup series but he matched his career-best finish of third in July after starting on pole position. He has led over 100 laps in the last three Loudon races.

Kyle Larson is second in the championship and 49 points above the drop zone. Should he increase his gap to 13th by 12 points this weekend he will assure himself a spot in the second round based on points. Seven points behind Larson is Kevin Harvick, who won last year's Chase race at Loudon. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are tied on 2,061 points, 35 points to the good. Keselowski has completed 99% of the laps in his 16 Loudon starts. Denny Hamlin is three points behind the Keselowski-Busch tie. Hamlin won at Loudon in June and won the Chase race there in 2012. The last driver to sweep the Loudon Cup races as Kurt Busch in 2004.

In seventh on 2,046 points is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson has not had a top five finish since his victory at Dover in June. All three of his top five finishes this season were victories. Johnson has never won the Loudon Chase race. He won at Loudon in September 2003 the year prior to the introduction of the Chase. Two points behind Johnson is his teammate Chase Elliott after being penalized 15 points for improper modifications at Chicagoland. He picked up his career-best Loudon finish with an 11th-place finish in June. Matt Kenseth has won two of the last four Loudon Chase races and he is on 2,039 points, five ahead of Ryan Blaney. Jamie McMurray is 11th on 2,031 points.

Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch are tied for the final spot in the second round. Each driver has 2,026 points after Dillon finished 16th at Chicagoland and Busch finished 19th. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. is four points on the outside with Kasey Kahne another point back and Ryan Newman is the bottom of the 16 drivers on 2,019 points.

The NASCAR Cup race will be at 2:15 p.m. ET on Sunday September 24th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 1.5 non-Cadillacs on the Prototype podium?
2. Over or Under: 6.5 Spanish riders in the points at Aragon?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 American teams that score a podium finish at Spa-Francorchamps?
4. Over or Under: 2.5 retirements at Sportsland SUGO?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 non-stage ending cautions before the start of the final stage of the race?

1. A GTD team gets its first podium finish of the season.
2. Valentino Rossi scores fewer than 11 points at Aragón.
3. Both the #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca and the #90 TF Sport Aston Martin do not finish on their respective class podiums.
4. Felix Rosenqvist gets his first career Super Formula victory.
5. Matt Kenseth or Kevin Harvick finish in the top five but not both.