Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Five: Seven Series Special

This weekend is jam-packed full of on-track action that five series is too few to cover. We have debuts. We have championships on the line. We have endurance races. We have two-wheel races. We have four-wheel races. We have races in the United States, in Australia, in Iberia and Japan. We have a street race and an oval. There will be plenty to watch this weekend. I am sure you will find something to your liking.

United States Grand Prix
Formula One is back in the United States and Circuit of the Americas hosts the United States Grand Prix for the sixth consecutive season. 

The championship could be decided this weekend. Lewis Hamilton has 306 points and a 59-point lead over Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas is the only other driver mathematically alive for the title. The Finn trails Hamilton by 72 points. With 100 points left on the table, Hamilton could wrap up the championship with a victory on Sunday and Vettel finishing outside the top five. Hamilton has won four of five races held at Austin, including the last three, with Vettel responsible for victory in the 2013 Austin race. While Mercedes has finished 1-2 in the last three Austin races, Ferrari has put a car on the podium only twice with Vettel finishing third in 2015 and Fernando Alonso finishing third in 2012. Bottas' best finish at Austin was fifth in 2014. He finished outside the points in the last two Austin races. 

The championship has been clinched in the United States seven times, five of those coming in the United States Grand Prix and twice in the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. Hamilton could become the first driver to clinch the World Drivers' Championship on more than one occasion in the United States. Hamilton clinched the 2015 title at Austin. Other drivers to clinch the championship in the United States are Jack Brabham (1959), Jochen Rindt (1970), Emerson Fittipaldi (1974), Niki Lauda (1977), Nelson Piquet (1981) and Keke Rosberg (1982).

Daniel Ricciardo has finished on the podium in the last three races and he is fourth in the championship on 192 points. Kimi Räikkönen has 148 points and rounds out the top five with Max Verstappen on 111 points in sixth and the Dutchman has finished on the podium in the last two races. Sergio Pérez has 82 points with Force India teammate Esteban Ocon on 65 points. 

Carlos Sainz, Jr. makes his Renault debut, as Jolyon Palmer has left the team, and the Spaniard is ahead of his new teammate, Nico Hülkenberg, in the championship with 48 points to the German's 34 points. Hülkenberg is tied with Felipe Massa but holds the tiebreaker with three sixth-place finishes to Massa's two. 

Brendon Hartley will make his Formula One debut this weekend with Scuderia Toro Rosso as Sainz, Jr. moves to Renault and Pierre Gasly will be busy (more on him in a moment). Daniil Kvyat returns after two races on the sidelines. Hartley is the first New Zealander entered for a Formula One races since Mike Thackwell failed to qualify for the 1984 German Grand Prix for Tyrrell. Thackwell made a start earlier that season at Canada with RAM Racing.

Hartley will use car #39. The #39 has been used in 46 Formula One races, most recently in the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix with Bruno Giacomelli, who drove for Life Racing Engines. However, the #39 has failed to qualify for 40 consecutive races and the last time the #39 has started a race was the 1976 Dutch Grand Prix with Boy Hayje. The best finish for #39 was 11th in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with Alessandro Pesenti-Rossi.

A New Zealander has not scored points in a Formula One race since Chris Amon finished fifth in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix.

The United States Grand Prix will take place at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Super Formula Finale at Suzuka
At least one single-seater championship will be decided this weekend. The 2017 Super Formula season comes to a close with a doubleheader at Suzuka. 

With 19 points left on the table, eight drivers have a shot for the title entering this weekend.

Hiroaki Ishiura leads the championship with 33.5 points. The 2015 champion is the only driver to have finished in the points in all seven races this season. However, Ishiura has not finished on the podium in the last three races and he has only two podium finishes this season. He won at Fuji and finished second at Okayama. Pierre Gasly will not be at Austin because he trails Ishiura by a half-point. Gasly has two victories and a second-place finish in the last three races. Felix Rosenqvist trails Ishiura by five points after the Swede has finished in the top five in the last five races, including three podium finishes. 

Yuhi Sekiguchi picked up his second victory of the season in the most recent race at Sportsland SUGO and he sits on 25 points. Kazuki Nakajima won the season opener at Suzuka and he is coming off victory in the World Endurance Championship at Fuji. Nakajima has 22 points with André Lotterer two points behind him. Lotterer has not scored points in the last two races. The German has not failed to score points in three consecutive Super Formula races since 2005. Kamui Kobayashi and Yuji Kunimoto are the final two drivers alive for the title. They have 16.5 points and 16 points respectively.

Race one from Suzuka will be at 8:25 p.m. ET on Saturday October 21st with race two taking place at 1:20 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Gold Coast 600km
Supercars heads to the final round of the Enduro Cup and it is the antepenultimate round of the season with the Gold Coast 600km from the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit.

DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Coulthard took the championship lead after his third place finish at the Bathurst 1000 and he and Tony D'Alberto lead the Enduro Cup championship with 480 points. Coulthard has 2,431 points and he is 91 points clear of Jamie Whincup and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver is back with Paul Dumbrell. Coulthard's teammate Scott McLaughlin dropped from the championship lead to third in the championship, 97 points back after he and Alexandre Prémat retired from Bathurst.

Prodrive Racing Australia Ford drivers Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway are second in the Enduro Cup standings with 444 points with Rod Nash Racing Ford drivers Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen are third on 414 points. Bathurst winners David Reynolds and Luke Youlden are fourth in the Enduro Cup on 404 points.

Holden has swept the Gold Coast doubleheader the last three seasons with Shane Van Gisbergen responsible for three of those six victories and the pair of Whincup and Dumbrell picking up two of those victories.

The first race of the Gold Coast 600km weekend will take place at 12:25 a.m. ET on Saturday October 21st and race two will take place at 12:25 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

4 Hours of Algarve
All three championships are on the line in the European Le Mans Series season finale from Algarve International Circuit in Portugal. Two of the champions appear will be predictable while the other will likely come down to the final lap.

In LMP2, the #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca has not finished worse than second in any of the first five races and leads the championship with 98 points. Memo Rojas and Léo Roussel have contested all five rounds while Ryō Hirakawa will be back in the car for the fourth time this season. Those three won at Monza in May. The #32 United Autosports Ligier is the only other car with a shot at the title. Felipe Albuquerque, Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer have won twice this season but those three sit on 80 points and will likely need the #22 Oreca to fail to score to win the championship.

The #22 Oreca will lock up the championship with a fifth-place finish or a sixth-place finish if the #32 Ligier does not win the race from pole position. The #32 Ligier does hold the tiebreaker with two victories to the #22 Oreca's one victory.

United Autosports is on the right side of the championship battle in LMP3. The #2 Ligier leads the LMP3 championship with 85 points. Sean Rayhall and John Falb have two victories this season and the All-American duo has finished on the podium four times from five races. Nineteen points back is the #18 M.Racing - YMR Ligier of Alexandre Cougnaud, Antoine Jung and Romano Ricci. The #18 Ligier has not won this season but has three podium finishes.

The #2 Ligier will clinch the LMP3 title with a sixth-place finish or a seventh-place finish if the #18 Ligier does not win the race from pole position.

In GTE, five teams have a shot at the championship. The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin and the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari are separated by one point with the #90 Aston Martin on 87 points to the #66 Ferrari's 86 points. Each team has one victory, two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a fifth with the difference being the #90 Aston Martin having won one pole position this season. Nicki Thiim leads the Aston Martin line-up with Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc. Jody Fannin and Robert Smith have run all five races in the #66 Ferrari and Will Stevens returns in the car for the second consecutive race.

Spirit of Race has won three consecutive races and both the team's Ferraris are alive for the title. The #55 Ferrari won at Red Bull Ring and Circuit Paul Ricard and Duncan Cameron, Matt Griffin and Aaron Scott trails by 11 points. The #51 Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Gianluca Roda and Giogio Roda won the most recent round at Spa-Franchorchamps and the all-Italian line-up has 70 points. The #99 Beechdean Aston Martin has an outside shot at the championship with Andrew Howard and Darren Turner. The #99 Aston Martin has to win this race as it trails the #90 Aston Martin by 24 points. German driver Immanuel Vinke joins Turner and Howard for Algarve. 

The 4 Hours of Algarve starts at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Australian Grand Prix
MotoGP heads to its antepenultimate round and four riders are still alive for the championship.

Marc Márquez had his championship lead cut to 11 points after Andrea Dovizioso's victory at Motegi. Márquez has finished on the podium in eight of the last nine races with the one blemish being his engine failure while in contention for a podium finish at Silverstone. Márquez and Dovizioso have split the seven races since the start of July with the Spaniard holding the advantage four to three since July but the two riders are tied on five victories overall this season.

Maverick Viñales sits third in the championship on 203 points, 41 markers behind Márquez. Viñales has not finished on the podium in the last three races. Dani Pedrosa has a slim shot at the championship. With 75 points left on the table, Pedrosa trails his Honda teammate by 74 points. Valentino Rossi rounds out the top five in the championship but he is 76 points behind Márquez. 

Cal Crutchlow won last year's Australian Grand Prix, a race that saw Márquez fall off while leading in turn five. Crutchlow's victory made it five different winners in the last five Australian Grands Prix. Honda has won three of those five races with Yamaha responsible for the other two. Ducati has not won at Phillip Island since Casey Stoner picked up his final victory for the manufacture in 2010. Dovizioso's only victory at Phillip Island came in 2004 in 125cc class. Ironically, prior to last week Dovizioso's only victory at Motegi came in 2004 in 125cc. Dovizioso's only podium finish in the top class at Phillip Island was third in 2011.

The Australian Grand Prix will take place at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd. 

World Supersport Spanish Round
While Jonathan Rea has locked up the World Superbike championship, the World Supersport championship is up in the air with two races remaining and Jerez hosts the penultimate round. 

Lucas Mahias took the championship lead with a fourth-place finish at Magny-Cours after Kawasaki rider Kenan Sofuoglu was forced to miss the race due to injury and Sofuoglu will not be fit for Jerez. The Yamaha rider has 154 points; nine points ahead of the injured Turkish rider. South African rider Sheridan Morias trails Mahias by 32 points with Honda rider Jules Cluzel 39 points behind his fellow countryman. 

Mahias has finished on the podium in seven of ten races but his only victory was at the third round of the season at Aragón. Sofuoglu has won five races this season and he is the only rider with multiple victories. Sofuoglu had won the last two years at Jerez. MV Agusta rider Roberto Rolfo won the season opener at Phillip Island, Yamaha's Ferderico Caricasulo won at Buriram, Morias won at Lausitz and Niki Tuuli won the most recent round at Magny-Cours. All four of those victories were the first World Supersport victories for those respective riders. 

American P.J. Jacobsen sits fifth in the championship on 95 points and Jacobsen picked up his third podium of the season at Magny-Cours.

The World Supersport race will be held at 5:30 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Hollywood Casino 400
The final round of the second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Cup Series will be held at Kansas Speedway. 

Martin Truex, Jr. secured his spot in the semifinal round with a victory at Charlotte and Brad Keselowski has advanced to the next round thanks to his victory at Talladega last week. Those two drivers also are the top two in points with 3,120 points and 3,101 points respectively. 

Kyle Larson is the top driver on points that has yet to advance. The Ganassi driver has 3,096 points and he is 29 points to the good. Kevin Harvick is 23 points ahead of ninth with Hamlin a point behind Harvick. Keselowski and Hamlin were the only two Chase drivers to finish in the top ten at Talladega with Hamlin finishing sixth. Chase Elliott is 20 points above the drop zone in sixth and he 11 points ahead of Ryan Blaney. Blaney has not had a top five finish since his victory at Pocono in June. Jimmie Johnson holds eighth position, seven points above the drop zone. 

Kyle Busch is the first driver on the outside with 3,067 points with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth a point behind him. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Jamie McMurray are on the outside by 22 points and 29 points respectively. 

Truex, Jr. won the spring race at Kansas. Harvick won last year's autumn race and Busch won the spring race last year. Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for most Kansas victories with three. Harvick, Kenseth, Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart all won at Kansas twice. Johnson, Harvick and Kenseth have all won three pole positions at Kansas. Stenhouse, Jr. finished 11th in the spring race, matching his career-best finish at the track in nine Kansas starts and Stenhouse, Jr. has not had a top ten finish and a 1.5-mile oval since Atlanta last season, where he finished tenth. His only other top ten finish on a 1.5-mile oval was eighth at Chicagoland in 2013. McMurray finished eighth in the spring race, his fourth top ten finish at Kansas in 21 starts. His best finish at Kansas is seventh. 

The NASCAR Cup race will be at 3:16 p.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd. 

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 54.5 being the lap on which the fastest lap occurs in the United States Grand Prix?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 podium finishes for non-Japanese driver in the Suzuka doubleheader?
3. Over or Under: 7.5 cars within 20 seconds of the winner in the first Gold Coast race?
4. Over or Under: 4.5 LMP3 cars finishing on the lead lap of that class winner?
5. Over or Under: 40.7 minutes to complete the Australian Grand Prix?
6. Over or Under: 0.075 seconds between the pole-sitter and second on the grid?
7. Over or Under: 2.5 Chase drivers finishing outside the top twenty at Kansas?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: The winning #44 Magnus Racing Audi completed 314 laps in the California 8 Hours.
2. Under: Robert Wickens finished the 2017 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season with 119 points.
3. Over: Eight French drivers finished in the top five of LMP2 at Fuji.
4. Over: The top finishing non-Spaniard/Italian at Motegi was Frenchman Johann Zarco in eighth.
5. Under: There was six caution laps during stage two of the Cup race at Talladega.

1. Brendon Hartley qualifies at least three positions behind Daniil Kvyat prior to grid penalties.
2. Hiroaki Ishiura scores points in both Suzuka races but does not win the championship.
3. The Enduro Cup winners win one of the two Gold Coast 600km races.
4. G-Drive Racing does not finish on the podium but does take the LMP2 championship.
5. There will be three manufactures on the podium at Phillip Island.
6. A manufacture other than Kawasaki or Yamaha wins the World Supersport race.
7. Three of the four drivers that don't advance from round two don't finish in the top ten in Kansas.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A third different manufacture wins the third IGTC round of the season (Wrong. Audi picked up its IGTC victory).
2. Mattias Ekström wins the DTM championship but does not win a race at Hockenheimring (Wrong and Correct. René Rast won the championship but Ekström didn't win a race).
3. There will be a first time winner this year in at least one of the classes at Fuji (Correct! The #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari picked up its first victory in GTE-Am).
4. Valentino Rossi is not the top Yamaha finisher (Correct! Rossi retired from Japan).
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes ahead of at least two of his teammates (Correct! He was the top Hendrick Motorsports finisher in seventh).
Last Week: 3.5/5 Overall: 13/20