Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Five: Qatar, Pukekohe, Shanghai, Fort Worth

November is year and another pair of championships comes to a close while two others head to their penultimate weekends of 2017. There will be races under the lights on two wheels and four. A first time champion could be crowned. The record books could be rewritten this weekend in many series around the world.

World Superbike Season Finale from Qatar
Jonathan Rea has already locked up the 2017 World Superbike championship but the Kawasaki rider is looking to take sole possession of second most victories in World Superbike history. Rea is currently tied with Troy Bayliss on 52 victories. Rea could also achieve the second most victories in a World Superbike season if he sweeps the weekend. He has won 14 of the first 24 races, matching his career-high for victories in a season. He won 14 races in 2015.

Rea could set a career-high for podium finishes in a season if he finishes in the top three in both races. He has 22 podium finishes from 24 races. Last season, Rea stood on the podium 23 times.

While Rea has locked up the title, Ducati's Chaz Davies and Rea's teammate Tom Sykes are tied for second on 363 points. Davies holds the tiebreaker over Sykes with seven victories to Sykes' two. Davies finished second in the championship in 2015 while Sykes finished second last season and he has finished second in the championship three of the last five seasons.

Marco Melandri sits fourth in the championship on 201 points with Sam Lowes rounding out the top five on 226 points. Michael Van der Mark is 16 points behind his Yamaha teammate in sixth. Melandri has finished on the podium in five of the last seven races. Lowes has two runner-up finishes this season while van der Mark's best finished was second in the second race at Algarve.

Last year, Davies swept the Qatar weekend while Rea finished second and third in the races respectively and Sykes finished second in race two. Sylvain Guintoli finished third in race one last year. Kawasaki has never won at the Losail International Circuit.

Race one takes place at 2:00 p.m. ET on Friday November 3rd with race two scheduled for 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturday November 4th.

World Supersport Season Finale from Qatar
The World Supersport title is up for grabs entering its season finale but Yamaha's Lucas Mahias has some room to breathe.

The French rider holds a 20-point lead over Kawasaki's Kenan Sofuoglu as the Turkish rider will attempt to ride this weekend after missing the last two races due to injury. Sofuoglu has missed four of the 11 races this season due to injury. Sofuoglu won at Qatar in 2007 and he has finished second the last two years. Mahais has finished fourth in both his two Qatar starts.

Mahais could become the fourth Frenchman to win the World Supersport championship joining Stéphane Chambon, Fabien Foret and Sébastien Charpentier, who won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005. He would be the first WSS champion for Yamaha since Chaz Davies took the title in 2011. Sofuoglu is aiming for a record extending sixth championship and it would be Kawasaki's fourth championship, tying Yamaha for second most championships for a manufacture.

Honda has won the last four World Supersport races at Qatar and seven of eight races all-time at Losail with Kyle Smith winning the last two years. Honda's Jules Cluzel has not won this season and he sits third in the championship on 135 points, three ahead of Kallio Racing Yamaha's Sheridan Morias. American P.J. Jacobsen rounds out the top five on 108 points but the MV Agusta rider has not won this season and he is three points ahead of Yamaha's Federico Caricasulo, who picked up his second victory of the season two weeks ago at Jerez.

The World Supersport season finale will be at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 4th.

Auckland SuperSprint
The Supercars Championship makes its annual trip to New Zealand and this year Pukekohe Park Raceway hosts the penultimate round of the season. With 600 points left on the table, five drivers remain alive for the championship.

Despite only one podium finish from the four races over the Enduro Cup portion of the calendar Red Bull Racing Australia's Jamie Whincup took the championship after Surfers Paradise. The six-time champion has 2,580 points. He has two victories and 12 podium finishes this season from 21 points-paying races. Fabian Coulthard dropped to second in the championship, 17 points behind Whincup. Those two drivers have not won a race since Sydney Motorsports Park in August.

Scott McLaughlin's victory at Surfers Paradise has him third in the championship, 27 points behind Whincup. McLaughlin has the most victories this season with seven and he has 13 podium finishes this season but he has yet to finish third this season. Enduro Cup winner Chaz Mostert trails Whincup by 126 points. Mostert has ten consecutive top ten finishes. Whincup's teammate Shane Van Gisbergen rounds out the top five, 189 points behind his teammate. Van Gisbergen has three victories this season but he has not won since Winton Motor Raceway in May.

Van Gisbergen won race two last year at Pukekohe with Whincup taking the first and fourth race of the weekend and Mark Winterbottom taking the third race. Whincup leads all active drivers with five victories at Pukekohe.

Race one of the weekend will take place at 11:10 p.m. ET on Friday November 3rd with the second race of the weekend scheduled for 11:10 p.m. ET on Saturday November 4th.

6 Hours of Shanghai
Shanghai hosts the penultimate round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship season and while one championship could be decided early, the other three class championship likely won't be decided until the season finale at Bahrain.

The #2 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber has 172 points and the team is coming off its worst finish of the season after a fourth place finish at Fuji. The #2 Porsche has a 39-point lead over the #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. Buemi, Nakajima and Anthony Davidson took the victory in the 6 Hours of Fuji. The #2 Porsche can clinch the championship with a podium finish at Shanghai. Bernhard and Hartley has won the last two years at Shanghai with Mark Webber. Buemi and Davidson won the 2014 6 Hours of Shanghai.

In LMP2, the title will come down to one of three teams. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Gibson of Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent has 145 points and has a ten-point lead over Julien Canal and Bruno Senna, drivers of the #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca-Gibson with Nicolas Prost. The #31 Oreca has won two of the last three races and it has finished on the podium six times this season. Defending Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers' champion Gustavo Menezes trails the #38 Oreca by 25 points. Menezes shares the #36 Signatech Alpine-Gibson with Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão.

The field is wide open in GTE-Pro. James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi picked up their third victory in four races at Fuji and the drivers of the #51 AF Corse Ferrari holds the GT World Endurance Drivers' Championship lead with 120 points. Five points back are Richard Leitz and Frédéric Makowiecki, drivers of the #91 Porsche. Leitz and Makowiecki have yet to win this season but they have five podium finishes. Davide Rigon sits on 105.5 while his #51 AF Corse Ferrari co-driver Sam Bird has 105 points because he missed the Nürburgring round.

Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell won last year at Shanghai and the #67 Ford GT drivers sit on 102.5 points. The Aston Martin drivers Marco Sørensen, Nicki Thiim, Darren Turner and Jonathan Adam are all tied on 87 points but Sørensen and Thiim hold the tiebreaker with their victory in Mexico City in the #95 Aston Martin. Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla have a slim shot at the championship with 73 points but the #66 Ford GT has yet to win in FIA WEC competition, although it was credited with a victory for Le Mans last year because it was the top finishing championship-eligible car in GTE-Pro.

In GTE-Am, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli took a one-point championship lead over the #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. Six points back is the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Weng Sun Mok, Matt Griffin and Keita Sawa. Thomas Flohr and Francesco Castellacci kept their title hopes alive with their victory at Fuji with Miguel Molina in the #54 Spirit of Race Ferrari. Flohr and Castellacci are 47 points back.

The 6 Hours of Shanghai starts at 11:00 p.m. ET on Saturday November 4th.

NASCAR at Texas Motor Speedway
The antepenultimate round of the NASCAR season takes place at Texas Motor Speedway and seven drivers are competing for three spots to decide the championship in the season finale at Homestead.

Kyle Busch clinched a spot in the final four with his victory at Martinsville. It will be the third consecutive year Busch has finished in the top four of the championship. Martin Truex, Jr. leads the championship standings with 4,117 points and he is 17 points ahead of Busch. Truex, Jr.'s second place finish at Martinsville was his best career finish at the track and his first top five finish at the track since 2012. Truex, Jr. has finished in the top five in six of the last seven races. Truex, Jr. and Busch have each won three of the last seven races.

Truex, Jr. has been having an historic season on mile-and-a-half tracks. The New Jerseyan has six victories on 1.5-mile ovals this season. His only victory not on a 1.5-mile oval was at Watkins Glen. His average finish on 1.5-mile ovals this season is 2.777 and his worst finish on a 1.5-mile oval is eighth. Truex, Jr. has finished in the top ten in five consecutive Texas races but only one of those was a top five finish. His career-best finish at Texas was second in the 2013 spring race.

Brad Keselowski trails Truex, Jr. by 38 points with Kevin Harvick 64 points back. Jimmie Johnson rounds out the top five with 4,050 points, three less than Harvick and Ryan Blaney is a further three points behind Johnson. Denny Hamlin is two points behind Blaney with Chase Elliott rounding out the top eight on 4,027 points, 90 points behind Truex, Jr.

Johnson won at Texas in April, his fourth victory in the last six Texas races and his seventh victory at the track overall, more than any other driver. The only other Chase drivers with Texas victories are Busch and Hamlin and each of those drivers have won at the track twice. Both of Busch's victories have come in the spring race, 2013 and 2016 and Hamlin swept the Texas races in 2010.

Keselowski has not won a Cup race at Texas but he is responsible for Ford's only 1.5-mile oval victory this season and that was at the second race of the season at Atlanta. Harvick has not won at Texas in the Cup series but he has six consecutive top ten finishes at the track and he started on pole position in the spring race. Blaney has finished 12th in the last two Texas races, his best finish at the track but he led 148 laps in this year's spring race after starting second. Elliott's three finishes in three Texas starts are fifth, fourth and ninth.

The NASCAR Cup race from Texas will be at 2:16 p.m. ET on Sunday November 5th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 3.5 lead changes between the two World Superbike races from Qatar?
2. Over or Under: 0.800 seconds being the margin of victory in World Supersport?
3. Over or Under: 99.5 laps led by Ford drivers between the two races at Pukekohe?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 classes won by non-European teams at Shanghai?
5. Over or Under: 304.5 laps completed by David Starr in the Cup race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Five cars had grid penalties for the Mexican Grand Prix. 
2. Under: Álvaro Bautista left Sepang with 75 points.
3. Over: There were six Fords in the top ten at Martinsville.
4. Over: Six drivers won a stage at Wales Rally GB.
5. Under: There were five European winners across the three classes at Zhuhai.

1. Kawasaki wins a race at Qatar but does not sweep the weekend.
2. There is a first time winner this season in World Supersport.
3. One of the winners from Pukekoke starts outside the top four.
4. At least two Shanghai class winners are victorious from pole position. 
5. There will at least be one incident of contact between active Chase drivers.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Red Bull puts both cars on the podium (Wrong! Ricciardo retired).
2. Michael van der Mark finishes in the top ten (Wrong! He finished 16th).
3. There is at least one red flag at Martinsville (Wrong!).
4. Sébastien Ogier wins the Power Stage (Wrong! He finished 4th on the Power Stage).
5. At least two classes are decided by more than a lap (Wrong! Only LMP2 was decided by a lap).
Last Week: 0/5 Overall: 18/32