Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Five: Valencia, Interlagos, Motegi, Phoenix, Austin

Three championships will be decided this weekend meanwhile two series head to the penultimate rounds of their 2017 seasons. There will be an inaugural event of a 24-hour endurance race in the United States and it will be held in Texas.

Valencian Community Grand Prix
The MotoGP season ends this weekend at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia and the championship will be decided this weekend.

Marc Márquez sits on 282 points and he has a 21-point lead over Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. With only 25 points left on the table Dovizioso will have to win at Valencia to have any shot at the title and he will need Márquez to finish 12th or worse. Both riders enter with six victories this season meaning should Dovizioso and Márquez finish tied on points and Dovizioso were to win the race, Dovizioso would be the champion on tiebreaker.

Márquez has only won twice at Valencia and only one of those came in the MotoGP class (2014). Despite his lack of victories, Márquez has finished on the podium at Valencia the last five years including finishing on the podium in all four of his MotoGP starts at the track. Dovizioso has never won at Valencia with his best finish being second in the 2004 125cc race. His best MotoGP finish at the track was third in 2011 when he was with the factory Honda team.

Márquez is going for his fourth MotoGP championship and sixth world championship overall. Dovizioso's only world championship came in the 125cc class back in 2004.

Spaniards have won the last five years at Valencia with Jorge Lorenzo and Yamaha winning three of the last four years. Ducati's most recent victory at Valencia was with Casey Stoner in 2008 and the most recent MotoGP victory for an Italian rider at Valencia was Marco Melandri in 2005.

Maverick Viñales has locked up third in the championship on 226 points. His Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi sits in fourth on 197 points. Rossi won at Valencia in 2003 and 2004 but he only has four podium finishes in the last 12 races at the track. Dani Pedrosa trails Rossi by 12 points but Pedrosa will finish no worse than fifth in the championship.

Johann Zarco is 6th, 17 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. Both riders finished on the podium in Sepang with Lorenzo picking up his best finish of the season with a second place finish. Pramac Racing Ducati's Danilo Petrucci will likely get a career-best championship finish. The Italian is 8th on 121 points and he is 17 points clear of Team LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow. Jonas Folger will miss his fourth consecutive race due to illness that has been diagnosed Gilbert's syndrome but the German will likely finish tenth in the championship. He has 84 points and is nine points clear of Álvaro Bautista and 11 points clear of Jack Miller.

The Valencian Community Grand Prix will take place on Sunday November 12th at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Brazilian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton returns to Brazil after having clinched his fourth World Drivers' Championship in Mexico City despite picking up his worst finish this season in ninth. Last year, Hamilton picked up his first career victory at Interlagos where he led all 71 laps and won by over 11 seconds to Max Verstappen in a torrential downpour. It was Mercedes third consecutive Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

No manufacture has won the Brazilian Grand Prix four consecutive years. Ferrari won the race three consecutive years from 1976 to 1978 with Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann, who won two of the three. Ferrari would match the achievement from 2006 to 2008 with Felipe Massa's two victories sandwiching Kimi Räikkönen's 2007 championship-clinching victory. Red Bull followed Ferrari by winning from 2009 to 2011 with Mark Webber having victories sandwich Sebastian Vettel's 2010 victory.

Massa, Vettel and Hamilton are the only active drivers with victories in Brazil. Only Alain Prost, Reutemann and Michael Schumacher have more than two Brazilian Grand Prix victories.

Vettel sits second in the championship on 277 points, 15 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Daniel Ricciardo has retired from the last two races and Räikkönen has finished third in the last two races, narrowing the gap to the Australian for fourth to 14 points. Max Verstappen has won two of the last four races with finishes of second and fourth in the other two results. He is 30 points behind Räikkönen.

Sergio Pérez's gap to his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon has shrunk to nine points with the Mexican on 92 points to the Frenchman's 83 points. Ocon has finished ahead of Pérez in the last three races. Carlos Sainz, Jr. remained ninth on 54 points but Lance Stroll cracked the top ten with a sixth place finish at Mexico giving him 40 points, four more than his teammate Massa and six more than Renault's Nico Hülkenberg.

Massa returns to his home race off the back of another retirement announcement. His retirement from last year's race was the first time Massa failed to finish in his home race since his first Brazilian Grand Prix in 2002. He has scored points in nine of 13 Brazilian Grand Prix starts with two victories and six podium finishes. Massa's 11th and most recent grand prix victory came in that famous 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. This year's race will occur 3,297 days after that 2008 race.

While Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India and Williams pretty much have the top five in the World Constructors' Championship locked up, the fight for sixth will likely come down to the final race.

Scuderia Toro Rosso sits in sixth on 53 points, five points ahead of Renault and six points ahead of Haas. Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley are both looking for their first career points. Since the end of the European portion of the season, Renault has scored 14 points while Toro Rossi has scored 13 points, 12 of which came with Sainz, Jr.'s fourth place finish at Singapore, and Haas has scored 12 points but has four points finishes in the last six races, including a double points finish at Suzuka. Toro Rosso and Renault has each only had two points finishes in the last six races. Toro Rosso has not had both cars finish in the points since Barcelona while Renault has not had both cars finish in the points since the French manufacture returned as a full works team last season.

The Brazilian Grand Prix will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Motegi GT Grand Final
Two championships will be decided at Twin Ring Motegi as the Super GT season comes to a close.

In GT500, the #37 Lexus Team KeePer TOM's Lexus LC 500 of Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa lead the championship with 69 points. The duo is fresh off its second victory of the season at Buriram. Six points back is the #6 Lexus Team LeMans Wako's Lexus of Andrea Caldarelli and Kazuya Oshima. The #6 Lexus has not won a race this season but it has three runner-up finishes this season, including finishing runner-up in both the #37 Lexus' two victories this season. Caldarelli has finished second in the GT500 championship two of the last three years and Caldarelli and Hirakawa won the Motegi season finale two years ago.

Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli are attempting to pick up their third championship in the last four seasons. The drivers of the #23 NISMO Nissan GT-R are seven points back and like the #6 Lexus it has not won a race this season but it has finished second in two of the last three races. James Rossiter sits on 53 points. His only victory this season was at Autopolis with Kazuki Nakajima in the #36 Lexus Team au Tom's Lexus. Nakajima missed the Fuji round in May due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments. The #38 Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo Lexus of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura won that Fuji race and the drivers trail the #37 Lexus by 18 points with 21 points left on the table.

In GT300, the #4 Goodsmile Racing Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka lead the championship with 65 points despite not winning since the season opener at Okayama. The #4 Mercedes-AMG has finished second in two of the last three races. Taniguchi and Kataoka won the 2014 GT300 championship and both drivers are going for their third GT300 title.

The #51 LM corsa Lexus RCF GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi became the first and so far only repeat winner in GT300 this season with their victory at Buriram. However, the #51 Lexus trails by nine points entering the finale. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300 at the Suzuka 1000km and they are 13 points back in the championship. The 55 ARTA BMW of Sean Walkinshaw and Shinchi Takagi are 19 points back in fourth position.

The 53-lap Motegi GT Grand Final will start at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 11th.

Can-Am 500
The penultimate round of the NASCAR Cup season is upon us and there is one spot remaining for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick clinched their positions with victories at Martinsville and Texas respectively. Martin Truex, Jr. has secured his position on points. Truex, Jr. leads the championship with 4,168 points, 50 points ahead of Busch and 56 points clear of Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski is the first driver on the outside. He has 4,111 points and he is 19 points ahead of Denny Hamlin. Ryan Blaney trails Keselowski by 22 points with Chase Elliott 49 points back and Jimmie Johnson in eighth, trailing Keselowski by 51 points. If any of these five drivers win at Phoenix they will earn that final spot in the championship race. If either of Truex, Jr., Busch, Harvick or a non-Chase driver wins then the final spot will go to the next driver in points.

Harvick has the most victories at Phoenix all-time with eight and the remaining seven Chase drivers combine for seven Phoenix victories, four of which belong to Johnson. Busch's lone Phoenix victory came in his second start at the track in November 2005. Hamlin won the March 2012 race. Keselowski has five top five finishes and eight top ten finishes in 16 Phoenix starts. Blaney and Elliott each have two top ten finishes in three Phoenix starts with each their best finish at the track being eighth. Phoenix has not been a great track for Truex, Jr. He has one top five finish and seven top ten finishes in 23 starts and he has finished outside the top ten in nine of the 12 Phoenix races since the track was reconfigured prior to the autumn race in 2011.

Chevrolet has won eight of the last ten Phoenix races. Toyota's only two victories at Phoenix were the first two races after the reconfiguration with Kasey Kahne winning with Red Bull Racing in November 2011 and Hamlin taking the March 2012 race.

The Can-Am 500 will take place at 2:37 p.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Hankook 24H COTA
The Creventic 24H Series makes its debut in the United States with a non-championship round at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Forty-two cars are entered across eight classes.

Despite not winning a race overall, the #1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG took the A6 championship as the amateur entry won the A6-Am class on four of six occasions. Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout return to the #1 Mercedes-AMG with Jörg Viebahn joining the team this weekend. Herberth Motorsport won three of six races this season including the season opener Dubhai 24 Hours. Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer will be in the #991 Porsche.

The lone American in the A6-Pro class will be Ben Keating as he will drive the #3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Luca Stolz. Nicolas Minassian will be in the #8 Mercedes-AMG for ROFGO Racing with the 2013 FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am champions Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall and Roald Goethe. Pirelli World Challenge regular Jorge De La Torre has entered the #20 Aston Martin for himself, Mark Kvamme, Ross Gunn and Tack Sun Kim.

The American trio Charles Putnam, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster won the 991-class championship and they will be in the #85 Porsche.

Black Falcon has entered two Mercedes in the SP2 class. American Russell Ward will be in the #84 Mercedes with Maximilian Götz, Damien Faulkner and Indy Dontje. The #2 Mercedes will be driven by Thomas Jäger, Ryan Ratcliffe, Saud Al Faisal, Gabriele Piana and Mustafa Mehmet Kaya.

The SP3 class sees PWC GTS race winner Ian James in the #40 Brookspeed Porsche with James McGuire, Pierre Kleinburg and John Schauerman. Four Americans are entered in the #71 Cor Euser Racing BMW alongside Cor Euser. Those Americans are Chapman Ducote, David Ducote, Wayne Ducote and Jim Briody. Radio Le Mans lead commentator John Hindhaugh will be in the #232 Aston Martin with Andy Palmer, Peter Cate and Paul Hollywood.

In the A2 class, PWC race winner Ryan Eversley will be in the #183 THRW Honda Racing Honda with Douglas Chen, Jeremy Lucas and Scott Nicol. THRW Honda Racing has entered the #184 Honda for Calvin Tam, Michael Tsay, Lawrence Hwang and Derek Ferretti. The A2 champions Team Eva Solo/Jönnsso Consulting have come over from Denmark. The all-Danish driver line up of Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Henrik Sørensen, Claus Bertelse and Søren Jønsson will drive the #171 Peugeot.

The Hankook 24H COTA will start at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 11th and the race will continue until 12:00 a.m. ET before an intermission will take place. The final ten hours of the race will resume at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th with the race finishing at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 4.5 retirements at Valencia?
2. Over or Under: 7.5 positions improve by Brendon Hartley from his starting position in Brazil?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 non-Japanese manufactures on the GT300 podium?
4. Over or Under: 110.5 laps led for the Phoenix winner?
5. Over or Under: 600.5 laps completed in the 24H COTA?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There was one lead change between the two World Superbike races from Qatar.
2. Under: Lucas Mahias won the World Supersport race by 0.023 seconds over Jules Cluzel. 
3. Under: Ford drivers led 16 laps at Pukekohe.
4. Over: Two classes were won by non-European teams, the Japanese Toyota Gazoo Racing in LMP1 and the American Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in GTE-Pro.
5. Under: David Starr completed 237 laps.

1. Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso each finish on the podium at Valencia. 
2. There will not be a red flag in qualifying or the race at Interlagos for rain. 
3. Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy hold on to win the GT500 championship.
4. There will be at least three cautions in the final stage at Phoenix.
5. The overall Hankook 24H COTA winner will not be Hofor-Racing or Herberth Motorsport.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Kawasaki wins a race at Qatar but does not sweep the weekend (Wrong! Kawasaki swept the weekend).
2. There is a first time winner this season in World Supersport (Wrong! Lucas Mahias picked up his second victory of the season).
3. One of the winners from Pukekoke starts outside the top four (Correct! Shane Van Gisbergen won race one from sixth).
4. At least two Shanghai class winners are victorious from pole position (Wrong! None of the class winners started on pole position)
5. There will at least be one incident of contact between active Chase drivers (Correct! Kyle Busch got into Brad Keselowski at the start, forcing both cars to pit on lap one).
Last Week: 2/5 Overall: 20/37