Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Four: Newcastle and Abu Dhabi

We have reached the final weekend of November and we have reached the final Friday preview of the year. Four seasons end this weekend but unfortunately three are dead rubbers and the champions have already had plenty of time to celebrate. The good news is there is one championship to be decided this weekend and five drivers could head home with an early Christmas present in some silverware.

Newcastle 500
The final round of the 2017 Supercars Championship is the inaugural Newcastle 500 on the Newcastle Street Circuit. The course is 1.647 miles with 14 turns and runs along the waterfront.

Jamie Whincup enters the final round as the championship leader. The six-time champion has amassed 2,850 points and the Red Bull Racing Australia Holden driver won the most recent race at Pukekohe Park Raceway. It was Whincup's third victory of the season. Whincup leads DJR Team Penske Ford driver Scott McLaughlin by 30 points. McLaughlin has seven victories this season, the most in Supercars and he has 15 podium finishes from 24 races, including in the last three races. The New Zealander has also won 14 pole positions this season.

McLaughlin's teammate and fellow countryman Fabian Coulthard is third in the championship, 176 points behind Whincup. Coulthard has one podium finish in the last five races and he has only three podium finishes in the last 12 races. Rod Nash Racing driver Chaz Mostert is the third Ford driver with a shot at the title. Mostert is 264 points back in fourth and he has three victories, his most recent being the first race at Surfers Paradise. Shane Van Gisbergen has a slim shot at successfully defending his title. Van Gisbergen trails his teammate Whincup by 276 points with 300 points left on the table. Van Gisbergen has five victories this season, including the first race at Symmons Plain Raceway, which did not award points due to the race being shortened to four laps due to rain and an accident.

Whincup could earn his record extending seventh championship while Van Gisbergen could join Jim Richards as the only New Zealanders to win multiple Supercars championship. McLaughlin, Coulthard and Mostert could all be the 25th different champion in Supercars history. McLaughlin or Coulthard could become the fourth New Zealander to win the championship joining Richards, Van Gisbergen and Robbie Francevic.

Both Red Bull Racing Australia and DJR Team Penske are going for their eighth championship. Red Bull Racing Australia has won seven of the last nine championships with DJR Team Penske's most recent title coming in 2010. Rod Nash Racing is going for its first championship.

Both Newcastle races will be 95 laps in length. Race one will be at 11:45 p.m. ET on Friday November 24th. The final race of the Supercars season will be at 11:40 p.m. ET on Saturday November 25th.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
The 20th and final round of the 2017 Formula One season is the ninth edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton won last year's race at Yas Marina, his third Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory and he matched Sebastian Vettel for most Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victories. Hamilton has not finished on the podium in the last two races and Hamilton has not failed to finish on the podium in three consecutive races since he did not finish on the podium in the final eight races of the 2013 season and the 2014 season opener. Vettel picked up his fifth victory of the season at Interlagos. Vettel has not won consecutive races since he won nine consecutive races to close the 2013 season.

Vettel is 22 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas for second in the championship meaning the Finn needs to win and have Vettel finish ninth or worse for Mercedes to sweep the top two in the World Drivers' Championship. Bottas has finished in the top five in 17 of 19 races with the exceptions being sixth at China and a retirement at Barcelona. Daniel Ricciardo holds a seven-point edge over Kimi Räikkönen for fourth in the championships. Räikkönen is the only other Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner on the grid and he has finished third in the last three races. Max Verstappen will finish sixth in the championship regardless of what happens at Yas Marina.

Sergio Pérez increased his gap over Force India teammate Esteban Ocon to seven points as the Mexican driver finished ninth at Brazil and Ocon suffered his first retirement in his Formula One career and his first retirement in single-seater competition since the third race of the Formula 3 Euro Series weekend at the Nürburgring on August 17, 2014. Carlos Sainz, Jr., is 40 points behind Pérez on 54 points while Felipe Massa jumped back into the top ten with a seventh place finish at Brazil and Massa holds a two-point lead over his teammate Lance Stroll, who is 11th on 40 points.

The tight championship battle for sixth in the Constructors' Championship saw very little change at Brazil. Toro Rosso remained sixth on 53 points as neither Pierre Gasly nor Brandon Hartley scored any points. Renault moved to 49 points as Sainz, Jr., finished tenth at Interlagos. Haas also did not score any points at Brazil and the team remains on 47 points.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

Formula Two at Yas Marina Circuit
The 11th and final round of the Formula Two season joins Formula One bill and like Formula One, this championship has already been decided.

Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc locked up the title at Jerez with a victory and a seventh-place finish and he has six victories this season, five of which have been feature races. He has won eight pole positions from the first ten rounds. Leclerc did not score points in either of his two GP3 starts at the track last year.

Oliver Rowland holds second position in the championship with 189 points, 60 behind Leclerc. Rowland has ten podium finishes this season, two more than Leclerc. Rowland made three starts at Yas Marina in GP3 and did not score points in any of the three races. Artem Markelov won the sprint races and Jerez and he is 12 points behind Rowland. Markelov has four victories this season. The Russian's previous best championship finish in GP2/Formula Two was tenth. Markelov's teammate Luca Ghiotto is 13 points back and Canadian Nicholas Latifi rounds out the top five on 156 points. Ghiotto's only victory was the Monza sprint race while Latifi won the Silverstone sprint race.

American Santino Ferrucci will run his fifth round for Trident Racing. After finishing ninth in his first two feature races, the Nutmegger has not scored points in the last five races. Ferrucci is responsible for four of Trident's nine points this season with Sergio Canamasas scoring three points and Nabil Jeffri picking up two points in the Jerez feature race.

The feature race will be at 9:40 a.m. ET on Saturday November 25th and the sprint race will be at 5:10 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

GP3 Series at Yas Marina Circuit
Like Formula One and Formula Two, the GP3 championship has already been wrapped up.

Mercedes development driver George Russell clinched the championship with 190 points at Jerez. Russell has won four races this season, all feature races. The only races Russell did not score points in were both Hungary races after he did not start the first race and finished 11th in race two.

Behind Russell are his three ART Grand Prix teammates. Fellow Brit Jack Aitken is second, 50 points back. Aitken's only victory was the first race at Hungary and he has finished on the podium in five of seven of the first races of a race weekend this season. Japanese driver Nirei Fukuzumi is six points behind Aitken. Both of Fukuzumi's victories were first races in Spain as he won at Barcelona and Jerez. Russell, Aitken and Fukuzumi all have six podium finishes this season. Anthione Hubert sits on 117 points. He has yet to win a race this season and he has four podium finishes.

ART Grand Prix has swept the podium in five races this season and all five have been the first race of a weekend, including the last four consecutive rounds.

Giuliano Alesi rounds out the top five in the championship with 99 points. Alesi has won three races this season. Alessio Lorandi won the most recent race of the season at Jerez and he has 82 points and he is ten points ahead of Dorian Boccolacci, who finished second to Lorandi. American Ryan Tveter is eighth on 62 points. Tveter finished second at Hungary and third at Spa-Francorchamps.

Race one will be at 3:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 25th and race two will be at 3:50 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 229.5 scored by Scott McLaughlin this weekend?
2. Over or Under: 999.5 total laps completed in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 points-paying finishes for Prema Powerteam? 
4. Over or Under: 8.5 championship place finish for Ryan Tveter?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Martin Truex, Jr., led 78 laps at Homestead. 
2. Under: None of the four drivers fight for the Xfinity Series title led a lap at Homestead.
3. Under: Austin Cindric finished fifth in the Truck series race.
4. Over: 25 cars were classified in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
5. Over: Hayden Paddon scored 15 points in Rally Australia.
6. Over: The top nine in the Macau Grand Prix were covered by ten seconds.
7. Under: There were zero flips in the FIA GT World Cup races.
8. Over: Two Non-European drivers finished on the podium in the two WTCC races.

1. There will be at least one change in the top five of the championship after Newcastle.
2. There will be fewer than two retirements for Renault-powered cars due to mechanical issues.
3. At least eight Formula Two teams score points this weekend. 
4. ART Grand Prix does not sweep a podium at Abu Dhabi.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The NASCAR Cup champion will not have exactly five victories this season (Correct! Martin Truex, Jr., ended with eight victories
2. Sam Hornish, Jr., finishes ahead of at least two of the four championship eligible drivers (Correct! Sam Hornish, Jr., finished second, ahead of all four championship drivers).
3. The winner of the Truck race does not lead the most laps (Wrong! Chase Briscoe won and led the most laps).
4. The #98 Aston Martin holds on and wins the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers (Correct! And the #98 Aston Martin won the finale to boot).
5. Sébastien Ogier gets his third rally victory of the season (Wrong! Ogier finished fourth).
6. Mick Schumacher retires from at least one of the two races (Wrong! He finished both races).
7. A past Macau Grand Prix winner does not win the FIA GT World Cup (Wrong! Edoardo Mortara won).
8. Rob Huff wins one of the two WTCC races (Correct! He won race two).
Last Week: 4/8 Overall: 27.5/50