Monday, January 22, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: IndyCar's Television Future

The Dakar Rally wrapped up and there were three repeat winners and two first-timers. An American won in New Zealand. Formula One drivers are getting a minimum weight, which means I am going to be too light to drive a Formula One car. Williams found its second driver. NASCAR teams keep passing around charters like a bong. Danica Patrick found a sponsor and it is familiar to everybody. Now she needs to find two rides. Alexander Rossi's team will meet Marco Andretti's team in the Super Bowl. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

IndyCar's Television Future
I have been thinking about the pending announcement of the new IndyCar television deal. It could be here at the end of the month. What do we want as fans? What do teams and drivers want? What does IndyCar want?

There are two scenarios for IndyCar I have in mind and I am not sure which the series and teams would prefer.

Would IndyCar rather have a high-dollar deal with a handful of races on network and majority of races on cable but the television money increases the leader circle fund or would IndyCar rather have a low-dollar deal but most if not all the races on network television and increasing exposure for the series and sponsors but see the leader circle fund shrink or disappear altogether?

The one complaint has been how unappealing IndyCar has been to sponsors and part of that has been most of the races being on NBCSN. NBCSN has done a good job with race production and the ratings having improved but the numbers haven't reached the levels I bet IndyCar had hoped for when the series made the cable move to Versus in 2009. The teams need money. Network television would get the series in front of more eyeballs and help the ratings a bit but it is not like the network numbers are anything to be impressed with. IndyCar could put all the races on network and it would probably help the teams marginally with sponsors but it still would not bring in enough money for the teams, especially to make up for the lack of leader circle money that would be coming in.

I would guess majority of the fan base wants IndyCar to stick with NBCSN and give NBC the network races ABC has had for nearly a decade. The difference of quality between the two networks is night and day. Even back to the Versus days, IndyCar was treated with respect and a knowledgeable crew was put together. It only got better when the network rebranded in 2012 to NBCSN. The IndyCar booth of Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy is one of the best the series has had in 25 years. Kevin Lee stepped in and the booth didn't lose a step. When Lee isn't in the booth he is leading a great pit lane crew that features Jon Beekhuis, the smartest man on the grid; Katie Hargitt, who adds a youthful exuberance to the broadcast; Anders Krohn made his debut in 2017 and fit immediately into the broadcast and then there is the lovable Robin Miller, who provides insight and laughs, some of which are not intentional.

It seems hard to believe nearly ten years after the initial Versus contract the series and fan base would seem so entwined with the network. The network was so hard to find and it has been a long decade from the series. Considering we were just off the heels of reunification only to watch whatever step toward the status IndyCar once held prior to the split stunted by the disappearing into cable television oblivion, now I doubt anyone wants to see IndyCar's partnership with the network now known as NBCSN to come to an end. The network has won over many while ABC provided less than inspiring coverage.

The one thing ABC has over NBC is time and could that save this marriage? This year marks the 54th consecutive year of ABC broadcasting the Indianapolis 500. I fear the series and the parent company Hulman & Company will get sentimental and not be able to say goodbye even if it would be better for the series. But the series' loyalty to the network might be to preserve the race from it getting worse. Last year's race had the lowest rating since the race started being broadcasted live in 1986. There is no guarantee switching to a new network, even if it is one such as NBC that has done a good job broadcasting IndyCar, will make things better.

Think about Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar. It is a place and event that is too steeped in tradition at times and ABC is a part of that tradition. For 50-plus years people have been tuning into the same network every Memorial Day weekend whether it be taped delay with Jim McKay after sunset or live with Allen Bestwick and the grill going in the backyard. Would the track and series want to possibly negatively hurt the race by breaking a tradition? One change now and it could lead to a constant rotation of networks broadcasting the race with no long-term option and people slowly giving up on trying to figure out where the race is broadcasted and see the race slide even faster into national irrelevance.

Cable isn't going anywhere, even in these changing times. There isn't enough room for every race to end up on network television and while streaming options keep growing the series isn't going to bite the bullet like it did a decade ago moving to a rather unknown sports network. The series still needs a place on network television for the Indianapolis 500. Outside of that race the rest remains unseen.

We have no idea which way IndyCar is leaning. It appears everything will change. The current breakdown of ABC holding network exclusivity and NBCSN holding cable exclusivity is near an end and all signs point to one property taking over both the network and cable portions of the contract. We don't know how streaming is going to be decided but there will likely be a new component and way to indulge on IndyCar action. Whether people actual use it and it grows the fan base remains unproven but over-the-top media services seems to be where many hope the next generation will learn to love a sport, not just IndyCar, meaning the competition IndyCar has had on network and cable television isn't going anywhere. Don't think IndyCar will hit on something that is revolutionary.

What we do know is it is mid-January and we have no idea what the ABC's broadcast team will look like and it is two months until ABC broadcasts the season opener from St. Petersburg. And ABC still has as good a shot as any to not only retaining the Indianapolis 500 but also taking over as the sole broadcaster of IndyCar.

If there is one thing I feel certain about is people will be pissed off about something regardless of what IndyCar decides to do but I hope that will not be the case.

Winners From the Weekend

Carlos Sainz won the Dakar Rally, his second victory in the event.

Matthias Walkner won in the bike category. It is KTM's 17th consecutive Dakar Rally victory.

Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck category, his second consecutive victory and third Dakar victory in the truck category.

Ignacio Casale won in the quad category, his second Dakar Rally victory on a quad.

Reinaldo Varela won in the side-by-side category.

Eli Tomac won the second Supercross race from Anaheim, the first of three Triple Crown format races in 2018.

Richard Vanschoor, Juan Manuel Correa and Clement Novalak split the three Toyota Racing Series races from Teretonga Park.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg swept the Andros Trophy races from Serre Chevalier.

Coming Up This Weekend
24 Hours of Daytona.
The World Rally Championship season commences from Monte-Carlo.
Supercross will be in the Phoenix-area, Glendale to be specific.
Toyota Racing Series will be at Hampton Downs.

Friday, January 19, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing

Our second team preview looks at the team that brought up the rear in IndyCar for a second consecutive season. A.J. Foyt Racing cleaned house prior to the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season and brought in Carlos Muñoz and Conor Daly. One year later and both those drivers are gone despite each having three top ten finishes in the final five races including Daly picking up the team's only top five finish all season with a fifth at Gateway. It was Foyt's first top five finish on an oval in the DW12-era with the team's prior top five oval finish being fifth at Iowa with Darren Manning in 2007. This shake up sees two Brazilians enter, one is a beloved IndyCar veteran and the other is a rookie who showed promise in Indy Lights.

2017 A.J. Foyt Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Gateway, Daly)
Poles: 0
Best Starting Position: 8th (Gateway, Muñoz)
Final Championship Positions: 16th (Carlos Muñoz), 18th (Conor Daly), 33rd (Zach Veach)

2018 Drivers:

Matheus Leist - #4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
The Brazilian came to the United States fresh off collecting some silverware in the United Kingdom. Leist won the 2016 BRDC British Formula Three Championship and Carlin brought him to Indy Lights for 2017. After a slow start at St. Petersburg, Leist picked up three top five finishes in the next four races, including a third-place finish on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Leist started on pole position for his first oval start in the Freedom 100 and he would lead all 40 laps on his way to victory. He followed it up with a victory at Road America, a fourth in the second race at Elkhart Lake and a victory at Iowa. With six races remaining Leist sat second in the championship, 13 points behind Kyle Kaiser. However, Leist only picked up two top five finishes in the final six races and started four races outside the top ten. He would fall to fourth in the Indy Lights championship.

Numbers to Remember:
16: Teenagers have made an IndyCar start.

2: Teenagers have won an IndyCar race.

177: IndyCar starts by teenagers.

61: Top Ten finishes by teenagers.

14.25: Average finish for teenagers in IndyCar.

Leist had a good spell in Indy Lights but he turned 19 years old five days after the 2017 season ended. He knows a handful of these tracks but could need more time to further sharpen his skills. Seven tracks will be new to Leist in 2018, including three of the final four races, meaning it could be a tough end to his rookie season.

Leist is one of three rookies set for full-time competition and it is hard to separate one as the clear favorite and one as the weakest link. Compared to Zach Veach and Robert Wickens, Leist is driving for the worst team of the three, however Leist drove a full season in single seaters last year while Veach ran two IndyCar races and Wickens was in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and has been out of single-seater racing since 2011.

It is A.J. Foyt Racing so the bar can't be set too high. I think Leist won't be an improvement over either of the two drivers Foyt had in 2017. It will be a hard season. The goal should be not to piss off his sponsors funding this seat, not piss off the Foyts to the point that they will look for somebody else's money for 2019 and complete as many laps as possible.

Tony Kanaan - #14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
The Brazilian competed in his 20th IndyCar season in 2017 and it was one of the more frustrating seasons for Kanaan. He had a slow start to the season with only two top ten finishes in the first five races before he had a respectable Indianapolis 500 where he led a handful of laps and finished fifth. However, Kanaan would struggle to remain at the sharp end of the grid. He had a controversial second place finish at Texas and that was followed by a hard accident at Road America. Halfway through the season it became clear that Kanaan's time at Chip Ganassi Racing was coming to an end. He finished fifth at Pocono but was parked at Gateway after mechanical issues. Kanaan finished outside the top fifteen in the final three races and for the third consecutive season Kanaan did not pick up a victory.

Numbers to Remember:
7: This will be Kanaan's seventh IndyCar team.

144: IndyCar oval starts since A.J. Foyt Racing's most recent oval victory (Kansas 2002, Airton Daré).

343: Total IndyCar starts for Kanaan, 26 behind A.J. Foyt for second all-time.

Part of me feels this is a desperation move to stay in IndyCar by Kanaan. He is hoping for a career resurrection at IndyCar's worst team. Kanaan has not finished in the top five of the championship in the DW12-era and I don't see that changing. He has finished outside the top ten in the championship once since joining the Indy Racing League in 2003 and I fear this will be the second time he has finished outside the top ten but I don't expect him to drop out of the top fifteen.

Kanaan still has something but he isn't who he was a decade ago. He will have his races and he will capture the hearts of many and make them wish he will never retire but most races he will be fighting from the back and that will particularly be the case on road and street courses. The man will be there in the 500-mile races but outside of the ovals I don't expect Kanaan to be contending for victories. He should finish ahead of his teammate on most occasions.

This is year one of a two-year deal so Kanaan's 21st season isn't scheduled to be his last but it is the start of the farewell tour. If the results don't come at A.J. Foyt Racing, who would be willing to take him on after 2019? The only other hope is Kanaan is allowed the time to work with his crew for 2018 and have that continue into 2019 so the team can having something to build on rather than start from scratch for a third consecutive season.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2018 IndyCar Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

There is less than two months until the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener from the streets of St. Petersburg. That is still a lot of time but it will disappear before we know it and with additional full-time teams on the IndyCar grid and most full-time seats occupied it is time to get ready for the new season. We start with an IndyCar stalwart that has a new, consolidated look.

2017 Chip Ganassi Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Road America)
Poles: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Texas)
Final Championship Positions: 3rd (Scott Dixon), 10th (Tony Kanaan), 11th (Max Chilton), 17th (Charlie Kimball).

2018 Drivers:

Scott Dixon - #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
For another season Scott Dixon found himself in the championship picture entering the finale. The New Zealander barely put a wheel wrong with 16 top ten finishes from 17 races. The one blemish was his nightmarish accident in the Indianapolis 500 where the car of Jay Howard launched Dixon into the catch fence on the inside of the south chute. Dixon picked up his third career Indianapolis 500 pole position and his second in three seasons. Despite being tied for the IndyCar lead in top ten finishes and being tied for second in podium finish, his only victory came at Road America. He entered the Sonoma finale second in the championship but left third, his 11th finish in the top three of the championship.

Numbers to Remember:
1: Victory in 2017, the fewest in a season for Dixon since 2005.

6: Consecutive victories for Chip Ganassi Racing.

11: Most consecutive victories by one driver for Chip Ganassi Racing (Juan Pablo Montoya 1999-2000.

141: Career top five finishes. Tied for third all-time with Al Unser, Jr., and Hélio Castroneves and eight behind A.J. Foyt for second.

Does anyone expect anything less than a championship push by Dixon? Every year you pencil him in for a top three finish at worst. He is coming off a disappointing but highly successful 2017 season. He   sits one victory behind Michael Andretti for third all-time in IndyCar victories and I expect he will get it before the season is out.

I doubt Dixon will have to carry Chip Ganassi Racing as much as he did in 2017. He was the top Ganassi finisher in 13 of 17 races and the top qualifier in 13 of 17 races. In three of the four races where Dixon was not the top finish he finished in the top ten with the exception being the Indianapolis 500 and he started in the top ten in three of the four race where he wasn't the top qualifier. The exception there was Iowa.

It is hard to look at Dixon's 2017 results and say he has to improve. Nine seasons out of ten Dixon did enough to be champion. Last year happened to be a season where Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud were fractionally better. The only other thing I could say is hope not to be in the wrong position when Jay Howard slides down the racetrack.

Other things to note in 2018: Can Dixon finally win at Barber Motorsports Park? He has seven podium finishes in eight races at the track including five runner-up finishes. If he can win at Barber, can Dixon get a hot start to the season? He hasn't won multiple times in the first eight races of a season since 2009 when he picked up three victories in the first eight races. In the three years Dixon has won more than once in the first eight races he has finished first, first and second in the championship in 2003, 2008 and 2009 respectively.

Ed Jones - #10 NTT Data Honda
The start of the 2017 season saw Ed Jones as the only rookie committed to a full season and he started the year with back-to-back top ten finishes at St. Petersburg and Long Beach. He was the first driver to start a career with back-to-back top ten finishes since Neel Jani in 2007. Jones found himself at the sharp end of the field in the closing laps of the Indianapolis 500 and he remained in the top five fight until the checkered flag with the Emirati driver finishing third, the top finishing rookie and the best finish for Dale Coyne Racing in the Indianapolis 500. Jones was as high as seventh in the championship before a rough second half of the season saw only one top ten finish in the final ten races and Jones dropped to 14th in the championship but enough to win Rookie of the Year.

Numbers to Remember:
3: Of nine Rookies of the Year since reunification have won a IndyCar race (Simon Pagenaud, Carlos Muñoz, Alexander Rossi. All three also won a race in their sophomore seasons).

38: Victories by Chip Ganassi Racing drivers under the age of 30. Six drivers are responsible for those 38 victories (Alex Zanardi (3), Juan Pablo Montoya (11), Bruno Junqueira (3), Scott Dixon (15), Dan Wheldon (5) and Charlie Kimball (1).

2,436: Days between the #10 Ganassi entry's most recent victory on a road/street circuit (Toronto 2011) to the St. Petersburg season opener.

Mike Hull said Chip Ganassi Racing hired Ed Jones because they didn't want a driver who they had to teach to win races. With that said, Jones has to win a race if not races and I think he will get a victory but still have teething moments in his sophomore season. He is taking a big step forward from Dale Coyne Racing but if there is one thing we learned about Jones in 2017 is he isn't intimidated by anybody. If he wasn't starstruck by being in the same Indianapolis 500 rookie class as Fernando Alonso then I doubt he will be spooked by Dixon, an IndyCar legend. 

There will be a few races where Jones will go toe-to-toe with his teammate but I don't think we will see a change in the pecking order. Jones should finish in the top ten of the championship and finish ahead of all three Ganassi drivers that left the team after the 2017 season. Actually, I think beating the three exiting drivers will be the expectation.

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 11th at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Motorsports Doesn't Need Halls of Fame

Dan Gurney died. I was sick all weekend (still am) and missed the entire Dubai 24 Hour. I also missed the Chili Bowl. I caught the Formula E race taped and Felix Rosenqvist won the race after an aggressive pass on Sébastien Buemi. Nick Heidfeld has made 222 single-seater starts since his most recent single-seater victory. Dave Despain retired. Sébastien Loeb got knocked out of the Dakar Rally. Away from the racetrack, Harding Racing confirmed full-time participation with Gabby Chaves. The 24 Hours of Le Mans needs a new U.S. broadcaster. Haas F1 still thinks there isn't an American capable of racing in Formula One. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Motorsports Doesn't Need Halls of Fame
This Friday night will see five more members inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and there couldn't be a bigger waste of a Friday night.

Halls of Fame are common in North America with each sport having its own. There is baseball's shrine in Cooperstown. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio. The Basketball Hall of Fame is in the city where the game was created in Springfield, Massachusetts and, of course, the Hockey Hall of Fame is north of the border in Toronto, Ontario.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in 2010 but it wasn't the first major motorsports hall of fame in the United States. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum houses the Auto Racing Hall of Fame. Bill France, Sr., opened the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 outside Talladega Superspeedway but the last induction class there was in 2013. The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America moved from Detroit, Michigan to Daytona Beach, Florida in 2017. More in line with the NASCAR Hall of Fame, there are the specific discipline halls of fame such as the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame & Museum in Knoxville, Iowa. Long Beach has a walk of fame.

There are two problems. There are too many halls of fame and entry is predictable.

Looking at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, currently the only non-active Cup champions not in the hall of fame are Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Alan Kulwicki and Bill Rexford and of the six active champions and six champions above the only one likely not to make it to the hall of fame will be Rexford. Rexford won one race during his career. He will be the outlier.

Outside of Rexford, they are all getting in. Kulwicki is the one you could argue against but people are suckers for a story and the owner-driver champion with a fraction of the budget is eventually going to be honored. The issue with the NASCAR Hall of Fame is it includes every NASCAR-sanctioned series. Not a bad thing but anyone thinking Martin Truex, Jr., won't be a hall of famer is going to be proven wrong. He has two Grand National Series champions. He is one of five drivers to win a title in the top two divisions. He is in whether you like it or not.

If all it takes is winning a Cup championship to get in then what is the point? We don't need a hall of fame to honor those drivers. They are already honored each time they are introduced as a past champion. Their names are forever in the record book. Fifty years from now when 12 years old catch the bug and want to learn more the names, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson, Benny Parsons, Rusty Wallace and Jimmie Johnson are always going to be there.

The same goes for any other form of motorsports. Do you think Alexander Rossi will need a hall of fame induction 40 years from now to cement his career? No. He won the Indianapolis 500. His face is on Borg-Warner Trophy. Will Lewis Hamilton need a 3-hour ceremony when he is 50 years old to confirm his greatness? Hell no.

I also think we are bound to put everybody in halls of fame. People are too nice and eventually we will get to a point where voters will think everyone deserves a place in the sun. Voters will be too scared to say someone isn't good enough. Jeff Burton is a nice guy but 21 Cup victories, four top-five championship finishes and eighth top-ten championship finishes in 22 seasons can't be good enough for the hall of fame. A line need to be drawn somewhere. Harry Gant is in a similar spot. Winning all four races in September 1991 at the age of 51 is a great achievement but not enough to be considered one of the best all-time. Nobody steps on toes anymore and soon everyone who won more than ten Cup races will get in. Hell, even Bill Rexford will likely be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame because he will be the one champion on the outside and voters will get soft and think every champion should be in.

Quick sidebar on the NASCAR Hall of Fame, is there a more confusing hall of fame? Think about it. This year's class is Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday, Jr., Ken Squier and Robert Yates; two car owners, the first Cup champion, a Truck series champion and a broadcaster. How are all five of these individuals on the same ballot? They all contributed to the series but broadcasters contribute to all sports and you didn't have Vin Scully on the same ballot at Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson in 1982, the year the Baseball Hall of Fame awarded Scully with the Ford C. Frick Award. Heck, winning the Ford C. Frick Award doesn't mean you are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, meaning all those great voices aren't hall of famers.

How can Byron be in the same conversation as Bobby Labonte or Davey Allison? How can you compare the contributions of Squier to Ricky Rudd and Ray Fox? How do you decide between Hornaday and Joe Gibbs?

NASCAR needs to break up the ballot a bit. There should be a pre-modern-era committee to honor drivers who raced predominantly in NASCAR prior to 1972. Then there should be an owners committee, a crew chief/pit crew committee and there should be a separate committee for broadcasters and promoters. There should also be separate committees for the Grand National Series (the Xfinity Series are you boys and girls), Truck series, modifieds and regional series.

With everyone being lumped into the same ballot there are plenty of key NASCAR figures that are either never going to get into the hall of fame or won't be honored until 20 years after they died. With the amount of clutter the likes of Smokey Yunick (who wasn't even on the ballot for this class), Humpy Wheeler, Jack Ingram, Sam Ard and Doug Coby, who has won four consecutive modified championships and five of the last six championships, may never get in.

I am all for museums and providing a place for people to go and look at a collection of historical artifacts and learn about the past whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar or motorsports in general but creating a distinct honor for those who are already seen as the best is excessive. We know who the best are and we know those who were respectable but not quite of the legendary status. A building, plaque and televised ceremony shouldn't change a thing.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Felix Rosenqvist but did you know...

Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl for a second consecutive year.

The #2 Black Falcon Mercedes of Yelmer Buurman, Abdulaziz al Faisal, Hubert Haupt and Gabriele Piana won the Dubai 24 Hour.

Dakar Rally Update (Through Stage Eight):
Bikes: Adrien Van Beveren leads Kevin Benavides by 22 seconds.
Quads: Ignacio Casale leads Jeremias González Ferioli by one hour, 45 minutes and 20 seconds.
Cars: Carlos Sainz leads Nasser Al-Attiyah by one hour, six minutes and 37 seconds.
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev leads Federico Villagra by 46 minutes and 25 seconds.
UTVs: Reinaldo Varela leads Juan Uribe Ramos by one hour, 34 minutes and 31 seconds.

Jason Anderson won the Supercross race at Houston.

The #7 Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota Oreca-Nissan of Jazman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Afiq Yazid won the 4 Hours of Buriram. The #18 KCMG Ligier-Nissan of Josh Burdon, Louis Prette and Neric Wei won in LMP3. The #91 FIST-Team AAI BMW of Chaz Mostert, Jesse Krohn and Jun-San Chen won in GT.

Richard Verschoor and Marcus Armstrong were the two winners at the Toyota Racing Series season opener from Ruapuna Park with Armstrong winning the second and third races of the weekend.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg and Benoît Tréluyer split the Andros Trophy races from Isola 2000.

Coming Up This Weekend
Supercross returns to California and San Diego.
The Dakar Rally concludes in Argentina.
Second round of the Toyota Racing Series will be at Teretonga Park.

Friday, January 12, 2018

2018 Marrakesh ePrix Preview

The second Saturday of January features the second round of the 2017–18 Formula E season. This is the second season Marrakesh is on the Formula E schedule and it is the only African round on the Formula E calendar. At 1.86 miles, it is the largest circuit on the 2017–18 calendar though the Zürich racetrack has not be revealed. Last year, Sébastien Buemi won from seventh on the grid after a five-grid spot penalty for an underweight fire extinguisher. Sam Bird was second with Felix Rosenqvist rounding out the podium in his second Formula E start after picking up his maiden pole position.

What Happened Last Time?
The season opener was a doubleheader from Hong Kong. Techeetah's Jean-Éric Vergne took pole position ahead of Bird and Nick Heidfeld with defending champion Lucas di Grassi in sixth and Buemi in ninth. After the first red flag stoppage in Formula E history, Vergne and Bird went on a duel with Bird taking the lead before the start of pit stops. Bird made a near colossal error on his pit stop when he slid and missed his garage entrance on the car switch. Despite the mistake, Bird maintained a seven-second lead after his pit stop.

However, Bird would have to serve a drive-through penalty for not parking his car in the garage but Bird built a large enough gap over Vergne that he remained in the lead after the penalty. Bird would win race one by over 11 seconds to Vergne with Heidfeld in third. Nelson Piquet, Jr., finished fourth in his first race with Jaguar, Daniel Abt rounded out the top five and Andretti driver António Félix da Costa picked up the team's first top six finish in six races. Venturi driver Edoardo Mortara finish seventh on debut ahead of Alex Lynn, Nicolas Prost and Luca Filippi, who picked up a point on debut with NIO with Buemi finishing outside the points in 11th.

Race two started with a lengthy wait for the lights but a technical glitch forced the race to start behind the safety car. Rosenqvist started on pole position but locked up the tires and spun in turn one on the first green flag lap. Mortara took the lead with Abt in second and Rosenqvist down in 11th. Mortara and Abt held the first two positions through pit stops and Rosenqvist had worked his way back up to third.

Mortara held a comfortable advantage over Abt but the Swiss-Italian drive spun with two laps to go allowing Abt and Rosenqvist to go by with Mortara rejoining in third. Abt took the checkered flag first on his 25th birthday. The celebration would be cut short, as three hours after the race Abt was disqualified for the stickers on the car's inverter and motor-generator unit not matching those declared on the vehicle before the race. Rosenqvist was promoted to race victory with Mortara to second and Mitch Evans elevated to the podium, Jaguar's first Formula E podium finish. Vergne finished fourth with Bird in fifth and Oliver Turvey rounding out the top six.

Bird leads the Drivers' Championship with 35 points with Vergne two points back and Rosenqvist on 29 points. Mortara sits on 24 points with Heidfeld and Evans tied on 15 points. Piquet, Jr., sits seventh on 12 points, one ahead of Abt. Da Costa and Turvey round out the top ten tied on eight points. Maro Engel, Alex Lynn and Nicolas Prost are tied on six points. Filippi and Buemi round out the championship on one point. André Lotterer, di Grassi, Kamui Kobayashi and Jérôme d'Ambrosio head to Morocco looking for their first points of the season.

In the Teams' Championship, Mahindra Racing leads with 44 points and DS Virgin Racing three points back. Techeetah sits 11 points back, three ahead of Venturi with Jaguar rounding out the top five on 27 points. Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler has 11 points with NIO on nine points, Andretti on eight points and Renault e.dams on seven points. Dragon Racing is the only team not yet on the scoreboard.

What Happened in the Interim?
The Neel Jani-era at Dragon Racing ended after one round. The team was supposed to have a technical relationship with Porsche but that did not materialize. The Swiss driver finished 18th in both Hong Kong races.

José María López replaces Jani at Dragon Racing. The Argentine driver spent the 2016–17 season at DS Virgin Racing. López finished ninth in the championship with a second-place finish in Paris and third in the season finale at Montreal. He finished in the points in seven of ten starts and missed the New York round due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments with Toyota. His tenth-place finish at Marrakesh last season earned López his first career Formula E point.

The entry list for the Marrakesh rookie test was released. The test will take place Sunday January 14th, one day after the Marrakesh ePrix. Mahindra leads the Teams' Championship and will have 2012 Formula 3 Euro Series champion Daniel Juncadella and Sam Dejonghe, who ran in the TCR BeNeLux Touring Car Championship in 2017. DS Virgin Racing has brought in Antonio Giovinazzi after he made two Formula One starts for Sauber and spent 2017 as Scuderia Ferrari's reserve driver. Joel Eriksson, runner-up in the 2017 FIA European Formula Three Championship, will also be driving for Virgin Racing.

Techeetah has brought in Porsche factory driver Frédéric Makowiecki and Super GT driver James Rossiter. Mercedes-Benz DTM driver Gary Paffett will drive for Venturi with 17-year old, American-born Moroccan Michaël Benyahia joining him. Benyahia won the 2017 Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 championship. Paul di Resta and 2017 Formula V8 3.5 champion Pietro Fittipaldi will drive for Jaguar. Audi Sport Abt brings in DTM driver Nico Müller and McLaren development driver Nyck de Vries.

Harry Tincknell adds another hat to his collection that already includes Ford GT driver and Mazda Team Joest driver as he will be in the car at NIO with Alexandre Imperatori. Andretti features an all-North American line-up with Indy Lights race winner Colton Herta and DTM champion Bruno Spengler. Formula Two driver Alexander Albon and 2017 All-Japan Formula Three champion Mitsunori Takaboshi will drive for Renault e.dams. Dragon Racing has called in Super GT Lexus drive Andrea Caldarelli and Maximilian Günther, who finished third in European Formula Three, for the test.

What to Look Forward to this Weekend?
Lucas di Grassi enters failing to scored in consecutive races for the first time in his Formula E career while one point from the last four races is the worst four-race stretch of Sébastien Buemi's Formula E career. The opening round can sometimes be seen as an outlier but two bad rounds to start a season can crush championship aspirations. Audi Sport Abt didn't have a poor weekend at Hong Kong. Daniel Abt carried the torch and if it weren't for his disqualification the team would have Abt leading the Drivers' Championship and be third in the Teams' Championship, two points off the top.

This weekend is a bigger deal to Renault e.dams. Audi Sport Abt had at least one car in each superpole session at Hong Kong and most of di Grassi's misfortune was out of his hands. The best qualifying effort for the French team was ninth and the best finish was eighth.

Bird, Vergne and Rosenqvist will look to take early control of this championship and try to keep a gap to di Grassi and Buemi. Bird and Rosenqvist both finished on the podium last year at Marrakesh but a determined Buemi found a way to the front. The good news for those two is it doesn't appear the gap between Renault e.dams and the rest of the field is as great as it was at Marrakesh last season.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Hong Kong surprises maintain the form into Marrakesh. I was skeptical of Venturi and even said Maro Engel would struggle to get 10 points this season and he already has six points. Mortara had a brief lapse cost him a victory but it was still an impressive weekend at Hong Kong. Jaguar picked up a third and a fourth. I think Jaguar has a good car and can be competitive and I am more suspect of Venturi equaling its Hong Kong success.

At the back end of the grid are the two American teams. Da Costa is a good driver and he got on the board early at Hong Kong but I don't think we will see him rattle off sixth-place finishes on a regular basis and I am not sure how long Kobayashi will be in the car as BMW will likely want Tom Blomqvist or one of the manufactures' other factory drivers in the car before the end of the season and before BMW's partnership with Andretti starts next season. Then there is Dragon Racing, which is lost in the electric wilderness. José María López is a smart hire as he has driven in Formula E before but I don't think the car has a competitive pace.

One other notable difference that will occur at Marrakesh is there will be no minimum pit stop time at this round, a first in series history. Formula E had mandated a minimum pit stop time from the inaugural race at Beijing in 2014.

The 2018 Marrakesh ePrix will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET on Saturday January 13th.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2018 Dubai 24 Hour Preview: Part II (Everybody Else)

Last week, we took a look at all A6 class entries for the 2018 Dubai 24 Hour. Today, we are going to highlight some of the other entries from the other eight classes. Four of these eight classes, the first four to be specific, belong to the 24H GT Series while the other four classes, the bottom, are apart of the Touring Car Endurance Series. Each class description will be included below and here are another 23 cars to keep an eye on.

SPX: Special cars which are not accepted in any other class (e.g. GT-, Silhouette), Weight/HP-ratio: approx. 2.5-2.9 Kg/HP

#10 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo
Drivers: Oliver Webb, Lim Keong Wee, Melvin Moh, Aleksander Schjerpen, Tadas Volbikas
Why you should watch this car: Webb has won the Dubai 24 Hour overall previously. Schjerpen won in the SP3 class in 2016.

#60 LAMERA-CUP Lamera Cup
Drivers: Wilfried Merafina, Pierre Couasnon, Christophe Bouchet, Philippe Marie
Why you should watch this car: I had no knowledge of what a Lamera Cup car was prior to looking at the entry list. Apparently, if my translation is accurate, this is an entry-level series for aspiring endurance racing drivers. I am still not sure what the car is or what it is capable of but this is one of three in the race and the other two are in the SP3 class. This car has the most notable name and that is Christophe Bouchet, who can be interesting at times.

#87 GDL Racing Middle East Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo 
Drivers: Frank Pelle, Vic Rice, Massimo Vignali, Rory Penttinen
Why you should watch this car: This team won in this class last year with all the drivers above but Vignali.

#88 Speed Lover Porsche 991 Cup MR I
Drivers: Pierre-Yves Paque, Jean-Michael Gerome, Christian Kelders, Daniel Disburser
Why you should watch this car: The SPX class was only contested in three 24H Series rounds in 2017 and two of those were non-championship races. Speed Lover won both the non-championship races that were apart of the 2x5H Spa-Francorchamps. Paque is the only carry over driver from Spa-Francorchamps.

Class 991: Porsche 991 Cup Cars (Type 991-I and 991-II) (* - AM entry)

#62 FACH AUTO TECH Porsche 991-II Cup
Drivers: Matt Campbell, Julien Andlauer, Thomas Preining, Jens Richter
Why you should watch this car: Campbell is a name to keep an eye on. At 22 years old, he has won Australian Porsche Carrera Cup championship, he finished second overall at the Bathurst 12 Hour last year and he finished third in the 2017 Porsche Supercup championship but ended the season with three consecutive victories.

#63 race:pro motorsport 991-II Cup
Drivers: Stanislav Minsky, Murad Sultanov, Klaus Bachler, David Jahn, Nicholas Foster
Why you should watch this car: Bachler has been done a good job in a number of Porsches across FIA World Endurance Championship and Porsche Supercup.

#82 RScar Motorsport Porsche 991-I Cup
Drivers: Artem Soloviev, Vadim Meshcheriakov, Denis Gromov
Why you should watch this car: There are only three 991-PRO entries so if neither of the first two cars win than here is your winner.

#26 MRS GT-Racing Porsche 991-II Cup
Drivers: Stephen Grove, Bertram Hornung, Matthias Jeserich
Why you should watch this car: Speaking of Australian Porsche Carrera Cup, Grove won the 2017 Australian Porsche Carrera Cup Challenge class championship. He also won the B class at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour.

#67 race:pro motorsport Porsche 991-II Cup
Drivers: James Thorpe, Sean McInerney, Phil Quaife, Claudio Cappelli
Why you should watch this car: Quaife has run for Duel Racing in recent years and even won the TCR class championship in 2016 but he has now moved on.

#95 Duel Racing Porsche 991-I Cup
Drivers: Ramzi Moutran, Nabil Moutran, Sami Moutran, Jules Westwood
Why you should watch this car: This team with the three Moutrans won three of six TCR races on the way to the class championship in 2016. It made only one start in 2017 and that was at Dubai in the 991 class.

SP2: Special cars which are not accepted in any other class (e.g. GT-, Silhouette), Weight/HP-ratio: approx. 3.0-3.4 Kg/HP

#58 VDS Racing Adventures MARC Focus V8
Drivers: Raphaël van der Straten, Karim Al Azhari, Grégory Paisse, Wolfgang Haugg, José Close
Why you should watch this car: Normally we see the MARC cars at the Bathurst 12 Hour but those cars are seeing the world. It had cars at the California 8 Hours and 24H COTA. It will be interesting to see how it does in Dubai.

#246 KTM MMotorsport Australia KTM X-BOW
Drivers: Justin McMillan, Glen Wood, Nico Pronk, Peter Kox
Why you should watch this car: You should always keep an eye on a KTM and the team has drafted in Kox, a driver with lots of sports car experience.

GT4: GT4 Homologated cars

#40 Brookspeed International Motorsport Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR
Drivers: James McGuire, Ian James, Matt Bell, John Schauerman
Why you should watch this car: The team ended 2017 with a victory at Circuit of the Americas. This is a completely different driver line-up but James had a tremendous 2017 season in Pirelli World Challenge's GTS class and Matt Bell isn't a shabby driver either.

#84 Team RACE SCOUT by Winward / HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT R SP-X
Drivers: Russell Ward, Bryce Ward, Christian Gebhardt, Bernd Schneider, Norberto Fontana
Why you should watch this car: This car had a good showing at Austin and while Russell Ward is the only hold over, it will have Schneider getting into the car I guess when he isn't better with the A6 entry for HTP Motorsport and a former Formula One driver in Fontana. It isn't the sexiest name but anytime there is a Formula One experienced driver in the field you are interested.

#241 ALFAB Racing McLaren 570S GT4
Drivers: Erik Behrens, Daniel Ros, Fredrik Ros, Anders Levin
Why you should watch this car: I know nothing about any of these drivers but I do know it is the only McLaren at Dubai and it is resembles the Swedish flag. You can't miss it.

#248 Phoenix Racing: Audi R8 LMS GT 
Drivers: Adderly Fong, Marchy Lee, Shaun Thong, Darryl O'Young, Charles Kwan
Why you should watch this car: Phoenix Racing is a top Audi team and this all-Hong Kongese line-up has two respectable drivers in Fong and O'Young. Lee won the Audi R8 LMS Cup title in 2012. Thong won the GT Asia Pro-Am title in 2016. It wouldn't be surprising if this car won the class.

TCR: TCR-certified Cars (Touring cars, Supercharged)

#130 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR SEQ
Drivers: Luca Engstler, Florian Thoma, Benjamin Leuchter, Jean-Karl Vernay
Why you should watch this car: Vernay won the 2017 TCR International Series championship and Engstler finished 12th in the ADAC TCR Germany Touring Car Championship at 17 years old, two positions behind Thoma while Leucter won the TCR class championship in the VLN.

#216 Modena Motorsports SEAT León TCR V3 SEQ
Drivers: Wayne Shen, John Shen, Francis Tjia, Benny Simonsen, Mathias Beche
Why you should watch this car: This team won at Circuit Paul Ricard last year and it has brought in prototype expert Beche back in for a second consecutive year.

#308 Team Altran Peugeot Peugeot 308 Racing Cup
Drivers: Guillaume Roman, Oliver Baron, Michael Carlsen, Kim Holmgaard
Why you should watch this car: This car closed out the 2017 season by winning the final two TCR races and Team Altran Peugeot won three of six races. Holmgaard and Roman each had two victories while Carlsen won once.

#908 Team Altran Peugeot Peugeot 308 Racing Cup
Drivers: Lionel Amrouche, Cyril Calmon, Henrik Sørensen, Aram Martoussian
Why you should watch this car: Like I said, Team Altran Peugeot won three of six races in 2017. Sørensen won twice in 2017 in the A2 class.

SP3: Special Cars which are not accepted in any other class (mainly Touring Cars), Weight/HP-ratio: approx. 3.5-4.0 Kg/HP

#229 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55
Drivers: Nathan Freke, Jon Barnes, Mark Farmer, Dominic Paul
Why you should watch this car: Century Motorsport won this class in 2016 with Freke as one of its drivers.

CUP1: BMW M235i Racing Cup: 3000cc Twin Turbo

#154 QSR Racingschool BMW M235i Racing Cup
Driver: Jimmy de Breucker, Mario Timmers, Rodrigue Gillion, Tom Boonen, Simon Kiemund
Why you should watch this car: QSR won the CUP1 class at Dubai in 2016 and de Breucker and Timmers were two of the drivers of that entry.

A2: Petrol Touring Cars up to 2000cc & Supercharged up to 1650cc, Diesel up to 2000cc

#171 Jönsson Consulting Peugeot RCZ
Drivers: Søren Jönsson, Lars Mogensen, Niels Nyboe, Christian Hansen, Kasper Bruun
Why you should watch this car: The team won three of four A2 races in 2017.

The Dubai 24 Hours will start at 5:00 a.m. ET on Friday January 12th.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Formula One Winter Series

It was windy in the Northeastern United States. Ed Carpenter Racing has a new Brit. Juncos Racing has found an Austrian. IndyCar has a new race director. Marco Andretti ran at TQ Midget indoors. Brian France isn't buying an NFL team, allegedly. Ryan Truex is out of a ride, unfortunately. Maybe his brother could loan him some of that championship money to get him back into a truck. Two cars were parked at the Roar Before the 24 test and Fernando Alonso made a funny. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Formula One Winter Series
The Formula One offseason isn't as long as it once was. Remember when the schedule used to end in the middle of October? Those were the days when new car unveilings were productions and not merely posting some photos online. Test drivers did the testing over multiple weeks during the winter.  Those were the days.

Now the schedule has ballooned to 21 races and ends after Thanksgiving. Teams are spent after flying from continent to continent. The bad news is more races are expected to be added with Liberty Media running the show. The magic number appears to be 25 races but there isn't much room to squeeze races into the current timeframe. The season is likely going to have to start earlier.

However, while there could be more races, drivers will be getting less seat time before entering Formula One. Drivers enter less prepared than ever before. Unless you are Lance Stroll, most drivers entering Formula One get the young driver test and the handful of preseason test days before making a debut at Australia. Even worse is there are fewer drivers that teams feel comfortable throwing into a car in a pinch. A team can't have three drivers regularly testing and learning the car and have a prayer of being competitive if needed in case of a late injury, illness or driver being dropped.

Williams put Paul di Resta in the car for an ill Felipe Massa at Hungary and he had been out of Formula One for almost four years. Scuderia Toro Rosso went outside the box to get Brendon Hartley despite Red Bull famously having too many development drivers and has kept talented drivers from ever getting a sniff at Formula One (sorry António Félix da Costa).

Formula One wants more races but teams need young drivers to get more experience. What if both desires could be met simultaneously?

The aforementioned Lance Stroll spent a fair amount of time testing a 2014 car last season at private tests and I think it helped the Canadian. He finished 12th in the championship and was giving Massa a run for his money, finishing three points behind the Brazilian. Unfortunately, not everyone has a billionaire father who can ship cars to Suzuka to run two private tests.

What Formula One could do is run a winter series aimed at getting young drivers seat time. My thought is a series could be composed of older cars and it could be a mix of a test and a race weekend. It wouldn't require the same kind of pomp and circumstance of a grand prix weekend so hospitality and fancy garage set up would not be needed. The Friday could be a strict test day. Give the drivers three hours in the morning, take a lunch break and return for three hours in the afternoon.

The weekend doesn't have to be to typical Formula One protocol. A winter series could not only get young drivers seat time in modern Formula One cars but it could allow for Formula One to try new things. Remember the disastrous qualifying format used early in the 2016 season that was quickly scrapped? A winter series could give Formula One a chance to try out a new format and see if it works and where improvements could be made before it goes out to the larger audience.

I would want the winter series to be experimental and the Saturday could be the experimental day. I would want to see a 90-minute qualifying practice in the morning with the results from that session being inverted and then a qualifying race where the slowest from the 90-minute session starts first and the fastest starts at the rear. Let's say every team runs two cars, have all 20 cars separated by a second on the race track and set the qualifying race to be 19 laps with one car being eliminated at the end of each lap. The first car eliminated will start last for the Saturday race. The last car standing starts on pole position. Because these cars will have already run as many as 19 laps, the Saturday race doesn't have to be a traditionally grand prix length. It could probably be half the distance.

Sunday is where the drivers would experience typical grand prix procedures. Have the accustomed knockout-qualifying format late in the morning and an hour or so after the session have a race. It could be to grand prix distance or it could be about 75-80% of a grand prix.

If we have the race weekend set, who would be allowed to drive? It is intended for young or rather inexperienced drivers. However, one Formula One start shouldn't disqualify you from this series. Take Esteban Ocon as an example. He jumped into Manor midseason. If there had been a winter series between the 2016 and 2017 season Ocon would have benefitted from it as nine races in a Manor isn't enough. I would have a rule where a driver could not have made 30 Formula One starts or more to run in the winter series. This would allow a driver to run the winter series the year prior to a rookie's season and the winter before a sophomore season. Contracted 2018 drivers with fewer than 30 grand prix starts include Stroll, Hartley, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, Stoffel Vandoorne and even Ocon would be eligible as he has 29 starts.

Let's say all these drivers would run the winter series. That would be six of 20 seats filled. Where would 14 drivers come from? Each year we have plenty of drivers announcing development deals or simulator deals. There are plenty of drivers out there with talent or a checkbook that can land in these seats. Maybe Haas can give an American some seat time. Renault has an academy worth of drivers to pick from. McLaren can give Lando Norris a taste of Formula One. This could also be a chance for teams to give drivers outside Formula One and the ladder system a shot in a Formula One car.

Where would these races be and when would they take place? I would pick three venues and run three consecutive weeks before testing commences in the middle of January and ending the first week in February. There are many places in the Southern Hemisphere where you could visit in January and early February but I am sure not teams want to be traveling around the world during their break from traveling around the world.

Formula One wants more races in the United States. You could do all of them in the United States. Ferrari had an entire development series season in Florida in 2014 at Sebring, Palm Beach and Homestead. None of those tracks shout out Formula One venue but I don't think any city (Miami) would pay for a street course race that is Formula One but lacking the stars. Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a 2.4-mile road course in the parking lot. Out west there is the track formerly known as Firebird International Raceway but that is a smaller track. Laguna Seca looks quite comfortable with a quick glance at the ten-day outlook. California has plenty of racetracks. Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, Thunderhill and Fontana can be turned into a roval.

Once again, none of those tracks shout out Formula One but that is how it is in the United States. Outside of Austin, the only other Grade One circuit is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Everything else is Grade Two. Other than the United States, the Middle East has the money to host these races. There could be additional races at Bahrain and Yas Marina and Dubai could host a race but if the goal is to go to new place than those venues don't accomplish that goal. Malaysia is off the schedule so could that comeback with a combination of races in Thailand and maybe another race in China or a race in India? That is possible.

The more you write about it the more it becomes improbable but, while a winter series isn't in the cards, additional races are coming and they will be wedged into the schedule. Drivers will enter more unprepared and people will continue wondering what can be done but no solution will be found.

Winners From the Weekend

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross season opener from Anaheim.

Dakar Rally Stage One Winners
Bikes: Sam Sunderland
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah
Quads: Ignacio Casale
Trucks: Aleš Loprais
SXS: Anibal Aliagas

Stage Two Winners
Bikes: Joan Barreda
Cars: Cyril Despres
Quads: Ignacio Casale
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev
SXS: Reinaldo Varela

Overall Leaders After Two Stages
Bikes: Joan Barreda
Cars: Cyril Despres
Quads: Ignacio Casale
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev
SXS: Juan Uribe Ramos

Coming Up This Weekend
The Chili Bowl is back.
The Dubai 24 Hour takes place Friday into Saturday.
The Dakar Rally continues.
Supercross heads to Houston.

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Dubai 24 Hour Preview: Part I (A6 Class)

The season of previews continues and we have the first endurance race of the season on the cards. The January jewel in the Persian Gulf, the Dubai 24 Hour returns for the 13th consecutive year. The race is still a week away but there is so much to cover that the race has to be previewed now. Once again, this event has an impressive entry list of drivers and for the second consecutive year this preview has to be broken into two parts.

This part features the A6 class, both PRO entries and AM entries. The A6 class is predominantly filled with GT3 entries and it is the class that will likely take the overall victory. Twenty-five cars are entered in the A6 class for the 2018 race with 11 PRO entries and 15 AM entries. This preview will look at each entry; give you the drivers entered for each car, a reason why that car could win the Dubai 24 Hour and a reason why that car won't win the Dubai 24 Hour. We will start with the Pro entries.

Note that this is using the entry list of Friday January 5th and could be changed in the coming week.

#2 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Hubert Haput, Yelmer Buurman, Gabriele Paiani
Why this car could win: Black Falcon has won this race three times and Al Faisal, Haupt and Buurman won in 2015 with Oliver Webb. This team also finished third last year, the top Mercedes.
Why this car won't win: Mercedes-AMG has not won the last two years at Dubai and the manufacture didn't win a 24H Series race overall in 2017. Plus, the #2 Mercedes has a very tough teammate.

#3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Khaled Al Qubaisi, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Luca Stolz, Manuel Metzger
Why this car could win: Al Qubaisi and Bleekemolen won the 2012 and 2013 Dubai 24 Hour. Bleekemolen is one of the more underrated GT drivers in the world. Metzger won the 2016 24 Hours Nürburgring with Black Falcon
Why this car won't win: Stolz is the young driver in the group and I don't want to say he is the weakest link. This could be his breakout race.

#5 Ram Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Remon Leonard Vos, Tom Onslow-Cole, Euan Hankey
Why this car could win: Tom Onslow-Cole won the 2015 24H Series A6 class champion and Euan Hankey finished second in the 2017 European Le Mans Series GT championship. Leonard Vos and Onslow-Cole finished fourth last year in the 12H Mugello and third in the 12H Imola.
Why this car won't win: The Dubai 24 Hour has only been won by a team of three drivers once and that was 2010. A British team has never won the Dubai 24 Hour.

#8 Lambda Performance Ford GT Lambda
Drivers: Nico Verdonck, Frank Kechele, Csaba Walter, Daniel Keilwitz
Why this car could win: Keilwitz finished second in the 2017 ADAC GT Masters championship and this could be a breakout year for the soon-to-be Pirelli World Challenge driver. Nico Verdonck has sports car experience. Verdonck and Kechele drove this car to a seventh and second-place finish in the 2015 ADAC GT Masters season finale at Hockenheim.
Why this car won't win: I don't know about this car. Lambda ran this car sporadically in ADAC GT Masters from 2012 to 2015. It had some good races but I think it is asking at lot for this to win a 24-hour race.

#9 BWT Mücke Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Markus Winkelhock, Mike-David Ortmann, Andreas Weishaupt, Ricardo Feller, Christer Jöns
Why this car could win: Winkelhock is one of Audi's top drivers. Jöns has won at Bathurst and the Nürburgring. Weishaupt won the ADAC GT Masters Gentleman Class championship in 2015. Feller and Ortmann are two younger drivers with Feller driving for the Audi Sport racing academy and Ortmann having run Formula 4
Why this car won't win: This might be a line-up where, while being balanced between experienced drivers and young drivers, it could lack the depth needed compared to some of the other A6 entries.

#12 Manthey Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R
Drivers: Otto Klohs, Lars Kern, Matheiu Jaminet, Sven Müller
Why this car could win: This is as close to a factory team as you can get. Jaminet and Müller are two of the top young Porsche drivers and this race could be a breakout for both of them. Klohs and Müller finished second in last year's race driving for Manthey.
Why this car won't win: Porsche won last year and the last three Dubai 24 Hours have been won by three different manufactures.

#20 D'station Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R
Drivers: Satoshi Hoshino, Seiji Ara, Tomonobu Fujii, Tsubasa Kondo
Why this car could win: Ara has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Fujii has won multiple 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Ara, Hoshino and Kondo finished third in the 2017 Super Taikyu ST-X championship.
Why this car won't win: This is a big step up for this team and to win this race with the depth of the field is a major task.

#28 GP Extreme Renault RS01 GT3
Drivers: Jean-Pierre Valentini, Axcil Jefferies, Nicky Pastorelli, Alban Varutti
Why this car could win: This might be one of the best looking cars on the grid. The car has won races in the International GT Open. Pastorelli has Dubai 24 Hour experience and ran a handful of Champ Car races in 2006. Jefferies has run Formula Two races and Indy Lights and he has moved onto Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Valentini and Jeffries ran together for GP Extreme at Circuit Paul Ricard and Portimão with Pastorelli joining the team in Portugal.
Why this car won't win: It is an inexperienced line-up plus I don't think the car can beat the German manufactures.

#96 Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Christopher Haase, Bradley Ellis, Oliver Wilkinson
Why this car could win: Haase is a marvel in endurance races and there aren't many he hasn't won. However, this is one missing from his trophy case and I am sure he will be motivated. Haase and Optimum Motorsport finished fourth last year at Dubai. Ellis won the 2007 British GT Championship. Wilkinson ran in GT4 with Optimum Motorsport at Portimão last year.
Why this car won't win: We have already covered three-drive line-ups and I think Ellis and Wilkinson are at least a year away from being able to win this race.

#777 MS7 by WRT Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud, Michael Vergers, Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Mies
Why this car could win: Like Christopher Haase, Christopher Mies has won his fair share of endurance races and he too has not won the Dubai 24 Hour. Dries Vanthoor had a good season in the Blancpain GT Series last year. Vergers and Al Saud finished sixth in this race last year with Marcel Fässler as one of their co-drivers.
Why this car won't win: This is a good line-up and WRT won the 2016 Dubai 24 Hour. It is hard to come up with a reason why this car won't win. If it doesn't win it is because it is outright beat or something breaks.

#964 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Mark Ineichen, Rolf Ineichen, Christian Engelhart, Mirko Bortolotti
Why this car could win: This team won last year's Blancpain GT Series champions and the Ineichen won the 2014 Dubai 24 Hour. GRT Grasser Racing Team's Blancpain GT Series title broke a stranglehold German manufactures on the championship.
Why this car won't win: Every Dubai 24 Hour has been won by a German manufacture. The top finishing Lamborghini last year was the SPX-class winning Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, 18th overall, and the top A6 class Lamborghini was 21st overall.

#1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer, Christiaan Frankenhout
Why this car could win: Hofor-Racing is the dominant team in 24H Series. It won four of seven A6-AM races last year and the team has won the A6-AM class the last two years.
Why this car won't win: It hasn't be able to beat the Herberth Motorsport Porsche for overall victories and the A6 class grid is much deeper than most 24H Series races.

#7 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Kriton Lendoudis, Rui Águas, Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri
Why this car could win: Black Falcon always fields contenders and Águas has been a successful GT driver.
Why this car won't win: It is an inexperienced line-up and will struggle to beat its teammates.

#16 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Valentin Pierburg, Tim Müller, Lance David Arnold, Dominik Baumann
Why this car could win: Arnold, Müller and Pierburg have been regular Dubai 24 Hour competitors.
Why this car won't win: This car isn't even in the top five best Mercedes-AMGs.

#18 V8 Racing Chevrolet Corvette C6-ZR1
Drivers: Luc Braams, Duncan Huisman, Alex van t'Hoff, Rick Abresch, Finlay Hutchison
Why this car could win: V8 Racing always brings a Corvette and it always runs well for part of the Dubai 24 Hour.
Why this car won't win: It hasn't run well for the entire Dubai 24 Hour and it is outnumbered by German cars.

#19 MP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Daniel de Jong, Henk de Jong, Bert de Heus
Why this car could win: Daniel de Jong has had success in junior formula racing and MP Motorsport has fielded some good junior formula programs.
Why this car won't win: Three drivers and this is an all-Dutch line-up and no Dubai 24 Hour overall winner has had all its drivers hail from the same country.

#24 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Alexandre Coigny, Iradj Alexander, Richard Feller, Antonin Borga
Why this car could win: It is another Dubai 24 Hour regular.
Why this car won't win: See its teammate plus it is an all-Swiss line-up and what did we say with the MP Motorsport entry?

#25 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Alexander Hrachowina, Indy Dontje, Bernd Schneider, Martin Konrad, Brice Bosi
Why this car could win: Schneider has won this race prior and Dontje is an up-and-coming driver. HTP Motorsport has been a successful team in GT3 endurance racing.
Why this car won't win: I don't think the line-up is going to beat some of the big boys.

#27 GP Extreme Renault RS01 GT3
Drivers: Frédéric Fatien, Roald Goethe, Stuart Hall, Jordon Grogor
Why this car could win: Hall and Goethe have been Aston Martin factory drivers and won the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship GTE-AM championship. Fatien and Grogor have been regular 24H Series competitors.
Why this car won't win: I will say this team is a sleeper but, as with its sister car, it has a mighty task to top the German manufactures.

#33 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Dirg Parhofer, Dimitri Parhofer, Rémi Terrail, Ali Çapan, Frank Stippler
Why this car could win: The car also won in A6-AM at Imola and Dimitri Parhofer was one of the drivers to win at Imola. Car Collection Motorsport did win in A6-AM at Circuit of the Americas in November.
Why this car won't win: The field is really deep and this is a driver line-up that hasn't spent a lot of time together.

#34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi R8 LMS
Drivers: Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler, Wiggo Dalmo
Why this car could win: This is the team that won at Circuit of the Americas with the exception being Dalmo in for Max Edelhoff. This is an experienced group of drivers.
Why this car won't win: The field is a lot deeper that it was in Texas.

#66 Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Why this car could win: Without any drivers I am not sure I can find a reason why it could.
Why this car won't win: It is hard to win without any drivers.

#85 PROsport Performance Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster, Adam Christodoulou
Why this car could win: Putman, Espenlaub and Foster are making the step up after winning the 2017 24H Series 991 class championship. Christodoulou finished on the Dubai 24 Hour A6-PRO podium twice and he has class victories in the 24 Hours Nürburgring.
Why this car won't win: It is a big step up from 991 class to A6 however I would not be surprised if this car does well because the drivers take care of it and doesn't put it in a position it shouldn't be in.

#911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer, Alfred Renauer, Dennis Olsen
Why this car could win: This is the defending Dubai 24 Hour winner and outside of Brendon Hartley exiting for Dennis Olsen, it is the same line-up. Olsen finished second in the 2017 Porsche Supercup and he won three races. This team won four 24H Series races last year.
Why this car won't win: Repeating is difficult and only twice has a team successfully defended a Dubai 24 Hour victory.

#963 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Mark Ineichen, Roberto Pampanini, Christoph Lenz, Mauro Calamia, Rik Breukers
Why this car could win: Ineichen has won the Dubai 24 Hour before. Breukers is making a step up and GRT Grasser Racing Team is a top team.
Why this car won't win: It is the second-best of the Grasser Lamborghinis.

#991 Gulf Racing Japan Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: John Wartique, Nicolas Saelens, Philipp Sager, Hisashi Kunie, Kimihiro Yashiro
Why this car could win: Gulf Racing Japan finished eighth in the Super GT Series GT300 championship. Plus, the car is in the famous Gulf Racing livery. That has to given them an extra couple tenths of a second.
Why this car won't win: Not the most experienced line-up and a livery can only do so much.

Coming next week we will be a look at a handful of other interesting Dubai 24 Hour entries from the other eight classes.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Supercross Season Preview

We are on the third day of 2018 and the first motorsports season to open is this Saturday night, as the AMA Supercross season begins in Anaheim. I have been a causal Supercross observer for most of my life but would never describe myself as a diehard supporter. Every year though I find myself looking forward to these opening rounds of the season as it gives me something motorsports related after spending the better part of the previous month hungry for something.

Between the starts of other motorsports series and late start times for west coast Supercross events, at some point I normally fall out and then come back for the season finale. Last year, I made an effort to watch every race I could and caught most of the races either live or taped the next day. This season I want to give the series its due and properly preview it while following it race-by-race from Anaheim in January to the Las Vegas season finale in May.

With the retirement of Ryan Dungey, there is only one former Supercross champion on the entry list. This preview will look at the schedule, the new format for a few races and 18 riders to keep an eye on in 2017.

The season opens at a traditional stomping ground at Angel Stadium in Anaheim on January 6th. One week later the second round sees the series head east, all the way to Houston's NRG Stadium for the series' earliest trip to Texas before Anaheim hosts round three and the first of three Triple Crown events.

Triple Crown events will have two ten-minute qualifying rounds with the top 18 advancing to the main event with the rest of the field going to the last chance qualifier. Four riders will advance from the LCQ to complete the 22-rider main event. The main event will be broken down into three races at lengths of eight minutes, 12 minutes and 15 minutes. The rider with the lowest combined scored after the three races will be declared the overall winner.

After the first Triple Crown event, Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium closes out the month of January. The day before Super Bowl LII, Supercross will be in Oakland Alameda Coliseum with a trip down the coast to San Diego the following week. The series returns to Texas on February 17th at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. Supercross returns to Tampa Bay for the first since 1999 at Raymond James Stadium on February 24th.

The midway point of the season is not only the second Triple Crown event but also the Supercross debut at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on March 3rd. Daytona Bike Week follows Atlanta on the schedule. The series returns indoors for races at St. Louis and Indianapolis before the Easter break. After Easter, Seattle's CenturyLink Field hosts Supercross on April 7th.

Minneapolis and U.S. Bank Stadium is the final dome and the final Triple Crown event on the schedule on April 14th. The series makes its furthest trip east to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on April 21st. The season closes with Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City hosting the penultimate round on April 28th and the season finale from Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on May 5th.

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team
Broc Trickle: #20 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
What did he do in 2017: 12th in the Supercross championship. One podium finish, third at Toronto, his only top five finish.
What to expect in 2018: This is a step up for Trickle and I think it will be a year for him to get his footing. He will get on the podium at least once and crack the top eight of the championship.

Marvin Musquin: #25 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
What did he do in 2017: 3rd in the Supercross championship. Second in the National Motocross Championship. Two Supercross victories (Arlington, Seattle) and ten podium finishes. He won seven motocross races and four of 12 rounds. He ended the year with victories in the Monster Energy Cup and Supercross Paris-Bercy.
What to expect in 2018: The Frenchman is one of the top championship contenders. Musquin is ready to pick up where Dungey left off and he is entering on a great wave of momentum.

Monster Energy Kawasaki
Eli Tomac: #3 Kawasaki KX 450F
What did he do in 2017: 2nd in the Supercross championship. 2017 National Motocross Champion. Nine Supercross victories (Phoenix, Oakland, Minneapolis, Toronto, Daytona, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, Salt Lake City) and 12 podium finishes. He won nine motocross races and four of 12 rounds.
What to expect in 2018: Like Musquin, Tomac is a championship contender. If it weren't for a few poor results at the start of 2017 he would have won the championship over Dungey. If he stays on the bike, he will be in the championship discussion until the end but it won't be easy.

Joshua Grant: #33 Kawasaki KX 450F
What did he do in 2017: 10th in the Supercross championship. One podium finish, third at Las Vegas. Three top five finishes in the final four races. He missed three races.
What to expect in 2018: Grant has won races but he is now an elder statesman in the series. He is on a good bike and ended 2017 on a high note. He won't beat his teammate but he should have a better championship finish than last year.

Team Honda HRC
Cole Seely: #14 Honda CRF 450
What did he do in 2017: 7th in the Supercross championship. Fifth in the National Motocross Championship. Two Supercross podium finishes with his best finish being second at Arlington and eight top five finishes.
What to expect in 2018: We are pushing three years since Seely's maiden Supercross victory at Houston in April 2015. Seely has had seven podium since then. It will be hard for him to keep up with Roczen and I expect he will finish at a minimum five championship positions behind his teammate.

Ken Roczen: #94 Honda CRF 450
What did he do in 2017: 20th in the Supercross championship. Injured in the third race of the season at Anaheim and missed the rest of the season. Won the first two races of the 2017 season at Anaheim and San Diego.
What to expect in 2018: If Roczen hadn't been injured he would have been in the championship discussion and very well could have beat both Dungey and Tomac. I think we are set for a great three-way battle between Roczen, Tomac and Musquin.

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Team
Dean Wilson: #15 Husqvarna FC450
What did he do in 2017: 8th in the Supercross championship. Fourth in the National Motocross Championship. Two Supercross top five finishes, both fifth-place finish at Arlington and Las Vegas.
What to expect in 2018: The Scotsman had a very good outdoor season. I think he could sneak on the podium on one or two occasions.

Justin Anderson: #21 Husqvarna FC450
What did he do in 2017: 4th in the Supercross championship. One Supercross victory (Las Vegas) and six podium finishes including four consecutive podium finishes to close the season. Anderson won two motocross races.
What to expect in 2018: Anderson is a consistent rider but a healthy Roczen makes it significantly more difficult for Anderson to be a championship contender. It would surprise nobody if he did win a race or two and if he keeps up his form a top five championship finish seems to be a given.

Monster Energy/Knich/Factory Yamaha Team
Cooper Webb: #2 Yamaha YZ450F
What did he do in 2017: 13th in the Supercross championship. One podium finish, third at Oakland. His only other top five finish was fourth at Anaheim II. He missed five races due to a shoulder injury
What to expect in 2018: It seems like Webb would get great starts and fade in 2017 and sometimes he round himself on the ground. If he can stay up right and be able to run strong start to finish he could crack the top ten of the championship.

Davi Millsaps: #18 Yamaha YZ450F
What did he do in 2017: 5th in the Supercross championship. Four top five finishes with his best finish being four at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
What to expect in 2018: He is going to miss at least the first six rounds due to a fractured elbow. It has been a few rough seasons since he finished second in the championship in 2013. If he comes back, I think he will take over as the top Yamaha rider.

Justin Barcia: #51 Yamaha YZ450F
What did he do in 2017: 18th in the Supercross championship. Best finish was ninth at Toronto and East Rutherford. He missed six races.
What to expect in 2018: Barcia fills in for the injured Millsaps and I think the goal is to do enough in the first six races to either impress Yamaha to keep him for the rest of the season or impress someone else to bring him in when Millsaps returns.

Autotrader JGR Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Team
Justin Bogle: #19 Suzuki RM-Z450
What did he do in 2017: 17th in the Supercross championship. His best finish was ninth at Arlington. He missed five races. He won two motocross races and one round while finishing sixth in the championship.
What to expect in 2018: The good news is he entering on a strong note but Suzuki had a tough 2017. Bogle's teammate got off to a strong start in 2017 and if Weston Peick remains healthy it will be a tough test for Bogle to finish as top Suzuki factory rider. It could prove to be an interesting intra-team battle.

Weston Peick: #34 Suzuki RM-Z450
What did he do in 2017: 22nd in the Supercross championship. Eighth in the Motocross championship. He finished eighth, seventh and fifth in the first three races before a wrist injury at Phoenix sidelined him for the rest of the season.
What to expect in 2018: Peick had a promising start to 2017 before he got hurt. He was able to run the entire Motocross season but wasn't a factor. If he matches his 2017 start it wouldn't be a surprise if he finished in the top ten of the championship.

Rocky Mountain ATV/MC – KTM – WPS
Blake Baggett: #4 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
What did he do in 2017: 6th in the Supercross championship. Third in the National Motocross Championship. One Supercross podium finishes (3rd at Atlanta) and five top five finishes. He won two motocross races and two rounds.
What to expect in 2018: He did well in both championships and I think this could be the sleeper of the season. A win might be a stretch but he could have his night and he could challenge for top five in the championship.

Benny Bloss: #60 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition
What did he do in 2017: Injured in his only 250cc race at Minneapolis. Contested five 450cc Motocross rounds with his best finish being 10th at Unadilla.
What to expect in 2018: For someone who did not get much time on the bike in 2017 and already suffered an injury in testing I am concerned he will be able to contest all the races. Not everyone can crack the top ten in the championship and I think Bloss should shoot for completing as many laps as possible.

Chad Reed: #22 Husqvarna FC450
What did he do in 2017: 9th in the Supercross championship. One podium finish, second at Phoenix. Only other top five finish was fourth at Toronto.
What to expect in 2018: Reed is the only previous Supercross champion on the grid. However, Reed is 35 years old and turns 36 years old prior to St. Louis. It has been ten years since he won his second championship and with him on a privateer bike I don't see a third in the cards. But I wouldn't rule him out to have a stunning night and pull out a top five finish or two.

Justin Brayton: #10 Honda CRF 450
What did he do in 2017: 12th in the Supercross championship. His best finish was sixth at Phoenix and East Rutherford. He missed one main event.
What to expect in 2018: Despite being a regular Supercross competitor since 2010, he is still looking for his first career victory. It won't happen in 2018 and I think he will struggle to even get a top five finish.

Vince Friese: #55 Honda CRF 450
What did he do in 2017: 16th in the Supercross championship. His finish was 12th at Arlington and he missed one main event.
What to expect in 2018: Friese's only Supercross top ten finish was a ninth at Oakland in 2013. He is bound to get another top ten finish but I think he finishes behind Brayton in the championship.

The 2017 Supercross season opener takes place Saturday January 6th at 10:00 p.m. ET from Anaheim, California.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Should Tracks Downsize?

We're back! New year, new ideas and a lot to catch up on. At a glance, IndyCar is paying fewer points for Indianapolis 500 qualifying, Carlin is entering IndyCar, Coors is leaving NASCAR, Williams still has a vacancy, Danica Patrick is still looking for two rides, people are mad at Lewis Hamilton, the 24 Hours of Daytona is set up to be an all-star affair, the most under appreciated Canadian driver Scott Hargrove will drive in Pirelli World Challenge next year and there are cars on the ground in Peru getting ready for the first major event of 2018. But before we get to all that, here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Should Tracks Downsize?
It has been a common theme over the last few years that racetracks are taking out seats. The demand no longer fills the 100,000 bleachers racetracks erected during the 1990s and early 21st centuries. Many tracks are skeletons of their former selves. Michigan no longer has seats outside turns three and four. Richmond ripped out seats along the back straightaway, as did Daytona. Even Indianapolis Motor Speedway removed some furniture. And there are tracks that could probably remove some more; I am talking to you Dover.

While the surroundings have changed, the racetracks really haven't. Charlotte is still a 1.5-mile oval. Richmond is still a 3/4-mile short track. Dover is still concrete and a mile in length. It is difficult for racetracks to under go renovations and configuration changes but it happens and normally it makes the tracks bigger. Richmond went from a 1/2-mile track to a 3/4-mile oval almost three decades ago. Atlanta expanded by a smidge and flipped the straightaways nearly twenty years ago. Even Phoenix grew a bit when it underwent its first reconfiguration to the dogleg five years ago and it going to see the start/finish line and the pit lane modified.

While it has become common to see tracks grow and banking pile up in corner but should tracks buck that trend? At his farewell press conference at Bristol in August, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., wondered why no one had replicated the track somewhere else. Bristol is probably in the top five favorite racetracks for most NASCAR fans and fans and drivers love short track racing while there is pushback to the races on the intermediate racetracks that have populated the schedule for the last 20 years. Earnhardt, Jr., has a point. If Bristol, located in the mountains on the Tennessee-Virginia border, can draw over 100,000 people on a Saturday night in August, why wouldn't other racetracks want to be a half-mile bullring?

Not far from Bristol is Kentucky Speedway, a racetrack that few would miss if swallowed by a sinkhole tomorrow. There is nothing memorable about it but what if it the racetrack decided to start over, turned the back straightaway into the front straightaway, created a pair of 25º banked corners in the infield with a back straightaway, built a new grandstand there and all of a sudden became a 1/2-mile or 5/8-mile racetrack, would more people be interested?

What if Atlanta, which is a ghost town compared to ten years ago let alone 20, went a different route, returned the front straightaway to where it once was but had flatter corners, 9º of banking and at 2/3-mile was a slightly bigger Martinsville, would that bring people back to the track?

There are some racetracks that shouldn't change, Indianapolis, Daytona, Pocono and Darlington to name a few but with tracks taking on multi-million dollar renovations, why wouldn't one attempt to downsize? Racetracks are focused on the amenities and that is understandable but the most comfortable seat won't make the race on the track any more enjoyable. If anything, it will only make it easier for fans to nod off if it is a snoozer.

For some reason, someone decided 1.5-mile racetracks were the way to go during the 1990s boom but for some reason the hopes of finding the right track size in terms of speed without needing restrictor plates overlooked the tracks with the best atmospheres. A short track is a bowl of sound. There is no escaping it and you don't go longer than 5 seconds without a car in front of your eyes.

With many pointing out shorter attention spans and millennials and social media, maybe adding artificial breaks to NASCAR races won't do the track but shorter tracks might. There is no down time, no time to catch your breath. The race for the lead is never too big and there is a side-by-side battle for some position every lap.

Think about how some get into motorsports. Fewer people are growing up with a local short track but for those who get to taste motorsports at a grassroots level, the short track is the drink being offered. No one grew up going to a 1.5-mile oval on a Saturday night to see Uncle Todd or cousin Joe race. They likely went to a track no larger than a 1/2-mile and it could be paved or dirt. There is a certain sense of togetherness, of authenticity when it comes to a short track. We are all familiar with it. There are people from Wisconsin to Alabama, Vermont to Arizona who get short track racing and I think that could be what it takes to get people back into the top series of motorsports.

A top series should want to resemble what is going on at a grassroots level. It shouldn't be about aerodynamics and seven-post shaker rigs and simulators. It should be a simple, hard-nosed dogfight for 50 laps or 100 laps or 300 laps. It should be about navigating traffic and never being able to shake your closest competitor. There is a place for the super speedways and the high speeds but there needs to be a balance and for NASCAR and IndyCar has lost some of that. In my mind, a race fan should be able to go to his or her local short track on Saturday night, have a good time and going home knowing the next day he or she will being able to look forward to turning on the television or streaming from a tablet the what they just watched but at a higher level.

What would happen to the excess racetrack and abandoned banking? Tracks could leave it and have it serve as a historical landmark for what the track once way. The old grandstands could be knocked down and allow for a parking lot closer to the racetrack. It could be an expanded camping area.

Millions of dollars are being spent with improving the fan experience in mind but faster Wi-Fi and extra legroom might not be enough. We can get faster Internet and all the room in the world by staying home. The on-track product is what needs to draw people out and if that means turning an intermediate track into a bullring it should be considered.

Winners From While We Were Away
In Andros Trophy news, Benjamin Rivière and Jean-Baptiste Dubourg split the season opening weekend at Val Thorens. Nathanaël Berthon and Franck Lagorce won at Alpe d'Huez while Dubourg picked up another victory in Andorra with Evens Stievenart winning race two from the Pyrenees principality.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 2018 Dakar Rally.
The Supercross season opens its 2018 season from Anaheim.