Friday, December 7, 2018

2018 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited

Our final set of predictions to revisit is the sports car predictions and it is an odd time for a few sports car series. Series are in transition; other series are rebranding. It seems to be a time of movement. Manufactures are stepping up their commitment to series. Teams are moving classes. Some series are trending up; others are trending down. Let's look back on 2018.

1. IMSA: Cadillac does not win more than 50% of the races
Correct! Cadillac won four of ten Prototype races in 2018. The #5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac won at Daytona with Filipe Albuquerque, João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi and Albuquerque and Barbosa got their second victory at Long Beach. The championship winning #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran won at Belle Isle. Cadillac did not win again until the season finale of Petit Le Mans with the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac of Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande and Ryan Hunter-Reay getting the victory.

2. At least two new teams pick up victories in Prototypes
Correct! Three new teams picked up victories in 2018. The first is no surprise, Acura Team Penske! The return of the team and manufacture saw victory come in the fourth race of the season at Mid-Ohio with Ricky Taylor and Hélio Castroneves. The next winner was a bit of a surprise and in a surprise race. JDC-Miller Motorsports won at the 6 Hours of the Glen with Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller. CORE Autosport won the next two races after Watkins Glen with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett.

I think the shocking portion is two of the three teams were global LMP2 cars. Acura was going to be competitive with Team Penske but Mazda fell short and the LMP2 cars, which seemed to have no hope at the start of the season who plenty of races and CORE Autosport was fighting for the championship in the finale. I think Balance of Performance worked in 2018 for the Prototype class.

3. No GTLM team successfully defends a class victory
Wrong! The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner won at Long Beach for the second consecutive year.

Were any other entries close to successfully defending a class victory? The #66 Ford of Joey Hand, Dirk Müller and Sébastien Bourdais were runner-up finishers at Daytona. Outside of that, no winning entry from the year before finished on the podium at that track in 2018. That is peculiar. You would have thought a few teams would finish third a year after winning but that is not the case.

4. WEC: Toyota wins the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans but does not sweep the overall podium
Correct! The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Fernando Alonso won the race and the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López finished second but those were the only two Toyota entries and Rebellion Racing took the final podium spot.

5. Gianmaria Bruni wins more races than Ferrari in 2018
Wrong! Bruni did not win a race in 2018 while Ferrari won once at Silverstone. Bruni was the runner-up finisher at Le Mans and at Shanghai.

6. Less than 50% of the races in 2018 feature a British winner in GTE-Pro
Correct! The only race of five to have a British winner was Silverstone where James Calado won with Alessandro Pier Guidi.

7. ELMS: Each class champion has more than one victory
Wrong! The GTE championship winning #88 Proton Competition Porsche won only once out of six races. GTE had five different winners in six races. The only entry to win multiple times was the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Alex MacDowell, Liam Griffin and Miguel Molina, which won at Circuit Paul Ricard and Silverstone. The #88 Porsche beat the #66 Ferrari for the championship by 7.5 points.

8. There will be fewer victories by American drivers
Correct! There were two American victories in 2018 after five in 2017 and both victories occurred in the same race! John Falb won in the LMP3 class at Spa-Francorchamps in the #2 United Autosports Ligier with Australian Scott Andrews. In GTE, Bret Curtis won in the #80 EbiMotors Porsche with Fabio Babini and Riccardo Pera.

9. A French driver wins at least once in the GTE class
Wrong! There were no French winners in GTE. In fact, in only two races was there a French driver in GTE and it was Raymond Narac, who ran the first two rounds at Circuit Paul Ricard and Monza with EbiMotors. Of course, EbiMotors would win the fifth round of the season at Spa-Francorchamps but American Bret Curtis had taken over for Narac at that point! It was close to happening and yet wasn't close at all!

10. PWC: American automobiles win more GT races than they did in 2017
Wrong! No American manufacture won a GT race in 2018 and mostly because the Callaway Corvette withdrew after one round and worse than that the operation was cut from two to one cars before the season even started, leaving PWC veteran Michael Cooper out of job. This program disintegrating before the start of the season was a big disappointment and blow to the series.

11. The average number of GT entries in SprintX is down by at least two cars
Correct! And it was much worse than I feared. The average number of GT entries for SprintX rounds in 2018 was 14.4 entries, down 10.6 entires from 2018. Yikes!

12. The top five drivers in the GTS championship each win at least one race
Correct! James Sofronas won the overall GTS championship and swept the sprint and SprintX titles in the category. Sofronas won twice in GTS SprintX. Harry Gottsacker was vice-champion in the overall GTS championship and he won twice in SprintX. Ian James won six races, three in each sprint and SprintX and yet he only finished third in the overall GTS championship. Jade Buford was the only other driver besides James to win in each sprint and SprintX with victories at Austin, Portland and Watkins Glen. Lawson Aschenbach won four of the first five GTS sprint races in 2018.

Final Words
IMSA is a deep series. Consider that the champions were Felipe Nasr in his first year and Eric Curran, who is a competent driver and previous champion but I am not sure he would be a top fifteen pick if the prototype drivers were in a draft. Meanwhile, Wayne Taylor Racing does not win until final round and still finishes third in the championship and JDC-Miller Motorsports finishes fourth ahead of the two Team Penske entries and the Daytona winning Mustang Sampling Racing entry and we still have not mentioned the factory-supported Mazda or Nissan efforts.

And that is just Prototype! GT Le Mans has eight entries and eight entries could win in every race. Every GTLM race has the every car on the lead lap for what seems like 90% of it. If you keep running you have a shot at victory in that class. One error could be the difference between a victory and a sixth place finish.

And to round it out is GT Daytona, which will have nine manufactures in 2019! It is a Pro-Am class and it gets the least attention of the three but it is equally as thrilling as the two professional categories.

The only concern for this series is the split of DPi and LMP2 into separate class and what could be a non-existed LMP2 class. There were four LMP2 entries in 2018 and CORE Autosport is taking over the Nissan DPi program and JDC-Miller Motorsports will run two Cadillacs. I am not sure if we will see any LMP2 entries and if we do I think we are looking at something similar to the final year of Prototype Challenges with two or three entries. That isn't a good thing. It is a good thing that CORE and JDC-Miller were able to purchase DPi chassis and can move up to the top class but it doesn't look good when you create a class and no one is there to play.

The World Endurance Championship is in an unfamiliar spot of being in a midseason break in December and not the offseason. This is the transition season and in future years this break will not be as long but it is hard to gauge where the championship is even with three races to go. The battle between the Toyota entries seems closer than most expected. The GTE-Pro championship seems wrapped up with Porsche. Team Project 1 is in prime position for the GTE-Am title after the Dempsey-Proton Racing forfeiture of points after the team was found to have manipulated refueling times, which should be a bigger story than it has been.

LMP2 is the one close championship battle with multiple teams with the two Jackie Chan DC Racing entries split with the Signatech Alpine entry second in the championship.

European Le Mans Series is doing fine. I feel like every year we rehash the fact that it wasn't that long ago the European Le Mans Series was only getting about a dozen entries, had to cancel multiple rounds due to lack of entries and made Petit Le Mans its de facto season finale. The series has come a long way in a short period of time.

Heading in the opposite direction of ELMS, or at least it feels that way, is Pirelli World Challenge or what will be Blancpain GT World Challenge America in 2019. I feel like Pirelli World Challenge completely neglected its identity and it kind of sucks that it has been rebranded with the somewhat sterile Blancpain GT World Challenge moniker.

I am not sure what the series wanted to be but the single driver sprint race format is going to be missed. I don't think this series had to completely shed its sprint race format. I understand why SprintX was introduced and has become the format for the entire series. SprintX races have been enjoyable but I fear this series thinks it is bigger than it is with the decision to have all its races be standalone events and not partner with series such as IndyCar. Things will only get worse before they get better.

That is a bleak note to end on but it is a concerning time for this series.

A positive: Seven-for-twelve on predictions again.