Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pagenaud to Penske, Another Weapon in Chevrolet's Arsenal

For the second consecutive offseason, Roger Penske has stolen the show. Last year it was Juan Pablo Montoya. This year it was Simon Pagenaud as the Frenchman has signed to drive the #22 Team Penske Chevrolet for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

In three seasons driving for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, Pagenaud finished in the top five in the championship each year, winning four races including the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and final Grand Prix of Baltimore and Grand Prix of Houston. The Frenchman now becomes a record-setting fourth full-time driver for Team Penske and the team's first full-time European driver.

Roger Penske is putting all the eggs in his basket as The Captain now employees the drivers who finished first, second, fourth and fifth from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. With so much talent it's only a matter of time before someone doesn't get enough attention and becomes upset. Penske has had power teams before. Al Unser, Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy finished 1-2-3 in the 1994 championship but Tracy was gone the following season, only to return and score less success in 1996 and 1997.

How long will this team be able to hold together? We know Will Power and Pagenaud's history, Juan Pablo Montoya doesn't play second fiddle to anyone and Hélio Castroneves isn't getting any younger as he still hunts his first title and fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. Power is the defending champion. Penske won't fire him but if tension boils over at any point, I would not be surprised if Power's temper forces him to walk away. Castroneves will never be fired. After Al Unser and Rick Mears won their fourth Indianapolis 500s, Penske knows that if he let Castroneves go and he won his fourth elsewhere, it would haunt him the rest of his life. Montoya could retire but I don't think he's going to stop racing anytime soon and I don't see Pagenaud as a here today, gone tomorrow Penske driver. He is 30 and is at the right team for job security. How long can Penske and Tim Cindric keep all these personalities happy? That will be the teams biggest tasks as winning races shouldn't be a problem.

Beyond the scope of Team Penske there is the Real Madrid-esque, Chevrolet driver line-up (yes I realize Chevrolet sponsors Manchester United but they aren't doing too hot right now). If the 2014 driver line-ups from this point going forward are retained for 2015, Chevrolet's thirteen drivers combine for 168 IndyCar victories. The ten Honda drivers would combine for 29 IndyCar victories, 14 at the hands of Ryan Hunter-Reay.  Chevrolet's top two drivers all have more victories than the ten Honda drivers combine for (Dixon 35, Bourdais 32) and Castroneves is on equal terms at 29. Chevrolet could add three more wins to their total if KV Racing is able to sign James Hinchcliffe, who could also stay with Honda and fill Pagenaud's shoes at Schmidt Peterson.

With Pagenaud gone, the only Honda drivers with victories from 2014 are Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Huertas. No offense but Honda can have all their hopes and expectations on the 2012 IndyCar champion and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Hunter-Reay and while Huertas proved competency in 2014, I wouldn't put all my chips on the Colombian winning again in 2015. Hinchcliffe won three times in 2013 before going winless this past year despite having the third best average starting position. Carlos Muñoz and Marco Andretti both finished in the top ten in the 2014 championship but were winless. Justin Wilson had one top five in 2014, Mikhail Aleshin and Jack Hawksworth each got on the podium in Houston 2 but nether scored another top five finish in the other 17 races while Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal have rarely found success the last two seasons.

Honda is in trouble. They have become Leeds United (minus the relegation to Pro Mazda and deep, deep financial issues). Hunter-Reay is pulling the boat all by himself, by his teeth. No other Honda driver has proven to be a consistent winner as Hunter-Reay. Honda ended 2014 on a six race winless streak, their longest losing streak since 2003 when they failed to win once in the final eight IRL races that season.

Honda needs a splash. While there are no factory teams in IndyCar, Honda has to step on their support of their floundering IndyCar teams. But who could hire? They aren't signing Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais or Power away from their Chevrolet teams. They lost Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and their rising star Josef Newgarden. Bryan Herta Autosport is hanging on by a thread as Jack Hawksworth appears to be heading to AJ Foyt Racing to become the Texan's second driver.

There are plenty of drivers on the market. Gabby Chaves just won the Indy Lights title, Conor Daly is all-in on IndyCar for 2015 and Stefan Wilson is trying to make the jump to IndyCar with Fan Force United. Would enticing Sam Hornish, Jr. to return to IndyCar be a saving grace for Honda? Oriol Servià, Luca Filippi, Martin Plowman, JR Hildebrand and Katherine Legge are all other free agents but do any of them have the capability to take the fight to the Chevrolet juggernaut? To me, no.

Take a shot on someone. Daniel Ricciardo is being paid about $1 million to be Red Bull's second driver. He's earned himself a raise but if you're Honda, put $5 million on the table and create a bidding war with Red Bull. We know they have the funding to pay Ricciardo but with Vettel linked to McLaren and Ferrari, all the money might be put on the German instead of the Australian. Kevin Magnussen is being paid just a little more than Ricciardo and he could be one-and-done with the team from Woking like Sergio Pérez last year. Jean-Éric Vergne is losing his Scuderia Toro Rosso seat but I doubt he can be one to help turn the Honda train around. Maybe Honda looks to the ladder series GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5. Jolyon Palmer, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanaway are promising while Daniel Abt is going to test with Andretti Autosport and Dale Coyne Racing next month. What's the worst thing that could happen with any of these drivers above? They say no? Contacting them, making an offer and being rejected at least looks better than appearing to be sitting in the corner, twiddling your thumbs as your rival bulks up their arsenal.

Looking at the current advantage Chevrolet has you really have to wonder how committed Honda is to IndyCar. Something has to change to show the Japanese manufacture is remotely interested in trying to compete with the defending triple manufactures' champions. Other than Andretti Autosport, Honda is in desperate need of building their teams into powerhouses, with their second and third teams matching the might of Chevrolet's second and third teams, Ganassi and CFH Racing.

Honda needs to spend now on talent or face the possibility of being run out of IndyCar in the next three years. Entering 2015 after losing half a dozen races to end 2014 was bad enough but with Hunter-Reay as their only hope, 2015 could be an even more difficult year for Honda, the manufacture that ran every competitor out of the series less than a decade ago.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: All Things Must Pass

What I learned this weekend: No good news ever breaks on Friday night but that's another story. MotoGP proved once again that they will put on a good show anywhere in any conditions. NASCAR artificially eliminated some drivers and I struggled with geoblocking for another week. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Scheduling Nightmare
I have hit the end of my rope when it comes to IndyCar scheduling.

The series is trying to squeeze all these races into a finite amount of time and not taking into consideration the tracks as they try to put on the best event possible. Houston should have never taken place in June and Fontana should have never taken place Labor Day weekend. Houston is now gone and Fontana wants to move to June when I guess the heat is more bearable than late-August/early-September. Let's not forget Pocono, which is looking for a new date after struggling this year on 4th of July weekend; Toronto, which for one year and one year only needs a new date due to the Pan American Games being hosted in the city in mid-July; Texas, whose attendance continues to fall despite remaining consistently in early-June since 1997 and Iowa, which was in July this year with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series but the Truck have already announced their race will be in June in 2015 so it looks like the IndyCar date will shift once again.

Ratings were up this year with the condensed schedule but I believe the condensing had nothing to do with the increase, rather the consistency in racing practically every week during this past summer. IndyCar raced on seven of nine weekends between the months of July and August this year. In 2013, IndyCar raced on four of eight weekends between the months of July and August and each month had a two week break between races. Let's not forget the month off from Baltimore Labor Day weekend to Houston at the beginning of October.

IndyCar couldn't afford to take a month off during their season, so instead of filling the gap that was the month of September, they moved everything up, creating a non-stop sprint of a season for the teams from the end of March to the end of August, ending in time for the start of the football season. But now here we stand, trying to take the dozen and a half race weekends are trying to shift them around the two dozen possibly weekends IndyCar has allowed for themselves.

While ratings were up, attendance was down at Fontana and the Fontana rating was down and that race is now on life support. It would be one thing if IndyCar owned Fontana and was swallowing the loss but that's not the case. As much as IndyCar thinks ending before the start of football was the cause for the ratings increase, it wasn't and it is tying the hands of promoters behind their backs. You can't expect Fontana to break even and be happy about losing money when it feels like the race is taking place on the face of the sun and everyone is staying home. IndyCar is not in a position to twist arms to get tracks to do what they want. There isn't a line of tracks lining up to host IndyCar races when Fontana drops off because they can't get a realistic date to host the race on. The obsession to end by Labor Day is making it a matter of when tracks drop IndyCar, not if. When Fontana drops IndyCar and when Texas drops IndyCar and when Pocono drops IndyCar and when Toronto drops IndyCar, no one will be waiting to take their places.

Instead of playing hardball, IndyCar needs to realize consistently running week in and week out from early-March to mid-October will produce the same results as cramming everything in six months. Finding races is easier said than done but there has to be places willing to deal. If you can't find places wanting to host a September race in North America, look to Europe after the Italian Grand Prix. A quarter of the grid is European. There has to be someone who is interested in making a deal. My dream European road trip would include a doubleheader with DTM at EuroSpeedway Lausitz with IndyCar on the oval and the touring cars on the road course. Then a second European race could go anywhere. Head to Le Mans and run the Bugatti Circuit, head to anyone of Italy's fine circuits (Imola or Mugello), with three Brits the United Kingdom would seem like a safe bet.

But IndyCar won't change their mind. It's made it's bed and the increase in ratings supports their decision but what happens when they start shedding races like a Siberian Husky shedding it's coat?

If You're Going to Do It
I don't like the Chase. I think it's worn out it's welcome and I don't think NASCAR believes in the Chase either but are just going along with it. Think about. If NASCAR believed in the Chase, why wouldn't use it in all their series? When things worked in other series, they adopted it across the board. Green-white-checkered finishes, the lucky dog, double-file restarts, the points system, all adopted across the board but the Chase has yet to trickle it's way down. But I digress.

NASCAR wanted to have the championship come down to the final race and it's done that for it's first ten editions. That wasn't good enough though for the NASCAR hierarchy even though it set out to do what it was meant to do. They changed the Chase to guarantee four drivers will have a shot at the title in the final race and whoever finishes better is the champion, even if the four contenders finish 25th, 29th, 35th and 40th (an extreme example, I know but not at all impossible).

With the second round of the Chase set, I don't understand how after awarding three points for each victory in the regular season, victories in the Chase, NASCAR's playoff, are now worth nothing and all twelve remaining drivers sit equally on 3,000 points. This system was suppose to reward winning even more but A. you can still win the championship with out winning a race and B. the likes of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jeff Gordon win in the first round and are seen as equal as those who did not win. I understand the victory in the Chase locks a driver into the next round but I think each victory should provide a driver with some type of cover.

Give out 15 points for each victory in the Chase. A victory would now provide a driver with a little bit of a security blanket in the next round and give those you advanced on points a challenge to overcome if they want to advance. Plus, it gives a driver a great reason to try and sweep a round. They could have a 45-point cushion entering the next round, almost insuring their spot in the following round.

I've always felt the championship leader after the first 26 races should get rewarded. Jeff Gordon deserved more for his first 13/18th's of the season. NASCAR might be trying to put consistency by the wayside but it has to be acknowledged and if NASCAR is trying to copy every other American sport, rewarding the championship leader after the first 26 races with a "first round-bye" is the most logical decision they can make. Don't give the driver a guaranteed spot in the next round but give them a 50-point bonus on top of the bonus points they get for their victories to make it difficult for them to be knocked out it round one.

Anyway, one round of knock outs down. No surprises, A.J. Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola are done. Seven races to go. Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega comprise round two.

Random Thoughts
What a MotoGP race from Aragón! Late rain provided everyone with a thrilling finish. The Hondas of Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa both fell due to wet conditions and it handed the victory to Jorge Lorenzo while Aleix Espargaró scored his first career premier class podium and Cal Crutchlow took a surprise third place finish. This was possibly the race of the year.

Unlike in Formula One where the engineers tell the drivers how to drive, in MotoGP it's all on the rider and Márquez's and Pedrosa's decision to try and brave the elements, pushing the dry weather bikes beyond their capability as the track turned into a slip and slide was hair raising and mind-boggling. If I was in charge of the Honda pit board I would have put out a message saying, "Pit You Idiot!" Márquez has built such a great margin of error in the championship but imagine if he had got hurt in that accident. He could have committed championship suicide. I want competitors to take risks but after Pedrosa went down going into turn one, he should have dived into the pit lane immediately. Let's mark that as a lesson learned.

There should be one Dover race and it should be 300 laps. I never got to see a Dover race when it was 500 laps but 400 is still too many. What track do I think should get that vacated Dover date? Iowa or actually save Rockingham with a Cup date.

Why does NASCAR still run the Vegas Truck race in September? They aren't paired with IndyCar anymore and for a series that has two, one-month gaps early in their schedule, wouldn't it make sense to just tack it on the Cup weekend in March?

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jorge Lorenzo and Jeff Gordon but did you know...

Tomoki Nojiri won his first career Super Formula race at Sportsland SUGO. It was Honda's first win of the season. Kazuki Nakajima finish second and took the championship lead. Loïc Duval finished third.

Mattias Ekström won the DTM race at Zandvoort. It was Audi's first of the season.

Maverick Viñales won the Moto2 race from Aragón. Romano Fenati won in Moto3.

Thiago Camillo won race one and Raphael Matos won race two at Santa Cruz do Sul. It was Matos' first career Stock Car Brasil victory.

Kyle Busch won the Nationwide race at Dover. Erik Jones won the Truck race at Las Vegas.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One heads to Suzuka.
IMSA closes out it's first reunified season with Petit Le Mans.
NASCAR returns to Kansas.
WRC is in France for Rallye de Alsace.
After two months off, WTCC returns to race at the Goldenport Park Circuit in Beijing, China.
Super GT runs their penultimate race from the Buriram United International Circuit in Thailand.
World Superbike heads to Magny-Cours for their penultimate round of 2014.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Five: SUGO, Zandvoort, Santa Cruz do Sul, Aragón and Dover

Two series head into their penultimate races, one championship is already decided while the other is still anyone's championship. Three other major series will be on track this weekend to close out the month of September. Let's start in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Anyone's Ballgame in Super Formula
With 29 points points still available in the final two rounds of the 2014 Super Formula season, everyone (even you and me) are still mathematically eligible for the championship. Brazilian João Paulo de Oliveira leads the championship with 29 points from two victories, a second, third and a seventh from the first six races. He leads 2014 throwback driver of the year André Lotterer by 2.5 points. The busy German has split his 2014 season between Super Formula, winning Le Mans and competing as an Audi factory driver in the FIA World Endurance Championship while finding the time to make his debut in Formula One at the Belgian Grand Prix for Caterham. Lotterer has two Super Formula victories but missed the Motegi round to drive at Spa-Francorchamps.

Four points behind de Oliveira is Lotterer's teammate, current Toyota factory driver and former Williams F1 driver and this year's winner of the Suzuka 1000km Kazuki Nakajima. He won at Fuji Speedway in July. Loïc Duval is 8.5 points behind de Oliveira and won the season opener at Suzuka.

Other notable names competing in Super Formula are former Super Aguri and Honda F1 test driver and Nakajima's co-winner in this year's Suzuka 1000km James Rossiter, who is seventh in the championship with 15.5 points. João Paulo de Oliveira's teammate is former Formula One driver and NASCAR Truck Series driver Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian has scored 4.5 points. Former Indy Lights winner and 2008 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Hideki Mutoh has scored four points this season. Former Red Bull and Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Vitantonio Liuzzi has scored 1.5 points this season.

Super Formula heads to Sportsland SUGO which is one of de Oliveira's worst tracks. In six starts, his best finish is sixth and has failed to score points on four appearance. Duval has three wins, six podiums and has scored in all seven starts at SUGO. Lotterer has made 11 starts with one win and five podiums at the track and was the sight of his first Super Formula pole in 2003. Nakajima has only made three starts at SUGO with finishes of third and fifth and retired from the race last year.

Just for Fun at Zandvoort
Marco Wittmann has locked up the 2014 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship, as the other drivers fight to better there championship position in the final two rounds at Zandvoort and Hockenheim.

Oschersleben winner Christian Vietoris is second in the championship with 59 points, three ahead of Audi drivers Mattias Ekström and Edoardo Mortara. Last year's champions Mike Rockenfeller is two points behind his fellow Audi drivers. Audi is still looking for their first victory in 2014. Bruno Spengler is sixth in the championship and is still looking for his first victory in 2014. The Canadian has not gone winless in a season since 2009. Pascal Wehrlein jumped to seventh in the championship after winning at Lausitz two weeks ago. With 40 points, Wehrlein is two behind Spengler and one ahead of Moscow winner Maxime Martin and last year's championship runner-up and defending Zandvoort race winner Augusto Farfus. Norisring winner Robert Wickens is tenth in the championship, three behind Wehrlein and one ahead of Adrien Tambay.

In thirteen Zandvoort races, Audi has seven victories, Mercedes five and Farfus' victory last year was BMW's first at the Dutch track in DTM. Ekström and Gary Pafffet lead all drivers with three Zandvoort victories apiece. Ekström's last came in 2008 while Paffett won back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010. Paffett has scored four points this season, matching the 2003 as a personal low.

Anyone's Ball Game in Stock Car Brasil
One hundred and sixty-five points remain on the table with four rounds, seven races left in the 2014 Stock Car Brasil season. Átila Abreu leads the championship with only 145.5 points but, just like Super Formula, everyone is still mathematically eligible for the championship. Abreu's lone victory this season came at Brasilia, a future destination for IndyCar and he scored only his fourth podium from fourteen races at Velopark a fortnight ago.

Second in the championship, trailing by 6.5 points is Rubens Barrichello. Rubinho has two victories and four podiums this season. Five-time Stock Car Brasil champion Cacá Bueno is 18.5 points behind Abreu but Bueno is still winless in 2014. Sérgio Jimenez is fourth, 24.5 points back with two-time race winner this season Thiago Camilo rounding out the top five of the championship, trailing Abreu by 39. Defending champion Ricardo Maurício is sixth in the championship after winning two of the last three races, 44 points back.

When the series first visited Santa Cruz do Sul on Palm Sunday earlier this year, Valdeno Brito and former Formula One and IndyCar driver Antônio Pizzonia splitting the weekend. There have been ten different winners from fourteen races so far this Stock Car Brasil season.

And Then There Were Four
With five races remaining, only four riders are mathematically eligible for 2014 world championship but Marc Márquez has a stranglehold in his title defense. Seventy-four points clear of his Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, Márquez has won eleven from thirteen and is the defending winner at Aragón. Coming off his victory at Misano, Valentino Rossi is seventy-five points behind Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo is the final driver with a shot of dethroning Márquez, 112 points back.

Márquez can't clinch the title in his homeland but he can come within one point of a second consecutive world title with a win and some misfortune to Pedrosa and Rossi. If Márquez wins, Pedrosa fails to score and Rossi scores one point or less at Aragón, the Catalan rider will have a 99-point lead with a maximum of 100 points to possibly be scored. Pedrosa and Rossi have yet to retire from a race this year but Pedrosa did retire at Aragón last year after high siding on lap six. Lorenzo has finished runner-up in the last four races and has finished runner-up at Aragón the last two years.

First Round of Eliminations from Dover
Team Penske has guaranteed both their drivers will move on to the second round of the Chase with Joey Logano winning at New Hampshire a week after Brad Keselowski won at Chicagoland.

Kevin Harvick is all but locked into the next round as he sits 41 points ahead of thirteenth. Jimmie Johnson is 31 points clear. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch are both 28 points to the good and Jeff Gordon is 21 points ahead of thirteenth.

Twelve points cover 8th to 16th in the championship. Carl Edwards and his former and future teammate Matt Kenseth are eight points ahead of thirteenth. A.J. Allmendinger is seven ahead and Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne occupy the final two spots, both six ahead of Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle who are tied for thirteenth. Kurt Busch is eight points out of a the top twelve and Aric Almirola trails twelfth by ten points.

Of the fourteen drivers not guaranteed to advance, eight have won at Dover before (Johnson, Kenseth, Kyle and Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, Jr, Gordon, Newman and Biffle). A non-Chase driver has never won the Chase race at Dover.

MotoGP coverage for the Aragón Grand Prix begins at 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports 1 with the lights going out at 8:00 a.m. ET.

ESPN's coverage of the Dover race will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday.


1. Over or Under: 1.5 Japanese drivers on the Sportsland SUGO podium? At least one Japanese driver has finished on the podium of every Super Formula race so far this season with Fuji featuring an all-Japanese podium.
2. Over or Under: 1.5 Audi drivers on the Zandvoort podium? In the last ten races from the Dutch track, Audi has averaged 2.1 drivers on the podium.
3. Over or Under: 0.5 drivers getting their first win of the Stock Car Brasil season at Santa Cruz do Sul?
4. Over or Under:1.5 Ducatis finishing in the top five?
5. Over or Under: 52.5 laps being the length of the average green flag run at Dover? In the last ten Dover races, the average green flag run has been 52.9 laps.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There were only 2 manufactures on the overall 1000km Nürburgring (Audi and Mercedes).
2. Under: Dane Cameron leads GTD by 4 points over Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil.
3. Over: The GTM-Am winning #98 Aston Martin ran 87.89% of the total amount of laps.
4. Over: There were four lead changes at Singapore.
5. Over: Corey Lajoie ran 201 laps on his Cup series debut.

1. There will be a new Super Formula championship leader after Sportsland SUGO.
2. Second time is the charm, Audi gets their first DTM victory of 2014 at Zandvoort.
3. Someone whose first name begins with the letter "R" will win a race at Santa Cruz do Sul.
4. Nicky Hayden scores a top ten finish on his MotoGP return from wrist surgery.
5. Greg Biffle advances to round two of the Chase.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Of the three class winners, two will feature first time winners in 2014 at the 1000km Nürburgring. (Wrong. Only one first time winner at Nürburgring, the Gentlemen Trophy winning #22 Audi of Team Parker Racing with drivers Ian Loggie and Julian Westwood).
2. Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende win in PC. (Massively wrong. They were the first team to retire after eight laps).
3. An American will be a part of a winning team in the 6 Hours at Circuit of the Americas. (Wrong. Best finishing American in class was Scott Sharp and Ed Brown with Ryan Dalziel finishing 3rd in LMP2).
4. Felipe Massa gets back-to-back podium finishes for the first time since the 2010 Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix. (Wrong. Massa finished 5th in Singapore).
5. Three non-Chase drivers will finish in the top ten at Loudon. (Correct! Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Brian Vickers all finished in the top ten). 
Overall: 1/5. Running Tally: 3.5/10

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's 2014 Season

For the next eleven Wednesdays, we will look back on how each team faired in 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season starting with the bottom of the championship, working our way to the top.

We start with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The team began 2014 with a gust of wind behind their sails, landing the National Guard sponsorship and over $12 million in funding for the #15 Honda driven by Graham Rahal. RLLR looked to be a taking step in the right direction with the National Guard deal and landing two of the best engineers from Dale Coyne Racing in Bill Pappas and John Dick. Expanding to two cars seemed very possible as Oriol Servià secured four of the first five races with hopes of expanding his role in the #16 Honda. However, 2014 proved to go very little in the direction RLLR had planned it.

Graham Rahal
The first day of the season was promising for Rahal. Ninth in the first practice and second in the second was a great start but when the rains came on Saturday, it was just the first sign that 2014 would be like going upstream without a paddle for the Ohio-based team. By causing a red flag in the first round, Rahal lost his best two lap times, relegating him to the last row on the grid for the race and fighting the first of many uphill battles in 2014. He would manage to pick up seven positions from twenty-first on the grid for a fourteenth place finish, a norm for him throughout the season.

Rahal ended with an average finish of 15th in 2014 with top tens being a rare occurrence for the 25-year old. He limbed into the practice for Indianapolis 500 with his best finish being a thirteenth at Long Beach, his best start being twelfth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis which ended prematurely due to an accident on a restart with Juan Pablo Montoya.

When practice for the "500" began, Rahal was never faster than 20th in any of the sessions while his teammate Servià was quicker than him on four of six days and ended up out qualifying Rahal by starting on the outside of row six and Rahal ended up in the middle of row seven. While the man to Rahal's inside on the grid would go on to win the Indianapolis 500, Rahal would be the first man to retire from the 98th running of the race after 44 laps because of an electrical issue.

Heading into June, Rahal sat 24th in the championship, nine points behind Servià who missed St. Petersburg and was out of ride and a point behind Kurt Busch who had just completed his first (and maybe only) IndyCar race. At Belle Isle, Rahal was in the top ten in each session leading up to race one and picked up his first top ten start of the season in ninth. He and his team worked pit strategy into their favor, led 10 laps on the day and were challenging Will Power for the victory, only to fall 0.331 seconds short, the second closest finish in 2014. The momentum from that podium would be squashed almost immediately in race two as Rahal was caught up in the first lap incident that Power caused after getting into Josef Newgarden, leaving Rahal and Justin Wilson as collateral damage. Rahal would finish 21st and complete only 43 laps.

The state of Texas wasn't anymore kind to Rahal. A twelfth place finish after starting twenty-first at Texas, followed by what could have been a podium, if not a race win at Houston 1, only for a lapse of judgement coming to the final restart cost not only Rahal but Tony Kanaan. In race two he could not take advantage of a fourth place starting position and finished 16th. He caused the only caution at Pocono after tapping the wall exiting turn two, finishing 19th.

He benefited from taking tires prior to the final restart at Iowa to finish seventh and picked up a sixth place finish in Toronto 1 but his gearbox let him down in Toronto 2. He made his 125th career start at his home track, Mid-Ohio and gave the his fellow Ohioans a great showing, starting seventh, running in the top ten all day and finishing fifth. He started and finished fourteenth at Milwaukee but had a promising day at Sonoma. Like Belle Isle 1, he worked strategy to his favor and appeared to have a shot of victory if he could save enough fuel. Unfortunately, he fell three laps shy and had a pit lane violation exiting drop him to 20th, despite leading 18 laps on the day.

He started tenth in the season finale at Fontana but faded to nineteenth, five laps down.

Graham Rahal's 2014 Statistics
Championship Positions: 19th (345 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 37
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14.352 (18th in IndyCar)
Average Finish: 15 (20th)

Having regressed each season since 2010, when he finished 9th in the championship, 2014 can only go down as another head scratching year for Rahal. The glorious National Guard funding is now gone as they have pulled all funding from motorsports and he and his father's team are back at square one. In the eight races Rahal had a teammate, he was out qualified on four occasions while Toronto 2 was set by entrant points. Servià finished seventh at Long Beach and was leading the Grand Prix of Indianapolis late before needing to stop for fuel. He finished eleventh in the "500," the team's best finish at Indianapolis since Bertrand Baguette finished seventh in 2011. Luca Filippi ran at Houston and Toronto and despite averaging a 7.666 starting position in those four races, the Italian's retired from two races with his best finish being fifteenth.

While some are writing Rahal off as another next generation let down, let's remember he is 25 years old and will only be 26 when the 2015 season gets underway. To compare him to some of his counterparts, when Ryan Hunter-Reay turned 26 years old, he had been out of racing for a year, having been unemployed the entire 2006 season outside of a few Grand-Am races. He had only two IndyCar victories to his name and his best championship finish was ninth. When Will Power turned 26, he was still over a month away from his first IndyCar victory and his best championship finish was sixth.

While teenage competitors are becoming normal in motorsports around the world, championship success comes more often when drivers are closer to 30. In IndyCar, only 16 times has the champion been younger than 28 years old. Since reunification, the only time the champion under the age of 30 was Scott Dixon in 2008 and he was 28 years old.

If Rahal ever wins another race, he will break Johnny Rutherford's record for most starts between victories (Rahal has made 113 starts since his victory at St. Petersburg, the record is 97). There is plenty of time left for Rahal to turn his career around but he will have to get the funding to keep his career going for the near future first.

I hate to think that all of RLLR's struggle have coincided with the passing of long time team executive Scott Roembke. The team made a successful comeback to IndyCar in 2012 with Takuma Sato. Despite finishing fourteenth in the championship, Sato had two podiums while coming close at victories at Long Beach, Indianapolis, Baltimore and Fontana and the team appeared ready to take the next step and return to their status of an elite team. Roembke passed away just five days prior to the 2012 season finale and ever since then, full-time RLLR teams have only managed 18th, 19th and 19th in the championship with three podiums combined and are still looking for a victory. The major additions in 2014, Pappas and Dick are gone as is Mitch Davis as the once-Indianapolis 500 winning team can only go up after finishing in the cellar in 2015.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: The End of Summer

Championships were turned on their ears this weekend, from under the lights at Singapore and Austin to the damp Eifel forest. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Lack of Thoughts
I really didn't have much on my mind this weekend. A few things but nothing that expanded into a thought experiment which this blog isn't afraid to explore.

Overall, I am a little somber as that was the final weekend of summer. I love autumn but I feel bad for it because some live and die for days at the beach, days that seem to never end and grilling on a Sunday afternoon. When autumn rolls in and I walk out to a brisk morning I wonder what it was like at Watkins Glen when it hosted the United States Grand Prix around this time of year. This is a great time of the year for a race. The weather isn't too hot, nor is it too cold. Unfortunately, here in the States, IndyCar is over, sports cars has one race left and NASCAR has eight weeks left. The United States Grand Prix is back in autumn but Austin isn't the same as Watkins Glen. It's legacy is still growing and we will talk more about Austin more in a minute.

With only nine days left in September, the focus changes to October then seeing my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And with motorsports, championships coming to an end, major races such as Bathurst, the Gulf 12 Hours and then a New Year and a new chapter to be written.

Just a house keeping note: Starting this Wednesday will be the first of eleven weekly team-by-team reviews from the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Stay tuned.

How Many Hours of Motorsports Do I Watch A Year?
This question came to me Saturday, halfway through the WEC race from Austin. I had already watched two hours and forty-five minutes of IMSA action, not to mention watched the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race simultaneously with IMSA and an hour of Formula One qualifying. And believe it or not, that seemed like a light day. 

I remember coming in from a run this past January, turning the Dubai 24 Hour on at 6:00 a.m. ET and leaving it on until I went to bed at midnight. The Bathurst 12 Hour I had on when it started at 2:00 p.m. ET and left it on until the finish but passed out with just under two hours to go and woke up about a half hour after the race had ended to find out the results and shut down my laptop after doing it's own 12 hour stint. 

The only Formula One races I've missed this year was Silverstone because I was attending the Pocono IndyCar race. Other than the early part of the first Belle Isle race, I didn't miss a beat of IndyCar action. The only bit of the MotoGP season I have missed was the closing laps at Assen. Through four World Endurance Championship races, I've missed about six hours total and that was to catch some sleep during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I even watched a little bit of the Suzuka 1000km because the IndyCar season finale went so late, I was already up and thought, "why not?" I haven't religiously watched NASCAR for sometime but can honestly say I thoroughly invested in at least a dozen Cup races this year including the last three. 

Ever since CBSSN got the television rights to DTM and the Blancpain GT Series I followed those series on live timing and scoring because their online coverage has been geo-blocked. Thankfully no one has bought European Le Mans Series rights because I caught three of four races, only missing Imola. I caught majority of the Pirelli World Challenge season and watched a handful of hours of the Spa 24 Hours online. 

What's the point of all this?  Do I have a problem? Here is how I am going to argue against it not being a problem: It has not affected my work. It has not affected my health or personal life. It pretty much all happens on the weekends and I could have plenty or worse habits. 

Motorsports are something that I enjoy following. There are plenty of other sports I follow closely and spend hours watching but while it's common to hear about people you spend entire Saturdays and Sundays watching college football and the National Football League or those who never miss one of their Major League Baseball teams' 162 games or the 82 games in the National Hockey League or National Basketball Association, who many people spending hours watching motorsports? 

Next year, I plan on devoutly tracking my motorsports viewing habits because I am genuinely curious. 

During every Formula One race, NBCSN plugs the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of the Americas and promote buying tickets and that's great. We need a race in this country and that consistent reminder hopefully draws people to Austin for Halloween and the first two days of November. I've wanted to go to Austin each year but haven't. One, because I still hold out hope of the Grand Prix of Americas takes place in my home state of New Jersey, that way I avoid the costs of air travel and hotels. New Jersey may never host a race, I realize that but part of me always holds out hope. 

I decided to look into tickets for this year's race. While the past two years I have been busy with work and the race weekend doesn't fall at a good time of the year for me, I think about carpe diem. I'm not going to live forever and seeing as I am still young with no responsibilities other than keeping myself alive, I should take advantage of every opportunity I get now because there is no guarantee they will be there when I get older and if I ever have a family, all hopes and dreams I have will be sacrificed to the back burner for sometime. 

Right after Leigh Diffey made the plug during the Singapore Grand Prix, I went to COTA's website and all plans to make this year the year for the Austin pilgrimage were thrown into the trash can. Race day general admission: $151.02. Want a grandstand seat? It will cost you $263.62. I know I brought up carpe diem but I can't shell out that type of money just to get through the gate! At least not at this point in my life. I would still need to get a flight and room for a night and those are going to easily combine for over $500. 

I know Bernie Ecclestone is basically performing financial sodomy on pretty much every track with outrageous sanctioning fees and they have to make up the deficit somehow but with attendance down at traditional Formula One stalwarts such as Germany and the television ratings going down in many countries, gouging wallets isn't going to bring fans back or draw new ones in. If someone who loves motorsports and Formula One as much as me isn't going to drop over $150 to go to the races, what makes you think someone who is curious about giving Formula One a shot but knows very little about it will? 

There is a reason (mostly likely of my age) I am not in charge of anything but doesn't it make more sense to have a reasonable general admission price, say $40 and hope to draw more people? If general admission was $40, I'd be at Austin in a heartbeat and I am sure those who are interested in giving Formula One a shot would because it's practical. 

If tracks are struggling to make a profit, maybe they should negotiate with Ecclestone, as tough as that may be, for a slice of the ginormous television revenue pie or lower sanctioning fees; not try and drain the well that is the fan base. 

Champions From the Weekend
Laurens Vanthoor won the Blancpain Endurance Series PRO Cup as his #1 Beligan Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS Ultra won the 1000km Nürburgring with co-drivers César Ramos and Christopher Mies. Vanthoor ends 2014 with back-to-back victory after winning the 2014 Spa 24 Hours in July.

Andrea Rizzoli and Stefano Gai won the PRO-AM Cup with a third place finish in class. The #12 TDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 of Henry Hassid and Nick Catsburg won the PRO-AM class at the Nürburgring, their second victory of the season. 

Peter Mann and Francisco Guedas held on to win the Gentlemen Trophy despite a seventh place finish in class. The #22 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 LMS of Ian Loggie and Julien Westwood won the Gentlemen Trophy class at the Nürburgring, their first victory of the season.

With a second place finish in the Prototype Challenge class at Austin, the #54 CORE Autosport pairing of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett locked up the PC championship with a race to go. Sean Rayhall and Luiz Díaz won their second consecutive PC race in the #25 8Star Motorsports entry.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened from the Nürburgring and in the PC class from Austin but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Singapore Grand Prix and took over the World Drivers' Championship lead by three points over teammate Nico Rosberg after the German retired due to electrical issues.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR race at New Hampshire and joins his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski as the only two drivers locked into the second round of the Chase.

The #2 Audi of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler won at Austin their second consecutive race of the WEC season and closed the gap to the #8 Toyota of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre to 11 points. Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke won in GTE-Pro, Aston Martin's first GTE-Pro win in 2014. Matthew Howson, Richard Bradley and Tsugio Matsuda and the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan won in LMP2. The #98 Aston Martin of Christoffer Nygaard, Pedro Lamy and Paul Dalla Lana won in GTE-Am. 

Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won in IMSA at Austin, there third win of the season. The #93 Viper of Jonathan Bomarito and Kuno Wittmer won in GTLM, their second victory of the season and will take a 7-point championship lead to Road Atlanta over Antonio García. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating made it a Viper-sweep of the GT classes as their #33 Viper GT3-R won their second race of the season. 

Brendan Gaughan won the Nationwide race at Kentucky, his second of the season. Cole Custer became the youngest winner in a NASCAR national touring series by winning the Truck race from Loudon at 16 years, 7 months and 28 days old.

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP at Aragón.
NASCAR at Dover.
Super Formula has their penultimate round from Sportsland SUGO.
DTM has their penultimate race of their lame duck season from Zandvoort.
Stock Car Brasil heads to Santa Cruz do Sul.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Qualifying Two Step From Austin

The United SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship both completed qualifying this evening for their doubleheader tomorrow at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Alex Brundle won pole position in the #42 OAK Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan with a lap of 1:57.809. It is OAK Racing's second pole of the season and their first since Watkins Glen. Ricky Taylor will start second after the #10 Corvette DP came 0.834 seconds back. Memo Rojas qualified third in the #01 Ford-Riley, over a second back of Brundle. Championship leader Chrisitan Fittipaldi put the #5 Action Express Corvette DP fourth on the grid. Johannes van Overbeek rounded out the top five in the #2 HPD ARX 03b of Extreme Speed Motorsports.

Sean Rayhall won pole position for the PC class with a lap at 2:00.528. The #25 8Star Motorsports driver is coming off a win at VIR last month and was over a half a second quicker than the PC championship leader Colin Braun in the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca. RSR Racing driver Bruno Junqueira qualified third followed by the Starworks drivers John Martin and Renger van der Zande.

Porsche's Austin all-star pairing of Patrick Pilet and Frédéric Makowiecki had won GTLM pole in the #910 Porsche RSR with a lap of 2:03.302 but after missing a camera pod on the roof, the #910 Porsche will lose their pole position. . Second in the GTLM championship, the #93 Viper driver Jonathan Bomarito will inherit pole position. The #911 and #912 Porsche move to second and third with Nick Tandy and Patrick Long behind the wheel. Marc Goossens rounded out the top four in the #91 Viper.

The #56 Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW of John Edwards qualified fifth followed by his teammate Andy Priaulx in the #55 BMW Z4 GTE. The #3 Corvette of championship lead Antonio García will start seventh after Jan Magnussen qualified the car. Wolf Henzler qualified eighth in the #17 Team Falken Tire Porsche with the #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin in ninth. The winner of the last two races, Pierre Kaffer and the #62 Risi Competizione starts tenth in GTLM.

James Davison put the #007 Aston Martin V12 Vantage on GTD pole with a time of 2:08.502. Jeroen Bleekmolen qualified second in the Viper GT3-R, 0.312 seconds behind the Australian. One of the three GTD championship co-leaders, Dane Cameron and the #300 Turner Motorsport BMW Z4 starts third. Runner-up in the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge GT championship, Mike Skeen qualified fourth in the #71 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT America. Kuba Giermaziak rounded out the top five in the #30 NGT Motorsport Porsche. The other co-GTD championship leaders Townsend Bell in the #555 AIM Autosport Ferrari 458 Italia and Leh Keen in the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche will start fifteenth and sixteenth respectively in class.

The World Championship leading #8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Lapierre won their first pole position of the 2014 season for the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas. They put together a four-lap average of 1:49.093, over a second quicker than their nearest competitor. The #14 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb and the #20 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley will start second and third respectively. Le Mans winners, the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of Marcel Fässler, André Lotterer and Benoît Tréluyer will start fourth ahead of the #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Alexander Wurz and Stéphane Sarrazin. The #1 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Tom Kristensen and Loïc Duval will start sixth.

The #26 Ligier JS P2-Nissan of G-Drive Racing won LMP2 pole with a four-lap average of 1:56.075 with drivers Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov. The Oreca 03R-Nissan of KCMG will start second in class with drivers Richard Bradley, Matthew Howson and Tsugio Matsuda. The #30 HPD ARX 03b of Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp and Ed Brown qualified third in class ahead of the SMP Racing Orecas. The #27 of LMP2 championship leader Sergey Zlobin, Nicolas Minassian and Maurizo Mediani start fourth and the #37 of Anton Ladygin, Kirll Ladygin and Viktor Shaitar round out the class.

The GT World Championship leaders of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander won pole position in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia, their third consecutive GTE-Pro pole. They won with a four-lap average of 2:06.456. Stefan Mücke and Darren Turner will start second in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage V8. The #91 Porsche 911 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet will start third with their teammates, the #92 Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister and Nick Tandy joining them on row two. The #99 Aston Martin of Alex MacDowall, Fernando Rees and Darryl O'Young rounded out the GTE-Pro top five. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Davide Rigon starts sixth with the #65 Corvette of Tommy Milner, Ricky and Jordan Taylor starting last in GTE-Pro.

The #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche of Emmanuel Collard, Matthieu Vaxiviére and François Perrodo won a surprise pole position in GTE-Am with a four-lap of average 2:08.271. It is the first time this season a AF Corse Ferrari is not on GTE-Am pole. The GTE-Am championship leading #95 Aston Martin of David Heinemeier Hansson, Kristian Poulsen and Richie Stanaway qualified second. The #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Mirko Venturi, Marco Cioci and Luís Pérez Companc start third with the #90 8Star Motorsports Ferrari of Jeff Segal, Gianluca Roda and Paolo Ruberti starting fourth. The #81 AF Corse made it three Ferraris in the top five with Andrea Bertolini, Michelo Rugolo and Stephan Wyatt behind the wheel.

The IMSA Lone Star Le Mans will be at 12:30 p.m. ET tomorrow with the 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas at 6:00 p.m. ET. Both races can be seen live on Fox Sports 2.

Friday Five: Nürburgring, Austin, Singapore and Loudon

Another weekend sees a championship come to an end, a series run it's penultimate round, a stop at Asia-Pacific's top hot spot, a trip for New England clam chowder and a championship just reaching their halfway point despite it being the final weekend of summer.

1000km Nürburgring
We will start with the championship deciding round of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series, the 1000km Nürburgring.

In the PRO Cup, #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT driver, Belgian Laurens Vanthoor leads with 74 points, seven ahead of the #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi trio of Stéphane Ortelli, Edward Sandström and Grégory Guilvert. Third in PRO Cup, 15 points back of Vanthoor are #7 M-Sport Bentley drivers Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane. The final drivers mathematically eligible for the are #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren drivers Grégoire Demoustier and Álvaro Parente but they have to win to have any shot at the title as they trail by 25 points.

Vanthoor is coming off a victory at the Spa 24 Hours in the last round of the BES. He was joined by fellow Belgian Réne Rast and Markus Winkelhock at Spa and will be joined by César Ramos and Christopher Mies at the Nürburgring. Saintéloc Racing is the only remaining championship eligible without a victory. Their best finish was second at the Monza season opener. M-Sport Bentley won their home race at Silverstone in May and at Paul Ricard in June. ART Grand Prix were the winners of the Monza season opener but the #98 McLaren failed to score any points at Spa.

In the PRO Cup team standings, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT leads M-Sport Bentley and Saintéloc Racing by 11 points, ART McLaren by 20 and HTP Motorsport has a shot at the title, trailing by 23 points.

The big story in PRO-AM Cup is the break up of the points leading #90 Scuderia Villorba Corse. Andrea Rizzoli and Stefano Gai remain while their third driver for the previous four rounds, Francesco Castellacci will try to win the title on his own by switching to the #52 AF Corse with Johnny Laursen and Marco Seefried as his co-drviers. The only other drivers eligible for the PRO-AM Cup championship are #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW drivers Andrew Smith, Alasdair McCraig and Oliver Bryant. The Ecurie Ecosse trio trail by 12 points.

Neither of the six drivers eligible for the title have won in 2014. The #90 Ferrari finished second in class at Monza while the #79 BMW finished second in class at Spa.

In the PRO-AM Cup team standings, Scuderia Villorba Corse leads Ecurie Ecosse by 14 points, Paul Ricard winner TDS Racing by 18 points, AF Corse by 19 points and Silverstone winner Nissasn GT Academy Team RJN by 23 points.

The #51 AF Corse Ferrari drivers Peter Mann and Francisco Guedes jumped into the Gentleman Trophy championship lead with their victory at Spa, putting them 23 points ahead of #458 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari drivers Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmickler. The Germans had won the first three races of the season but failed to score any points at Spa while Mann and Guedes have finished on the podium in every race entering Nürburbring.

AF Corse leads GT Corse by Rinaldi by 16 points in the Gentleman Trophy team standings.

Lone Star Le Mans
After a month off, IMSA returns to the track for the Lone Star Le Mans. With two races to go, the #5 Action Express Corvette DP pair of João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi lead the Prototpye standings after winning the last two rounds at Indianapolis and Road America by 16 points over the Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook were fastest in first practice from Austin and trail by 18 points in the P class standings. OAK Racing Ligier-Nissan driver Gustavo Yacamán is fourth, trailing by 32 points while Scott Pruett rounds out the top five, 35 points back.

Corvette driver Antonio García leads the Viper pairing of Kuno Wittmer and Jonathan Bomarito by six points in GTLM while three teams are tied for third, 20 points behind the Spaniard. The two Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMWs (Dirk Müller/John Edwards; Bill Auberlen/Andy Priaulx) and the #91 Viper of Dominik Farnbacher and Marc Goosens are tied for third. Jan Magnussen is sixth after missing VIR due to a concussion. The #61 Risi Competizione Ferrari of Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer have won the last two races.

GTD has a three-way tie at the top of championship, all with 244 points. Dane Cameron has won four races for Turner Motorsport including the last two rounds and is tied with 24 Hours of Daytona winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler and Alex Job Racing drivers Leh Keen and Cooper MacNeil. Keen and MacNeil have not won yet with their best finish being second at Road America. Paul Miller Racing Audi drivers Bryce Miller and Christoper Haase are 11 points behind the gaggle championship leaders.

Jon Bennett and Colin Braun could lock up the Prototype Challenge championship this weekend with a podium finish. The #54 CORE Autosport pairing has won four of eight races and are 40 points clear of Starworks driver Renger van der Zande. Fellow Starworks driver Martin Fuentes is third in the championship, five behind van der Zande.

6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas
After three months off following the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the FIA World Endurance returns for their fourth of eight rounds in the 2014 championship.

The #8 Toyota TS040 Hybrid fo Anthony Davidson, Nicolas Lapierre and Sébastien Buemi lead the championship by 20 points over Le Mans winners, the #2 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of André Lotterer, Benoît Tréluyer and Marcel Fässler. The defending world champion Tom Kristensen and the only winner in the history of the Formula E Championship Lucas di Grassi are six points behind their teammates after back-to-back runner-up finishes at Spa and Le Mans.

In first practice, Tréluyer set the fastest lap in #2 Audi with a 1:51.136, just under two-tenths ahead of the #1 Audi driven by Kristensen. Timo Bernard was third fastest, just over three-quarters of a second back in the #20 Porsche 919 Hybrid. The fastest Toyota was Mike Conway behind the wheel of the #7 in fourth, 1.269 seconds back of Tréluyer but over a quarter second ahead of Davidson in the #8 Toyota.

Sergey Zlobin leads the LMP2 championship with a 12 point lead over his SMP Racing teammate Anton Ladygin. Zlobin and Ladygin were pair for Le Mans but Ladygin will return to the #37 Oreca 03R-Nissan while Zlobin remains behind the #27 Oreca 03R-Nissan. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier JS P2-Nissan of Olivier Pla, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov won the first two rounds of the season but retired at Le Mans and trailed Zlobin by 25 points.

In first practice, the fastest in LMP2 car wasn't a full-time WEC team, rather the one-off #30 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX 03b-Honda of Scott Sharp led the way with a 1:58.111. Sharp was over a second ahead of Rusinov with the #47 KCMG Oreca 03R-Nissan Richard Bradley was third.

Defending GT world champion Gianmaria Bruni continues to have a grasp on his crown with teammate Toni Vilander helping the Italian in his title defense as he looks for his own title. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari has won the last two races and has a 27-point lead over #92 Porsche driver Frédéric Makowiecki. Marco Holzer had driven the #92 in all three races to date but has stepped out of the car to focus test and development driving for Porsche.

The #97 Aston Martin of Darren Turner was the fastest GTE-Pro entry in first practice with a lap of 206.399 seconds. Vilander followed in second, just a half second. Patrick Pilet was third fastest in the #92 Porsche with Nick Tandy in the #91 Porsche in fourth. Corvette Racing makes a WEC-cameo this weekend with the all-American #65 Corvette of Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor and Tommy Milner. Ricky Taylor was fifth in the first practice session.

The #95 Aston Martin drivers David Heinemeier-Hansson and Kristian Paulsen lead GTE-Am standings and were fastest in class in first practice with a 2:06.427. The two Danes won at Silverstone and Le Mans with fellow Dane Nicki Thiim. They will be joined by New Zealander Richie Stanaway at Austin. Thiim has 75 points and is second in class. Trailing the #95 Aston Martin by 29 points is the Spa-winning #61 AF Corse Ferrari of Luíz Pérez Companc, Marco Cioci and Mirko Venturi. Pedro Lamy made it an Aston Martin 1-2 in GTE-Am first practice with the 8Star Motorsports Ferrari of Jeff Segal in third. Michele Rugoo was fourth in the #81 AF Corse Ferrari with Pérez Companc rounding out the top five in class.

Rain hampered second practice for WEC with a delay pushing back the start of the session and a red flag during the session for a car stuck on track. Anthony Davidson was over a second and half quicker than Tom Kristensen with Mike Conway over three seconds back in third. Benoît Tréluyer and Mark Webber rounded out the five in LMP1.

Richard Bradley was quickest in LMP2 in the #47 KCMG Oreca with the #30 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX 03b of Ryan Dalziel less than a tenth back of his fellow Brit. Julien Canal and the #26 G-Drive Ligier rounded out the top three in LMP2. The top three LMP2 cars were covered by 0.098 in the wet session.

Frédéric Makowiecki was the top GTE-Pro team ahead of the championship leader Gianmaria Bruni. Nick Tandy made it two Porsches in the top three. Fastest from first practice Darren Turner was fourth in the second practice with James Calado in the #71 AF Corse Ferrari rounding out the top five. Tommy Milner was sixth in the #65 Corvette.

It was an Aston Martin 1-2 again in GTE-Am with the #95 of Richie Stanaway leading the #98 of Christoffer Nygaard. The #75 Prospeed Competition Porsche of Mattieu Vaxivière was third ahead of Marco Cioci in fourth and the #88 Proton Competition Porsche of Khaled Al Qubaisi rounded out the top five class.

Singapore Grand Prix
Coming off his victory at Monza, Lewis Hamilton trails Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 22 points as Formula One heads to the street of Singapore for the original night race. Daniel Ricciardo is third in the championship, 72 back of Rosberg.

Red Bull has won the last three Singapore Grand Prix, all coming at the hands of Sebastian Vettel. Vettel has led the last 98 laps around the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Hamilton won at Singapore in 2009, the only time Rosberg has failed to score at Marina Bay. Singapore was the sight of Rosberg's second career podium in 2008 however Mercedes' best finish at the Asia-Pacific metropolis is fourth, coming last year with Rosberg.

Valtteri Bottas is fourth in the championship with four podiums in the last six races but is still looking for his first career victory. Fernando Alonso rounds out the top five in the championship and is a two-time Singapore Grand Prix winner. Alonso has not won since last year's Spanish Grand Prix.

The pole-sitter has won four of six Singapore Grand Prix. The exceptions are Vettel in 2012 when he started third and Alonso in 2008 who came from fifteenth to the top step of the podium, thanks in large part to a spin by his then-Renault teammate Nelson Piquet, Jr. jumping on a grenade and Felipe Massa dragging the whole fuel hose out with him after a pit stop. Half of all Singapore Grand Prix have been lead wire-to-wire by the pole-sitter.

Alonso led the first practice with the Mercedes of Hamilton and Rosberg with in two tenths of the Ferrari. The Spaniard top the charts with a lap of 1:49.056 seconds. Vettel and Ricciardo rounded out the top five with lame duck Toro Rosso driver Jean-Éric Vergne in sixth. Kimi Räikkönen was seventh with Jenson Button in eighth. Daniil Kvyat and Sergio Pérez rounded out the top ten.

Kevin Magnussen was sandwiched between Force India drivers with Nico Hülkenberg in twelfth. Felipe Massa was thirteenth with Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas rounding out the top fifteen. Esteban Gutiérrez led his Sauber Adrian Sutil in sixteenth. Romain Grosjean was eighteenth. Jules Bianchi was nineteenth followed by the Caterhams of Marcus Ericsson and Kamui Kobayashi. Max Chilton was at the bottom of the first session.

Hamilton was quickest in second practice with a 1:47.490 lap. Alonso was second with Ricciardo three-tenths back in third. Räikkönen was fourth while Vettel was fifth despite only getting a handful of laps in at the end of the session due to a power unit change after FP1. Magnussen led his McLaren teammate Button in sixth. Trailing the McLaren duo was Force India's pair of Peréz and Hülkenberg and Toro Rosso's of Kvyat and Vergne.

Grosjean was twelfth with Nico Rosberg in thirteenth. Maldonado was fourteenth but his session ended when he walled it just halfway into the session. Sutil rounded out the top fifteen followed by Gutiérrez. Williams struggled with Massa and Bottas down in seventeenth and eighteenth. Bianchi and Chilton followed the Williams with Kobayashi and Ericsson rounding out the second session.

The Chase Heads to Loudon
Brad Keselowski secured his spot in the second round of the Chase with a victory at the opening race at Chicagoland. Jeff Gordon is second in points, seven behind Keselowski. Keselowski's Penske teammate Joey Logano is ten points back with Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr rounding out the  top five.

The series heads to Loudon where Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last two fall races with Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin. Twelve of sixteen drivers in the Chase have a victory at Loudon, the four that do not are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger. Since the introduction of green-white-checkered finishes in the middle of the 2004 season, the fall Loudon race has never had a green-white-checkered finish. A non-Chase driver has never won the Loudon Chase race.

Edwards is currently in twelfth, the final spot that will transfer to round two. He is one point ahead of Ryan Newman, five points ahead of Allmendinger, nine points ahead of his Roush teammate Greg Biffle and 23 points clear of Almirola.

The IMSA race will be on Fox Sports 2 Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The WEC race will also be on Fox Sports 2 Saturday at 6:00 p.m. ET.

The Singapore Grand Prix can be seen Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

ESPN's coverage of the NASCAR race from Loudon will begin at 2:00 p.m. ET Sunday.

New feature for Friday Five. I am going to set an over/under for something in each race covered. It will be something fun that will hopefully spice up your viewing experience.

1. Over or Under: 2.5 manufactures on the overall 1000km Nürburgring podium? Three of the first four BES races this season have had three different manufactures on the podium.
2. Over or Under: 5.5-point lead for whoever takes the GTD championship lead after Austin?
3. Over or Under: The GTE-Am winner completing 87.75% of the laps run?
4. Over or Under: 2.5 lead changes in the Singapore Grand Prix? The average amount of lead changes in the last six races is 4.166 while the average amount of lead changes in six Singapore Grand Prix is 1.333.
5. Over or Under: 150.5 laps for Corey Lajoie in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Loudon. Lajoie has two Nationwide starts and two Truck starts to his name but he is driving for Randy Humphrey, who has had a car start six races in 2014 and his car has finished 80% of the laps in five of those six races.

1. Of the three class winners, two will feature first time winners in 2014 at the 1000km Nürburgring.
2. Bruno Junqueira and Duncan Ende win in PC.
3. An American will be a part of a winning team in the 6 Hours at Circuit of the Americas.
4. Felipe Massa gets back-to-back podium finishes for the first time since the 2010 Australian and Malaysian Grand Prix.
5. Three non-Chase drivers will finish in the top ten at Loudon.

Last Week's Predictions:

1. The premiere Formula E race will be won by Bruno Senna with the e.dams drivers in tow. (Wrong, although I got the nationality of the winner correct and Nicolas Prost led 23 of 25 laps).
2. Marco Wittmann locks up the championship while Audi gets their first win of 2014. (50%. Wittmann clinched the title while Mercedes won their third race of 2014).
3. Johnny O'Connell and Lawson Aschenbach win the GT and GTS championships in Pirelli World Challenge. (Right on both accounts).
4. There will be new championship leaders in LMP2 and GTC after Paul Ricard. (Wrong on both accounts).
5. Chris Atkinson scores points his home rally. (Correct as Atkinson finished tenth thanks to Mads Østberg having trouble on the final day).
Overall: 2.5/5

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Putting the Top Up

You would have thought it was announced general admission ticket prices for the Indianapolis 500 had gone up to $300 and all races for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season were going to be only available on pay-per-view at the price $100 per race with how people reacted to Marshall Pruett's Racer.com story posted Monday afternoon. But the story had nothing to do with the fans having to shell out exuberant amounts of money or the removal of a race or a change in the television package. It had nothing to do with fans whatsoever.

It had to do with driver safety and the vision of an IndyCar. The series is investigating cockpit canopies.

While canopies would be completely new to IndyCar and all of open-wheel racing as a whole, canopies should never have been met with such animosity as it was Monday. It is different but show me the creed from God saying, "open-wheel cars shall be and shall always be open cockpit." Evolution is on going. Engines have shifted from the front to the back of the car. Wings have sprouted. Monocoques have bulked up around the driver. What an open-wheel car looked like in 1920 was different in 1950 and was different in 1970 and was different in 1990. The DW12 chassis, while sharing characteristics with it's predecessors, is different and guess what folks? The car four years from now and ten years from now and twenty-five years from now will look different from the current generation.

Any problem you can find with canopies can be solved. I am sure the powers in charge would develop a canopy that can easily be removed for driver extraction whether the car is on all fours or it's lid and in case of fire. Cooling devices exist to prevent drivers overheating. I am sure ventilation can be incorporated in case toxic fumes get into the cockpit. I am sure engineers can design a car with a canopy that would as aerodynamically efficient as their open cockpit cousins.

Remember there was a time when seat belts weren't regulated, fire suits weren't regulated, helmets weren't regulated then full-face helmets weren't regulated. Did fans blow a gasket over the introduction of those safety features? Sir Stirling Moss never wore a seatbelt in his career because of fear of fire. Motorsports and it's safety features have developed to the point where drivers don't have to choose the risk of being thrown from the car over being trapped in case of a fire. I am sure we are at the point or very near the point where teams and drivers can choose to shield their noggins from flying debris and anything other objects flying into their cockpit at over 200 MPH.

I've talked about canopies before and I look at canopies the same way I look at wearing helmets on motorcycles. I don't think they should be mandated but it makes the most freaking sense in the world to wear a helmet while on a motorcycle and have a canopy over a cockpit. If an aero kit manufacture wants to have an open cockpit, fine with me. If an aero kit manufacture wants to have a canopy, fine with me. I have no problem with the cars looking different and if a team chooses the open cockpit over the canopy, that is there decision. These are adults who know what they have gotten themselves into and the potential risks. If a team chooses the canopy just for the safety aspect, the same way a motorcyclist chooses a helmet, that is perfectly fine.

But it is ridiculous to think current fans would be so ignorant that a safety feature would be the deciding factor on whether or not they follow the series. If IndyCars start featuring canopies, get over it! It's not the end of the world. So what it's different and it wasn't what you grew up with and it has never been done before. These canopies aren't being developed to please you or piss you off. These are being developed as a safety improvement and in hopes of preventing injures and possible deaths. God forbid human life is put ahead of what you think an open-wheel car looks like.

Keep an open mind before jumping off the ship. You might like the change.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Musings From the Weekend: Watershed Moment

Formula E became a reality, the Chase is on and The Doctor is in. A youngster set a record while championships were crowned and incumbent kings took steps to extending their reign in Australia. From the wee hours of the morning to the darkness of night, there was plenty of action for whatever suited your interest. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Shock and Awe
Despite the lack of noise, reliability and speed, Formula E intrigued me from the start and after one round, I can't help but think what happened Saturday was a historical milestone for motorsports.
Formula E is where motorsports were a century ago. The cars aren't fast, the technology is unreliable and we all think we know what will make it better but chastising this series for it's short comings after one event is like getting on a first grader who is struggling with multiplication. They are a first grader for crying out loud. They have plenty of number to develop their skills, the same way Formula E has plenty of time to develop their product from it's current form. 

Passing wasn't easy as drivers had to be crafty and strategically calculate each move. Top speeds were nothing to brag about, the Scion FR-Ss from Toyota Pro/Celebrity race turn faster lap times but the current cars weren't always doing 230 MPH laps around Indianapolis or thunder through Eau-Rouge in seventh gear. Race averages under 100 MPH were a common thing in the early days and that's where we are at with electric racing. It doesn't mean it won't improve. Do you think anyone in 1911 thought after completing the Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of just over 74 MPH thought that's the way it was going to be for years to come? No. It gradually improved. Each stride was celebrated though. Breaking the 100 mph barrier was a big deal as was 125, 150, 175, 200 and so on. 

The switch car aspect is a negative and my uncle and I discussed that over a month ago. What that says is, in the current state of electric automobiles, you need two cars to support your lifestyle. That isn't practical and we all know that. Would have two, 12-lap races been better than one, 25-lap race? I would argue that having one race for about a half hour, then waiting for the cars to charge and having another half hour race wouldn't have been the best for the series. After all, it would be much more difficult to get the TV partners to agree upon having two separate two-hour television windows set side for the series. Switching cars is not ideal but it is where we are at.

The series is set up to be the platform for electric automotive development for many different manufactures. Audi already has a stake in a team. Nissan is always looking to develop electric cars. If you were a Formula E team, why wouldn't you call Tesla and form a partnership? Formula E is set up for many different manufactures to come and play. Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota, BMW, the list is endless.

We are a generation who has had everything served on a platter. We expect cars to do 230 mph, engines to last for thousands and thousands of miles and every race to be better than the next. We do not know how to be patience and let something bud. Everything has to meet all preconceived notions otherwise it will be deemed a failure and not suitable another for our time and attention. 

Battery durability will improve, the cars will get faster and pit stops will evolve. The first race averaged a speed of 61.2 MPH. The bar is set and each team and driver will be looking to raise it after each race. 

The bad thing is the next race isn't until November 22nd. I love that this series is on a autumn-spring schedule but I hate the wait. Sure, there will be Formula One and MotoGP to fill the gap but Formula E is completely unknown. Formula One is going to be Mercedes vs. Mercedes with Daniel Ricciardo ready to pounce. MotoGP is Marc Márquez's to lose while the Yamahas and his teammate Dani Pedrosa try to knock him off. Formula E is up in the air. If you would have told me Andretti Autosport would be leading the Teams' championship after one race, I wouldn't have believed it. And after that finish, who knows what will happen next. Ten rounds is a fair amount but another two or three would have been great.

IndyCar Looks Forward
The DW12 won't last as long as the IR-03 if Derrick Walker has his way. He is already talking about a new car for 2018. I like that the series is getting on top of this while the current cars is finally getting it's feet under itself as a reliable chassis. 

However, after watching the IndyCar grid shrink by two cars each year since the introduction of the DW12 the one question Walker and IndyCar has to ask themselves when it comes to the next generation chassis is how can we get more teams on the grid full-time and how can we get more cars attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500? The only car that made one-off appearances outside of the month of May was the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda with Oriol Servià and Luca Filippi each making four starts. There were no surprise additional entries for any of the qualified drivers left on the sidelines as there were only 22 full-time entries. 

IndyCar has lost many teams in recent years, contributing to the shrinking grids. If Dreyer & Reinbold, Panther, Dragon, HVM and Conquest had all managed to keep one car going full-time, the grid would have 27 cars and we aren't having this discussion. Panther and Conquest are gone. HVM's equipment is being used by Andretti for Carlos Muñoz, D&R came back at the Indianapolis 500 earlier this year but becoming a full-time competitor again doesn't look likely for 2015 and Dragon has moved on to Formula E. 

I look at GT3 racing and how it has evolved into the formula of choice for GT racing. You can take a car, run the Dubai 24 Hour in January, Bathurst 12 Hour in February, a full season of Pirelli World Challenge, 24 Hours Nürburgring in May, Spa 24 Hours in July, the Baku World Challenge in November and end with the Gulf 12 Hours at Abu Dhabi in December. All those races with the same car with no major changes having to be done.

I look at IndyCar and the current chassis can only be used for one series and one series only. Dallara builds chassis for IndyCar, Super Formula and Formula Renault 3.5. Instead of building three separate chassis for each series, why not build one chassis and set the engine rules for all three series with the only things that would need to be changed to go from road course-ready to oval-ready would be suspension parts and bodywork? 

In theory, it would open the door for dozens of teams on two other continents to attempt the Indianapolis 500 while creating the opportunity for teams to compete in a plethora of different races around the globe. It would set the stage for the Indianapolis 500 being a true international race with teams from around the globe and while potentially having Chevrolet, Honda, Toyota and Zytek engines on the grid, which all produce around the same amount of horsepower. Even more important, it would save Dallara money. I think it would be sensible to consider it.

Clamping Down on the Chasers
The Chase began this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Brad Keselowski won and has locked himself into the next round, but it's not the only NASCAR championship coming down to the wire. After this weekend, there are seven races left in each the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series.

Neither one of those series have a Chase and I have been convinced that NASCAR truly isn't convinced by the Chase yet either, despite it's use for over a decade. Look at all the other rule changes NASCAR has made in recent memory: Green-White-Checkered finishes, double-file restarts, the lucky dog, the point system. All were across the board changes in the three series yet they still have yet to introduced the Chase to the two lower national touring divisions. Wouldn't you think, after eleven iterations, NASCAR would have the confidence that the Chase would work at the Nationwide and Truck Series level?

They haven't but I believe just because the Nationwide and Truck series use traditional point systems, doesn't mean their championship can't be highlight and can't allow the championship contenders to battle it out. I have ready said there should be a hard limit on how much moonlighting goes on between the national touring divisions but until that happens, I think NASCAR should bar all Chase drivers from competing outside the Cup races. It's too risky. Imagine if Keselowski goes out and gets hurt doing the Nationwide race at Dover. Your championship leader is out and losing a championship contender kills the Chase.

Secondly, it would give these Nationwide and Truck regulars a chance to take the spotlight and battle for their own championship without any interference from moonlighters. Sure, there will still be a few drivers moonlighting. Kyle Larson and Paul Menard showing up but you would get rid of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Matt Kenseth and any other driver looking to dip their toe into the water.

I want to see Chase Elliott, Regan Smith, Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler and Trevor Bayne racing for victories, not for fifth place. I want them to get a chance to show off their skills, not have the spotlight taken from them. 

Champions From the Weekend
Johnny O'Connell won his third consecutive Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. He defeated Mike Skeen by 156 points. Anthony Lazzaro finished third, 186 behind O'Connell. Andy Pilgrim finished 220 points behind his Cadillac teammate with Andrew Palmer rounding out the top five in the GT championship, 302 points back. 

Lawson Aschenbach won his second consecutive Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship. He had to come from behind entering the final weekend. Jack Baldwin finished second in the championship after winning the final race on Saturday at Miller Motorsports Park. He finished 50 points behind Aschenbach. Mark Wilkins was the GTS championship leader entering the weekend but retired from each race and dropped to third in the championship, 108 back. Dean Martin and Jack Roush, Jr. round out the top five in GTS, 342 and 365 points back of Aschenbach respectively. 

With a sixth place finish at Lausitz, Marco Wittmann clinched the 2014 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship with two races to go. Mattias Ekström, Edoardo Mortara and Mike Rockenfeller entered the weekend as the only other drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship. Ekström and Mortara both failed to score points at Lausitz and Rockenfeller finished in tenth, not enough to keep hopes of retaining his title alive.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lucas di Grassi, Guy Smith, Robert Thorne, Nick Esaysian, Jack Baldwin and Brad Keselowski but did you know... 

Valentino Rossi won at Misano, his first victory of the 2014 MotoGP season. Marc Márquez fell while running second but did recover to finish fifteenth and get the final championship point. 

Pascal Wehrlein won the DTM race at Lausitz and in doing so became the first teenager to win in DTM history. Wehrlein becomes the youngest winner in DTM history at 19 years, 10 months and 28 days old. The previous record for youngest winner in DTM history was Dario Franchitti, who was 22 years and 2 days old when he won at Mugello in 1995.

Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell won the Sandown 500. Whincup extended his championship lead to 273 points over his teammate Craig Lowndes. 

Sébastien Ogier led a Volkswagen 1-2-3 over Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen at Rally Australia. Ogier leads Latvala by 50 points in the championship with three rounds to go. 

The Morand Racing Morgan-Judd of Christian Klien, Gary Hirsch and Pierre Ragues won the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard. The AF Corse Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Duncan Cameron and Michele Rugolo won in GTE with the SMP Racing Ferrari of Olivier Beretta, Anton Ladygin and Devi Markozov winning in GTC. 

André Lotterer returned to Super Formula with a victory at Autopolis. He trails João Paulo de Olivieira by 3.5 points with three races to go. 

Galid Osman and Ricardo Maurício split the Stock Car Brasil weekend from Velopark.

Esteve Rabat won his third consecutive Moto2 race of 2014 at Misano while Álex Rins won his second consecutive Moto3 race of the season. 

Kevin Harvick won the Nationwide race at Chicagoland. Kyle Busch (shocker!) won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One is under the lights on the streets of Singapore.
NASCAR heads to New Hampshire.
The FIA World Endurance Championship is back after three months off at Circuit of the Americas.
IMSA is joining WEC in Austin.
The Blancpain Endurance Series ends their 2014 season with the 1000km Nürburgring.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thorne and Baldwin Winners, O'Connell and Aschenbach Champions in Pirelli World Challenge

Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses. Johnny O'Connell secured his third consecutive GT championship with a seventh place finish in today's Pirelli World Challenge season finale while Lawson Aschenbach won his second consecutive GTS championship with a second place finish in the final race of 2014.

Robert Thorne got his first career GT victory after holding off the hard charging Porsche of Ryan Dalziel. The Colorado-native held on for the victory by 0.130 seconds. Thorne's victory is the first for the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in Pirelli World Challenge and K-PAX Racing's first victory since Alex Figge swept the Mid-Ohio weekend last year. Andy Pilgrim finished third in the season finale ahead of the Dyson Bentleys of Butch Leitzinger and Guy Smith. Smith started on pole for the second consecutive day but fell out of the top ten on the start.

Anthony Lazzaro finished ahead of O'Connell in sixth. Mike Skeen was the top Audi driver in eighth with Andy Lee and Andrew Palmer rounding out the top ten. James Sofronas finished eleventh. The Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 of Tim Pappas was the top GT-A finisher ahead of Marcelo Hahn and Michael Mills.

Jack Baldwin ended 2014 by scoring his third victory of the season. The victory vaulted him up to second in the final GTS championship standings. Aschenbach finished second with Drew Regitz making another late charge to the final podium position in his TRG Aston Martin for the second consecutive day. Michael Cooper and Dean Martin rounded out the top five in GTS. Three-time race winner in 2014, Dean Martin finished sixth with yesterday's GTS winner Nick Esayian coming home in seventh.

Kia's day started out promising with Nic Jönsson having a commanding lead with Mark Wilkins drove himself from 17th to 6th and nearly back in contention for the championship. Wilkins however would have to retire with a mechanical failure and out the same lap Jönsson dropped from first to fourth and ultimately lost 10 laps to the GTS leaders. Wilkins dropped to third in the final championship standings Local driver Vesko Kozarov was up front all day in GTS but had a mechanical failure while running second late in the race.

Cadillac and Kia will win the manufactures' championships in GT and GTS respectively.

Lucas di Grassi Wins Formula E Premiere

A last lap, final corner accident between Nicolas Prost and Nick Heidfeld that sent the German airborne handed the premiere Formula E race to Audi Sport Abt driver Lucas di Grassi with Andretti Autosport driver Franck Montagny finishing second and Sam Bird rounding out the podium.

Prost had led all but one lap up to the accident when he cut down on the Venturi Grand Prix car of Heidfeld, taking himself and the German out of the race. Heidfeld's car was launched by the kerbs into the catchfence and landed upside down. Heidfeld was able to get out of the car under his own power and he sprinted over to confront Prost immediately after the accident.

Charles Pic finished fourth. The Frenchman was only confirmed as Andretti Autosport's second driver days before the first race. Karun Chandhok finished fifth followed by the Dragon Racing drivers Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Oriol Servià. Nelson Piquet, Jr. and Stéphane Sarrazin ended eighth and ninth. Daniel Abt had taken the checkered flag in third and looked to be the youngest of the three drivers on the podium but the German driver was relegated to tenth for using too much electrical energy.

Jaime Alguersuari finished eleventh ahead of Prost and Heidfeld. Katherine Legge finished fourteenth with Michela Cerruti rounding out the top fifteen. Ho-Pin Tung had to start from the pit lane for his home race but couldn't get going at the start and lost two laps down. Despite finishing seventeenth, Takuma Sato picked up two points for fastest lap at 1:45.101 (73.3 MPH/117.96 KPH).

Three drivers retired from this race. Sébastien Buemi called it quits after fourteen laps. Jarno Trulli failed to get going on the gird but ultimately was able to complete two laps. Bruno Senna had his left front suspension break on lap one after running too far over the kerbs.

Lucas di Grassi leads the championship with 25 points. Franck Montagny gets 18 points for second while Virgin Racing's Sam Bird picks up 15 for the final podium position. Charles Pic will get 12 points from the first Formula E race. Karun Chandhok rounds out the top five with 10 points. The Dragon Racing drivers Jérôme d'Ambrosio and Oriol Servià get 8 and 6 points respectively. Nelson Piquet, Jr. will get 4 points. Nicolas Prost gets 3 points for his pole position. Stéphane Sarrazin gets 2 as does Takuma Sato for his fastest lap and Daniel Abt will round out the standings with one point.

In the team championship, Andretti Autosport leads the way with 30 points, followed by Audi Sport Abt's 26 points. Virgin Racing has 15 points, Dragon Racing gets 14 points, Mahindra Racing has 10, China Racing has 4, e.dams gets 3 and VenturiGP and Aguri round out the team championship, each with 2 points.

The second round of the 2014 FIA Formula E Championshhip will be November 22 from Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Birthday Boy Guy Smith Wins Race One from Utah

The championship pictures in GT and GTS were completely turned on their heads at Miller Motorsports Park right when the lights went off at the beginning of the race. Guy Smith and second in the GT championship Mike Skeen started on the front row but Skeen stalled on the start and his race was ruined before he had even travelled a foot with an axle problem. In GTS, pole-sitter and championship leader Marks Wilkins stalled and was hit by his Kia teammate Nic Jönsson.

Skeen was able to complete five laps but did not complete the required 70% to be eligible to score points. Wilkins did not complete any laps and also will get no points from race one.

Guy Smith started on pole position on his 40th birthday but fell like a rock on the start while Robert Thorne jumped to the lead ahead of Ryan Dalziel and GT championship leader Johnny O'Connell went from eighth to third.

In GTS, Jack Baldwin assumed the lead from a stalled Wilkins, ahead of Nick Esayian, Jack Roush, Jr. and Alec Udell.

Thorne continued to lead while Dalziel retired with a mechanical failure on lap nine, promoting O'Connell to second. Smith restarted sixth and made his way past his Dyson Bentley teammate Butch Leitzinger and the Cadillacs of Andy Pilgrim and O'Connell with his sights set on Thorne. On lap 15, Thorne had contact with the #96 Mustang of Brad Adams, dropping his McLaren out of contention for the victory and handing the lead to Smith.

Smith would go unchallenged as he picked up a birthday present to remember, his first career Pirelli World Challenge victory and Bentley's first victory in the series. Smith also scored fastest lap in the race. O'Connell finished second after holding off Leitzinger by 0.095 seconds. Pilgrim finished fourth with Anthony Lazzaro rounding out the top five. Thorne came home in sixth ahead of Andrew Palmer and his teammate Alex Figge. Michael Mills was the top GT-A finisher in ninth with Andy Lee rounding out the top ten in his Lamborghini on his GT class debut.

While Baldwin led most of the way, the Aston Martin of Esayian was able to get by the Porsche late after Baldwin had slight contact with the Lamborghini of Andy Lee. Esayian made it a pair of first time winning manufactures in race one from Miller Motorsports Park as he got Aston Martin their first victory in Pirelli World Challenge. Baldwin finished second with Esayian's Aston Martin teammate Drew Regitz rounding out the podium ahead of Aschenbach and Roush, Jr.

Johnny O'Connell has locked up his third consecutive GT championship with a race to go. The Georgia-native has a 152-point lead over Mike Skeen and since Skeen failed to get pole position for the second race, the most points he could score in race two is 145 points.

Wilkins' GTS championship lead has been reduced to two points over Aschenbach with Baldwin trailing by 87 points heading to the final race tomorrow afternoon.

The season finale for the 2014 Pirelli World Challenge season will take place tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. ET.

Friday Five: Formula E, DTM, PWC, ELMS, WRC

Since the IndyCar season is over, a new feature for this blog. Each Friday from now through probably November, we will take a look at five series who are wrapping up their championships and go over their championship pictures and where they are competing this weekend.

We will start with the premiere event for Formula E

Formula E
It is finally here. The all-electric, zero-emissions Formula E is set to go from the Beijing Olympic Park. Ten teams of two will fight to join the likes of Nino Farina, Louis Chevrolet, Jim Roper and Harold Daniell as winners of the inaugural races of notable motorsports series.

The top team from testing was e.dams with current Toyota factory driver Sébastien Buemi and Rebellion Racing driver Nicolas Prost leading the way. Franck Montagny was third quickest testing driving for Andretti Autosport. He will be joined by fellow Frenchman and former Caterham F1 driver Charles Pic who was only announced as the second Andretti driver a few days ago.

Mahindra Racing's Bruno Senna was next quickest during testing and he is joined by his 2008 GP2 Arden International teammate Karun Chandhok. Both were in the top ten in the final test. The German Audi Sport Abt team will be lead by Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi being joined by current GP2 driver and son of Audi Sport Abt owner Hans-Jürgen Abt, Daniel Abt.

Virgin Racing returns to racing after leaving Formula One in 2011 with Sam Bird and Jaime Alguersuari. Bird has spent most of 2014 driving for AF Corse Ferrari while Alguersuari has been out of motorsports since being released by Scuderia Toro Rosso after the 2011 Formula One season. The second American team on the grid is Dragon Racing. Former Virgin Racing and Lotus-Renault driver Jérôme d'Ambrosio is joined by Oriol Servià. Mike Conway was initially set to race for Dragon but withdrew after deciding to focus on his role in Toyota's LMP1 program.

The Monegasque Venturi Racing has Nick Heidfeld and Stéphane Sarrazin as their drivers. Heldfeld holds the record for most podiums in Formula One without a victory at 13 and most second place finishes in Formula One without a victory at 8. Sarrazin has finished on the overall podium at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the last five editions ran on a odd-numbered year but has yet to win the French classic. The home team for Beijing will be China Racing with drivers Ho-Pin Tung and Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Jarno Trulli makes his return to competitive motorsports with his own TrulliGP. He last competed for then-Team Lotus (now Caterham F1) in the 2011 Formula One season and he will be joined by fellow Italian and AutoGP World Series race winner Michela Cerruti. Finally, Super Best Friends is back as Super Aguri will field cars for Katherine Legge and Takuma Sato. Sato is only in for Beijing as full-time Aguri driver António Félix da Costa is in Germany on DTM duty.

Which transitions us into the DTM preview...

A coronation ceremony is tentative for Sunday afternoon from EuroSpeedway Lausitz. BMW driver Marco Wittmann can clinch the title with two rounds in hand with a finish of fourth or better. The DTM sophomore has four victories from seven races and leads Audi drivers, two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekström and two-time DTM race winner Edoardo Mortara by 56 points. Audi has yet to win this year despite having three of the top five in the championship. Defending DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller is fourth in the championship with 2012 DTM champion Bruno Spengler rounding out the top five.

Mercedes has won ten of fourteen races at EuroSpeedway Lausitz. Gary Paffett is the defending race winner and sits tied for second-to-last in the championship with António Félix da Costa on four points. Vitaly Petrov is the lone driver yet to score in 2014.

Pirelli World Challenge
Pirelli World Challenge has their season finale this weekend from Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Utah. Johnny O'Connell is looking for his third consecutive GT championship and he leads Mike Skeen by 42 points points heading into the final doubleheader of 2014. Both drivers have three victories but O'Connell has not won since Belle Isle in June while all three of Skeen's victory have come after Belle Isle, the most recent being at Sonoma three weeks ago. Anthony Lazzaro is third in the championship, 160 points back.

Andy Pilgram and Andrew Palmer are the final two drivers mathematically eligible for the title trailing O'Connell by 218 and 252 points respectively. Both will need a lot of help to over take the three drivers in front of them. Pilgram is still looking for his first victory in 2014.

GTS is a three-horse race. Kia driver Mark Wilkins leads defending GTS champion, Chevrolet driver Lawson Aschenbach by 80 points with Porsche driver Jack Baldwin 194 points back of the Canadian. Aschenbach has the most victories in GTS this season with four and has won three of the last four races. Wilkins and Baldwin each have two victories. Fourth and fifth in the GTS championship, Dean Martin and Nic Jönsson each have three GTS victories in 2014.

European Le Mans Series
The penultimate round of the European Le Mans Series season takes place from Circuit Paul Ricard. Winners from the most recent round at the Red Bull Racing, Signatech Alpine-Nissan drivers Nelson Panciatici, Oliver Webb and Paul-Loup Chatin lead in the LMP2 championship by four points over the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 class winning Jota Sport Zytek-Nissan. Filipe Albuquerque, Harry Tincknell and Simon Dolan are the Jota Sport drivers and were winners at the ELMS round at Imola in May. Michel Frey and Franck Mailleux are third in the LMP2 championship driving the Race Performance Oreca-Judd. Silverstone winners, Thiriet by TDS Racing Ligier-Nissan drivers Ludovic Badey, Pierre Thiriet and Tristan Gommendy are fourth in the championship.

In GTE, AF Corse Ferrari drivers Duncan Cameron and defending GTE championship Matt Griffin have two victories and lead the championship by three points over the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Sergey Zlobin and Viktor Shaitar. Cameron and Griffin's fellow AF Corse co-driver Michele Rugolo is third in the championship after missing the Imola round. Cameron, Griffin and Rugolo won Silverstone and Red Bull Ring while the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari won at Imola.

Despite finishing runner-up in all three races so far in 2014, the #73 SMP Racing Ferrari of Olivier Beretta, Anton Ladygin and David Markozov lead the GTC championship by 11.5 points. The Danes Johnny Laursen and Mikkel Mac are second int he championship and will be joined by Jan Magnussen this weekend in their Formula Racing Ferrari. Laursen and Mac won at Imola with Italian Andrea Piccini as their third driver. The #71 SMP Racing Ferrari of Aleksey Basov, Kirill Ladygin and Luca Persiani are third in the championship, 13 points back of their teammates, after winning at Red Bull Ring.

World Rally Championship
Sébastien Ogier leads the World Rally Championship to Australia for the preantepenultimate round for 2014. After suffering his first retirement since Spain 2012 in Germany, Ogier's championship lead remained 44 points over Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala as the Finn also retired.

After one day in Australia, Ogier leads by 0.4 seconds over Latvala. Third Volkswagen driver Andreas Mikkelsen trails Ogier by 3.5 seconds. Citroën driver Kris Meeke is fourth, 4.1 seconds back. Ogier won four of eighth stages on day one with Latvala and Meeke each getting two victories. M-Sport Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen rounds out the top five, 7.9 seconds back of the Frenchman.

New Zealander Hayden Paddon is the top Hyundai driver sitting sixth after day one but trails Ogier by 46.4 seconds back. Mads Østberg is seventh, 50.3 seconds back. Robert Kubica is eighth, the last driver within a minute of Ogier, 57.6 second back. M-Sport driver Elfyn Evans is ninth with Rallye Deutschland winner Thierry Neuville in tenth, over two minutes back. Neuville's victory in Germany was the first of his career and first for Hyundai. Australian Chris Atkinson is eleventh, over 41 seconds back of his Hyundai teammate Neuville in tenth.

Entering Rally Australia, the only other driver eligible for the championship beside Ogier and Latvala was Mikkelsen, guaranteeing a Volkswagen driver will be champion for the second consecutive year.

The premiere Formula E race will be at 3:30 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 with the race starting at 4:00 a.m. ET.

Pirelli World Challenge races today at 6:50 p.m. ET and Saturday at 4:15 p.m. ET. Both races can be seen on World-ChallegeTV.com.

A live stream of the 4 Hours of Paul Ricard can be seen at 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday on the European Le Mans Series website.

I will make one prediction for each series.

1. The premiere Formula E race will be won by Bruno Senna with the e.dams drivers in tow.
2. Marco Wittmann locks up the championship while Audi gets their first win of 2014.
3. Johnny O'Connell and Lawson Aschenbach win the GT and GTS championships in Pirelli World Challenge.
4. There will be new championship leaders in LMP2 and GTC after Paul Ricard.
5. Chris Atkinson scores points his home rally.