Friday, January 30, 2015

IndyCar Must Fill Brazilian Void and Positives About IndyCar

It's been a rough few days for IndyCar and fans of the series.

First, Brian Barnhart was announced as race director on Wednesday. Then the season opener scheduled to take place in Brasilia, Brazil dropped off the calendar 38 days before it was scheduled to take place. We will get to Barnhart in a second but we will start with Brazil.

IndyCar Must Fill Brazilian Void
The cancelled race from Brazil's capital has extended IndyCar's offseason by three weeks. A series that has already limited itself to when they will race cannot allow their season to start three weeks later than originally anticipated. Everyone was already scheduled to be at a race track the weekend of Sunday March 8th and NBCSN had to already prepare to show an IndyCar race that day.

Pirelli World Challenge will be at Circuit of the Americas March 6-8th for the opening round of their 2015 championship and IndyCar management should be on their hands and knees, checkbook by their side begging to squeeze in on the bill. First, it is a race track that exists and isn't in the middle of renovations. Second, IndyCar would be joining a race weekend that already exists which means IndyCar wouldn't be scrambling to get a race together in six weeks. Tickets have already been sold and the track has the personnel in place to host a race. Third, PWC is a great partner with IndyCar and I think the more race weekends they share the better. Fourth, I really don't care what Eddie Gossage thinks about this.

I am normally not for doing things just for the fans because ultimately IndyCar has to do things that make business sense and won't cost them a boatload of money but IndyCar owes the fan base a race on March 8th and should not force them to wait another three weeks. This isn't a natural disaster or political revolution that is forcing the cancellation of the Brazilian round. It is poor government decisions by the local government in Brasilia and IndyCar's decision to do business with an outdated race track (So basically its a bunch of suits who get paid more than I do fault because they lack common sense).

It's not IndyCar's fault the Brazilian government took so long to get renovations started. I am not surprised this happen in Brazil, a country that has spent billions of dollars on sport venues in recent years for last year's World Cup and next year's Summer Olympics. However, I question IndyCar's decision to do business with a track that was pretty much a shell of what it was suppose to be. Why on earth does IndyCar (and this is an extension to include the IRL/CART/ChampCar) keep doing business with tracks that don't even exist or are archaic? Whether it be the Hawaiian Super Prix, Ansan, South Korea, Seoul South, Korea, or Qingdao, China, IndyCar and it's recent predecessors have made some bonehead decisions. While chasing golden carrots in hopes of riches, IndyCar has ignored established venues in countries with long ties to motorsports. The pays days might not be as grand at places such as Mugello but the races would actually take place as the track actually exists and hosts major events every year.

As for now, IndyCar should not settle with starting the season at St. Petersburg. Make Austin happen. Be as accommodating to the already established Pirelli World Challenge weekend but fill in what ever on-track time is available and pay PWC to make it happen. Offer PWC a spot during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend either starting this year or next year. It will be a little rushed but it would not be impossible. Austin is a reasonable trip and more affordable for the teams. The track actually exists and I am sure adding IndyCar to the bill will draw more people to the track than a standalone PWC weekend.

For IndyCar, making this race happen isn't about making a profit, rather giving fans nourishment after being famished from a lengthy offseason.

He's Back
Brian Barnhart is back as IndyCar race director. Marshall Pruett had a great article on the return of Barnhart and why you should not jump ship because of the hire. First, there is nothing you or I can do about it. Would I have brought Barnhart back if I was in charge? No. He restarted an oval race in the rain. It was a mistake but there has to be a straw that breaks the camel's back and that was it.

Second, we can't let a race official decide whether or not we will watch a race. I am sure no one is deciding whether or not they will watch the Super Bowl based on Bill Vinovich being referee. The on-track action has been great the past three seasons and the introduction of aero kits is leaving everyone on pins and needles over who will have the advantage and who will be playing catch up. There are so many positives with IndyCar on-track that you can't let these little things get us down.

Time To Be Positive
While it seems like the last two days have been nothing but crap for IndyCar, let's look at some positives.

First, Luca Filippi will likely be announced as Ed Carpenter's co-driver in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet in 2015 with the Italian running all the road and street course races. I am sure some wanted J.R. Hildebrand to land in that seat but it still looks like Hildebrand is in prime position for an Indianapolis 500 seat with the team and Filippi has been busting his butt for a seat in IndyCar. The runner-up in the 2011 GP2 Series championship appeared to have a seat in place with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in 2012 but that did not happen. He made his debut in 2013 with Bryan Herta Autosport and just when it appeared he would get the seat for 2014, Jack Hawksworth was hired. Filippi is a competent driver and I would not be surprised if he won a race this season.

Speaking of Bryan Herta Autosport, it appears they will run full-time in 2015 with defending Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves as their driver after it appeared the team would have to cut back their operations. IndyCar can't afford to lose teams and keeping a full-time team on the grid is a big hold of serve for the series.

Indy Lights Testing
The Indy Lights series wrapped up their first oval test with the IL-15 chassis and these cars were quick out of the box at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

All 11 cars ran laps sub-30 seconds with 10 of the 11 drivers to take part in the test running laps under 29 seconds and six of 11 ran faster than the Indy Lights track record at Homestead.

The Juncos Racing pairing of Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot were 1-2 with Kaiser leading the way with a lap of 28.3081 seconds (188.851 MPH). Pigot was 0.1504 seconds back. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Scott Anderson made it an American 1-2-3 at the test just 0.0030 seconds behind Pigot. Belardi Auto Racing rounded out the top five with Juan Piedrahita fourth at 28.4801 seconds and Félix Serrallés at 28.5871 seconds. Shelby Blackstock was sixth at 28.7210 seconds driving for Andretti Autosport.

R.C. Enerson just missed out on beating the Indy Lights track record at Homestead. The Floridian ran a 28.8392 with the track record being a 28.833. Emirati Ed Jones was 0.0339 seconds back of Enerson with the Brits Jack Harvey and Max Chilton following Jones. Harvey ran a 28.9298 with the former Marussia F1 driver Chilton 0.0055 seconds back. Ethan Ringel was slowest at 29.2686 seconds, 0.9605 seconds behind Kaiser.

While things appear to be crappy, there are a lot of positive things going on in and around IndyCar. We just have to dig a little bit to find it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Important Indy Lights Test Tomorrow and More From Daytona

It's be a few days since the 24 Hours of Daytona and there are still a few lingering thoughts from the IMSA season opener. First thought, we start a little further south from Daytona at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Indy Lights has conducted two important tests and a major test is coming up tomorrow.

The IL-15 Testing at Homestead
Indy Lights has been down at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the last few days. On Monday and Tuesday, a dozen IL-15 chassis powered by Mazda-branded AER engines ran on the Homestead road course. It was the first appearance for Carlin as Emirati Ed Jones and former Formula One driver, record holder for most races running at the finish in a rookie season, Briton Max Chilton in the IL-15 chassis. 

Jones ran the fastest lap over the two days, a lap of 1:13.7460 seconds in the morning session on Tuesday. Jones was the only driver to run a lap of sub-1:14 minute lap during the test. Andretti Autosport driver Shelby Blackstock was second over the two days with his fastest lap being a 1:14.1386 seconds. The 2012 Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier ran on Tuesday for Belardi Auto Racing and the Frenchman was third fastest, at 1:14.2777-second lap. Colombian Juan Piedrahita announced he would be joining Félix Serrallés at Belardi for the 2015 season and ran on Monday with the team. Piedrahita's best lap was a 1:15.8494. 

Juncos Racing was fourth and fifth with Kyle Kaiser leading the defending Pro Mazda champion Spencer Pigot. The Californians were separated by 0.0118 seconds with Kaiser's fastest lap being a 1:14.3563. Sixth quickest over the four days was last year's runner-up in Pro Mazda Scott Hargrove as the Canadian's best lap was at 1:14.4237 seconds driving for 8 Star Motorsport. Chilton was sevenh at the test running a fastest lap of 1:14.4404 seconds.

All four Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entries on the back half of the time sheet with runner-up in last year's U.S. F2000 championship R.C. Enerson leading the way with a 1:14.4904 seconds lap, 0.05 seconds quicker than last year's Indy Lights runner-up and team veteran Jack Harvey. Sérralles was tenth fastest with a 1:14.6764. Scott Anderson was 11th quickest at a 1:14.7083. Ethan Ringel ended the two-day test 12th fastest and was the only driver to run both days to fail to run a sub-1:15 lap. The best lap Ringel put on the board was a 1:15.5698. 

With two-days of road course testing behind them, the dozen IL-15 chassis will take to the high banks of Homestead-Miami Speedway for the first official oval test. 

Three things to keep an eye on tomorrow:

1. Speed 
I think we all want to know how fast the IL-15 will be on an oval. The track record for the previous Lights car at Homestead was a 28.833-second lap by Chris Festa in 2007. These cars won't be trimmed out doing qualifying runs their the test but it will be interesting to see how quick they will be with a conservative setup.

2. Can Carlin keep up their pace?
Ed Jones and Max Chilton have never been on an oval before and while Chilton tweeted he was looking forward to the oval test, it will be interesting to see how the Brit handles any adversity.

3. Can Schmidt Peterson fight their way back to the top?
It's only testing but it's been a long time since we've see the Schmidt name so consistently near the bottom of any session having to do with Indy Lights. It was interesting to see R.C. Enerson, the driver who is skipping a rung on the ladder on going for U.S. F2000 to Lights, was quicker than his senior teammates Harvey and Anderson on the road course and I wonder if he can keep that up on the oval as this will be the Floridian's first time on a 1.5-mile oval. 

Lacking an Aston Martin
A few lingering thoughts from the 24 Hours of Daytona. First, I am still trying to wrap my head around Aston Martin putting five drivers in one car in GTLM instead of calling in another driver and running two teams of three? They had a great start at Daytona and were upfront until their early spin took them out of contention.

I am sure money was part of the reason for running only one car but it makes more sense not to put all the eggs in one basket. I think if they had split their driver line-up so Pedro Lamy. Paul Dalla Lana and Mathias Lauda in were in one car and Stefan Mücke, Darren Turner and one of their plethora of Danish drivers (Marco Sørensen, Nicki Thiim) in a second car, the Vantage GTE might have been in contention with the Corvette and BMW during those closing laps for the GTLM class victory.

Listening to the IMSA Radio broadcast during the 24 Hours of Daytona (I forget which hour of the race this took place) the commentators were talking about the lack of crossovers between fans of NASCAR and sports car racing. If you have been following this blog for quite sometime you know I am for as much cross-pollination by drivers as possible. I don't want specialization with distinct NASCAR drivers and distinct Formula One drivers and distinct IndyCar drivers. I want drivers who will run anything and everything.

Looking at the 24 Hours of Daytona and the three full-time NASCAR drivers that were in the field (Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger) and knowing that NASCAR has some interest in seeing IMSA succeed, you'd think NASCAR would want to get as many notable names in the big races such as Daytona as possible. While the crowd for this year's race was spectacular, having the names Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick wouldn't hurt and it might draw a few more eyeballs on the television broadcast.

Having more crossover might help series such as IMSA develop more fans. Someone might come only to see their favorite NASCAR driver and end up becoming a sports car fan who doesn't miss a race and might go see a race or two. Expanding a fans horizon wouldn't be a bad thing.

To bring this to an IndyCar perspective: If you are IndyCar, a series where most of their drivers are unknown, you have to find a way to get your drivers in the public eye and instead of relying on ad-campaigns and hopes of catching America's attention, why not turn some heads on the race track. We talk so much about drivers doing "The Double," running the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, we only ever focus on NASCAR drivers attempting it. People talk about Tony Stewart or Kurt Busch doing it. They never mention Justin Wilson or Ryan Hunter-Reay trying it. Why not try another double, a double that is aimed for IndyCar drivers?

On June 27th, IndyCar will be in Fontana, running 500 miles. The next day, NASCAR will be at Sonoma for their first road course of the NASCAR season. Last year, the NASCAR race at Sonoma had 4.68 million viewers and that was against the United States-Portugal World Cup match. Outside of the Indianapolis 500, I think the other 17 IndyCar races barely added up to 4.68 million viewers. What would IndyCar have to lose by flying a few drivers up to Sonoma the day after Fontana to run the NASCAR? It's a road course races, where a few drivers you'd have to expect would have a chance of running toward the front if not having a shot to win.

If I was IndyCar, I am begging Roger Penske to run Will Power at Sonoma and Watkins Glen since there are no IndyCar race that weekend as well. I don't know if Will Power running those races will bring a half a million people to a IndyCar broadcast but why not give it a shot? You have to slowly draw viewers in. What if he were to win? Will Power is getting on SportsCenter if he wins the NASCAR race at Sonoma or Watkins Glen. The only time he will get on SportsCenter for winning an IndyCar race is the Indianapolis 500.

It's all about narrative. Setup the narrative: The outside, the underdog entering the unknown and taking on the big boys at their own game. There is no one thing that IndyCar can do to all of a sudden get 100,000 people attending every race and every race drawing 2.5 million viewers on television but they have to make an effort to get their name and the name of the drivers known to the public and not just hope one day it will hit people in the face and they will all come eagerly flocking to ticket booths.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: I Was Wrong About Jeff Gordon

After spending the better part of Saturday and Sunday watching the 24 Hour of Daytona, I need a break. Luckily there is two weeks until the Bathurst 12 Hours. This is the final week of January and by the time February gets here, we will be just over a month away from the start of the IndyCar season meaning I should get started on season previews. Only problem is how many teams will wait until the eleventh hour to complete their driver line-ups?n We know Dale Coyne won't announce his driver line-up until the morning of the season opener but how long will others wait? Either way, here is a run down of what got me thinking.

I Was Wrong About Jeff Gordon
When I got into NASCAR, I was eight years old and Jeff Gordon was "the bad guy." My uncle and grandfather, the two responsible for the motorsports-craze adult I am today, pulled for Tony Stewart because of the open-wheel background, because of his presence in IndyCar, though a divided IndyCar. At eight years old, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the second coming. He was the future. He was going to continue to carry NASCAR to promise land on the path his father paved from the thicket.

Jeff Gordon was "the bad guy." He was too prim, too proper. He wasn't NASCAR. He wasn't the second coming. He wasn't the root of all evil. He was the college educated cousin at the family reunion telling stories about fancy dinners and golf outings while the rest spent their days and nights working on the farm in the elements with dirt under their fingernails. He made everyone else look elementary.

I was wrong about Jeff Gordon. I wish I hadn't grown up being taught Jeff Gordon was "the bad guy." To be frank, I have come to like Jeff Gordon. In the decade-plus since really getting into motorsports and NASCAR in particular, I have come to put the narrative of good vs. bad behind me. I have come to appreciate a driver for their talent, not for their portrayal in the media. I have realized that the idea that someone is or isn't NASCAR is wrong.

I think it was once I hit high school I started looking Jeff Gordon differently. I think I was outgrowing the script NASCAR media was writing. I didn't want to be told who was good and who was bad. I was tired of the constant changes and was relishing something I had just missed. Everything was becoming too contrived. From the Chase to the technical regulations. It wasn't what caught me. It was the races from the 1980s and 1990s I caught on ESPN Classic. NASCAR was a square peg trying to be jammed into the round hole that the major four North American sports leagues fitted into. NASCAR with assistance from ESPN were going to make themselves fit, even if it had to lose the edges that made it unique.

Gordon is one of the final links to the NASCAR I wish I had seen. Bobby Labonte is another link but a near decade of obscurity has buried the once champion. Seeing Gordon succeed is a victory for an era I just missed. That's part of the reason for the change in my mindset.

Last autumn, when looking at the facts and figures and seeing Jeff Gordon was at 92 victories in Cup, I thought he would hit the century mark, something only Richard Petty and David Pearson have accomplished. I thought he could average two victories a year for four more years. I thought he would continue until he was 47 or 48 years old and reach the feat because it would be something NASCAR could run with and make it a storyline over the course of a season. A Gordon from just before my time will have to return for 100 victories to become a reality. Winning eight races in a season isn't impossible but it's not likely.

Gordon doesn't need to hit triple-figures to validate his greatness. He did that by winning 40 races and three titles over four seasons. I would like to see him attempt a Truck race or two and become the 26th driver to win in all three national touring divisions.

I hope Gordon's retirement isn't from competing all together. He has a family and young kids and I don't blame him from wanting to spend more time with them but I hope he realize that he can still be there and can still go to a race track five or six times a year.  I want to see Gordon pursue all the events he could never do because of the suffocating NASCAR schedule. I want to see Gordon at Le Mans in a Corvette. I want to see him back on dirt at the Chili Bowl. I want to see attempt the Indianapolis 500.

I don't think he will do any of those events though. November 22, 2015 will mark the end of his 22nd season in Cup and 797th consecutive and final start (He should break Ricky Rudd's record for most consecutive Cup starts at New Hampshire on September 27, 2015. I bet those tickets will be worth a pretty penny). After Homestead, I doubt Jeff Gordon will ever compete in anything ever again and the end to one of the last great NASCAR drivers.

Forget Gordon, Hello Chilton
While Jeff Gordon will never run the Indianapolis 500 and won't even try to attempt to make the 100th running of the race (which is a massive opportunity he is wasting), guess who is planning on being their for the platinum jubilee? Former Formula One driver and record holder for most classified finishes in a Formula One rookie season Max Chilton.

Sure, Chilton didn't have the results in Formula One like fellow Brits Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button but he was with one of the poorer teams on the grid. That's not entirely his fault. He just went out there and did his thing. He just kept turning laps and bringing the car home. To finish first, one must first finish and Chilton proves he has step one down pat.

IndyCar fans should be really excited about the possibility of Chilton joining the grid, not get upset about his nationality or lack of results in Formula One (which once again, weren't entirely his fault). It's easy to hate on someone you have never met but why not embrace Chilton like one of your own children? It would be a great thing for Chilton for him to come over and see he is wanted, not looked down upon. Twenty-four British drivers have started the Indianapolis 500 and I would be enthused for Chilton if he were to become the 25th Brit to take the green flag in the Indianapolis 500.

It Takes Two Baby
Remember when endurance races, whether it was six, 12 or 24 hours use to feature driver line-ups of just two and not three, four or five? I would love to see an endurance race, length doesn't matter, created with the driver limit per car being two. I thought it was great when Jeroen Bleekemolen and Cooper MacNeil tag teamed the #79 Prospeed Competition Porsche at Le Mans last year after Bret Curtis was concussed and the team couldn't find a third driver. It wasn't the end of the world and since the duo no longer met the criteria for GTE-Am, they moved to GTE-Pro and ended up finishing fifth in class.

It could be a multi-class race with prototypes and GT cars, it could be an all-GT3 affair. I want a throwback race where drivers are running as long as they possibly can before getting out for their co-driver to do the same.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in the 24 Hours of Daytona but did you know...

Sébastien Ogier won Rallye Monte-Carlo, the season opener for the 2015 World Rally Championship season.

Matt and Hugh Plumb won the Continental Tires SportCar Challenge season opener from Daytona driving the #13 Rum Bum Porsche 911. Spencer Pumpelly and Luis Rodriguez, Jr. won in the ST class in the #17 Rennsport One Porsche Cayman.

Trey Canard won the AMA Supercross race from Oakland.

Coming Up This Weekend
AMA Supercross heads to Anaheim for a third and final time in 2015.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ganassi All-Stars Sip Way to 24 Hours of Daytona Victory

Scott Dixon led the first lap and he led the final lap of the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans as the #02 Ganassi Racing Ford Riley took victory. It is Dixon's second career win in the 24 Hours of Daytona and Ganassi Racing's sixth 24 Hours of Daytona victory in the last ten runnings. Dixon won the 2006 race with Dan Wheldon and Casey Mears as his co-drivers.

Dixon's co-driver for this year's race each put their names in the record books. Jamie McMurray joins Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win the 24 Hours and Daytona 500. Tony Kanaan becomes the 13th Indianapolis 500 winner to win the 24 Hours of Daytona joining Andretti, Mark Donohue, Bobby Rahal, Foyt, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Arie Luyendyk, Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and Buddy Rice as the drivers to do so. This is Kyle Larson's first 24 Hours of Daytona victory in his second appearance.

The 2014 Daytona winners Sébastien Bourdais, Christian Fittipaldi and João Barbosa came home in second position with the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Jordan Taylor, Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli finishing third. The #10 were beat on fuel mileage and had to make a driver change will ten minutes to go so Jordan Taylor did not go over the maximum drive time. Dixon was able to stretch his fuel three laps longer than the #10 on stints, giving him the advantage on the final two pit stops.

The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP came home in fourth, six laps down with Mike Rockenfeller, Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook.

The #3 Corvette finished fifth overall and wins the GTLM class with Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Ryan Briscoe holding off the #25 RLLR BMW Z4 GTE of Dirk Werner, Bill Auberlen, Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler by 0.478 seconds. The top two in GTLM finished 15 laps down.

The #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP of Phil Keen, Max Papis, Eric Curran and Dane Cameron finished seventh overall, 19 laps down. The #4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Simon Pagenaud round out the GTLM podium by finishing eighth overall, 22 laps down.

A late accident by the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca handed the PC class victory to the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Tom Kimber-Smith, Andrew Palmer, Mike Guasch and Andrew Novich. Colin Braun spun the #54 Oreca on exit of the bus stop and hit the outside barrier, ending their hopes of back-to-back PC victories at Daytona. The #52 finished ninth overall, 26 laps down. The #16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca of Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Martin Plowman, Tomy Drissi and Brian Adler rounded out the top ten overall, second in PC, a lap back of the #52.

The pole-sitting #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda finished 11th, 35 laps down with Oswaldo Negri, John Pew, A.J. Allmendinger and Matt McMurry after stopping on course under that final caution for Braun's accident. The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Braun, Jon Bennett, Mark Wilkins and James Gue finished 12th, third in PC.

The #93 Riley Motorsports Dodge Viper of Dominik Farnbacher, Ben Keating, Kuno Wittmer, Cameron Lawrence and Al Carter win GTD, finishing 13th overall, 36 laps down. The #22 Alex Job Porsche of Shane Van Gisbergen, Leh Keen, Cooper MacNeil and Andrew Davis finished second in GTD, 7.588 seconds back of the Viper. Rounding out the top fifteen and the GTD podium, two laps back of the #93 Viper was the #58 Wright Motorsports Brumos Porsche of Philipp Eng, Madison Snow, Jan Heylen and Patrick Dempsey.

The next round of the 2015 IMSA United SportsCar Championship will be the 12 Hours of Sebring on March 21st.

Angelelli Leads, 21 Hours Down

With three hours to go, Max Angelelli finds himself back in first position overall after having his co-drivers Ricky and Jordan Taylor each get a stint behind the wheel. The #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP is back on the lead lap and is second with Christian Fittipaldi in second. The Ganassi Ford Rileys are third and fourth with the #01 of Sage Karam ahead of the #02 of Jamie McMurray. The top four are all on the lead lap having completed 638 laps.

Mike Rockenfeller is fifth, three laps down in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP with the #60 Shank Racing Ligier-Honda of Matt McMurry five laps down in sixth position.

Jan Magnussen leads GTLM in the #3 Corvette. The Dane is seventh overall and 12 laps down Augusto Farfus is second in class, on the same lap as the Corvette. Tommy Milner has dropped to third in class after contact on the most recent restart caused damage to the right front of the #4 Corvette. Milner is ninth overall, four laps back of the sister car. Max Papis rounds out the top ten overall, 17 laps down in the #31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP.

The PC leading #54 CORE Autosport Oreca is 11th, 21 laps down with Mark Wilkins behind the wheel. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca has closed the gap to the #54 as Andrew Palmer is a lap back and 12th overall. Martin Plowman has also gotten within a lap of Wilkins in the #16 BR1 Motorsports Oreca and is 13th.

Kuno Wittmer has the #93 Dodge Viper in front of GTD in 14th, 31 laps down. Leh Keen rounds out the top fifteen in the #22 Alex Job Porsche and the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari is third in class with Jeff Segal behind the wheel. All are on the same lap. Two laps back of the top three in GTD is the #58 Wright Motorsports Brumos Porsche of Jan Heylen.

The #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche had an engine failure end their race in GTLM. The #33 Dodge Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen is still running but fell out of contention after fuel pressure issues.

Angelelli Leads With Third To Go

Eight hours remain in the 53rd 24 Hours of Daytona and we have lost a few contenders in the wee-hours of the morning.

Max Angelelli has the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP on top overall but the number of cars on the lead lap has been half from our last update at midnight. The #01 Ganassi Ford Riley of Joey Hand leads his teammate Jamie McMurray in the #02. The #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP has moved up to four after having their fuel pressure issues just before midnight. Sébastien Bourdais sits two laps down. A lap back of the Frenchman is Mike Rockenfeller in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. Oswaldo Negri, Jr. has dropped to sixth, four laps down after the #60 Shank Racing Ligier-Honda had a run in with the tire barrier around the 13-hour mark with John Pew behind the wheel. The leaders have completed 487 laps.

The notable retirement from the Prototype class was the #1 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD ARX-04b as the FIA WEC team had a gearbox failure end their race.

Dirk Werner has the #25 RLLR BMW leading in GTLM as the German runs seventh overall, ten laps back of the #10 Corvette DP. Wolf Henzler is back behind the wheel of the #17 Team Falken Tire Porsche and is second in class with Antonio García in third driving the #3 Corvette with Simon Pagenaud driving the #4 Corvette in fourth and rounding out the top ten overall. The top four in GTLM are all on the same lap.

The two notable absences from the GTLM battle are the factory Porsches. The #911 Porsche of Marc Lieb made contact with the GTD #007 TRG Aston Martin of Christoffer Nygaard, sending the Porsche in his teammate Earl Bamber in the #912. Both cars have made repairs but the #912 is 19 laps down while the #911 has lost over 80 laps to the class leaders. The other GTLM contender bitten by mechanical gremlins was the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari electrical issues has cost them over 160 laps.

Eleventh overall is the PC leading #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of James Gue, 14 laps down overall but the defending PC race winners have extended their class lead. The #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca of Andrew Novich is five laps back of the #54, 13th overall as the #31 Action Express Corvette DP is sandwiched between the PC battle in 12th. Tomy Drissi has the pole-sitting #16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca third in class, six down to the #54 in 14th.

The #8 Starworks Oreca has retired after a motor failure.

Rounding out the top fifteen overall is the GTD class leading #33 Dodge Viper of Ben Keating as six cars all sit 23 laps back of the overall lead. Dion Von Moltke has the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi in second position in class. The Scuderia Corsa Ferraris runs third and fourth with the #64 of Andrea Bertolini ahead of Bill Sweedler in the #63. Al Carter has the #93 Dodge Viper fifth in class with the #22 Alex Job Porsche the final car on the lead lap in class with Andrew Davis behind the wheel.

Larson on Top At Midnight

Sunday is here as the 53rd running of the 24 Hours of Daytona has nearly ten hours in the bag.

The #02 Ganassi Ford Riley was leading at the quarter post but had a radiator and splitter issue force them to the garage. Luckily, the crew was able to get the repairs done under a full-course caution and only lost two laps. The team has since overcame that gap and now lead with Kyle Larson behind the wheel. They have completed 299 laps and took the lead after Ricky Taylor pitted and dropped to second. The #01 Ganassi Ford Riley runs in third with Charlie Kimball as the driver.

Pole-sitter Oswaldo Negri, Jr. has the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda in fourth. Scott Sharp is fifth driving the #1 HPD ARX-04b. Mike Rockenfeller runs sixth in the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP. Currently, the top six cars overall are on the lead lap.

The defending race winning #5 Action Express Corvette DP lost fuel pressure just prior to the nine hour mark. João Barbosa stopped on track at the kink and had to be towed back to the garage where the team quickly solved the problem. The Portuguese driver is currently eighth, three laps down. Rubens Barrichello is now behind the wheel of the #7 Starworks BMW Riley. The Brazilian is five laps back in eighth.

The top seven cars in GTLM are all on the same lap as Pierre Kaffer has the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari leading the class, ninth overall, six laps behind the overall leader. Tommy Milner has the GTLM pole-sitting #4 Corvette second in class, tenth overall with his teammate Antonio García ib 11th. Wolf Henzler is 12th as the #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche leads the factory Porsches with the #911 of Patrick Pilet ahead of the #912 of Jörg Bergmeister. Bill Auberlen is 15th overall in the #25 RLLR BMW Z4 GTE.

Colin Braun has overcome a flat left rear tire and continues to lead the PC class in the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca. They had dropped off the lead lap in class at one point. Braun is seven laps down overall and in 16th. The Texan has a three lap advantage over Tom Kimber-Smith who has the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 17th overall.

The top seven cars in GTD are all on the same lap, 14 laps down overall. The #81 GB Autosport Porsche leads the class with Pirelli World Challenge regular Mike Skeen now behind the wheel, 18th overall. Jeroen Bleekemolen is driving the #33 Dodge Viper and is second in class. Dion Von Moltke has the #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi third in class ahead of Anthony Lazzaro in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Spencer Pumpelly is fifth in the #73 Park Place Porsche. Marcos Gomes is sixth in the #64 Scuderia Corsa with Al Carter in seventh in the #33 Dodge Viper.

The #70 Mazda Skyactiv-D Prototype retired after running in the top ten at the quarter mark of the race after having an oil pump failure.

The #51 AF Corse Ferrari and #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin got together at turn six after François Perrodo spun the GTLM Ferrari and drove into the racing line leaving Brandon Davis' V12 Vantage nowhere to go. The #007 has since been repaired and Christina Nielsen is behind the wheel.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ganassi 1-2 At Quarter Post

Six hours have been completed in the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona and the Ford Rileys of Ganassi Racing find themselves in first and second. Joey Hand leads in the #01 Ford after completing 197 laps with Tony Kanaan running second in the #02 Ford. Ganassi has led most of the first six hours. Scott Dixon took the lead on the initial start of the race for the #02.

The pole-sitting #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier-Honda of A.J. Allmendinger is third with the defending race winners, the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP in fourth being driven by Sébastien Bourdais. Max Angelelli rounds out the top five in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP despite that car having to overcome wheel sensor issues. Richard Westbrook is the last driver on the lead lap driving the #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP in sixth position.

The #7 Starworks BMW Riley of Tor Graves is seventh, one lap down. Ryan Dalziel is eighth in the #1 Extreme Speed Motorsports HPD-ARX 04-b, two laps down. The surprise of the race so far has been the #70 Mazda Skyactiv-D Prototype as James Hinchcliffe has the car sitting ninth overall, five laps down.

Mark Wilkins leads the PC class in the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca, tenth overall. Jan Magnussen leads a freight train of GTLM entires as the #3 Corvette is 11th with his teammate, Oliver Gavin in the #4 Corvette in 12th. Olivier Beretta has the #62 Risi Competition Ferrari in 13th. The factory Porsche of Nick Tandy has the Team Falken Tires Porsche of Bryan Sellers behind him as they round out the top fifteen. Augusto Farfus is 16th and the final GTLM car on the same lap as Magnussen.

Mike Hedlund is a lap back of the PC leading CORE Autosport Oreca as he has the #8 Starworks Oreca in 17th with Rusty Mitchell third in class, two laps back of Wilkins in the JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca, 18th overall.

Kuno Wittmer leads GTD in the #93 Dodge Viper. The Canadian is 23rd overall, nine laps down. Jeff Segal is second in class in 24th as he and co-drivers Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler look to win consecutive years in the GTD class for the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. The lone Audi R8 on the GTD lead lap is the #48 Paul Miller Racing being driven by Bryce Miller at this time. Rory Butcher has the #81 GB Autosport Porsche in fourth in class despite co-driver Damien Faulkner having a spin early in the race that cause damage to the rear bumper. Vipers bookend the top five in GTD as Al Carter is behind the wheel of the #33 Viper.

Other GTD cars on the lead lap in class are Cooper MacNeil (#22 Alex Job Porsche) and Kevin Éstre (#73 Park Place Porsche).

Notable retirements include the #11 RSR Racing Oreca which was leading the PC class for part of the first quarter of the race with Bruno Junqueira. The #98 Aston Martin of Stefan Mücke was towed back to the garage area but is now back on track, last in GTLM. The #0 DeltaWing of Andy Meyrick was the first retirement with transmission failure despite running competitively in the top five at the time of retirement.

Friday, January 23, 2015

2015 24 Hours of Daytona Favorites, Challengers and Sleepers

The grid is set and final practice in the books for the 53rd 24 Hours of Daytona. Each team has had plenty of time on track to prepare for the twice-around-the-clock classic and in less than 24 hours, 53 teams will take the green flag for the start of the 2015 IMSA United SportsCar Championship.

After four practice session and qualifying, we will look at the favorite in each class and a sleeper for victory. We will start in Prototypes, work our way to GTLM before finishing with Prototype Challenge and GTD.

Favorite: #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS P2-Honda
The Shank Ligier-Honda has been on top of every session and I am completely stunned. Considering the beat down LMP2 cars experienced in 2014 with Daytona Prototypes winning nine of eleven races, I was expecting more of the same in 2015 as Shank on the Speedsource Mazdas are the only full-time LMP2 entries. However, Oswaldo Negri took pole position on Thursday with a 1:39.194 seconds, over a tenth faster than Scott Dixon in the #02 Ganassi Racing Ford-Riley. They were fastest in all four practice session by margins of 1.115 seconds, 0.642 seconds, 0.787 seconds and 0.327 seconds. All signs point to the #60 Shank Ligier-Honda standing on top of the podium at 2:10 p.m. Sunday, the teams second victory at Daytona. Negri, John Pew and A.J. Allmendinger were each part of Shank's victory in 2012 while the 17-year old Matt McMurry would surely break the record for youngest winner in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Challengers: #01 and #02 Ganassi Ford Rileys, #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP
Ganassi is always a challenger at Daytona having won six of the last nine runnings of the 24 Hours of Daytona. The #02 "All-Star" Ford-Riley of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray topped the #01 of Scott Pruett, Joey Hand, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam as they will start second and third. A victory for Pruett would give him a record-setting sixth 24 Hours of Daytona victory while his teammates Hand and Kimball would each get their second while Sage Karam would become the youngest winner in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona at 19 years old. Dixon is looking for his second Daytona victory while he three co-drivers would all get their first.

The #5 Action Express Corvette DP of Christian Fittipaldi, João Barbosa and Sébastien Bourdais are looking for their second consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona triumph. They were second in the first three practice sessions to the #60 Shank Ligier but will start fourth in the race. The defending IMSA champions Fittipaldi and Barbosa are each going for their third Daytona victory, Bourdais his second.

Sleepers: #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP, #57 Krohn Racing Ligier-Judd, #7 Starworks BMW-Riley
The Spirit of Daytona trio of Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiante and Mike Rockenfeller will start tenth but look out for them. They finished fourth last year and has been in the top ten in every session. Rockenfeller won the 2010 24 Hours of Daytona for Action Express with João Barbosa, Ryan Dalziel and Terry Borcheller as his teammates. Valiante has made a great career in sports cars but is lacking that big victory on his résumé.

Krohn Racing will be running the European Le Mans Series full-time in 2015 but start at Daytona and will start sixth. Just like Shank, Krohn has showed the strength of the Ligier but with a Judd engine as sixth has been their worst finish in a practice session. Regulars Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson are joined by Alex Brundle and Olivier Pla, the two drivers who had a great year with OAK Racing in 2014.

Starworks has put together an all-star line-up with Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley, Formula One ironman and Stock Car Brasil champion Rubens Barrichello, Tor Graves and Scott Mayer. They start eighth but were in the top five in each of the final two practice sessions.

Keep an eye on the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP. They did not get on track for final practice and will start seventh. The #0 DeltaWing starts a surprising fifth but this will be a real test of reliability for the team in their second Daytona appearance.

Favorite: #4 Corvette
Corvette has been impressive on speed as everyone the Porsches appeared set to dominate Daytona for the second consecutive year at the Roar. However, the three Porsches start in the final three positions in class and Oliver Gavin won pole by over three-tenths of a second over the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. Le Mans class winner Tommy Milner and IndyCar's Simon Pagenaud round out a pretty stout driver line-up as Corvette looks to start 2015 much better than last year when both cars failed to be contending at the finish.

Challengers: #51 AF Corse Ferrari, #98 Aston Martin, #3 Corvette
The #51 AF Corse was fastest in two of four practice sessions and features the defending GT world champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander, 2005 24 Hours of Daytona winner Emmanuel Collard  and François Perrodo. They have been the quicker than their full-time North American Risi Competizione counterparts in every session but final practice. The talent and speed is there for the Italian team to steal a victory from the full-time IMSA teams.

Speaking of having the talent and speed to steal victory away in a cameo, the #98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 has a stacked line-up with FIA World Endurance Championship race winners Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke being joined by newest addition to Aston Martin Racing Matthias Lauda rounding out the five-headed British monster. They start third.

If the #4 Corvette is the favorite, you have to bet the #3 Corvette could also end up on top of GTLM. Jan Magnussen and Antonio García won four races last year but failed to finish on the class podium outside of those four victories. The Dane and Spaniard will be joined by Ryan Briscoe, who was their third driver for all the North American Endurance Cup events except Watkins Glen.

Sleeper: #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche
Despite starting ninth out of ten in GTLM, the #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche shows up for the endurance races. They have won back-to-back Petit Le Mans and Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers will be joined by Patrick Long. If there is one team to put your money on to beat all odds, it's Team Falken Tires.

Prototype Challenge
Favorite: #54 CORE Autosport
CORE Autosport dominated the 2014 season as Colin Braun and Jon Bennett cruised to the championship, winning three of four NAEC races including Daytona. They were fastest until qualifying when they were beat by the #16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca for pole position but starting second is not that bad. Mark Wilkins and James Gue are back alongside Braun and Bennett after last year's victory.

Challengers: #16 BAR1 Motorsports, #11 RSR Racing
The #16 BAR1 Motorsports Oreca is on pole position after Johnny Mowlem put down an exceptional lap. Tom Papadopoulos will join Mowlem as full-time drivers in the #16. They are joined by FIA WEC LMP2 world champion Martin Plowman, Trans-Am champion Tomy Drissi and Brian Alder.

RSR Racing quartet of Chris Cumming, Bruno Junqueira, Jack Hawksworth and Gustavo Menezes will start seventh but were fastest in the final two practice sessions. Cumming and Hawksworth won at Indianapolis last year.

Sleeper: #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports
They start third and have been in the top three in three of the four practice sessions. The 2013 ALMS PC champion Mike Guasch and Andrew Novich are joined by Pirelli World Challenge race winner Andrew Palmer and three-time Le Mans class winner Tom Kimber-Smith.

Favorite: #33 Riley Technology Dodge Viper SRT
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won twice in 2014 driving the Riley Viper and have been constantly at the top of GTD in practice and were on top at the Roar earlier in the month. They are joined by Belgian sports car veteran Marc Goosens, Al Carter and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen.

Challengers: #93 Riley Technology Dodge Viper SRT, #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin, #44 Magnus Racing Porsche
The #33's sister car was second in the test and that driver line-up is just as impressive as the #33. Keating and Carter are also entered in the #93 alongside former Viper GTLM teammates Dominik Farnbacher and Kuno Wittmer as well as Cameron Lawrence.

The #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin starts on pole after James Davison laid down a surprising lap to take pole position form the #33 Viper. He will be joined by Christian Nielsen, FIA WEC race winner Christoffer Nygaard and Brandon Davis.

Magnus Racing won the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona GT class with Andy Lally and John Potter and will be joined by Marco Seefried and Martin Ragginger. The #44 Porsche was in the top five in three of four practices but will start eighth in class.

Sleeper: #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche, #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche
The Brumos Racing-livery Porsche of Wright Motorsports will start fourth and was second fastest in two of four session. Madison Snow and Jan Heylen finished third last year at Daytona and finished second at Petit Le Mans last year. They will be joined by Patrick Dempsey and Phillip Eng.

Alex Job Racing features talented IMSA drivers Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen, Andrew Davis and V8 Supercars' Shane Van Gisbergen. MacNeil and Keen finished third last year in the championship. Keen and Davis finished third in GT in the 2012 24 Hours of Daytona driving for Brumos Racing Porsche.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

For the 53rd time, sports cars make their way to Daytona International Speedway for the twice-around-the-clock endurance race to kickoff the North American road racing season. Fifty-three cars are entered for the 53rd 24 Hours of Daytona.

The defending winners of Christian Fittipaldi, João Barbosa and Sébastien Bourdais are back in the #5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP as they lead 16 entries in the Prototype class. The last time three drivers won back-to-back 24 Hours of Daytona was in 1986 and 1987 when Al Hobert, Derek Bell and Al Unser, Jr. won driving a Porsche 962. Chip Robinson joined the trio for the 1987 victory.

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP was fastest at the Roar Before the 24 test earlier in the month with Jordan and Ricky Taylor being joined by Max Angelelli as Angelelli and Wayne Taylor Racing celebrate their 10-year anniversary from their only 24 Hours of Daytona victory to date. They were 0.129 seconds quicker than the #5 Corvette DP. Third fastest from the test was the #60 Michael Shank Racing Ligier JS PS2-Honda of Oswaldo Negri, John Pew, A.J. Allmendinger and Matt McMurray. Negri, Pew and Allmendinger were all apart of Shank's 2012 victory. McMurray became the youngest driver to ever run the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year when he was 16 years old.

The Ganassi Racing Ford-Riley were fourth and fifth at the test. Scott Pruett and Joey Hand are joined by Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam in the #01 while Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray will drive the #02. A victory for Pruett will give him a record-breaking sixth, 24 Hours of Daytona victory. Dixon, Hand and Kimball all have victories at Daytona. Dixon won with Dan Wheldon and Casey Mears in 2006, Hand won with Pruett, Graham Rahal and Memo Rojas in 2011 and Kimball won with Pruett, Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2013.

The DeltaWing was a surprise sixth overall at the Roar with Memo Rojas moving over to the #0 from Ganassi and will be joined by Katherine Legge, Gabby Chaves and Andy Meyrick. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvett DP is a sleeper with Richard Westbrook, Michael Valiante and Mike Rockenfeller and was seventh at the Roar. The #31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Corvette DP of Eric Curran, Dane Cameron, Max Papis and Phil Keen was eighth in testing ahead of the #7 Starworks BMW-Riley with an all-star line-up of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Brendon Hartley, Rubens Barrichello, Tor Graves and Scott Mayer. The #57 Krohn Racing Ligier-Honda of Tracy Krohn, Nic Jönsson, Alex Brundle and Olivier Pla rounded out the top ten at testing.

Extreme Speed Motorsports has entered two HPD ARX-04bs with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson in the #1 with Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogarty in the #2. RG Racing will have four drivers splitting the #66 BMW-Riley as team owner Robert Gewirtz is joined by Shane Lewis, Mark Kvamme and David Cheng. The #50 Highway to Help BMW-Riley had an accident in testing but have repaired their car and will have Dorsey Schroeder return to the cockpit alongside David Hinton, Jim Pace and Byron DeFoor.

Mazda prepares for their sophomore season with the Skyactiv-D Prototypes as Joel Miller, Tom Long, Ben Devlin and Sylvain Tremblay will be in the #07. Tremblay is also entered in the #70 with Jonathan Bomarito, Tristan Nunez and James Hinchcliffe.

In Prototype Challenge, last year's winners the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca was on top in testing as Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, James Gue and Mark Wilkins all return looking to go back-to-back. Second fastest in class was the #11 RSR Racing Oreca of Bruno Junquiera, Chris Cumming, Jack Hawksworth and Gustavo Menezes. Starworks' #8 PC entry was third in testing as Ranger van der Zande, Alex Popow, Mirco Schultis, Mike Hedlund and Felipe Albuquerque are entered.

BAR1 Motorsports has two entries. Johnny Mowlem, Tom Papadopoulos, Tomy Drissi, Brian Adler and Martin Plowman are entered in the #16.  Plowman is also entered in BAR1's #61 entry as are Marc Drumwright, Ivo Breukers, Shelby Blackstock and Remo Ruscitti. PR1/Mathiasen have Andrew Palmer, Tom Kimber-Smith, Mike Guasch and Andrew Novich entered in the #52. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports entry will feature James French, Jerome Mee and James Vance. Finally, JDC/Miller Motorsports have entered Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson, Rusty Mitchell and Mikhail Goikhberg in the #85.

Porsche won last year in GTLM and they were on top of the test with the #912 Porsche 911 RSR of Jörg Bergmeister, Earl Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki. Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet will return to defend their GTLM victory and will be joined by Marc Lieb in the #911 Porsche. Aston Martin returns with the #98 Vantage V8 being shared by Pedro Lamy, Paul Dalla Lana, Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Mathias Lauda. The Aston Martin was second fastest in the test, sandwiched between the Porsches.

The #3 Corvette C7.R of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Ryan Briscoe was fourth quickest in the test ahead of the #62 Risi Competizione. Pierre Kaffer, Davide Rigon, Giancarlo Fisichella and Olivier Beretta will pilot the Risi Ferrari 458 Italia. The #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW Z4 GTE will see Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner joined by DTM winners Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler.

Team Falken Tire Porsche ended 2014 with a victory in Petit Le Mans. Wolf Henzler and Bryan Sellers will be joined by Patrick Long at Daytona and were seventh in test. Behind the Team Falken Tire Porsche was the #4 Corvette with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner being joined by Team Penske's Simon Pagenaud. AF Corse have enter the #51 Ferrari with world champions Giancarlo Bruni and Toni Vilander being joined by 2005 Daytona winner Emmanuel Collard and François Perrodo. The #24 RLLR BMW will see John Edwards and Lucas Luhr joined by Jens Klingmann and Graham Rahal.

GTD, the largest class in this year's 24 Hours of Daytona with 19 entries, was led by the Riley Technology Dodge Viper SRTs during the test. The #33 of Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Al Carter, Marc Goosens and Sebastiaan Bleekemolen led the #93 of Dominik Farnbacher, Kuno Wittmer and Cameron Lawrence. Carter and Keating are also entered in the #93. The #58 Brumos Porsche Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 America was third in the test with Madison Snow, Jan Heylen, Patrick Dempsey and Phillip Eng as the drivers. The #28 Konrad Motorsport Porsche of Klaus Bachler, Christoper Zoechling, Christian Engelhart, Lance Willsey and Rolf Ineichen was fourth during the test. Porsche rounded out the top five with the #81 GB Autosport entry of Mike Skeen, Damien Faulkner, Kuba Giermaziak, Rory Butcher and Mike Avenatti.

TRG has entered two Aston Martin V12 Vantages. The #007 of James Davison, Christina Nielsen, Christoffer Nygaard and Brandon Davis was sixth at the test. Flying Lizard Motorsports will field the #45 Audi R8 LMS with Markus Winkelhock, Robert Thorne, Satoshi Hoshino and Tomonobu Fujii and were seventh in the test. The #22 Alex Job Porsche features regulars Cooper MacNeil, Leh Keen and Andrew Davis and those three will be joined by V8 Supercars' Shane Van Gisbergen. Paul Miller Racing sees Audi factory driver René Rast joining Christopher Haase, Bryce Miller and Dion von Moltke. The #009 TRG-Aston Martin rounded out the top ten at the test with Derek DeBoer and Max Riddle the only drivers entered to date. More drivers could still be added to the #009 driver line-up.

A few other notable entries in GTD include the #44 Magnus Racing Porsche with Andy Lally, John Potter, Marco Seefried and Martin Ragginger. Defending class winners Bill Sweedler, Townsend Bell and Jeff Segal will all be in the #63 Scuderia Corse Ferrari with Anthony Lazzaro. Defending GTD champions Turner Motorsport has entered the #97 BMW Z4 with Michael Marsal, Markus Palttala, Andy Priaulx and Boris Said.

First practice for the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona will be at 9:25 a.m. ET on Thursday. There will be a 30-minute practice session at 1:20 p.m. ET with qualifying taking place at 4:00 p.m. ET Thursday. The final session on Thursday will be a 90-minute session beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Final practice before the start of the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona will be at 11:25 a.m. ET on Friday and last one hour.

Green flag for 24 Hours of Daytona will be at 2:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Fox will show the start of the race at 2:00 p.m. ET. At 4:00 p.m. ET, coverage will shift to Fox Sports 2 and Fox Sports 1 will close out Saturday coverage starting at 8:00 p.m. ET and will close out the night at 10:00 p.m. will have overnight coverage with Fox Sports 1 picking up coverage at 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning and going through the checkered flag, ending at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 Series Enthusiasm Rankings

I normally don't do rankings because they are a waste of time and are a lowbrow way to get views to a website/blog. Plus, they are very subjective and are many times agenda driven. However, with the 24 Hours of Daytona less than a week away and lots of testing going on, some public, some under the cover of secrecy, there are many series I can't wait to get on track this year.

The premise is I am going to rank the ten series I am most enthusiastic for in 2015. I am only going to do ten but let me point out that just because it is number ten doesn't mean it's the series I care about the least or the series that I think will be the most boring. I am genuinely looking forward to all these series. This is just for fun. Some series didn't make the list but that doesn't mean I am not looking forward to them.

Honorable mentions to World Superbike and Supersport, European Le Mans, IMSA, DTM, World Rally, World Touring Car Championship, GP2, GP3, the NASCAR Truck Series and Super GT.

10. Formula E
Technically the Formula E season is already in session but with two months before the second half of the season begins, it will be interesting to see how the inaugural championship plays out. Lucas di Grassi has been stout with only a suspension failure at Buenos Aires keeping him from perfect attendance on the podium. The e.dams with drivers Sébastien Buemi and Nicolas Prost lead the Teams' Championship but both drivers have let victories slip from their grasp. Sam Bird and António Félix da Costa each have victories to their name and Nelson Piquet, Jr. has finished on the podium in back-to-back race. All five drivers are within maximum points from one race (30) of di Grassi heading into the second half. If anyone outside that margin want a shot at the title, they are going to have to dominate.

I am looking forward to how the races go in Miami and Long Beach as well as how the series holds up momentum as the established championships get underway. This worked great in October, December and January when they had no competition but what attention will the series get in May and June when Formula One, FIA WEC, IndyCar and many other series are in action?

9. Blancpain GT Series
This goes for both the Endurance and the Sprint Series. I want to see if Bentley can take the fight to Audi and Mercedes in their sophomore season. I want to see if the new McLaren 650S GT3 can compete for victories and I want to see if the races will still be geo-blocked online in the United States and Canada because CBS Sports Network believes keeping the races from those who want to see them live will draw them in for a tape-delayed version many hours later.

8. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Despite how much I despise the Chase, I do like NASCAR. I enjoyed many races last year and I can't wait for the Daytona 500. Can Toyota bounce back after winning only two races all of 2014? Can someone who has no shot at the championship win a race and cause NBC to go bananas even though we all know they likely won't make it past round one? Will Ryan Newman continue not to win races but remain eligible for the title? How long before Brad Keselowski does something to land on probation?

I want to see if last year's crop of rookies take a step forward. Everyone is projecting Kyle Larson to get a victory but can he do more than that? Larson scored the eighth most points in 2014 (he finished 17th because of the Chase), 13 points more than Jimmie Johnson and more than the likes of Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and both Busch brothers. Despite winning pole for last year's Daytona 500, Austin Dillon was average all of 2014, scoring only four top tens in 36 races. Newman showed that Richard Childress Racing has the equipment to run at the front, can Dillon build off what he learned in 2014? By the way, after an impressive rookie class in 2014, as of today, Trevor Bayne is the only rookie of the year candidate for 2015 and that is a little misleading considering he has already made 58 Cup starts over five seasons but 57 of those starts came after the 2010 season, when drivers could only be declared eligible for one of NASCAR's three national touring series championships.

7. Formula One
The question in Formula One for 2015 isn't if Mercedes will win, it's just how much closer will their competition be? I think the other Mercedes-powered teams such as Williams will reel them in but still not be a threat to knock off the factory team for the championship. Red Bull will be entering a new era as Sebastian Vettel has moved to Ferrari and Honda reunites with McLaren. The really intriguing parts of the 2015 Formula One season won't happen on the track but off as the manufactures fight for the right to develop their engines during the season and the back half of the grid fight to get a bigger slice of the pie.

6. MotoGP
It's as simple as this: Marc Márquez vs. Valentino Rossi vs. Jorge Lorenzo. It will be a three-way fight for the title and everyone else will be competing for fourth, which should got to Dani Pedrosa but maybe someone can beat the Honda rider. Andrea Dovizioso has been consistent on the factory Ducati and his new teammate Andrea Iannone had some really good runs on the Pramac Ducati in 2014. Aleix Espargaró was the top "Open" entries last season and it landed him a factory ride with the returning Suzuki outfit. Will he make a step forward in 2015? Speaking of "Open" entries, can anyone match the success of Aleix Espargaró? Finally, 2015 could mark the final season for Nicky Hayden, possibly the last American on the grid for quite sometime.

5. Super Formula
Fast cars and a gird that appears to be getting deeper. Kazuki Nakajima, João Paulo de Oliveira, André Lotterer, Loïc Duval, James Rossiter, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan were on the grid in 2014. Kamui Kobayashi, Bertrand Baguette, Fabio Leimer and Jann Mardenborough all ran at Super Formula's end-of-year test and all would be great additions to the Super Formula grid. If only there was an easier way to get the races in the United States.

4. IndyCar
Everyone is talking about aero kit. Almost everyone agrees that one manufacture is going to have a massive leg up on the other. No one thinks when the aero kits debut at the mid-March Barber test and St. Petersburg at the end of the month that Chevrolet and Honda will be nearly equal. Honda was shellacked at the end of 2014 as Chevrolet won the final six races and won final eight pole positions. Aero kits might be Honda's only hope to dethrone Chevrolet as the American make has won every  manufactures' championships since returning in 2012.

The IndyCar grid will see a shake up in the final two months before the season opener. We already had a massive dominos fall in Simon Pagenaud to Penske and James Hinchcliffe to Schmidt Peterson but we are just getting started. Justin Wilson could be heading to Andretti and Andretti could have five cars with the fifth being split by Zach Veach and Jean-Éric Vergne. Sage Karam is the leading candidate for the fourth seat at Ganassi. We don't know who will be sharing the #20 with Ed Carpenter but all signs point to J.R. Hildebrand. Alexander Rossi has been hanging around Dale Coyne. KV and Schmidt each have a second seat open and with a list of drivers such as Stefano Coletti, Davide Valsecchi, Conor Daly, Daniel Abt, Ryan Briscoe, Dean Stoneman and Gabby Chaves all free agents, they have their work cut out for them.

The grid only appears to be getting deeper for IndyCar and the technical side of things could cause headaches for a few while being a godsend to others.

3. FIA World Endurance Championship
Nissan joins Toyota, Audi and Porsche in LMP1. LMP2 is growing. Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin look to continue there battle in GTE. FIA WEC arguably has the deepest field of drivers on any grid in the world. Drivers that have been overlooked by Formula One have found new life in WEC and we have seen great battles in all four classes with these drivers.

Let's not forget to mention the technological sophistication of LMP1 and the anticipation in the reveal  of Nissan's GT-R LM NISMO and Nissan's driver line-up. Can Audi take the fight back to Toyota? Can Porsche build off of a successful return season in 2014 that ended in victory? Will Nissan struggle or will they be able to battle with the three other LMP1 manufactures? Will Ferrari be dethroned in GTE?

The rumors of a Ferrari return to prototypes has died down but that doesn't mean it is dead in the water. Finally, we wait to hear if Corvette, Ford with their newly revealed Ford GT set for a 2016 release and/or Acura with their new NSX consider joining the GTE ranks in a few seasons. FIA WEC has a lot going for them as they also look to expand from eight rounds in the next few seasons.

2. Pirelli World Challenge
As with the Blancpain GT Series, Pirelli World Challenge is a showcase of the best GT3 has to offer and it's only getting better. Cadillac will be debuting the ATS-V.R GT3 as Johnny O'Connell looks for his fourth consecutive title. CRP Racing gave Cadillac a fight until the final race with Mike Skeen in the Audi R8. Bentley Team Dyson Racing will return with two cars after joining the series midseason in 2014 and winning their first race at the final round of 2014 with Guy Smith at Miller Motorsports Park.

Turner Motosport, Scuderia Corsa and Flying Lizard Motorsports, who are partnering with K-Pax Racing, are all joining PWC in 2015 while the addition of the GT Cup class will provide another dozen entries to each round. There is still the possibility of Nissan supporting a full-time effort with Andretti Autosport running the operation. Reiter Engineering could run a Lamborghini Gallardo Extenso R-EX full-time.

The GT teams will have added incentive to do well in 2015 as the top three will head to the Bake World Challenge, the final round of the Blancpain Sprint Series season from the capital of Azerbaijan.

In GTS, Blackdog Speed Shop's Lawson Aschenbach goes for his third consecutive title with the Chevrolet team and fourth career. He will have stiff competition from Jack Baldwin and the GTSport Racing Porsche and the Kia Racing Optimas of Mark Wilkins and Nic Jönsson. Dean Martin, Nick Esayian and Jack Roush, Jr. will look to put the Ford Mustang Boss 302 on top. Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing returns to competition after having their 2014 season end after one race due to Memo Gidley's massive accident in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Jon Fogarty with pilot a Hyundai Genesis Coupe for his long-time team owner.

1. Indy Lights
This series was as good as dead for the past three seasons. Grids struggling to break double figures, talented drivers not getting the best development possible. It wasn't good and it appeared Indy Lights was going to vanish.

The introduction of the Dallara IL-15 breathed life into the series and has attracted many eyes, including a few from Europe. You will have all the usually names. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will have four cars. Andretti Autosport should have two. Defending champions Belardi Auto Racing are looking to have two entries as should Team Moore. Joining them is the big fish from the United Kingdom, Carlin. Having produced champions in British Formula Three, Formula Renault 3.5 and GP3, they have expanded their operation to North America and will run two cars. Juncos Racing will graduate from Pro Mazda to Indy Lights and run two cars.  IMSA regulars 8Star Motorsports has a car and should be on the grid while Conquest Racing, Fan Force United, Bryan Herta Autosport and a few others could still join the grid.

As for drivers, last year's runner-up Jack Harvey returns to Schmidt and he will be joined by 2014 U.S. F2000 runner-up R.C. Enerson, Road to Indy veteran Scott Anderson and one-time GP3 driver Ethan Ringel. Pro Mazda champion Spencer Pigot and Kyle Kaiser have both be promoted and will remain teammates at Juncos. Shelby Blackstock will be at Andretti Autosport. Belardi and Carlin will each bring drivers over who have been compete in Europe in recent seasons. Puerto Rican Félix Serrallés leaves Formula Three to join Belardi and Emirati Ed Jones will also leave Formula Three to join Carlin.

Scott Hargrove has tested for 8Star and appears to be in line for that seat. I hope the Canadian Hargrove gets it as he and Pigot had a budding rivalry last year in Pro Mazda and it is the type of rivalry IndyCar needs to foster. I hope Matthew Brabham returns for another season with Andretti as he should be a championship contender if he is on the grid. Other drivers from 2014 who have not announced intention to return in 2015 are Zach Veach, Alexandre Baron, Luiz Razia, Juan Pablo García, Juan Piedranhita and Zack Meyer.

The last time Indy Lights had a grid with more than 15 starters since the 2012 Freedom 100 when 18 cars started and a 19th (Andres Krohn) had a gearbox let him down on pace laps. I think Indy Lights will average around 15 entries per race and are setting up for a season to remember.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Cup Check

We are less than a week away from the 24 Hours of Daytona, the first major road course event of the North American motorsports season but there was the Chili Bowl this weekend to kick-off the oval season and the Dakar Rally wrapped up from Argentina. Things are heating up off the track as IndyCar and Indy Lights driver line-up are getting finalized while the due date for aero kit homologation was yesterday. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Cup Check
What do Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger all have in common? They are all full-time NASCAR Cup Series drivers competing in the 24 Hours of Daytona. That's it. Three. No Jeff Gordon. No Jimmie Johnson. No Dale Earnhardt, Jr. No Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth or defending champion Kevin Harvick.

How disappointing. While the 24 Hours of Daytona is the season opener for IMSA, to me, it also serves as one of the few opportunities for the best drivers from the North American-based series to come together and the event has an All-Star feel. I want to see all-star driver line-ups. I want Will Power, Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose to team up or Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya and Justin Wilson. The 24 Hours of Daytona make the absurd possible. Imagine a car with the names Earnhardt, Andretti and Brabham all above the door (and I am talking about Dale, Jr., Marco and Matthew). You never know what will happen when you pair up the best from different disciplines (see Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt at Le Mans 1967).

As much as some will bash NASCAR drivers and say the lack of their participation is because their true lack of talent but that isn't the case. Plenty NASCAR drivers can go wheel-to-wheel with the best in the world. Their lack of participation is because of the bubble wrapping team owners. They are too busy focused on the negative of their driver being hurt or worse and it is understandable but you cannot let fear paralyze you and keep someone from once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

We have to give a tip of the cap to Ganassi for bringing his IndyCar and NASCAR drivers together for Daytona and for Allmendinger being just enough under the radar to do Daytona without it being a big deal to his car owner. NASCAR should be encouraging their drivers to run the 24 Hours. You want your drivers out there, three weeks before the season begins to drum up interest. No offense but the 24 Hours of Daytona will not make SportsCenter or any other major national publication if Christian Fittipaldi, João Barbosa and Sébastien Bourdais win again. However, if Jimmie Johnson was in that team or Jeff Gordon or Brad Keselowski or Kevin Harvick, maybe it gets a quick plug with a reminder of the Cup season being only weeks away.

IndyCar Runneth Over
Speaking of the 24 Hours of Daytona, I count 12 confirmed/potential full-time driver in the upcoming IndyCar season on the entry list: Gabby Chaves, Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Sage Karam, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Jack Hawksworth, Ryan Briscoe, Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal.

Let's not forget to mentions drivers at Daytona with recent IndyCar experience: Katherine Legge, Ryan Dalziel, Scott Sharp, Rubens Barrichello, A.J. Allmendinger, Bruno Junqueira, Martin Plowman, Lucas Luhr, Jan Heylen, Townsend Bell and James Davison.

And of course, those who raced in IndyCar many moons ago: Christian Fittipaldi, Max Papis, Michael Valiante, Scott Pruett, Jan Magnussen and Anthony Lazzaro.

I am going to reiterate that IndyCar should open their season at Daytona the Friday night prior to the 24 Hours of Daytona. If IndyCar is ending their season by Labor Day so they don't have to go head-to-head with football season than they better be starting as soon football season ends. The 24 Hours of Daytona weekend falls during the bye week before the Super Bowl and running Friday night would come with opposition only from the NBA and college basketball seeing as how the NHL is off for their All-Star Weekend.

If IndyCar is going to handcuff themselves by ending before summer ends, then they have to start their season at the earliest possible moment. Otherwise they are just wasting time and golden weekends when they won't have to compete with football. Because, as you know, football is IndyCars stiffest competition when it comes to viewers.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nasser Al-Attiyah, Marc Coma, Rafał Sonik and Airat Mardeev but did you know...

Rico Abreu won the Chili Bowl.

Ken Roczen won the AMA Supercross race from Anaheim.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
The 2015 World Rally Championship season kicks off with Rallye Monte-Carlo.
AMA Supercross will head to Oakland.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Al-Attiyah, Coma, Sonik and Mardeev Are Dakar Winners

The 2015 Dakar Rally is complete and we have two first-time winners with one competitor scoring his second consecutive Dakar victory.

Robby Gordon won the final stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally in the car class. The American defeated Toyota's Leeroy Poulter by 25 seconds with Argentina Emiliano Spataro finishing four seconds behind the South African in third. Orlando Terranova finished behind his countryman in fourth, 31 seconds back with Giniel de Villiers rounding out the top five, 34 seconds back of Gordon.

Nasser Al-Attiyah clinched his second career Dakar Rally victory with a sixth place finish, 39 seconds back of Gordon. Bernhard Ten Brinke finished seventh, nine seconds behind the Qatari with Krzysztof Holowczyc finishing eighth, a second off the Dutchman. Erik Van Loon finished 57 seconds behind Gordon in ninth with Vladimir Vasilyev rounding out the top ten, a minute and one second back.

Al-Attiyah wins the 2015 Dakar Rally by 35 minutes and 34 seconds over de Villiers. Holowczyc finishes third, an hour and 31 minutes back. Van Loon and Vasilyev round out the top five, both finishing over three hours behind Al-Attiyah. Christian Lavielle finished just under three hours and 16 minutes back in sixth. Ten Brinke finished seventh, just a half hour behind the Frenchman. Carlos Sousa finished within three minutes of Ten Brinke in eight. Aidyn Rakhimbayev finished ninth, four hours and eight minutes back with Ronan Chabot rounding out the top ten, four hours and 42 minutes back.

Stéphane Peterhansel finished 11th, just over five hours behind Al-Attiyah. Terranova and Gordon finished 18th and 19th respectively, both over seven hours back.

Ivan Jakeš and Stefan Svitko made it a Slovakian 1-2 in the final stage of the bike class with 45 seconds cover the KTM riders. Toby Price swept the podium for the Austrian bike as the Australian finished a minute and seven seconds behind Jakes. Paulo Gonçalves finished fourth, eight seconds off the podium. Marc Coma scored his fifth h Dakar Rally victory in the bike class and second consecutive, finishing fifth on the stage, three minutes and 11 seconds off Jakes.

Dutch riders Hans Vogels and Frans Verhoeven finished sixth and seventh. Vogels was 25 seconds back of Coma and Verhoeven finished 59 seconds off Vogels. Pablo Quintanilla came home eighth, 17 seconds off Verhoeven. Xavier de Soultrait finished a minute and two seconds behind the Chilean with Laia Sanz rounding out the top ten, two minutes and a second behind the French rider.

Coma wins the 2015 Dakar Rally by 16 minutes and 53 seconds over Gonçalves. Price finished third, 23 minutes and 14 seconds off the Spaniard. Quintanilla and Svitko round out the top five both within an hour of Coma. Ruben Faria finished an hour and 57 minutes back in sixth. David Casteu finished two hours back in seventh. Jakeš finished 18 minutes off Casteu in eight. Sanz finished six minutes back back of Jakeš with Olivier Pain rounding out the top ten, three hours and nine minutes back.

South African Willem Saaijman won his first stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally in the quad class. Saaijman held off Christophe Declerck by six seconds as the Frenchman was looking for a hat trick of stage victories to close out the 2015 Dakar Rally. Argentine Daniel Domaszewski finished nine seconds back in third. Italian Juan Carlos Carignani was 39 seconds back in fourth with Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano finishing fifth, three minutes and 42 second back.

Argentine Pablo Luis Bustamante and Chilean Sebastian Palma finished sixth and seventh on the stage. Rafał Sonik finished eighth, good enough to take his first ever Dakar title. Walter Nosiglia and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli rounded out the top ten on the day.

Sonik wins by two hours and 54 minutes over Gonzalez Ferioli. Nosiglia finished three hours and 42 minutes back in third. Sanabria Galeano finished fourth, four hours and nine minutes back with Delcerck rounding out the top five, over five hours and 48 minutes behind the Pole.

Hans Stacey ends his 2015 Dakar Rally with a hat trick as the Dutchman won his third consecutive stage, fourth total. It was also the third consecutive Dutch 1-2 as Marcel Van Vliet finished a minute and 21 seconds back in second. Airat Mardeev clinched his first Dakar Rally victory with a third on the stage, two minutes and 23 seconds back. Dmitry Sotnikov finished fourth, 22 seconds back of Mardeev with Eduard Nikolaev rounding out the top five, three minutes and 32 seconds back.

Mardeev defeats Nikolaev by 13 minutes and 52 seconds to win the 2015 Dakar Rally in the truck class. Andrey Karginov makes it a Russian 1-2-3, 51 minutes back. Aleš Loprais finished an hour and 56 minutes back in fourth with Dmitry Sotnikov finishing fifth, two hours and 24 minutes back. Stacey ends sixth, just under five minutes outside the top five.

Al-Attiyah's victory is Mini's fourth consecutive. KTM has won 15 consecutive in the bike class. Yamaha remains unbeaten in the quad class, having won all seven editions. Kamaz has won six of seven Dakars since the race moved to South America.

Coma ties Cyril Despres and Cyril Neveu for second all-time in bike class victories. Coma is one behind Stéphane Peterhansel's six Dakar titles on two wheels. Sonik is the second European to win the Dakar in the quad class. Czech rider Josef Macháček won the inaugural Dakar for quads in 2008. With Mardeev's victory, the truck class has seen five different winners in as many years.

Friday, January 16, 2015

No Changes After Penultimate Stage of 2015 Dakar Rally

All four class leaders held serve in the penultimate stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally while all four stage winners were repeats.

Orlando Terranova won his fourth stage of this year's rally and Mini's 11th stage victory with Yazeed Al-Rahji's stage eight victory for Toyota being the lone blemish. A half-minute behind Terranova was Vladimir Vasilyev with Emiliano Spataro bookending the podium for Argentina, a minute and 29 seconds behind his fellow countryman. Nasser Al-Attiyah finished fourth as the Qatari is clearly on his way to his second Dakar victory. Al-Attiyah finished eight seconds off the podium. Bernhard Ten Brinke finished fifth, a minute and 50 seconds back. 

Carlos Sousa finished two seconds behind Ten Brinke. Stéphane Peterhansel finished seventh, four minutes and four seconds back. Krzysztof Holowczyc finished 35 seconds off the Frenchman in eighth. Robby Gordon finished ninth, five minutes and 20 seconds off Terranova with Kazakhstan's Aidyn Rakhimbayev rounding out the top ten, six minutes and 15 seconds back. 

Giniel de Villiers finished 12th, eight minutes and 15 seconds back. 

Al-Attiyah leads de Villiers by 35 minutes and 39 seconds entering the final day of the Dakar. Holowczyc is third, an hour and 31 minutes back. Erik Van Loon is fourth, trailing by three hours and minute with Vladimir Vasilyev just under 11 minutes behind Van Loon. 

Peterhansel is five hours and 18 minutes back in 11th. Terranova and Gordon remain 18th and 19th, both trailing by over seven hours. 

Toby Price won his first stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally as the Australian KTM rider defeated Joan Barreda by a minute and 55 seconds. Paulo Gonçalves rounded out the podium, three minutes and two seconds back. Slovakians Ivan Jakes and Stefan Svitko finished fourth and fifth with Jakes finishing six seconds off the podium and Svitko finishing five minutes and a seconds back of Price.

Class leader Marc Coma finished six minutes and 25 seconds back in sixth. Hélder Rodrigues finished seventh, eight minutes and 40 seconds back with Pablo Quintanilla coming home in eighth, ten minutes and seven seconds behind Price. 

Coma holds a 17-minute and 49-second lead over Gonçalves and Price trails by 25 minutes and 18 seconds after his stage victory. Quintanilla is fourth, trailing by 36 minutes and 57 seconds and Svitko rounds out the top five, 46 minutes and 43 seconds back and the final rider within an hour of Coma. 

Christophe Declerck won his second consecutive stage in the quad class. The Frenchman won by seven minutes and nine seconds over Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano. Walter Nosiglia finished third, nine minutes and 31 seconds back with Rafał Sonik finishing fourth, ten minutes and five seconds off Declerck. Willem Saaijman finished 22 seconds off the Pole with Argentine Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finishing sixth, 12 minutes and 21 seconds back. 

Sonik enters the final stage with a near insurmountable two hour and 52 minute lead over Gonzalez Ferioli. Nosiglia is three hours and 41 minutes back in third. Sangria Galeano is fourth, trailing by four hours and 13 minutes with Declerck in fifth, just under six hours behind Sonik. 

Like Declerck, Hans Stacey won his second consecutive stage in the truck class as Friday featured a Dutch 1-2-3. Marcel Van Vliet finished 18 seconds back in second with Gérard de Rooy finishing 28 seconds off his Iveco teammate. Dmitry Sotnikov finished fourth, a minute and nine seconds back with class leader Airat Mardeev finishing six seconds off his fellow Russian in fifth. 

Andrey Karginov finished 56 seconds back of Mardeev in sixth with Eduard Nikolaev finishing 8th, two minutes and 47 seconds back. 

Mardeev leads Nikolaev by 12 minutes and 43 seconds with Karginov 48 minutes and 40 seconds back in third. Aleš Loprais remains fourth after finishing outside the top twenty on the stage. The Czech driver trails by an hour and 45 minutes. Sotnikov is two hours and 24 minutes back in fifth with Stacey just over seven minutes back in sixth.

The final stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally heads from Rosario to Buenos Aires. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Class Leaders Remain Same After Stage 11

All four class leaders entering the antepenultimate stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally will enter the penultimate stage as leaders.

Nasser Al-Attiyah won his fifth stage of this year's Dakar and second in as many days. The Qatari defeated Argentine Orlando Terranova by 27 seconds with second overall Giniel de Villiers finishing 39 seconds back in third. Lithuanian Benediktas Vanagas was the surprise of the stage, finishing fourth, a second back of the South African. Vladimir Vasilyev finished a minute and 16 seconds back in fifth.

Bernhard Ten Brinke finished sixth, 56 seconds back of the Russian. Stéphane Peterhansel finished four seconds behind the Dutchman with Carlos Sousa 11 seconds behind Peterhansel. Christian Lavieille finished two minutes and 40 seconds back in ninth with Emiliano Spataro seven seconds behind Lavielle in tenth.

Robby Gordon finished 13th, three minutes and 11 seconds back.

Al-Attiyah is 29 minutes and one second ahead of de Villiers. Krzysztof Holowczyc is third overall, an hour and 28 minutes back after finishing finishing 18th on the stage. Erik Van Loon is fourth trailing by two hours and 54 minutes after finishing 12th on stage 11. Livieille rounds out the top five, three hours and four minutes back. Vasilyev is just over nine minutes behind the Frenchman. Ten Brinke is three hours and 41 minutes behind Al-Attiyah with Sousa eighth, two minutes and 40 seconds behind Ten Brinke.

Peterhansel is 11th, five hours and 16 minutes back. Terranova and Gordon are 18th and 19th respectively, both trailing by over seven hours.

Slovakian Ivan Jakes won stage 11 in the bike class, his first of the 2015 rally after Honda riders Joan Barreda and Paulo Gonçalves received penalties. The Spaniard was penalized 45 minutes while the Portuguese rider was handed 16 minutes. Ruben Faria finished five seconds back in second with Toby Price, 42 seconds back. Marc Coma finished a minute and five seconds back with Pablo Quintanilla making it a KTM sweep of top five, two minutes and 38 seconds back.

Hélder Rodrigues was the top Honda, three minutes and 50 seconds back in sixth. Stefan Svitko was three seconds back in seventh. Gonçalves finished 22nd and Barreda 40th after the penalties.

Coma has a 21-minute and 12-second lead over Gonçalves after the penalty. Price is 31 minutes and 43 seconds back with Quintanilla trailing by 33 minutes and 15 seconds. Sitka rounds out the top five, 48 minutes and seven seconds behind Coma.

In the quad class, Christophe Declerck won his first stage of this year's race by six minutes and 35 seconds over Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano. Walter Nosiglia and South African Willem Saaijman finished tied for third, 15 seconds behind the Paraguayan. Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli rounded out the top five, seven minutes and 34 seconds back. Rafał Sonik finished fifth, nine minute and 12 seconds after the Frenchman.

Sonik leads the quads overall by two hours and 50 minutes over Gonzalez Ferioli. Nosiglia is three hours and 42 minutes back in third with Sanabria Galeano trailing by four hours and 16 minutes in fourth. Declerck is fifth after the stage victory, six hours and six minutes behind Sonik.

Hans Stacey and Gérard de Rooy made it a Dutch 1-2. It was also a 1-2 for Iveco as a minute and ten seconds separated the Dutchman. This was Stacey's first Dakar stage win since the opener of this year's rally. Forty-six seconds behind de Rooy was Eduard Nikolaev with Siarhei Viazovich finishing two minutes back in fourth. Marcel Van Vliet bookended the top five for the Netherlands, three minutes and seven seconds behind his countryman.

Airat Mardeev retained the truck class overall lead despite finishing four minutes and six second back in ninth. Mardeev leads by 11 minutes and 11 seconds over Nikolaev with Andrey Karginov 47 minutes and 44 seconds back in fourth after Karginov finished 15th on the day. Aleš Loprais is fourth, trailing by an hour and 21 minutes after finishing seventh on stage 11. Dmitry Sotnikov rounds out the top five, two hours and 24 minutes back after finishing 16th today. Stacey is just under nine minutes behind Sotnikov is sixth. De Rooy is tenth in class, seven hours and seven behind behind Mardeev.

The penultimate stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally head to Rosario, the hometown of Lionel Messi.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dakar Heads Back to Argentina

Stage ten of the 2015 Dakar Rally has brought the competitors back to Argentina as the competitors get ready for the stretch run of this year's race.

Nasser Al-Attiyah is showing that it will take Force majeure to stop the Qatari from his second Dakar victory. The Mini driver won a class leading fourth stage and extended his overall lead to 28 minutes and 22 seconds. He beat Argentine Orlando Terranova by a minute and 35 seconds on today's stage with Toyota's Yazeed Al-Rahji rounding out the podium, three minutes and 39 seconds back. South Africans Leeroy Poulter and Giniel de Villiers finished fourth and fifth, four minutes and six seconds and four minutes and 24 seconds back respectively.

Bernhard Ten Brinke finished sixth, 57 seconds behind de Villiers with Krzysztof Holowczyc finishing 40 seconds behind the Dutchman. Argentine Emiliano Spataro finished eighth, seven minutes and 19 seconds over Al-Attiyah. Stéphane Peterhansel came home ninth, four seconds back of Spataro and Carlos Sousa rounded out the top ten, eight minutes and 18 seconds back.

Robby Gordon finished 20th, 18 minutes and 32 seconds back.

As stated above, Al-Attiyah extended his overall lead with de Villiers remaining second. Al-Rahji trails by 43 minutes and eight seconds in third. Holowczyc is an hour and 23 seconds back in fourth with Erik Van Loon rounding out the top five, two hours and 51 seconds back after finishing 11th on stage ten.

Peterhansel is 14th, five hours and 14 minutes back. Terranova is 19th, seven hours and eight minutes back with Gordon, just over 33 minutes behind the Argentine.

Joan Barreda won his third stage of the 2015 rally but it appears to be too little too late to resurrect his hopes after a disastrous stage eight. The Honda rider beat current bike class leader Marc Coma by a minute and 39 seconds. Ruben Faria finished third, 18 seconds behind Coma. Toby Price finished two minutes and 14 seconds after Barreda in fourth with Paulo Gonçalves rounding out the top five, three minutes and 46 seconds back of his fellow Honda rider.

Stefan Svitko was sixth on the day, six minutes and 22 seconds back with Hélder Rodrigues four seconds back. Pablo Quintanilla finished three seconds behind the Portuguese rider.

Coma leads Gonçalves by seven minutes and 35 seconds. Quintanilla is 31 minutes and 42 seconds back in third with Price 24 seconds back of the Chilean. Svitko rounds out the top five, 45 minutes and 19 seconds off Coma.

Faria is an hour and 41 minutes back in seventh, Rodrigues is three hours and 22 minutes back in 12th and Barreda rounds out the top fifteen, four hours and 37 minutes behind Coma.

In the quad class, Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano won his second stage of the 2015 race but the bigger story was the withdrawal of defending winner Ignacio Casale. The Chilean withdrew after a mechanical problem. He was second, trailing by four minutes to Rafał Sonik entering the stage and was leading the class after stage eight. With Casale's withdrawal, we are guaranteed a first time overall winner in the quad class.

Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished three minutes and 40 seconds back of Sanabria Galeano on stage ten. Walter Nosiglia finished 50 seconds behind the Argentine. Sonic finished five minutes and 44 seconds back in fourth with France's Christophe Declerck rounding out the top five, finishing two minutes behind the Pole.

The quad class is Sonik's to lose in the final three stages as the Pole leads Gonzalez Ferioli by two hours and 51 miuntes. Nostalgia is third, three hours and 44 minutes back. Sanabria Galeano jumped up to fourth, four hours and 18 minutes back and Victor Manuel Gallegos Lozic is fifth, five hours and 35 seconds back after finishing sixth on stage ten.

Eduard Nikolaev won stage ten, his sixth this year, by 49 seconds over Airat Mardeev. Siarhei Viazovich finished a minute and 19 seconds after Nikolaev in third. Aleš Loprais finished fourth, four minutes and 42 seconds back. Dutchmen Gérard de Rooy and Hans Stacey finished fifth and sixth with de Rooy five minutes and 19 seconds off Nikolaev and Stacey a minute and 57 seconds off his fellow countryman.

Andrey Karginov had a rough day, finishing out of the top ten in 14th, 22 minutes and 53 seconds back.

Mardeev sacrificed some time to Nikolaev but still holds a 13-minute and 21-second lead after ten stages. Karginov has fallen to 42 minutes and 46 seconds back in third with Loprais in fourth, an hour and 22 minutes back. Dmitry Sotnikov rounds out the top five, two hours and 19 minutes back after finishing 16th, just over 28 minutes back of Nikolaev.

Stacey is sixth, two hours and 37 minutes off with de Rooy over seven hours and ten minutes back in ninth.

Stage 11 heads from Saltma to Termas de Río Hondo, home to the MotoGP Argentine Grand Prix as the teams back their way back to Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sonik Retakes Quad Class Lead

Stage nine of the 2015 Dakar Rally saw the quad class lead change again. After Pole Rafał Sonik lost the lead on stage eight, he retook the point after finishing second on stage nine.

Chilean Victor Gallegos Lozic won today's stage, 15 minutes and 35 seconds ahead of Sonik with Uruguayan Sergio Lafuente finishing third, 25 minutes and 29 seconds back of Gallegos Lozic. Ignacio Casale entered as the quad class lead but dropped to second overall after finishing 26 minutes and 24 seconds back in fourth on the stage. Argentine Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished fifth, 30 minutes and 21 seconds back.

Sonik leads Casale by four minutes with Lafuente trailing by 52 minutes and 16 seconds back in third position. Gonzalez Ferioli is two hours and 53 minutes back in fourth position. Bolivian Walter Nosiglia rounds out the top five over three hours and 45 minutes back.

Nani Roma won his first stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally. The defending winner in the car class held off current car class leader Nasser Al-Attiyah by six minutes and 27 seconds. Vladimir Vasilyev made it a Mini sweep of the podium with the Russian finishing 15 minutes and 52 seconds off Roma. Toyota's Giniel de Villiers finished 21 minutes and 58 seconds back in fourth with his teammate Yazeed Al-Rahji rounding out the top five, 27 minutes and 16 seconds back.

Mini drivers Krzysztof Holowczyc and Orlando Terranova finished sixth and seventh, with the Pole 29 and a half minutes back of Roma and the Argentine a minute and four seconds behind Holowczyc. Robby Gordon finished eighth, 35 minutes and 59 seconds back. Frenchmen Cyril Despres and Pierre Lachaume rounded out the top ten on stage nine with 13 seconds separating the two. Despres finished 45 minutes and 22 seconds back of Roma.

Stéphane Peterhansel finished over three hours and 21 seconds back of Roma on stage nine.

Al-Attiyah leads de Villiers by 23 minutes and 58 seconds. Al-Rahji is 39 minutes and 29 seconds back in third with Holowczyc in fourth, an hour and 16 minutes back. Erik Van Loon rounds out the top five, two hours and 41 minutes back after finishing 20th on the stage.

Peterhansel fell to 14th overall, five hours and six minutes back. Terranova is 19th, seven hours and six minutes back with Gordon rounding out the top twenty, seven hours and 22 minutes back.

Hélder Rodrigues won his second stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally by three minutes and 51 seconds over fellow Honda rider and Portuguese Paulo Gonçalves. Marc Coma finished third but holds on to his class lead after finishing seven minutes and 34 seconds off Rodrigues. Argentine Javier Pizzolito finished fourth, 20 minutes and seven seconds back. Stefan Svitko rounded out the top five, 21 minutes and 40 seconds back.

KTM riders riders Toby Price and Pablo Quintanilla finished sixth and seventh with the Australian 23 minutes and nine seconds back. The Chilean finished six seconds behind Price. Olivier Pain finished 28 minutes and nine seconds back in eighth. David Casteu finished three seconds back of Pain in ninth. Joan Barreda rounded out the top ten on stage nine after falling out of the top ten from the lead on stage eighth. Barreda finished 34 minutes and 47 seconds off Rodrigues.

Coma has a five-minute and 28-second advantage over Gonçalves. Quintanilla is third, trailing Coma by 26 minutes and 52 seconds. Price is 31 minutes and 31 seconds back in fourth. Svitko is fifth, 40 minutes and 36 seconds back.

Rodrigues is 12th, three hours and 18 minutes back after his stage victory. Barreda is 17th, four hours and 38 minutes back.

Airat Mardeev won his second stage of the 2015 Dakar Rally and extended his overall truck class lead. Mardeev won by a minute and 29 seconds over Eduard Nikolaev. Gérard de Rooy rounded out the podium, seven minutes and five seconds back. Andrey Karginov finished fourth, 15 minutes and 33 seconds back with Aleš Loprais finishing fifth, 18 minutes and 58 seconds off Mardeev.

Mardeev leads by 14 minutes and ten seconds over Nikolaev entering the final four stages. Karginov trails by 20 minutes and 42 seconds in 3rd. Loprais is an hour and 18 minutes back in fourth. Dmitry Sotnikov rounds out the top five, an hour and 51 minutes back after finishing eighth on stage nine.

The Dakar Rally will head back to Argentina for the final four stages as the teams head from Calama, Chile to Salta, Argentina for stage ten.