Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' 2015 Season

This week's edition looks at the first race-winning team from the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was surprisingly on top in the second race of the season and bookended the podium, however, injury would slightly derail their season but despite the hiccup and despite losing their team leader, SPM kept going and kept being competitive and were in contention for a few other race victories.

James Hinchcliffe season started off promising.
James Hinchcliffe
His first season with SPM was cut short but James Hinchcliffe, along with Graham Rahal, were carrying the Honda flag through the first two months of the season. He was a non-factor at St. Petersburg and perhaps he shouldn't have been a factor at NOLA but NOLA was such a clusterfuck of a race that it didn't matter who won. Hinchcliffe and his crew were one of the first teams to stop and they only stopped once and did it before the never-ending parade of cautions cycled Hinchcliffe to the lead as the rest of the field needed to stop. He led the final 15 laps. Only three of those 15 were green flag laps.

Hinchcliffe was stuck in the middle of the pack at Long Beach but he once again used pit strategy to his favor at Barber by going off-sequence. He had to make his final stop much later than the rest of the field, just like Rahal, and he drove his way back up to seventh after spending a good portion of that race in the top five. In the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hinchcliffe reverted to his St. Petersburg and Long Beach form where he just seemed stuck in the middle of the pack but that didn't stop him from setting the fastest lap of the race while finishing 12th.

He qualified 24th for the Indianapolis 500 but a practice on the post-qualifying Monday practice knock the Canadian out of the car for the rest of the season. A suspension failure caused him to hit the turn three wall and a suspension piece went through the cockpit and pierced his thigh, requiring Hinchcliffe to receive immediate surgery.

When Hinchcliffe was knocked out of the car, he was tied for seventh in the championship with Josef Newgarden and was the second highest Honda driver in the championship.

James Hinchcliffe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 23rd (129 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 20
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 13
Average Finish: 9.6

James Jakes' season went as expected: Underwhelming

James Jakes
After sitting out the 2014 season, James Jakes returned to compete in his fourth IndyCar season. Like Hinchcliffe, Jakes played his cards right at NOLA and ended up scoring his second career IndyCar podium as he finished third. Outside of the wet, muddy day in Louisiana, Jakes' first half of the season had little to be celebrating. Twenty-second at St. Petersburg after contact with Simona de Silvestro, 19th at Barber, 22nd at Long Beach and 18th in both Indianapolis races. He made the second round of qualifying at Belle Isle and started tenth but couldn't turn it into anything, as he was involved in an early incident with Stefano Coletti, Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan. The rains came and he couldn't turn it around. In the second race, he tried to roll the dice and switch to slicks first and while he kept it on the road, he was still running slower laps than the rest of the field on the wet tires.

At Texas, Jakes was able to work his way to a ninth-place finish. He made the second round of qualifying again at Toronto but had an accident ruin his day. Attrition gave him a seventh at Fontana. The engine quit on his at Milwaukee. He finished 15th and 16th at Iowa and Mid-Ohio and got a tenth at Pocono, once again because of attrition and he was the first driver competing at Sonoma to start his offseason as he had an accident end his day after 63 laps.

James Jakes' 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (257 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 7
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 15.857
Average Finish: 15.937

As a substitute, Ryan Briscoe showed why he deserves to be full-time
Ryan Briscoe
The Australian was the 11th-hour substitute for James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis and Ryan Briscoe made the most of it. After starting 31st on the grid, he finished 12th in the Indianapolis 500. He missed Belle Isle because of the Le Mans test day as he was competing with Corvette Racing. Conor Daly replaced him and scored a 19th after Ryan Hunter-Reay caused damage to Daly's car but Daly came back in race two to finish sixth. Briscoe returned at Texas and worked his way from 19th to eighth. He missed Toronto for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daly finished 12th from 19th.

Briscoe was in contention for victory at Fontana and led seven laps before contact coming to the white flag caused him to go airborne and end his day as well as Ryan Hunter-Reay's. He had another good car at Milwaukee as he started second on the grid but contact with Will Power ended both their hopes for top tens. He repeated his Texas performance at Iowa as he went from 19th to eighth again. His worst race was at Mid-Ohio where he finished 18th but he recovered at Pocono and finished eighth again, this time from 18th. At the Sonoma finale, Briscoe went from 17th to fifth.

Ryan Briscoe's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 18th (205 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 4
Laps Led: 10
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.75
Average Finish: 11.875

It would have been interesting to see what Hinchcliffe would have been able to do had he not been injury. As I said, he was seventh in the championship and was the second best Honda driver when he was knocked out of the seat. Could he have been able to keep up with the leaders and potentially found himself in championship contention entering the season finale? It should be noted that Hinchcliffe's career has had a seesaw pattern to it. He has one great race followed by one bad race. Look back at 2013 when he won three races.

Won at St. Petersburg.
Two 26th-place finishes at Barber and Long Beach.
Won at São Paulo.
Three consecutive finishes outside the top ten.
Won at Iowa.
Twenty-fourth in the following race at Pocono.

We could even see the seesaw pattern forming this season as he would score a really good finish and then fall right back to the center of the pack.

Briscoe scored 52 points fewer than Jakes and Briscoe only ran half the races while Jakes ran a full season. Briscoe outscored Stefano Coletti, who ran all the races. Briscoe had four top tens but he easily could have had six top tens if it weren't for accidents, one not his fault, the other was a questionable decision on his part.

Just by looking at points per race, Hinchcliffe was averaging 25.8, Briscoe was at 25.625 and Jakes was at 16.0625. It should be quite obvious who SPM's two drivers should for next season. While Jakes has the ability to bring the car home he rarely earns top tens and in the current state of IndyCar, you need to be able to drive and get a top ten, not hope you are on the right side of attrition and have one fall into your lap.

It seems to be a guarantee Hinchcliffe will be back for 2016 and he returned to the #5 Honda at a Road America test but that second seat will probably be fought over by ten drivers and we don't even know half of those suitors yet. I am sure Jakes will be doing all he can to defend his seat but the team should be heavily pursuing Briscoe. Conor Daly showed in his few starts that he deserves a fairer shot at IndyCar and it was unfortunate his car died on his before going green in the Indianapolis 500. Jack Harvey finished second in the Indy Lights championship for a second consecutive season and he could definitely make the transition to IndyCar in 2016.

The dream team for SPM should be Hinchcliffe and Briscoe and with the dream of a third car for either Daly or Harvey. SPM should be feeling good heading into 2016 but it will all come down to who they hire.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Welcome Ambassadors

It was back to usual in Japan as Lewis Hamilton tied Ayrton Senna for fourth all-time in Formula One Grand Prix victories. Marc Márquez threw away his championship hopes for the fifth time this season and Jorge Lorenzo won for the second consecutive year at Aragón. The Trucks hit a milestone in New Hampshire. A few drivers ran out of fuel. History was made in DTM at the Nürburgring. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Welcome Ambassadors
"A person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity."

IndyCar circles talk a lot about ambassadors. J.R. Hildebrand is a great ambassador for IndyCar in the STEM community. Pippa Mann is a great ambassador engaging with the fans. Mario Andretti continues to be a great ambassador after all these years.

Anyone see the problem with these ambassadors?

None of them are competing full-time in IndyCar.

To be fair, IndyCar has plenty of "ambassadors" competing full-time. Ryan Hunter-Reay has dedicated himself to raising money for cancer research. Graham Rahal has taking the reigns twice to raise money for the Wheldon and Wilson families and has worked to get IndyCar's name out to the masses. Charlie Kimball is representing the diabetes community and showing that the disease doesn't have to prevent you from following you dreams.

But outside of that, who else is an ambassador for IndyCar? A driver has do something more than just being a living, breathing person who happens to race in IndyCar to be an ambassador. An ambassador needs to be promoting and doing more for the series then their normal duties on a race weekend. I am not saying all the drivers listed never do that but look at the drivers who are hailed as ambassadors.

Let's take J.R. Hildebrand as an example. When he goes and does a presentation to high school students in STEM programs and he says he is an IndyCar driver, how do you think one of those students might feel when they see the IndyCar race is on at Iowa or Toronto or Road America and find out he isn't racing? There one connection to the series really isn't a connection to the series at all. They might feel a lied to a little bit and it might turn their interest off. This is why a driver like Hildebrand, someone is going out to the community and interacting with people and is also a talented driver, needs to be in an IndyCar full-time and not the likes of James Jakes, Francesco Dracone and Rodolfo González.

IndyCar can't promote drivers as ambassadors if they aren't in a seat full-time. IndyCar either has to do what is in the best interest of the series and get the ambassador in a ride full-time or find another ambassador. The former is the expensive route. The latter is the difficult route. Either way, IndyCar would need to pull the trigger and take action.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and Jorge Lorenzo but did you know...

Matt Kenseth won the second Chase race at Loudon.

Maxime Martin and Miguel Molina split the DTM races from Nürburgring. Molina became the first Spaniard to win a DTM race.

Esteve Rabat won the Moto2 race from Aragón. Miguel Oliveira won in Moto3.

José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC Race of China.

Ryan Blaney won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Kentucky. Austin Dillon won the Trucks race in Loudon, which turned out to be the 500th race in series history.

Coming Up This Weekend
Petit Le Mans.
NASCAR ends the first round of the Chase at Dover.
World Rally returns to Tour de Corse.
World Superbike with be on mainland France at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.
Blancpain Sprint Series will be at Misano.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Five: Suzuka, Aragón, Nürburgring, Loudon, Shanghai

Asia is busy hosting two world championships. Spain will host two-wheels. The Nürburgring is busy for a second consecutive weekend and NASCAR heads to the second race of their chance. See a pattern this weekend?

Japanese Grand Prix
Four drivers enter Suzuka mathematically eligible for the World Drivers' Championship. Lewis Hamilton is coming off his worst race of the season after a power unit failure at Singapore. The defending world champion is still on 252 points and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has closed the deficit to 41 points.

Sebastian Vettel is coming off his third victory of the season and is now within 49 points of Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen's championship hopes stayed alive after Hamilton's retirement. The Finn trails Hamilton by 145 points with 150 points remaining on the table. The only way Räikkönen can remain mathematically championship eligible heading to Sochi is if he wins this weekend.

Friday practices from Suzuka saw massive rain storms and only a dozen drivers made a lap in FP1. In FP2, Red Bull's Daniil Kvyat was fastest with a lap of 1:48.277. Rosberg was 0.023 seconds back in second with Hamilton over a half second back of the Russian in third. Daniel Ricciardo was fourth, over eight-tenths behind his teammate. Vettel round out the top five with Räikkönen in sixth, over two seconds back. The Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Max Verstappen were seventh and eight respectively. Felipe Nasr was ninth and Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top ten.

Alexander Rossi was the slowest driver in the session. Valtteri Bottas did not participate in the second practice to save tires.

Vettel has the most Japanese Grand Prix victories among active drivers and is second all-time. All four of the Germans Japanese victories have come at Suzuka. Hamilton has two wins in Japan, one at Fuji and one at Suzuka. Fernando Alonso also has two wins in Japan and like Hamilton has won at both Fuji and Suzuka. Räikkönen's lone Japanese win came after a thrilling last lap pass on Giancarlo Fisichella a decade ago. Jenson Button won the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix and it was the ninth time McLaren has won the Japanese Grand Prix, more than any other manufacture. 

Aragón Grand Prix
MotoGP makes their final European stop before their three-week Asia-Pacific tour at Moorland Aragón. Valentino Rossi is coming off his worst race of 2015 after finishing fifth at Misano. The finish ended a 16-race streak of podium finishes for Rossi. The good news for Rossi was he didn't lose any ground to his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo at Misano because the Majorcan retired after having an accident. Rossi has 242 points to Lorenzo's 224.

Marc Márquez won the dry-to-wet-to-dry spectacular at Misano, his first victory at the track in MotoGP. The defending double world champion trails Rossi by 63 points with five races to go. Andrea Iannone has only two podiums this season but the Ducati rider is fourth in the championship, 88 points behind his fellow Italian.

Bradley Smith rounds out the top five of the championship after scoring his best career finish at Misano when Smith came home in second. The Tech3 rider is 112 points behind Rossi. Andrea Dovizioso is the final rider mathematically eligible for the championship as he is 119 points back of Rossi. Dovizioso has four podiums, the fourth-most but he has retired from races on three occasions.

This is the sixth time MotoGP has gone to Aragón. Last year, Lorenzo scored Yamaha's first victory at the track after switching to the wet weather bike at the right time while Márquez and Dani Pedrosa had their races ruined by stretching their stint on the dry weather bike and both falling. The last four Aragón races have been won by four different riders. Casey Stoner is the only rider with multiple victories in MotoGP at the track.

DTM Nürburgring
DTM enters their penultimate weekend of the 2015 season and 16 drivers are still mathematically eligible for the title.

Mercedes' Pascal Wehrlein took the championship lead after Oschersleben after Mattias Ekström and Audi as a whole had a disastrous weekend. Wehrlein leads the Swede and two-time DTM champion by 14 points. Thirty points back of Wehrlein is Edoardo Mortara. Jaime Green won three of the first four races but hasn't been on the podium since. The Brit trails by 33 points with Bruno Spengler, the top BMW driver, rounding out the top five, 36 points back of Wehrlein.

Defending champion Marco Wittmann is 42 points back of Wehrlein. Gary Paffett has yet to win this season and he is 65 points back. Augusto Farfus has also not won yet this season and he is two points behind Paffett. António Félix da Costa scored his first career DTM victory at Zandvoort and is two points behind Farfus. Mike Rockenfeller rounds out the top ten, 73 points back.

Norisring winner Robert Wickens is 11th on 57 points. Timo Glock scored his first victory of the season at the last round at Oschersleben and is a point behind the Canadian and is tied with Christian Vietoris. Paul di Resta has two podiums this season and has 48 points, two points ahead of Maxime Martin. Tom Blomqvist scored his first career DTM victory at Oschersleben and stayed championship eligible as the British driver has 41 points.

Six active drivers have won at the Nürburgring and there have been four different winners in the last four races (Ekström, Spengler, Wickens, Wittmann). Spengler and Martin Tomczyk lead all active drivers with two wins at the track. Paffett's Nürburgring victory came 11 years ago.

Sylvania 300
The second race of the Chase takes place at New Hampshire International Speedway. Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland and clinched a spot in the second round.

Despite the victory, Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth leads the championship standings and leads a Gibbs 1-2-3-4 in the standings. Kenseth is two points ahead of Hamlin with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch tied for third, three points back of Kenseth. Kurt Busch and Joey Logano are tied for fifth and both are a point behind of Edwards and his brother Kyle.

Jimmie Johnson is seventh and is seven points behind Kenseth. Ryan Newman is eighth, a dozen points back with Brad Keselowski a point behind Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. a point behind Keselowski, rounding out the top ten. Martin Truex, Jr. is 11th, 17 points behind Kenseth. Jeff Gordon holds the final second round position in 12th on 2031 points.

Jamie McMurray is the first driver on the outside looking in as the Missourian is three points behind Gordon. Paul Menard is four points behind Gordon. Kevin Harvick is 22 points back after having an accident end his race at Chicagoland. Clint Bowyer sits on 2000 points after being penalized 25 points for an technical infraction at Chicagoland.

Eleven of the Chase drivers have won at Loudon. Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newmann each have three victories. Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer each have two win. Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at the one-mile oval. Keselowski has the best average finish at Loudon at 10.2 with Hamlin and Johnson at 10.7.

The Loudon Chase race has never been won by a non-Chase driver. 

Race of China
The World Touring Car Championship will be in Shanghai for the antepenultimate round of their 2015 season. Three Citroën drivers will fight it out for the title.

Defending champion José María López has 351 points and is 74 points ahead of teammate Yvan Muller. If the Argentine exits China with a lead greater than 110 points, he will clinch his second consecutive world championship. Sébastien Loeb is the other driver alive for the title. Loeb is 98 points behind López.

López has won seven of 18 races while Muller has four victories and Loeb has three. Citroën's fourth factory driver, Ma Qing Hua is fourth in the champion and won in Portugal. Honda drivers Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro each have victories this season. Michelisz won at his home track, the Hungaroring in May. Monteiro won in Russia and the most recent race at Motegi.

Last year at Shanghai, López split the weekend with Moroccan Mehdi Bennani.

1. Over or Under: 16.5 finishing position for Alexander Rossi?
2. Over or Under: 0.5 British riders in the top eight finishers?
3. Over or Under: 2.5 total podiums for BMW at Nürburgring?
4. Over or Under: 25.5 laps being the average green flag run at Loudon?
5. Over or Under: 86.5 points being José María López's championship lead after Shanghai.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: There was one Blancpain Endurance Series Champion who was not leading entering the weekend. That was the #23 Nissan of Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo.
2. Over: There were six German cars on the WEC podiums (3 in LMP1, 2 in GTE-Pro, 1 in GTE-Am)
3. Under: Only one class winner in the IMSA race started on pole position. That was the #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley of Joey Hand and Scott Pruett.
4. Over: It took Sebastian Vettel over 121 minutes to complete the Singapore Grand Prix.
5. Over: Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola finished in the top ten at Chicagoland.

1. A driver who did not score points at Singapore and is not named Lewis Hamilton will score points at Suzuka.
2. A rider who has yet to retire from a race this season will at Aragón.
3. At least five drivers will be championship eligible after the Nürburgring round.
4. A Chevrolet driver will clinch a spot in the second round.
5. Someone scores their first WTCC victory of the season at Shanghai.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The Pro Cup champion will have a race victory (Correct. The #23 Nissan won at Paul Ricard).
2. An American will finish on a class podium in the WEC race (Wrong. No Americans were on the podiums).
3. There will be a new championship leader in GTD after Austin (Wrong. Christina Nielsen still leads).
4. A Red Bull finishes on the podium (Correct. Daniel Ricciardo finished second).
5. At least one Chase driver finishes outside the top 30 (Correct. Kevin Harvick finished 42nd).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 8/15

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: A.J. Foyt Racing's 2015 Season

The third Verizon IndyCar Series team that will be reviewed is A.J. Foyt Racing. The Houston-based team expanded their operation to two cars in 2015; however, double the cars did not improve the results.

Takuma Sato hit a milestone in 2015
Takuma Sato
The Japanese driver began his sixth IndyCar season coming off consecutive top ten finishes to close out the 2014 season. However, those results didn't really translate to the start of the 2015 IndyCar season. He started fifth at St. Petersburg but faded to 13th. He retired at NOLA and failed to finish in the top fifteen at Long Beach and Barber.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis was a step in the right direction with a ninth place finish despite starting 22nd. In the Indianapolis 500, Sato took out Sage Karam on a ridiculous move but finished 13th after his car repaired his car and somehow made up laps. Belle Isle was Sato's best weekend. He started fourth in race one but he damaged two front wings and didn't have a third. In the second race he went from 15th to second by stretching his final stint to 30 laps. He finished tenth at Toronto after keeping his nose clean but he would have retirements in three of the next four races and his lone finish in that span was 14th at Milwaukee. At Mid-Ohio, Sato made his 100th IndyCar start but his race ended after 60 laps.

At Pocono, Sato started ninth and was toward the front all race. He was leading with seven to go but fell to sixth. The season finale went from 18th to eighth and for the second consecutive season, Sato ended the season with consecutive top ten finishes.

Takuma Sato's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 14th (323 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 1
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 46
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 2
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 14
Average Finish: 13.75

Jack Hawksworth's first season with Foyt could have been better
Jack Hawksworth
The 2014 IndyCar Rookie of the Year moved over to AJ Foyt Racing's #41 ABC Supply Co. Honda and in his first race with the team, Hawksworth finished eighth at St. Petersburg from 21st on the grid. He would then go on to struggle through the month of May. He was caught up in an accident with James Jakes at NOLA, he didn't have good cars at Long Beach and Barber. At the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he couldn't overcome being apart of a first turn incident and in the Indianapolis 500 he got caught up in an accident with Sebastián Saavedra and Stefano Coletti.

Like Sato, Hawskworth had his best weekend at Belle Isle. Tire strategy worked in his favor in race one and he went from 14th to seventh. In race two, Hawksworth overcame two spins and nearly having his race ruined by Sage Karam to finish seventh again. He would struggle in the next three races but would finish tenth at Fontana just by surviving the race. At the short tracks of Milwaukee and Iowa, Hawksworth struggled but he would turn it around at Mid-Ohio with an eighth place finish after qualifying 11th.

Pocono was a disaster. A loose wheel nut caused him to lose a tire and cause a caution and then he had an accident with Charlie Kimball, which was the knockout punch for his day. At Sonoma, he had a mechanical failure in qualifying force him to start last and he could never get his race going and settled for 19th.

Jack Hawksworth's 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 17th (256 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 5
Laps Led: 16
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 17.785
Average Finish: 15.875

The first year with two cars wasn't a step in the right direction for A.J. Foyt Racing. Takuma Sato is never going to break his inconsistent ways. Jack Hawksworth's sophomore season wasn't a smash and he was beat by his former team, Bryan Herta Autosport, but Hawksworth has shown potential. The one thing holding the young Brit back has been his lack of a good teammate to help develop him. Learning from Sato is a mistake for any young driver. Foyt showed the cars had pace in qualifying as Sato made the Fast Six twice, a barrier that was difficult for Honda to break all season.

While Hawksworth would benefit from a veteran teammate such as Oriol Servià or Ryan Briscoe, perhaps more young blood could be good for the team. Spencer Pigot is coming off the Indy Lights championship and has $1 million in scholarship money in his back pocket. Max Chilton finished fifth in Indy Lights with four podiums in five races, including an emotional victory at Iowa the day after the passing of Jules Bianchi and has Formula One experience, just like Sato, except Chilton was known for bringing the car home in one piece. Of course, Foyt could always go big game hunting and try to bring Clint Bowyer to IndyCar.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Nationalism and Formula One

One race featured massive track limits violation while another had track limits strictly enforced. Meanwhile, a spectator seriously violated track limits in Singapore. One race got the Fox Sports 2 treatment while another got even worse treatment. I took a nap and missed the NASCAR race. Texas wasn't the only place hosting endurance racing. A Brit was crowned champion in Spain. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Nationalism and Formula One
When Gene Haas said "there is no [American] who really makes an impression" it was disrespectful to Alexander Rossi, who has won two GP2 races this season and is currently second in the GP2 championship with three rounds to go.

Fast-forward just under two week after Haas' comments and Rossi made his Formula One debut for Manor Grand Prix at Singapore in place of Roberto Merhi and the Auburn, California-native is scheduled to run four of the final six races including the United States Grand Prix on October 25th.

I would have understood Haas if he said he didn't want to put a rookie in his car for the first season of Formula One but he didn't say that. He said no one was making an impression. Meaning he is not against hiring an American but there is no American driver in the world who he thinks is capable to drive for his team in Formula One.

Eat it Gene. Eat it.

Why are there such strong sentiments in reaction to Haas' statement? Because nationalism exists in Formula One. It is the world championship. These teams aren't just representing themselves as a business; they are representing the flags they put beside their names. Why does McLaren Autosport BRDC Award exist? To get the next best British driver in the pipeline toward a Formula One seat. Why did Mercedes buy Brawn GP? One reason is because they wanted a German driver in a Mercedes and at the time and McLaren didn't give it to them. Why did Honda leave Williams after 1987? Mostly because Williams wouldn't replace the Brit Nigel Mansell with Japanese driver Satoru Nakajima. Why did Giancarlo Fisichella leave Force India after finishing second at the Belgian Grand Prix to go to Ferrari? Because an Italian boy can't pass up driving for the Italian team.

If Gene Haas ever wants an American behind the wheel of one of his cars, he is going to have support young Americans, whether they are in European feeder series or in American feeder series and when I say support, I don't mean sending out congratulatory tweets I mean putting his money where his mouth is and helping some of these drivers make their way. For the last three-plus decades Americans have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death trying to get to Formula One.

It's not like America hasn't produced a driver talented enough to drive in Formula One in the last 30 years. There have been plenty of talented Americans but the support hasn't been there. Josef Newgarden was an up-and-coming driver but money disappears quickly and he came back to the United States and is now making a nice career for himself. The same can be said for Conor Daly.

It's not pertinent that Haas hires an American driver. Other than Fisichella and Luca Badoer, Ferrari hasn't hired an Italian driver since Ivan Capelli in 1992 and Capelli was fired and replaced by Nicola Larini, who would drive four races for the team and finished second on that fateful day at Imola. An Italian hasn't won for Ferrari in over 30 years when Michele Alboreto won the 1985 German Grand Prix. While Ferrari has had a lack of Italians that hasn't stop the tifosi from showing up at Monza each year but we all know that if it was an Italian to get back Ferrari to the top step of the podium at Monza, the scene would be chilling.

But Ferrari is different and the United States is different. Ferrari captured apart of the Italian psyche. While the United States is the consumer capitalism of the world, no American manufacture has become apart of American identity. Gene Haas means nothing to America. People aren't going to tune in to see how Gene Haas' team does.

When the Oracle Team USA came from behind to win the America's Cup in 2013, the one gripe was the lack of Americans on the American team. There were more New Zealanders and Australians on the team. It was tough to convince many that it was an American victory. If Haas F1 wants to become known by the American general public as America's Formula One team, they will need to eventually hire an American. The team could have all the success in the world with Romain Grosjean or Jean-Éric Vergne or Esteban Gutiérrez but it won't make nearly as many waves as if and American is doing it.

Champions From the Weekend
The #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R of Wolfgang Reip, Alex Buncombe and Katsumasa Chiyo won the Blancpain Endurance Series Pro Cup championship with a second place overall finish. Ian Loggie and Julian Westwood, drivers of the #24 Team Parker Racing Audi won the AM Cup championship with a fifth-place finish in class.

Jonathan Rea clinched the World Superbike championship with a fourth place finish in race one from Jerez. Rea went on to finish fourth again in race two.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sebastian Vettel but did you know...

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland and clinched a spot in the second round of the Chase.

Joey Hand and Scott Pruett won the IMSA's Lone Star Le Mans in the #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley. Colin Braun and Jon Bennett won in Prototype Challenge in the #54 CORE Autosport Oreca. Dirk Werner and Bill Auberlen drove the #25 RLLR BMW to victory in GTLM. The #33 Viper of Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in GTD.

The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Brendon Hartley, Mark Webber and Timo Bernhard won the Six Hours of Circuit of the Americas, their second consecutive WEC victory. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Sam Bird, Julien Canal and Romain Rusinov won in LMP2. Porsche won the GTE-Pro with #91 Porsche 911 RSR driven by championship leader Richard Lietz and Michael Christensen crossing the line first. The GTE-Am championship leading #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaytar and Aleksey Basov won their third consecutive race in class.

The #58 Von Ryan Racing McLaren 650s GT3 of Rob Bell, Kevin Éstre and Shane van Gisbergen won the GT 500 from the Nürburgring. The #14 Emil Frey Racing G3 Jaguar XK of Fredy Barth, Lorenz Frey and Gabriele Gardel won in Pro-AM Cup. The #16 AKKA ASP Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Fabien Barthez and Anthony Pons won in AM Cup.

Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies split the World Superbike races from Jerez.

Kenan Sofuoglu won World Supersport race from Jerez with American PJ Jacobsen finishing second and Lorenzo Zanetti finishing third.

The #46 MOLA Nissan GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida won the Super GT race from Sportsland Sugo. In GT300, the #61 R&D Sport Subaru BR-Z of Takuto Iguchi and Hideki Yamauchi were victorious.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Chicagoland. John Hunter Nemechek scored his first career NASCAR Truck Series victory on Saturday morning after being rained out on Friday night.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One continues their Asian road trip and will be at Suzuka.
NASCAR heads north to Loudon.
MotoGP will be at Aragón
DTM will keep the Nürburgring busy this weekend.
WTCC is in China.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday Five: Nürburgring, Austin, Singapore, Chicago

One championship will come to a close this weekend while two sports car series head to Texas for a day full of races. Another race will take place on city streets under lights and been hampered by severe haze while another series will be heading to the Windy City. GT 500
The final round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series season takes places at the Nürburgring. Fifty-six cars are entered with 22 in the Pro Cup class, 21 in the Pro-Am Cup class and 13 in the AM Cup class.

In Pro Cup, #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers Stéphane Ortelli and Frank Stippler lead the championship with 56 points. The Monegasque-German duo has yet to win a race this season but finished second at the 24 Hours of Spa and third at Silverstone. They also picked up bonus points for being second at the halfway point of the 24 Hours of Spa. Stéphane Richelmi will be in the third driver in the #2 Audi at Nürburgring.

Eight points behind the #2 are German Nico Bastian and Dutchman Stef Dusseldorp of the #99 Rowe Racing Mercedes. The #99 Mercedes has not even finished on the podium this year but the team picked up crucial points for being the leader of the 24 Hours of Spa at the six-hour and 12-hour mark.  A point behind the Rowe Racing Mercedes is the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN of Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo, who won the 1000km Paul Ricard in June.

The #7 Bentley of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane are 15 points behind the #2 Audi. The three Brits finished second at Paul Ricard. The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT of defending BES champion Lauren Vanthoor, Robin Frijns and JK Vernay are 20 points behind their teammates. The #1 finished third overall, second in class at Monza and finished second at Silverstone.

The Pro-Am Cup has already been clinched. The #51 AF Corse drivers Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin clinched at Spa after finishing second in class. They have finished on the podium in three of four classes.

In AM Cup, Ian Loggie and Julian Westwood lead with 71 points as they won the 24 Hours of Spa with Benny Simonsen and Callum MacLeod. The #25 Glorax Racing Ferrari of Fabio Mancini, Andrey Birzhin and Rino Mastronardi are five points back of Team Parker. The #25 Ferrari was did not enter at Spa but won at Paul Ricard and finished third at Monza

Six points back of the #24 Audi are Jürgen Häring, Dimitrios Konstantinou and Frank Schmickler in the #59 Attempto Racing Porsche 997 GT3 R. The #59 Porsche finished second at Spa. The final contenders is the #111 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Stephen Earle, Marco Zanuttini and Liam Talbot. Kessel Racing won at Monza and finished third at Spa.

6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas
The FIA World Endurance Championship returns to the United States for the sixth round of the season.

The #7 Audi R18 e-Tron quattro of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer lead the championship with 95 points after winning the first two races of the season and having finished third in the last two races. Seventeen points behind is the #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard, who won the most recent round at Nürburgring and finished second at Le Mans. Nineteen points back is the #18 Porsche of Marc Lieb, Roman Dumas and Neel Jani. The #18 Porsche has finished second in three races this season. Porsche has won all four pole positions this season with the #17 taking the first two and the #18 taking the last two.

The #8 Audi of Lucas di Grassi, Loïc Duval and Oliver Jarvis is 43 points behind their teammates. Alexander Wurz, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin are 49 points back in the #2 Toyota TS040 Hybrid. The defending champions, Anthony Davidson and Sébastien Buemi are 58 points back. They will be joined this weekend by Kazuki Nakajima in the #1 Toyota. Nakajima has four fewer points than Davidson and Buemi after he missed Spa due to injuries suffered in practice.

In LMP2, Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley lead as they have won the last two races in the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan. They will be joined by Nicolas Lapierre this weekend, who was their third driver when they won at Le Mans in June. Fifteen points back is the #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of GustavoYacamán, Ricardo González and Pipo Derani. The #26 entry won at Spa and has finished on the podium in every race this season. The #28 G-Drive Ligier-Nissan is another seven points back in the championship with Romain Rusinov, Sam Bird and Julien Canal behind the wheel. The #28 won at Silverstone and has consecutive runner-up finishes entering Austin.

The lone American team in WEC is Extreme Speed Motorsports and they have two Ligier-HPDs entered in LMP2. The #30 will be driven by Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel and David Heinemeier Hansson while the #31 will be shared by Ed Brown, Johannes van Overbeek and Jon Fogerty. Extreme Speed Motorsports is still looking for their first podium of the season.

In the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers, Richard Lietz leads with 73 points after winning at Nürburgring with Michael Christensen in the #91 Porsche 911 RSR. A point behind Lietz are the #71 AF Corse Ferrari drivers James Calado and Davide Rigon. Ten and a half points behind Lietz are the defending GT world champions of Gianmara Bruni and Toni Vilander.

Three Aston Martin Vantage V8s are entered in GTE-Pro. The Spa-winning #99 Aston Martin will be driven by Richie Stanaway, Fernando Rees and Alex MacDowell. Darren Turner will be joined by Jonny Adam in the #97 Aston Martin as Stefan Mücke will compete in the Blancpain Endurance Series finale at the Nürburgring. The #95 Aston Martin will be shared by Christoffer Nygaard and Marco Sørensen. The #92 Porsche will feature an all-French line-up of Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov have won the last two races in GTE-Am and hold a 25-point lead in that class over the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won the first two races of the season and finished second at Nürburgring but trail the #72 Ferrari by 35 points after not finishing at Le Mans. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Dempsey, Patrick Long and Marco Seefried are 40 points back.

In the #96 Aston Martin, Stuart Hall and Francesco Castellacci will be joined by Benny Simonsen. Le Mans winner Earl Bamber will join Christian Reid and Khaled Al Qubaisi in the #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Porsche. The lone Corvette competing in WEC at Austin is the #50 Labre Competition entry driven by Gianluca Roda, Kristian Poulsen and Paolo Ruberti.

Lone Star Le Mans
The penultimate round of the IMSA season will be at Circuit of the Americas prior to the WEC race in the evening.

Two points separate the top three in the Prototype championships. The #90 Spirit of Daytona Corvette DP of Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook lead with 248 points, one ahead of the #5 Action Express Corvette DP of João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi and two ahead of the #31 Action Express Corvette DP of Dane Cameron and Eric Curran. The #90 has two wins this year, Laguna Seca and Watkins Glen. Barbosa and Fittipaldi won at Sebring and finished second at Daytona and Road America. Cameron and Curran won at Road America and won in the wet at Belle Isle.

The #01 Ganassi Ford-Riley of Scott Pruett and Joey Hand have yet to score a victory this season and are 16 points behind Valiante and Westbrook. The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette DP of Ricky and Jordan Taylor are 18 points back despite having two victories.

In GTLM, Patrick Pilet has won three consecutive races and leads the championship with 248 points and he will be joined by Nick Tandy in the #911 Porsche. The #3 Corvette of Antonio García and Jan Magnussen trail Pilet by 5 points. Eight points back are the drivers of the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner. The #24 RLLR BMW and #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari are tied with 233 points. John Edwards and Lucas Luhr won at Laguna Seca in the #24 BMW while Giancarlo Fisichella and Pierre Kaffer have four podiums but have yet to be on the top step.

Earl Bamber will pull double duty, as he will be in the #912 Porsche with Jörg Bergmeister. Bryan Sellers and Wolf Henzler are the final GTLM entry driving the #17 Team Falken Tires Porsche.

The #54 CORE Autosport Oreca of Colin Braun and Jon Bennett lead the Prototype Challenge championship with 253 points. They are five clear of Mike Gausch and Tom Kimber-Smith, drivers of the #52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca. Eleven points back of Braun and Bennett is the most recent PC winner, the #11 RSR Racing Oreca of Bruno Junqueira and Chris Cumming. Mikhail Goikhberg is 21 points back as he will be joined by Matt McMurry in the #85 JDC/Miller Motorsports Oreca.

Starworks has entered two cars for Austin with Renger van der Zande and Mike Hedlund in the #8 and Alex Popow and Sean Rayhall in the #88. Conor Daly will join James Gue in the #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca.

Three of the top four teams in the GT Daytona class have not won a race this season including the current championship leader, Christina Nielsen with 232 points. Nielsen has four runner-up finishes this season and will share the #007 Aston Martin with Kuno Wittmer, who won at Austin last year in GTLM driving a Viper. Six points back of Nielsen are Bill Sweedler and Townsend Bell in the #63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari, who won the most recent round at VIR. The #48 Paul Miller Racing Audi of Christopher Haase and Dion von Moltke are eight points back of Nielsen while the #22 Alex Job Racing Porsche of Cooper MacNeil and Leh Keen are 17 points back. Ian James and Mario Farnbacher have won two races this year and round out the top five in GTD in the #23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing Porsche.

Singapore Grand Prix
The 13th round of the 2015 Formula One season will take place under the lights in Singapore.

Lewis Hamilton looks for his 41st career victory, which would put him level with Ayrton Senna and Sebastian Vettel for third on the Formula One all-time wins list. Hamilton has won the last two Grands Prix and the two-time world champion has finished in the points in every race this season while finishing on the podium in 11 of 12 races. He holds a 53-point lead over his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who suffered a mechanical failure with three laps remaining at Monza.

Seventy-four points behind Hamilton is Sebastian Vettel. The German is coming off a runner-up finish at Monza. The top three in the championship are the only three drivers who have stood on the top step of the podium this season. Felipe Massa is fourth in the championship, 150 points behind Hamilton. Kimi Räikkönen is five points behind his former Ferrari teammate while fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas is a point behind the 2007 world champion and is the final driver mathematically eligible for the title.

Massa, Räikkönen and Bottas all need to outscore Hamilton in Singapore to keep their title hopes alive.

Hamilton is the defending winner of the Singapore Grand Prix while Vettel won three consecutive races on the Marina Bay Street Circuit. Hamilton also won in Singapore in 2009. Fernando Alonso won the 2007 and 2009 races from Singapore. The Singapore Grand Prix has been won from pole position five out of seven times.

Alexander Rossi is scheduled to make his Formula One debut driving for Manor Grand Prix, replacing Roberto Merhi. Rossi is scheduled to run five of the final seven races (Singapore, Japan, United States, Mexico, Brazil). The two rounds Rossi will not be driving in are Russia and Abu Dhabi as he will be on GP2 duty for Racing Engineering. Rossi is second in the GP2 championship behind Stoffel Vandoorne by 108 points.

This year's Singapore Grand Prix could be heavily affected by haze and unhealthy air quality. The haze spreads from Indonesia, where fires are used to clear land for plantations.

Chase Opener from Chicagoland
With ten races remaining in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, the Chase will begin at Chicagoland Speedway. Sixteen drivers are vying for twelve spots in round two with the bottom four winless drivers from this round in points being eliminated after Dover.

Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch enter as co-leaders, each with 2012 points after each won four of the first 26 races. Joey Logano has 2009 points. He is the only driver with three victories. Kevin Harvick was the top driver in points after 26 races but he will start in fifth, tied with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards on 2006 points as all four drivers each have two victories this season. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin have 2003 points, as they were the final drivers to make the Chase on victories. Each has one win this season.

Jaime McMurray, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer all qualified for the Chase on points. All will start with 2000 points.

This is the fifth consecutive season that Chicagoland has been the Chase opener. Keselowski has won two of the previous four Chicagoland races with Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth winning the other two. Stewart has the most wins at Chicagoland with three. Harvick is the only other driver with multiple victories at Chicagoland as he won the first two Cup races at the track in 2001 and 2002. Other Chase drivers to have won at Chicagoland are Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch.

Two of the last four Chicagoland races have been delayed by race with the 2011 race being pushed to Monday while the 2013 race did completed all 400 miles on Sunday but faced over six hours of delays. A Chicagoland race has never been shortened by rain and only once has a Chicagoland race been extended due to green-white-checkers, which was the 2006 race and won by Jeff Gordon.

1. Over or Under: 0.5 champions after Nürburgring who weren't leading entering the weekend?
2. Over or Under: 5.5 total German cars on WEC podiums?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 class winners starting on pole position in class.
4. Over or Under: 119.25 minutes for the winner complete the Singapore Grand Prix?
5. Over or Under: 1.5 non-Chase drivers in the top ten at Chicagoland?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Ryan Dalziel was the only championship contender to finish in the top four in the PWC GT race from Laguna Seca.
2. Under: There was one Ford on the PWC GTS podium.
3. Over: Two drivers suffered a retirement in the second Indy Lights race at Laguna Seca.
4. Under: Neither Pro Mazda race featured two Americans on the podium.
5. Over: Nico Jamin won the U.S. F2000 title by 72 points over Jake Eidson.

1. The Pro Cup champion will have a race victory.
2. An American will finish on a class podium in the WEC race.
3. There will be a new championship leader in GTD after Austin.
4. A Red Bull finishes on the podium.
5. At least one Chase driver finishes outside the top 30.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Johnny O'Connell does not win the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship (Wrong. O'Connell did win the title).
2. There will be three different manufactures represented on the podium in the PWC GTS race (Correct. Aston Martin, Porsche and Ford were all on the podium).
3. Spencer Pigot wins the Indy Lights title (Correct. Spencer Pigot did win the title).
4. At least one driver scores their first win of the Pro Mazda season at Laguna Seca (Wrong. Garret Grist swept the weekend and ended with three wins on the year).
5. Nico Jamin wins at least one race (Correct. Jamin swept the weekend).
Overall: 3/5 Running Tally: 5/10

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Figuring Out the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule

Thank goodness for Pirelli World Challenge because they tell us more about the IndyCar schedule than IndyCar does.

PWC released their schedule late Sunday night after their season finale at Laguna Seca and it likely confirmed a handful of IndyCar dates for 2016.

St. Petersburg is listed as March 11-13th. Long Beach will be April 15-17th with Barber the following week April 22-24th. We already knew Road America would be June 23rd-26th and Pirelli World Challenge confirmed they would be joining the party. Mid-Ohio will be July 29-31st and Sonoma is listed as September 16-18th.

We know the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be May 14th and the Indianapolis 500 will be May 29th. Belle Isle is likely to return June 4-5th. Texas is traditionally the second Saturday in June. Toronto is slated to return to the middle of July and Boston will be Labor Day weekend, September 4, 2016.

Taking the dozen events we know, here is what the schedule looks like so far.

March 13th: St. Petersburg
April 17th: Long Beach
April 24th: Barber
May 14th: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 29th: Indianapolis 500
June 4-5th: Belle Isle
June 11th: Texas
June 26th: Road America
July 17th: Toronto
July 31st: Mid-Ohio
September 4th: Boston
September 18th: Sonoma

Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono are all not listed but have not been ruled out, unlike Fontana, which was royally screwed over by the IndyCar brass (i.e. Mark Miles). Iowa is very likely to return but it's just a matter of when the race is held. Phoenix is/was on the radar. NOLA appears to be dropped after the lawsuit between the track and Andretti Sports Marketing.

This can't be the final IndyCar schedule. There can't be a month between St. Petersburg and Long Beach. There can't be a month between Mid-Ohio and Boston. IndyCar is going to need races and guess what? Tracks aren't lining up to host IndyCar. Kentucky ain't happening. Chicagoland ain't happening. Laguna Seca ain't happening.

IndyCar needs to fill the gaps with the races it has had for the last few years. If IndyCar wants to grow, it has to return to Milwaukee and Pocono. IndyCar is going to have to make deals with these tracks and perhaps accept their loses for a few years. The racing at these two tracks has been great and they both have drawn decent crowds.

With NBC as a partner to both IndyCar and NASCAR, they have to strategically schedule races so there are as few head-to-head situations as possible. Pocono should be the Sunday after the NASCAR Saturday night race at Bristol and that appears it will be the weekend of August 27-28th.

With Toronto moving back to July, it appears that the Milwaukee-Iowa back-to-back could be broken up but there is a chance it could remain intact. The weekends of July 3rd and 10th are open but both of those weekends feature Saturday night races, which would cause a head-to-head with Iowa. Iowa has been run on Sunday before but I think it should remain as a Saturday night race. The other issue is Road America is June 26th. Road America has talked about co-promoting the Milwaukee race and it could make sense to run Milwaukee July 3rd as it would keep IndyCar in-state for two weeks and there could be a full marketing assault on Wisconsin and it would occur on a holiday weekend and could draw more people up to Milwaukee for the weekend.

Iowa gets tricky. Since Mid-Ohio will be July 31st as there is an extra weekend in July in 2016, that leaves two possible weekends in July: the 9-10th and the 23-24th. We already covered why the weekend of July 9-10th wouldn't work but July 23-24th causes a conflict there is a chance Brickyard 400 weekend and IndyCar has normally not run weekend of the Brickyard 400. Since Iowa would be a night race, it could work out that the NASCAR Grand National Series at Indianapolis could lead into the IndyCar Iowa race and could actually make for a cool doubleheader for NBCSN.

Here is what the calendar would look like with those three races added.

March 13th: St. Petersburg
April 17th: Long Beach
April 24th: Barber
May 14th: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 29th: Indianapolis 500
June 4-5th: Belle Isle
June 11th: Texas
June 26th: Road America
July 3rd: Milwaukee
July 17th: Toronto
July 23rd: Iowa
July 31st: Mid-Ohio
August 28th: Pocono
September 4th: Boston
September 18th: Sonoma

IndyCar fans, I want you to brace yourself: There is chance IndyCar will be off for three consecutive weeks in August as NBC will be swamped with Summer Olympic coverage from Rio de Janeiro. Where would there be room for an IndyCar race? There would be no room for an early afternoon race and there is no room for a night race. Perhaps IndyCar runs on one of those three weekends but I highly doubt it. In 2012, the IndyCar race from Mid-Ohio was shown on ABC but I doubt ABC has any interest in showing an IndyCar race after Belle Isle weekend. IndyCar might have three weeks off but there would be three weeks of racing leading into that time off and IndyCar would have been on track in five of the previous six weekend.s

The next issue is the start of the season. March 27th is Easter. There will be no race that weekend. Phoenix was reportedly interested in running Saturday April 2nd. IndyCar is going to need something because it makes zero sense to have a month off between the first and second races of the season. Let's just put Phoenix April 2nd for now because it is the only thing we have.

March 13th: St. Petersburg
April 2nd: Phoenix
April 17th: Long Beach
April 24th: Barber
May 14th: Grand Prix of Indianapolis
May 29th: Indianapolis 500
June 4-5th: Belle Isle
June 11th: Texas
June 26th: Road America
July 3rd: Milwaukee
July 17th: Toronto
July 23rd: Iowa
July 31st: Mid-Ohio
August 28th: Pocono
September 4th: Boston
September 18th: Sonoma

Another rumor has been Mexico City could host the season opener at the end of February. I don't think Mexico City will happen because Mark Miles' track record adding new international races has been complete crap and IndyCar would need at least one Mexican driver on the grid if it hopes to draw a respectable crowd and I don't think there is a Mexican driver on the radar unless Adrián Fernández is making a comeback (He is only 50). 

That would be a 17-race schedule, one more than 2015. That would be 16 race weekends, one more than 2015. IndyCar would have Phoenix cancel out the loss of Fontana and Road America would cancel out the loss of NOLA and Boston would be the new addition to the schedule. IndyCar needs slight growth. As nice it would have been to keep both Fontana and NOLA while also adding Road America, Boston and Phoenix, but that is not the world we live in. This is the best we can hope for and hopefully it happens because if IndyCar doesn't return to Milwaukee and Pocono, I can't imagine what the 2016 schedule will look like. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Bryan Herta Autosport's 2015 Season

The second Verizon IndyCar Series team we will review is Bryan Herta Autosport. For the third consecutive season, BHA had a different driver behind the wheel of the #98 Honda. The team improved from 2014 but still have a way to go before becoming a contender in IndyCar.

Gabby Chaves was the top rookie in 2015
Gabby Chaves
The 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves graduated to full-time IndyCar competition in 2015 and came out as the 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Chaves. The Colombian didn't make waves in 2015. He was consistent but rarely broke into the top half of the field. However, the one positive thing for Chaves was he didn't tear up much equipment, if any at all. He was running at the finish in 15 of 16 races and his lone retirement was when his engine expired with four to go at Pocono when he was having his best race of the season and running in the top five. He finished tied for most races running at the finish of with Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Marco Andretti. Chaves completed the second most laps in 2015. The only driver to complete more than Chaves' 2,211 laps was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who completed 2,218 laps. The one downside is while Chaves was finishing all these races; he only finished on the lead lap 10 times, tied for 13th most.

To highlight Chaves' consistency, hear are his finishes in the first seven races of the season: 17th, 15th, 16th, 16th, 15th, 16th, 18th. Two of the first seven races he finished a lap down at and those were the abbreviated races at NOLA, where Chaves famously spun off, got stuck in the mud and got out after a push from a friendly businessman who just happened to be walking by, and Belle Isle 1. In Belle Isle 2, Chaves' ability to keep his nose clean paid off as he finished ninth after Will Power, Hélio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden all had trouble. The following week at Texas, Chaves beat the likes of Power, Simon Pagenaud and Sage Karam straight up on the racetrack as those three faded as the race went on.

The rest of the second half of 2015 was quiet for Chaves. He scored his best starting position at Milwaukee, where he started 12th and finished 11th after hanging around the top ten all race. Mid-Ohio he finished 12th and came home 11th at Pocono after his engine failure but before that he led the first laps of his career and the 31 laps he did lead were the second most led in the race behind only Josef Newgarden.

Gabby Chaves' 2015 Statistics
Championship Positions: 15th (281 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 2
Laps Led: 31
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 19.571
Average Finish: 14.437

Chaves has a lot of room for improvement but he doesn't need to improve in the major area of bringing the car home in one piece. While Sage Karam showed more flashes than Chaves, the one downfall to Karam is he found the barrier on a few occasions. Karam was flashy and had great runs at Fontana, Iowa and Pocono but poor finishes at St. Petersburg, Milwaukee and Mid-Ohio caused Karam to have a worse average finish than Chaves.

All signs point to Chaves returning to Bryan Herta Autosport in 2016 and I think that would be beneficial to both him and the team. He knows the people at BHA and the team knows him. If anything, Chaves is to BHA what Newgarden was and kind of still is to CFH Racing. When Newgarden was hired by Sarah Fisher before the 2012 season, he was just off an Indy Lights title and he showed flashes but didn't score a top ten as a rookie. In Newgarden's second season he improved and finished on the podium at Baltimore, the following year he scored another podium and this year Newgarden turned into a race winner and finished in the top ten of the championship for the first time in his career. If Chaves and BHA can mirror what Newgarden and CFH have done, then the team could find themselves as a contender on a regular basis.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Give the People More

MotoGP had a thriller. So did Pirelli World Challenge. Champions were crowded around the globe. The floodgates have opened for one driver in Japan. The Chase was set in Richmond but it wasn't that exciting. Audi was embarrassed at Oschersleben. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Give the People More
I have been thinking about the IndyCar schedule and how the series can capitalize on the momentum from the 2015 season. Television ratings were noticeably up, which was something IndyCar really needed. The ratings still have a ways to go until the are in a really good position for IndyCar but perhaps there is a way for IndyCar to get on television more during a race weekend.

For the Sonoma season finale, IndyCar had a Saturday practice session and qualifying shown live on NBCSN and that was really only possible because the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was off. Getting live practice and qualifying sessions on television is arguably as important as the race itself. The one benefit to getting practice shown live is it's likely the only live sports on television at that time. What else is on at 2:00 p.m. ET on a Friday? It becomes programming that people will just put on in the background of a break room or what a teenager home during summer break will flip on when he or she is bored of ever app has popped up that week.

But live practice and qualifying also keeps viewers up-to-date and allows a person to watch the weekend progress. Instead of just turning on the race on Sunday and finding out about the grid, a person can actually watch it all be set and hear about IndyCar news such as silly season, rule changes, etc. and be on point when the race comes around. When none of these sessions are on television, I can see how a person has trouble getting into a race and IndyCar in general. However, if they see practice or qualifying and then are told there will be race the next day or two days later, it could give someone something new to try over the weekend.

IndyCar is in no position to demand NBCSN to show practice and qualifying live, even if it would get better ratings on a Friday afternoon than the hunting and fishing programs that normally fill the NBCSN weekday schedule. However, what if there was another way IndyCar could get on television?

Here is what I was thinking: Have preliminary races on road courses and non-500 mile oval races the day before the main event and have the races count toward the championship, that way they would have to be shown live on television. These wouldn't be full doubleheaders like we have seen at Belle Isle and Toronto, rather it would be a shorter race that would give fans a taste of what is to come the next day.

Instead of full-length races, I was thinking that there could be a 100km preliminary race on road courses and 100-mile preliminary races on ovals. The shorter distances could fit nicely in a shorter television window and it would provide fans with two entirely different races. The preliminary races would be sprints and would be a very strategic race. Take Barber for example. One hundred kilometers at Barber would be about 26 laps. Josef Newgarden stretched his fuel at Barber this year and did 27 laps on the final stint to win the race. The distance could set up for drivers to try and stretch their fuel and make it without stopping or it could have drivers decide to go all out for 15 laps, stop and put on fresh rubber and then work to try and chase down the drivers hoping to stretch it.

These preliminary races would also change a weekend format. For road courses, Friday could feature  a practice session followed by knockout qualifying to set the grid for the preliminary race and the pole-sitter would still get a point. Saturday could feature a warm-up session and then the preliminary race and Sunday would be the main event. I would use the results of the preliminary race to set the grid for Sunday. It would make the preliminary race must see and it would encourage drivers who did not qualify well to take a risk and try to improve their starting position for Sunday.

Since ovals are two-day shows, the first day could feature a practice and qualifying with the preliminary race in the evening. This would actually benefit ovals as it would give fans a reason to show up on the first day of the weekend and it would give ovals more on-track activity, something IndyCar oval weekends desperately need.

As for the points for these preliminary races, I would prefer something that would only reward the top finishers. You know I am a sucker for the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system but perhaps they could adopt the current Formula One system of 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 but I think that would be too many points and too many positions being rewarded. Perhaps middle ground could be found. Maybe 15-8-6-4-2-1. I wouldn't give out any bonus points in the preliminary races. If you want the points, you are going to have to finish in one of the few points-paying positions.

A few things: I wouldn't do preliminary races on street courses because of how physical they are and the chance of crash damage is so high already on street courses that it wouldn't be worth it. Also, because street courses tend to have tight schedules as you could have seven series sharing track time. I wouldn't do preliminary races for 500-milers because the teams already have 500 miles ahead of them. They wouldn't need another 100 miles put on their plate.

There would be a few weekends where the preliminary race would be tough to get it. For example, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is on a Saturday, which means the preliminary race would be on Friday. However, the sunset this year for the Friday of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend was 8:46 p.m. ET. You could start the preliminary race at 7:15 p.m. ET on Friday, it would be great for people getting off from work and it wouldn't be on a school night and the race could get it before sunset. The other issue is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is an ABC race. The preliminary race wouldn't be shown on ABC and ESPN is pretty busy during May with the NBA playoffs and NBCSN is busy with Stanley Cup playoffs. IndyCar could be able to squeeze it in, especially if an NBA playoff game isn't starting until 8:00 p.m. ET but it would be a tight squeeze.

The NASCAR Truck Series traditionally run the Friday night before the IndyCar race and it normally starts pretty late to avoid the Texas heat. Perhaps IndyCar could get the preliminary race in before hand but it would be held before it starts cooling down.

The real plus to the preliminary races is it would get IndyCar on television for two days, which means more exposure for sponsors. The races could be shown within a 90-minute television window and it would be a good kick start to a race weekend.

Cement Who You Are
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has yet to be released and I think we are all a little dreading the day it comes. While we know Road America will be back, we also know Fontana is gone and Pocono and Milwaukee are teetering while Phoenix appears to be a Hail Mary.

One of IndyCar's problems is it's schedule has not been set in stone for years. You would have thought reunification would have solved these calendar issues but it hasn't. It has actually made things worse. The fluidity of IndyCar's calendar makes it impossible for fans that live within driving distance of tracks to become fans and IndyCar can't develop an identity if the places they go are always changing.

Look at NASCAR's 1972 season and look at today's schedule. While places like North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Trenton, Nashville and Texas World are gone; the schedule looks pretty similar to today's calendar. The Daytona rounds are in February and Fourth of July weekend. The Charlotte races are still Memorial Day weekend and mid-October. Dover is still June and late-September/early-October. Bristol is still in April and the second Bristol race has shifted from July and has been in August since 1976. Michigan is still mid-June and mid-August.

Richmond was in February and September. The September round has never moved and the February date has slowly shifted to it's current position in late-April, where it has been since 1996. Darlington might be down to one race and the Southern 500 might have been in May for a decade but it's back on Labor Day weekend. Atlanta is also down to one race but that race is back in late-February/March where an Atlanta has been for years. Talladega is still in May and the second date has moved from July to October, which makes a lot of sense because who would want to go to Alabama in July?

For the tracks that no longer exist, their places on the calendar have been replaced by tracks in the area. Ontario is gone but Fontana has taken its place in March. Riverside is gone but Sonoma is now held in late-June instead. Texas World has been replaced in mid-November with Texas Motor Speedway.

And it's not just NASCAR that has kept its schedule consistent. The NHRA schedule has pretty much remained untouched for decades. Pomona seems to have always bookended the calendar. Phoenix has always been in February with Gainesville in June. Rockingham is gone but Concord has taken its place in early spring. Englishtown has always been around late-May/early-June. The Western Swing has always been Denver, Sonoma and Seattle from late-July though the middle of August. Brainerd has always been the round before Indianapolis and Indianapolis has always been Labor Day weekend. Reading has shifted a few weeks but is still one of the first round of autumn and Dallas has always been in the middle of October.

IndyCar needs to sit down, put its schedule together and say, "this is it." They need to say these are the races we have, these are the places we are going to go and these are the dates we are coming to town for many years to come. It can't afford to continue to shuffle races and the series may need to accept losing money for a few years if it means allowing a race and fan bases to grow. IndyCar should have done this in 2009 but there is not time like the present to get their house in order.

Keep Pocono in late August, move Milwaukee back to the week after Indianapolis, move Belle Isle to Fourth of July weekend and move Toronto back to mid-July. IndyCar should have kept Fontana in the middle of October because look at the crowd in 2013 when the race was in October.

And 2014 on Labor Day weekend...

And 2015 at the end of June...

IndyCar would have needed to find a race or two to fill September if Fontana was in October but that isn't impossible.

IndyCar needs to stop pussyfooting. They need to etch their calendar in stone. IndyCar wants growth? IndyCar wants new fans? Don't rely solely on a video game idea (that is a blog for another day) and have your races become staples in local communities. People should know when the race is in town and the race should become like clockwork. People in the Milwaukee should know early June IndyCar is coming to town. People in Iowa should know that mid-July means IndyCar is returning. But it takes time to condition people to know when the races will be in town and IndyCar can't move races after two or three bad years. IndyCar needs to go where they want to be and be patient.

Patience is something that few have when it comes to IndyCar but those messiah moments aren't going to happen. The series isn't going to have a cosmic boom that all of a sudden causes 2.5 million people to tune into each race, 100,000 people to attend each race and hundreds of millions of sponsorship dollars to be transferred to team owners' bank accounts. It is going to take time.

The Chase is Set
Matt Kenseth won at Richmond and the 16 drivers who were in the Chase entering Richmond were the 16 drivers who will make up the Chase.

Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch all won four races and will be tied for the championship leader entering Chicagoland next week. Joey Logano is the lone driver with three victories. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Carl Edwards each have two victories. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr. and Denny Hamlin each have one victory to their name.

Five drivers made the Chase on points. Jamie McMurray qualified for his first Chase while for the second consecutive season Ryan Newman made the Chase without winning a race. Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer also qualified for the Chase on points. Paul Menard is the second driver to be making their Chase debut this year as he advanced on points.

Menard was the final driver to make the Chase as he finished 17 points ahead of Aric Almirola. Almirola finished fourth at Richmond and was the top finisher without a race victory. Had Almirola won the race, he would have made the Chase even if he trailed Menard in the championship standings.

This will be the first Chase ever not to feature at Roush Fenway Racing driver. Greg Biffle was 19th in points, 99 behind Menard for the final Chase spot. He finished four laps down in 31st on Saturday night.

Champion From the Weekend
Championships weren't just awarded in Laguna Seca this weekend.

Sébastien Ogier clinched his third consecutive World Rally Championship after he won Rally Australia. Ogier heads back to Europe with a 101-point lead over Volkswagen teammate Jari-Matti Latvala and with three rounds remaining there are a maximum of 84 points left on the the table.

The victory in Australia was Ogier's 31st rally victory and puts him solely into second all-time in rally victories, breaking a tie with Marcus Grönholm. Sébastien Loeb is the all-time leader in rally victories with 78.

There are three rallies remaining in 2015. The next round takes place in Ogier's home country of France for the Tour de Corse. This is the first time the Tour de Corse is on the WRC calendar since 2008. Rally de Catalunya and Wales Rally GB will close out the season.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened at Laguna Seca, Richmond and Rally Australia but did you know...

Marc Márquez won MotoGP's San Marino Grand Prix in dramatic fashion as the track went from dry to wet and back to dry.

Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen won the Sandown 500.

Timo Glock and Tom Blomqvist split the DTM races from Oschersleben. It was Blomqvist's first career DTM victory.

Kazuki Nakajima won the  Super Formula race as he won at Autopolis.

José María López and Tiago Monteiro split the WTCC races from Motegi.

Johann Zarco won the Moto2 race from Misano, his third consecutive victory and sixth of the year. Enea Bastianini scored his first Moto3 victory in front of his home fans.

Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Richmond.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One will move at a snails pace in Singapore.
FIA WEC and IMSA tag-team Austin for Lone Star Le Mans.
The Chase begins in Chicago.
The Blancpain Endurance Series closes out their season at the Nürburgring.
World Superbike returns to action at Jerez.
Super GT will be at Sportsland SUGO.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Spencer Pigot Wins Indy Lights Championship

By sweeping the weekend at Laguna Seca, Spencer Pigot has won the 2015 Indy Lights championship. The Californian entered the final race with a seven-point lead over Jack Harvey after he won on Saturday. Pigot got the lead in turn two after he, pole-sitter Max Chilton and Harvey went three-wide. Sean Rayhall jumped to second from sixth with Chilton and Harvey settling in third and fourth respectively.

Scott Anderson suffered a mechanical failure after two laps and brought out a safety car. Under the safety car period, Harvey was penalized for jumping the start and fell to the end of the field. Pigot and Rayhall would run first and second for the entire race as Pigot led all 38 laps on his way to a championship clinching victory. Chilton finished third and picked up fastest lap. Ed Jones came home in fourth after passing Shelby Blackstock on the final lap. Blackstock was able to come home in fifth.

RC Enerson finished sixth with the Belardi Auto Racing drivers Juan Piedrahita and Félix Serrallés finishing seventh and eighth respectively. Harvey finished ninth with Kyle Kaiser rounding out the top ten. Kaiser started third but spun on lap one, causing him to fall to the back of the field. Heamin Choi finished 11th, 38.1584 seconds behind Pigot.

There was a second safety car period during this race. Ethan Ringel had an accident on lap 12. He was able to get out of the car and walk away under his own power.

This was Pigot's sixth victory of the season as he swept three race weekends this season (Barber, Toronto, Laguna Seca). He had ten podiums from 16 races. Pigot makes this back-to-back championship seasons after winning the Pro Mazda title in 2014.

Spencer Pigot is the 2015 Indy Lights champion. For the second consecutive season, Jack Harvey will finish runner-up in the Indy Lights championship. Ed Jones will come home in third with RC Enerson finishing fourth. Max Chilton will round out the top five in the championship. Kyle Kaiser will finish sixth with Félix Serrallés nipping his teammate Juan Piedrahita for seventh. Scott Anderson and Shelby Blackstock will round out the top ten. Ethan Ringel and Sean Rayhall will finish 11th and 12th respectively.

By winning the Indy Lights championship, Pigot has won a $1 million scholarship to compete in at least three 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series races including a chance to attempt to qualify for the 100th Indianapolis 500.

In Pro Mazda, Garett Grist swept the weekend with 2015 champion Santiago Urrutia finishing second. Neil Alberico rounded out the podium. Will Owen finished fourth with Dalton Kellett rounding out the top five. Pato O'Ward finished sixth ahead of Juncos Racing drivers Timothé Buret and Jose Gutierrez. Weiron Tan finished ninth with Kyle Connery rounding out the top ten.

Santiago Urrutia locked up the championship on Saturday but Neil Alberico wrapped up second with Garett Grist jumping up to third in the championship after sweeping the Laguna Seca weekend. Weiron Tan finishes fourth ahead of Timothé Buret. Pato O'Ward finished sixth just ahead of Will Owen. Florian Latorre finished eighth with Jose Gutierrez and Dalton Kellett rounding out the top ten in the 2015 Pro Mazda championship.

In U.S. F2000, 2015 champion Nico Jamin capped off the season by sweeping the Laguna Seca weekend and ending the 2015 season with six consecutive victories. Aaron Telitz finished second to his Cape Motorsports teammate with Jake Eidson in third. Anthony Martin finished fourth ahead of Nikita Lastochkin. Peter Portante finished sixth in his second start of the season. Ayla Årgen finished seventh with Keyvan Andres Soori in eighth. Yufeng Luo and Garth Rickards rounded out the top ten.

Nico Jamin won the U.S. F2000 title by 61 points over Jake Eidson. Aaron Telitz finished third with Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson rounding out the top five. Luke Gabin finished sixth with Yufeng Luo in seventh. Team Pelfrey drivers Nikita Lastochkin, Garth Rickards and Ayla Årgen rounded out the top ten with four points covering the three drivers.

O'Connell, Cooper Win Pirelli World Challenge Championships

The two Pirelli World Challenge championships were decided at Laguna Seca on Sunday. One was settled quietly. The other was as dramatic of a finish to a season you could ever script.

Alessandro Balzan won the Pirelli World Challenge GT race with his NGT Motorsport teammate Alessandro Pier Guidi making it a 1-2 for the Ferrari team but while those two ran away with the race, the championship battle got physical.

Johnny O'Connell was running third with his main championship rival Olivier Beretta in fourth from 12th on the grid entering the final ten minutes of the race. Entering the corkscrew, Beretta made contact with O'Connell's Cadillac, causing both cars to spin. Beretta was able to get back underway quickly and took over third position while O'Connell sat idle and didn't getting back going until he had dropped to 14th position. Beretta was given a drive-through penalty and exited in seventh position with O'Connell still in 14th. The Monegasque driver needed to get to sixth with O'Connell in 14th and Beretta attempted to make a pass on the #42 Acura of Peter Cunningham for sixth exiting the final corner but the two made contact and forced Beretta off course. The #61 Ferrari came to a stop and his race was over.

O'Connell was able to continue and finish in 12th position and win his fourth consecutive Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. O'Connell is now tied with Randy Pobst for most PWC titles.

Ryan Dalziel finished third in the race with Andy Pilgrim finishing fourth. Michael Lewis rounded out the top five with Cunningham finishing sixth. James Davison was seventh ahead of Eric Lux and Bryan Heitkotter. Ryan Eversley rounded out the top ten with Frank Montecalvo finishing ahead of O'Connell in 11th.

O'Connell won four races in his fourth championship season and had five podiums.

Kris Wilson won his fifth race of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge GTS season but it was Michael Cooper who took the GTS championship with a tenth place finish. It is Cooper's first career championship and it is Blackdog Speed Shops third consecutive GTS championship. Wilson ends the season with the most victories in 2015.

The #07 Aston Martin of Wilson held off Jack Baldwin by 2.302 seconds as championship runner-up Andrew Aquilante finished third, a half second off Baldwin's Porsche. Ben Clucas finished fourth, just over ten seconds behind Wilson. The Chevrolet Camaro of Andy Lee rounded out the top five just ahead the Ford Mustang of Jack Roush, Jr. Derek Hill finished seventh in his first start of 2015 in the #27 Maserati. Dean Martin was eighth with Nick Esayian and Cooper rounding out the top ten.

Other notable finishers in GTS: The Maseratis of Jeff Courtney and Patrick Byrne finished 11th and 12th. Jon Fogarty finished 15th in his lone start in 2015. Kurt Rezzetano finished 17th. Freddie Hunt, Mark Wilkins and Vesko Kozarov were all involved in an accident on the starting grid. Wilkins stalled and Hunt had nowhere to go but the back of Wilkins' Kia. Kozarov was caught up after Hunt hit Wilkins into the path of the Bulgarians Nissan.

Michael Cooper won four races in 2015 with six podiums and nine top fives. He finished in the top ten in 15 of 17 races.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Champions Crowned on Saturday at Laguna Seca

Two championships were locked up on Saturday from Laguna Seca.

Garett Grist won the first Pro Mazda race and Santiago Urrutia clinched the title with a second place finish. The Uruguayan caught a break as his main championship rival Neil Alberico spun while running third. Had the American finished on the podium, the title would have been decided in the finale on Sunday. Alberico's spin dropped him to 16th and promoted Will Owen to the final podium position, 9.7838 seconds behind Grist. Grist scored a grand slam as he led all 18 laps from pole position and scored fastest lap. Jose Gutierrez and Weiron Tan rounded out the top five.

Dalton Kellett finished behind his Andretti Autosport teammate Tan in sixth. Raoul Owens finished seventh with Cape Motorsports drivers Florian Latorre and Daniel Burkett finishing eighth and ninth respectively. Michael Johnson rounded out the top ten. It is Johnson's first top ten of the season after missing most of 2015 due to injuries suffered at St. Petersburg. Ironically, Johnson's last top ten came at St. Petersburg in 2014.

The second Pro Mazda race will take place at 2:40 p.m. ET tomorrow.

In U.S. F2000, Nico Jamin scored his ninth victory of the season and clinched the 2015 U.S. F2000 championship. The Frenchman won from pole position and defeated Australian Anthony Martin by 8.2995 seconds. Second in the U.S. F2000 champion, Jake Eidson finished third, 0.543 seconds behind Martin. Aaron Telitz was fourth, 12.897 seconds back of Jamin with Canadian Parker Thompson rounding out the top five, 29.4437 seconds behind Jamin.

German Keyvan Andres Soori was sixth, over 30 seconds behind Jamin. Nikita Lastochkin was seventh with Yufeng Luo in eighth. Garth Rickards was ninth with Peter Portante rounding out the top ten in his first start of the U.S. F2000 season.

The U.S. F2000 finale will take place at 7:00 p.m. ET tomorrow.

While two titles were clinched on Saturday, three championships will be decided on Sunday.

Spencer Pigot won race one of the Indy Lights weekend and took tentatively took the championship lead entering the finale on Sunday. Pigot led a Juncos Racing 1-2 as Kyle Kaiser finished second. Carlin's Ed Jones finished third with 8Star Motorsports' Sean Rayhall finishing a close fourth. Pigot led 28 of 30 laps after pole-sitter Max Chilton had a minor brush with the corkscrew tires on lap three.

Jack Harvey fell to second in the championship after finishing fifth in race one. His Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate RC Enerson finished sixth. Juan Piedrahita came home in seventh with Shelby Blackstock, Scott Anderson and Ethan Ringel rounding out the top ten.

The Indy Lights season finale will be at 5:40 p.m. ET tomorrow.

In Pirelli World Challenge GTS, Jack Baldwin won pole position in the #73 Porsche and will be joined on the front row by Kris Wilson in the #07 Aston Martin. Kia swept row two with Ben Clucas and Mark Wilkins. Both championship contenders will start on row three with the challenger Andrew Aquilante starting fifth in the #32 Ford and Michael Cooper in sixth driving the #10 Chevrolet.

Dean Martin and Andy Lee will start on row four with Jack Roush, Jr. and Mark Klenin rounding out the top ten. Derek Hill will start 11th in his first race of the 2015 season. Other notable starters in GTS are Freddie Hunt in 16th, Vesko Kozarov in 18th and Jon Fogarty in 20th.

The GTS race will take place at 1:35 p.m. ET tomorrow.

In Pirelli World Challenge GT, the NGT Motorsport Ferraris of Alessandro Pier Guidi and Alessandro Balzan will start on the front row. The #31 EFFORT Racing Porsche of Ryan Dalziel and the #2 CMP Racing Audi of Mike Skeen will start on row two. Championship leader Johnny O'Connell will start fifth in the #3 Cadillac with his teammate Andy Pilgrim joining him on row three.

The #9 McLaren of Kevin Éstre will be joined on row four by the #41 EFFORT Racing Porsche of Michael Lewis. Peter Cunningham in the #42 Acura and the #20 Bentley of Guy Smith round out the top ten. Ryan Eversley will start 11th in the #43 Acura with second in the championship, Olivier Beretta starting 12th in the #61 Ferrari. The #95 BMW of Dane Cameron and the #33 Nissan of James Davison rounds out the top fourteen.

The GT race will be at 4:35 p.m. ET tomorrow.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Five: Pirelli World Challenge, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, U.S. F2000

There will be five season finales this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS divisions and the three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will wrap up their 2015 seasons in Northern California. Sixteen drivers have a shot at leaving Laguna Seca with a championship.

Pirelli World Challenge GT
Four drivers are mathematically eligible for the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. The three-times defending champion, Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell enters Laguna Seca with a 26-point lead over R.Ferri Motorsports' Olivier Beretta. One hundred and 35 points behind O'Connell is Nissan's James Davison while EFFORT Racing's Ryan Dalziel is the final driver eligible for the title, 141 points back. 

O'Connell has won four races, sweeping both Mosport and Miller rounds. Beretta has three victories but all three came within the first five races of the season. Davison has two victories, Barber 1 and Road America 3, but Davison did not score any points from his Barber victory after it was found his car failed post-race inspection. What has kept Davison alive was a run of seven consecutive top two finishes from Road America 1 to Miller 2. Ryan Dalziel has missed three races this year but he still has a shot at the title. The Scotsman's only two victories came at Mid-Ohio, where he swept the weekend and he has the most podiums this year with nine. 

This is the first time Pirelli World Challenge has raced at Laguna Seca since 2012. In that race, Randy Pobst won in a Volvo with his teammate Alex Figge finishing second and Andy Pilgrim rounding out the podium. 

O'Connell is looking to tie Pobst for most World Challenge championships at four. O'Connell would become the first driver to win four consecutive titles. Beretta and Dalziel look to become the first European champions since Andy Pilgrim won the title a decade ago. Davison could become the first Australian champion. 

Thirty-nine cars are entered between GT and GT Cup cars. McLaren's Kevin Éstre has four victories this season. Mike Skeen is sixth in the championship but has yet to win a race in 2015. Nicky Catsburg will not return in the Blancpain Racing Lamborghini despite being on the initial entry list. The Dutch driver is in Japan on World Touring Car Championship duty. NGT Motorsport has entered two Ferraris for the season finale for Alessandro Balzan and Alessandro Pier Guidi.

The Pirelli World Challenge GT season finale will be at 4:35 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Pirelli World Challenge GTS
Two drivers enter Laguna Seca with a shot at the Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship. Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet's Michael Cooper leads the standings with 1,475 and is 107 points clear of Phoenix American Motorsports Ford's Andrew Aquilante. Cooper has four victories this year including the most recent race at Sonoma. Aquilante's only victory was Road America 2 but has nine podiums to Cooper's six. 

Blackdog Speed Shop has won the last two GTS titles; Lawson Aschenbach won both. The last time Ford won a PWC title was the 2011 GTS title by Paul Brown. Like the GT division, GTS has not raced at Laguna Seca since 2012. Peter Cunningham won that race driving an Acura. Jack Baldwin finished second and Aaron Povoledo rounded out the podium. 

Twenty-eight cars are entered for the GTS finale. Jack Baldwin and Dean Martin are battling for third in the championship. Kurt Rezzetano, Mark Wilkins, Ben Clucas, Kris Wilson, Andy Lee and Jack Roush, Jr. are all in the top ten and all are on the entry list. Wilson is tied with Cooper for most victories with four but Wilson missed six races this season. Vesko Kozarov returns for his third race of 2015 in the #23 Nissan. The Bulgarian driver finished third and second in the two Miller races. He was entered for St. Petersburg but did not start either of the two races in Florida. 

Five Maserati GranTurismos are entered for the season finale and sons of World Drivers' Champions will drive two of them. Freddie Hunt, son of James Hunt, and Derek Hill, son of Phil Hill, will drive the #26 and #27 Maserati's respectively. Vafa Kordestani will be in the #21 Maserati, Patrick Byrne will be in the #25 Maserati and Jeff Courtney will drive the #66 Maserati. Jon Fogarty will be in the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Hyundai.

The Pirelli World Challenge GTS season finale will be at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

Indy Lights
Four drivers will battle for the Indy Lights title at the Laguna Seca double header. Jack Harvey leads the championship with 301 points but after a rough weekend at Mid-Ohio the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver holds only a six-point advantage over Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot. Carlin's Ed Jones is third, 18 points back of Harvey and Harvey's SPM teammate RC Enerson is the final contender, trailing his teammate by 36 points.

Harvey has two victories and both came at Indianapolis as he won IMS road course 1 and the Freedom 100. Pigot has won four races as he swept the weekends at Barber and Toronto. Ed Jones won the first three races of the 2015 season but has only stood on the podium three times in the following 11 races and has yet to return to the top step. Enerson first career Indy Lights victory came in Mid-Ohio 1.

Nine other cars will be on the grid for the Laguna Seca season finale. The most recent winner in Lights, Sean Rayhall returns with 8Star Motorsports. The Georgian has two wins and three podiums in seven starts in 2015. Max Chilton won at Iowa and is fifth, 19 points ahead of Milwaukee winner Félix Serrallés. Kyle Kaiser is three points behind the Puerto Rican. Scott Anderson, Juan Piedrahita and Shelby Blackstock round out the top ten. Ethan Ringel is 11th in the championship. The 13th entry is South Korean Heamin Choi in the #21 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Mazda. Choi has previously competed in Star Mazda and U.S. F2000.

This is the first second-tier American open-wheel support series race at Laguna Seca since 2009 when the Atlantic Championship season finale took place at the track. John Edwards won the race with Jonathan Summerton finishing second. Edwards would win the tiebreaker over Summerton for the title. Simona de Silvestro finished third in the championship that year, six points back of Edwards with as many victories (4) and runner-up finishes (4) as the champion. Ten cars started that Atlantic race at Laguna Seca.

The last Indy Lights race to take place at Laguna Seca was in 2001. Townsend Bell won the race with Jon Fogarty finishing second and Luis Díaz rounding out the podium after 11 cars started the race. Bell would go on to win the Indy Lights championship that year.

Indy Lights will race on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET and Sunday at 5:40 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda
In Pro Mazda, four drivers have a shot at the title. Uruguayan Santiago Urrutia has 304 points and the Team Pelfrey driver leads Cape Motorsports Neil Alberico by 29 points. Juncos Racing's Timothé Buret trails Urrutia by 47 points with Andretti Autosport's Weiron Tan 51 points back of Urrutia.

Urrutia has three victories this year, NOLA, IMS road course 3 and Mid-Ohio 1. Alberico has won four races, including the most recent race from Mid-Ohio. The Americans other victories came at St. Petersburg, where he swept the weekend, and Barber. Buret's lone victory in 2015 came at IMS road course 2 but the French driver has eight podiums from 14 races. Tan has four victories (Barber 1, IMS road course 1, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Iowa) but he has only finished on the podium on two other occasions (NOLA, Toronto 2) and he was penalized five points for avoidable contact at Barber.

Nineteen cars are entered for the final Pro Mazda weekend. Pato O'Ward rounds out the top five in the championship with Garret Grist three points behind him. O'Ward has yet to win in 2015 while the Canadian Grist took at popular victory at Toronto. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Florian Latorre is seventh and his lone victory was Toronto 1. Will Owen is eighth and he has two runner-up finishes this season. José Gutierrez and Dalton Kellett round out the top ten with Daniel Burkett a point outside the top ten.

Pro Mazda race one will be Saturday at 5:45 p.m. ET. The final Pro Mazda race of 2015 will be at 2:40 p.m. ET on Sunday.

U.S. F2000
The U.S. F2000 championship is Nico Jamin's to lose. The Frenchman holds a 50-point lead over Jake Eidson. Jamin has won eight of 14 races this season, including four consecutive victories, and he has stood on the podium 13 times. Eidson has four victories this season and 12 podiums. Should Jamin hold on to win the title, it would be Cape Motorsports four consecutive U.S. F2000 title while if Eidson were to jump the Frenchman it would be Pabst Racing's first U.S. F2000 championship.

Jamin needs to score 16 points this weekend to win the title. If Eidson wins race one, Jamin needs to finishes in the top five to clinch the title before heading into the final race of 2015.

Aaron Telitz is third in the championship. Telitz lone victory was Barber 1 but the Cape Motorsports driver has 10 podiums this year. Australian Anthony Martin is fourth with four podiums and 12 top five finishes. Parker Thompson rounds out the top five, with six top five finishes this year. Luke Gabin is sixth, 15 points outside the top five. Gabin's best finish was a third in Toronto 2. Yufeng Luo is seventh and has three top fives while Garth Rickards is five points behind Luo with two top fives. Ayla Årgen and Nikita Lastochkin are tied for ninth with 162 points.

Fifteen drivers are entered for Laguna Seca, including Peter Portante, who returns to U.S. F2000 for the first time in 2015. Portante finished sixth in the 2014 championship with two podiums. Portante has spent 2015 driving in Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship, where he has five podiums in 10 races. Portante will be driving for ArmsUp Motorsports.

The penultimate race of the U.S. F2000 season will be at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday with the finale being at 7:00 p.m. ET.

1. Over or Under: 2.5 championship contenders finishing in the top four at Laguna Seca.
2. Over or Under: 1.5 Fords on the GTS podium.
3. Over or Under: 1.5 drivers suffering a retirement in one of the two Indy Lights races.
4. Over or Under: 0.5 races at Sonoma with at least two Americans on the podium.
5. Over or Under: 50.5 being Nico Jamin's U.S. F2000 championship winning margin.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: The only track limits penalty in the Italian Grand Prix was to Carlos Sainz, Jr.
2. Over: There were 18 excruciating cautions in the Southern 500.
3. Under: Stoffel Vandoorne's average finish at Monza was 2.5.
4. Under: There were three Ferraris on the podium between GTE and GTC at Paul Ricard.
5. Under: There were two retirements in the two Blancpain Sprint Series races from Algarve.

1. Johnny O'Connell does not win the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship.
2. There will be three different manufactures represented on the podium in the PWC GTS race.
3. Spencer Pigot wins the Indy Lights title.
4. At least one driver scores their first win of the Pro Mazda season at Laguna Seca.
5. Nico Jamin wins at least one race.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A Ferrari scores fastest lap at Monza (Wrong. Lewis Hamilton scored fastest lap).
2. Someone scores their first victory of the season at the Southern 500 (Wrong. Carl Edwards won).
3. Richie Stanaway scores points this weekend for the first time since his Monaco victory (Correct. He finished fourth in both races).
4. There will be the first repeat overall winner in ELMS this season at Paul Ricard (Correct. Greaves Motorsport won).
5. One of the two BMW Sport Trophy Team Brasil entries get a victory at Algarve (Wrong. Bentley Team HTP and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT won).
Running Tally: 2/5