Monday, November 30, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Driver-Constructor Conflict

November slips on its coat and prepares to walk out the door while December makes its way up the driveway with a bag of goodies in store. We are 11/12ths of the way through 2015. One month to go and there are very few series still competing. Formula One put the bow on its 2015 season, as did its support series and the World Touring Car Championship did the same. The next few weeks will see a race here and a race there as the wait for Christmas and the countdown to the New Year is underway. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Driver-Constructor Conflict
Watching Friday practice from Abu Dhabi and the NBCSN broadcasters were talking about the Brazilian Grand Prix and how Lewis Hamilton wanted to get off strategy to try and beat his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg. However, the Mercedes drivers have the same race strategist and both drivers were kept on the same strategy. Rosberg went on to win while Hamilton finished second.

The Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix were not great races at all. In fact, I would say they were boring. I don't normally say a race is boring. I think there are plenty of things going on that can kept a race interesting even if the leader has ran away from the field but I just felt both races lack great battles anywhere on track.

Leigh Diffey brought up that in IndyCar you have multi-car teams and each driver has their own strategist and the races are great. I have little faith in the FIA, especially with Jean Todt in charge, but the easiest thing to do would be to make a rule that each driver must have their own strategist. The only problem is hierarchy of a Formula One team will make sure everyone is on the same page, even if strategists are designated to specific drivers.

How can Formula One overcome the hierarchy to improve racing? The one issue is the Constructors' Championship. Though Mercedes clinched the title many races ago, the team still wants their cars to come home one-two. Switching Hamilton's strategy could have caused him to jump Rosberg or it could have set him further back and dropped him to third. The team had no incentive to change strategies, as it was set for the best result possible by keeping the strategy the same. IndyCar doesn't have this problem because the only title that matters is the drivers' title. However, Formula One can't just abandon the Constructors' Championship, as it is too ingrained into the system of Formula One by deciding what each team gets paid each year.

I have been thinking about a few ways this conflict between the two titles could be alleviated:

1. Split the season and have half of the rounds count toward the Constructors' Championship and half toward the World Drivers' Championship.

2. Have a Constructors' Championship race on Saturday with a World Drivers' Championship race on Sunday.

3. Similar to the first option, have half the races on the schedule count toward both championship with one quarter only toward the Constructors' Championship and another quarter count only toward the World Drivers' Championship.

4. Have a separate points scoring system for the Constructors' Championship and have only the best finishing car from each team count toward the Constructors' Championship.

Here are problems with each option:

1. How do you decide which race counts toward which and would fans feel cheated if their grand prix was counting only toward the Constructors' Championship? I think we all like the Constructors' Championship but it is not the reason why we all tune in. We watch for the drivers. The drama is just different. People don't care if the constructors' title goes down to the final race but they do care about the drivers' title.

2. I think this option is the most intriguing but it would really water down the record books. Think about it. 38-40 races a year. Michael Schumacher's record for most grand prix victories would be surpassed by many drivers simply because there would be more races in a year than every before. The Constructors' Championship races could get their own section of the record book and be separate from grand prix victories. My idea would be to reduce qualifying to one, 15-minute session followed by a race that would last for 45 minutes.  It would give the fans more action and than the results from the race could be combined with the results from qualifying and averaged to set the grid for Sunday. For example, if a driver wins pole position but finishes fifth, that driver's average score would be 3 but if a driver starts and finishes second and the winner of the Saturday race started third, those drivers' scores would be 1 and 2 respectively and they would start first and second ahead of fastest qualifier.

3. Just like the first option, how would you decide what races would count to which championship and how do you convince fans that the Constructors' Championship-only race is just as exciting and worth the same price for a ticket of a World Drivers' Championship-only race?

4. I think this is the most doable but it really doesn't really solve the problem. Let's say the separate Constructors' Championship points system only paid the top five teams and it went 25-12-6-3-1, what incentive would there be to put Hamilton on another strategy? Sure, it wouldn't matter if he finished second or third because the second best team would still get 12 points but I don't think it would be worth it to a team to change it up.

I am sure there is a way to overcome these issues. I don't think the entire makeup of a grand prix weekend has to be altered and a simple rule change could produce better racing but I don't believe the powers in charge will make any changes anytime soon.

Champion From the Weekend
Esteban Ocon won GP3 Series championship with a fourth and third in Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened in Qatar but did you know...

Nico Rosberg won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Stoffel Vandoorne won the GP2 Feature Race from Abu Dhabi. The sprint race was abandoned after a first lap accident involving four cars damaged the barriers that could not be repaired in enough time to finish the race before the Formula One race. It was the first abandoned race in GP2 history.

Marvin Kirchöfer and Álex Palou split the GP3 races at Yas Marina. It was Palou's first career GP3 victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
V8 Supercars season finale takes place on the streets of Sydney Olympic Park.
The 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Four: Persian Nights

Four championships come to a close and they all end in a Persian Gulf country. Three are dead rubbers. Two race take place on Friday. One championship is up for grabs between an Italian and Frenchman, who has lived on the podium in 2015. Normally I go biggest to smallest but today I am starting with the title that is still undecided.

The final weekend of the GP3 Series season occurs during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend and two points separate two drivers for the title.

Italian Ghiotto leads Frenchman Estaban Ocon 227-225 entering the final weekend of the season. The Trident Racing driver Ghiotto has won five races, stood on the podium eight times and has scored points in every race but has finished in the points in only 15 of 16 races. He started on pole on the first race from Monza, which earned him four points but that is his lone retirement this season. He won the most recent race in the series last weekend at Bahrain as a support race to the FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Ocon has not won since the first race of the season at Barcelona in May. However, Ocon has 11 consecutive podium finishes, ten of which are runner-up finishes. The ART Grand Prix driver Ocon, like Ghiotto, has finished in the points in 15 of 16 races with a disqualification from the second race in Austria being the lone blemish on his résumé. He finished third but was booted for an illegal undertray.

Both drivers are in their first GP3 season. Ghiotto ran four races last year for Trident and won pole on debut at Spa-Francorchamps but failed to finish in the points in any of the races. Ocon won last year's FIA European Formula Three Championship over current Scuderia Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen (who finished third) and current DTM drivers Tom Blomqvist (second) and Lucas Auer (fourth).

A few GP3 drivers would could spoil the party the weekend are German Marvin Kirchöfer and Briton Emil Bernstorff. They are third and fourth in the championship and one point separates the two drivers. Kirchöfer is Ocon's teammate and has won four races, including the first race last weekend at Bahrain. Bernstorff drivers for Arden International and he has two victories. The only other drivers to win this season in GP3 are Jimmy Eriksson of Koiranen GP, Kevin Ceccon of Arden International and Óscar Tunjo, formerly of Trident Racing. Tunjo won in Austria but was replaced after the following round.

Formula One
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the final of Formula One's three dead rubbers to end the 2015 season but there are many battles for final position in the championship still to be decided.

Lewis Hamilton has locked up to world championship and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg has locked up second in the world championship with Sebastian Vettel locked in third but the battle is for fourth. Valtteri Bottas is one point ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen, 136-135. Bottas finished fourth last year in the world championship and a podium in last year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix caused the Finn to jump Vettel and Fernando Alonso in the championship. Bottas finished third in Mexico two races ago. Räikkönen has finished on the podium in both night races this season. He finished second in Bahrain and third in Singapore.

Felipe Massa has an outside shot to finish in the top five of the championship. The Brazilian has 117 points and would need to win or finish second and have Räikkönen fail to score points. Daniil Kvyat has an outside shot to jump Massa but the Russian would have to win and have Massa not score points. Kvyat is ten points ahead of his Red Bull teammate with 94 points. Behind the Red Bull drivers are the Force India drivers with Sergio Pérez on 68 points and Nico Hülkenberg on 52.

Romain Grosjean and Max Verstappen are tied for tenth in the world championship on 49 points. The tiebreaker is held by Grosjean, who finished third in the Belgian Grand Prix. Felipe Nasr and Pastor Maldonado are tied on 27 points. Nasr hold the tiebreaker with a fifth in the Australian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has 18 points, two ahead of Jenson Button and seven ahead of Fernando Alonso. Marcus Ericsson has nine points. Both Manor drivers, Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi, look for their first points in 2015.

In the Constructors' Championship, the top five appear to be set. Mercedes has clinched the title and it will likely finish Ferrari, Williams, Red Bull and Force India, second to fifth. Sixth-ninth is still up the air. Either Lotus or Toro Rosso will finish sixth. Lotus has 76 points to Toro Rosso's 67 while Sauber has 36 points to McLaren's 27 points.

Stoffel Vandoorne has clinched the title but the battle in GP2 is for second.

Alexander Rossi enters with 169.5 points, 30.5 points ahead of Sergey Sirotkin and 37.5 points ahead of Rio Haryanto. The American had a chance to clinch second last week in Bahrain but had a poor performance in qualifying and failed to score any points over the weekend. Mitch Evans rounds out the top five on 120 points and could still finish third in the championship but could also finished as far down as eighth. Evans won the second race of the weekend last weekend in Bahrain. Alex Lynn is on 106 points with his DAMS teammate Pierre Gasly ten points back. Raffaele Marciello is four points behind Gasly. Vandoorne's ART Grand Prix teammate Nobuharu Matsushita is ninth on 68.5 points. Richie Stanaway and Arthur Pic are tied for tenth on 60 points but Stanaway will not be competing in Abu Dhabi. Oliver Rowland replaced the New Zealander at Bahrain and will run this weekend as well.

Jordan King is 12th on 52 points. Artem Markelov has 48 points. Julián Leal has 38 points but he will not be competing this weekend. Sergio Canamasas rounds out the top fifteen with 27 points and Nathanäel Berthon is three points back. Robert Visoiu and Norman Nato are tied on 20 points but Visoiu will not be competing.

Vandoorne does have a chance to become the all-time leader in GP2 race victories if he wins one race this weekend. The Belgian is tied on ten victories with Pastor Maldonado on ten victories.

The final round of the World Touring Car Championship occurs on Friday in Qatar to avoid going head-to-head to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

That championship has already been decided. José María López clinched the title in Thailand. His Citroën teammates Sébastien Loeb and Yvan Muller will battle for second. Loeb had 329 points to Muller's 324 points. This will be Loeb's final race for Citroën as the manufacture will drop him after this round. Loeb will be competing for Peugeot in the Dakar Rally next year. Ma Qing Hua is fourth on 213 points with Gabriele Tarquini fifth on 189 points.

One point separates Norbert Michelisz and Tiago Monteiro, 172-171. Rob Huff is eight on 103 points. Two points covers ninth to eleventh. Tom Chilton has 96 points while Hugo Valente and Mehdi Bennani are tied on 95.

Update (6:01 p.m. ET):
José María López and Yvan Muller split the WTCC races from Qatar.

1. Over or Under: 6.5 points being the margin between first and second in GP3 championship standings?
2. Over or Under: 1.5 South Americans finished in the points in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 0.5 victories for Stoffel Vandoorne this week?
4. Over or Under: 0.5 podiums for manufactures not named Citroën?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Two championship eligible drivers finished in the top five in the Cup race.
2. Over: Two Grand National Series championship eligible drivers finished in the top five.
3. Over: There were 14 lead changes in the Truck finale.
1. Under: Two cars finished on the lead lap in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
2. Under: Two Ligiers finished on the LMP2 podium.
3. Under: Four (France, Italy, Finland, UK) were represented on the GTE-Pro podium.
4. Under: Three laps separated the GTE-Pro and GTE-am winners.
5. Over: David Coulthard and Alex Buncombe made the semifinals in the Champion of Champions.

1. Esteban Ocon takes the GP3 championship and wins a race this weekend.
2. There are at least two changes in championship position after the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
3. Stoffel Vandoorne leaves Bahrain as the sole all-time leader in GP2 victories.
4. Mehdi Bennani finishes in the top ten of the WTCC standings.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race (Wrong. Kyle Busch won).
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals (Correct. He finished behind all three actually).
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten (Wrong. They all finished in the top ten).
1. All three privateer LMP1 entries finish the race (Correct. All 32 cars in the 6 Hours of Bahrain finished).
2. Both Extreme Speed Motorsports cars finish and one finishes in the top half of LMP2 (Wrong. The ESM cars were the bottom two in class).
3. One of the FIA WEC teams with a streak of five consecutive podiums or more ends at Bahrain (Correct. The #17 Porsche finished 5th in class and the #83 AF Corse Ferrari finished 4th).
4. Aston Martin wins in GTE-Am (Correct. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won).
5. The Nations' Cup has a first-time winner (Correct. England won the Nations' Cup).
Overall: 5/8 Running Tally: 33/63

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

2015 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

The NASCAR season ended just a few days ago and three champions were crowned. On the eve of Thanksgiving, it is time to look back and see how the predictions came out. There are a few that were wrong by a country mile. There were others that were spot on. Without further ado, here they are.

1. We Will See a Major Rule Change in One or All Three Series
Correct! We saw the qualifying changes at restrictor plate races after an unnecessary accident occurred in Daytona 500 qualifying and there were the downforce changes with the ridiculously large spoilers. Whether these were positive rule changes is debatable but they happened, the downforce changes were influential in races and they gave the NASCAR media something to fodder on for a few weeks.

2. Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray Both Win a Cup Race
Wrong! Neither won a race, although McMurray did make the Chase. While McMurray made the Chase, he barely had a good season. He led 14 laps all season and he didn't lead a lap after the spring Richmond race. Larson went from a great rookie season to a sophomore slump that brought he back down to the same level as fellow sophomore Austin Dillon. Both had ten top tens; McMurray had four top fives to Larson's two. I thought they would both build on the momentum from the end of 2014 but they fell back to a typical Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR form. The closest either came to winning was Larson last night, when he was charging down Brad Keselowski before the final caution came out.

3. Joe Gibbs Racing Wins Less Than Five Races
Wrong! By a large margin. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth each won five races apiece. Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin each won two races. Last year, Gibbs won two races and those were the only two Toyota victories in all of 2014. I thought the expansion to four cars would be spreading the team thin and Busch getting injured at Daytona didn't help. Little did we know that Kenseth would rebound, Edwards and Hamlin would have respectable season and Busch would not only return from his injury but win four of five over the summer and picked up his fifth victory in the final race to win the championship.

4. Darrell Wallace, Jr. Makes His Cup Series Debut
Wrong! He started all 33 races in NASCAR's second division but no Cup starts. I guess the era of development drivers getting a half a dozen races in an additional for a Cup team is over. I say that I realize Chase Elliott got a handful of races driving the #25 for Hendrick Motorsports but it use to be something that almost every big team did.

5. Tony Stewart Will Win a Cup Series Race
Wrong! Never close. Twenty-eighth in the championship. Three top tens. A sixth at Bristol in the spring was his best finish. I know he is retiring next year but perhaps he should just retire now. Maybe 2016 goes a little better, perhaps a race win falls into his lap and he gets back into the Chase but I don't think he has it to be a champion.

6. Roush Fenway Racing Fail to Win a Cup Race
Correct! Roush Fenway Racing is where Robert Yates Racing was a decade ago: Success not that far in the rearview mirror but clearly not the team they once were. Trevor Bayne hasn't done a thing since winning the Daytona 500 in 2011. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. won consecutive titles in the second division but he has never blossomed into a competitive Cup driver. Greg Biffle is getting old. Ten years ago, Fenway Sports Group bought into the team coming off of consecutive Cup titles and was Ford's darling. Now, the team is in the back half of the grid on a regular basis and Penske are Ford's new squeeze. I just wonder if the Fenway of the sports team will sale their shares and if Roush could go the same way as Yates.

7. Chase Elliott Does Not Repeat as Grand National Series Champion
Correct! He finished second in the championship though to Chris Buescher. He is replacing Jeff Gordon next year in the Cup series. Not repeating didn't hurt him. But now the pressure will be on as he hits the big time.

8. NASCAR Continues to Ignore Cup Drivers Moonlighting in the Grand National and Truck Series.
Correct! Championship ineligible drivers won 25 of 33 races in the second division. That is 75.7%. While they didn't known anything to control moonlighting, the numbers in the Truck Series was the reciprocal of the second division as championship ineligible drivers won only six of 23 Truck races (26.08%). It's hard to read anything into the second division because there is so little success of the top drivers. The best driver won only two races. Ryan Reed won the first race of the season and that was his only top ten all season and he finished tenth in the championship. Ryan Sieg, Dakota Armstrong, J.J. Yeley and Jeremy Clements were the next four drivers in the championship standings and they all had only one top ten. That's not good.

9. The Truck Series Champion Wins More Than Three Races
Wrong! Erik Jones won three races. He had a good year and the Truck championship battle was pretty good between him, Tyler Reddick and Matt Crafton. It's still kind of puzzling though that Crafton could win double the races and have more top fives than Jones and only finished third in the championship.

10. Alex Tagliani Wins a NASCAR-sanctioned Race
Correct! He won in the Canadian Tires Series at Sunset Speedway. He might have deserved a win at Mid-Ohio but the Canadian Tires Series is NASCAR-sanctioned and it still counts.

11. Ratings Will Be Down Slightly on NBC, Mostly in the Grand National Series
Correct! Just look at the numbers. What really caught my eye is how high the ratings are after for the first six to eight weeks of the NASCAR season and then how they never get back to those levels. Fans are so starved that they watch but they don't stay for the long haul, or at least nothing after the first quarter of the season. I just wonder if fans get so turned off once the Chase comes around. It is tough to watch all 36 races. I've done it but it takes a lot of sacrifice. Perhaps NASCAR has oversaturated the fans with races. Maybe they should condense the schedule. Not the moronic level that IndyCar did and end before Labor Day weekend but end a few weeks earlier and have a few more off weeks during the season.

12. There Will Not Be a Winless Driver Eligible for the Cup Title Entering the Final Race
Correct! Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex, Jr. each had one victory. Kevin Harvick had three and Kyle Busch entered with four victories and picked up his fifth, which earned him his first Cup championship.

Six-for-twelve. That would be a pretty good weekend at the plate for Bryce Harper. There were a couple predictions that look completely ridiculously (the Gibbs one in particular) but overall, not terrible.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: 2015 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited

We are less than a week from Thanksgiving in the United States and the motorsports season is coasting to the finish line. Championships were crowned under the lights in the Persian Gulf and in South Florida. Meanwhile, some of the best of the world battled it out in a plethora of automobiles in London to determine who is the Champion of Champions. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

2015 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited
With the 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season now in the books. It is time to look back on predictions not only for WEC but IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and Blancpain GT Series.

1. FIA WEC: All Four LMP1 Manufactures Win in 2015
Wrong! Nissan ran Le Mans and disappeared. Toyota never got over their championship hang over. It was Porsche vs. Audi the entire season. I made this prediction because Porsche won in their first season and I bought into the Nissan hype-train. Now, where is Nissan? They turned out to be all talk. Now we aren't even sure if Nissan will try again in 2016. I don't think they will.

2. Extreme Speed Motorsports is the LMP2 Favorites
Wrong! Extreme Speed Motorsports struggled with the HPD ARX-04b developed and had to move back to the ARX-03b before settling on the Ligier. They were always chasing the rest of the LMP2 grid this season. After their impressive appearances in the few WEC events they did at the end of 2014, I thought they would be able to take the fight to G-Drive, KCMG and others. I didn't think those teams were that strong as there were only four full-time cars in 2014. I was mistaken. G-Drive took the title and KCMG came second. I think ESM has the people to compete on the world stage and perhaps a less fluid situation in 2016 will have the team competing at the front more often.

3. Ferrari and Gianmaria Bruni Do Not Win a Third Consecutive World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers and Manufactures
Correct! Although, Ferrari and Bruni had a shot to continue the streak at Bahrain, Porsche and Richard Leitz came out on top. With the future of Porsche in GTE still up in the air, this could just be an off year for the Italian make and Italian driver. Aston Martin hasn't been able to competitive throughout an entire season and who knows how Ford will do in their debut season.

4. IMSA: LMP2 Cars Go Winless
Correct! Daytona Prototypes went 10-0 in 2015. Michael Shank Racing was LMP2 cars lone bullet and the closes they came was a second at Belle Isle. There is no point in running IMSA if you have an LMP2 car. Balance of Performance will never be on your side. You mind as well try and find a well-funded silver driver and try to run in ELMS or FIA WEC.

5. Corvette Takes the GTLM Title
Wrong! Another year. Another year with Corvette lighting the world on fire before the month of July. Another title coughed up. The season started with the sweep of the 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring and then a third at Long Beach for Jan Magnussen and Antonio García. After that the #3 Corvette would score only one podium in the final seven races, a third at Mosport. The #4 Corvette of Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won at Le Mans but there only podiums were the bookends of the season, third at Daytona and third at Road Atlanta. While the Corvettes couldn't get there act together, Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy kept winning and Porsche took the title.

6. The TRG-Aston Martin Wins a GTD Race
Wrong! But they were so close. Four runner-up finishes and a third. Christina Nielsen lost the GTD title on the final day of the season by two points to Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler. Her and James Davison let Belle Isle slip through their grasp and then her and Kuno Wittmer had golden opportunities at Road America and VIR. Nielsen and TRG were the most consistent team in GTD in 2015 but they just couldn't break through and the title slipped away.

7. PWC: Cadillac Does Not Win the Title
Wrong! If Olivier Beretta doesn't drive into the side of Johnny O'Connell, who knows who would have won the title but the Italian's failed attempt at the Corkscrew ultimately cost him the title. Also, who knows whom the champion would have been if Ryan Dalziel didn't have to miss races because of FIA WEC duty. Cadillac didn't dominate and while they started slow, O'Connell was able to compete at the front with the Beretta, Dalziel, Kevin Éstre and James Davison.

8. At Least Seven Different Manufactures Get a Win in the GT Class
Correct! Ferrari and McLaren split the opening weekend at Austin. Acura surprised everyone with a victory in the wet at St. Petersburg. Nissan won its first race at Barber. Cadillac swept Mosport. Lamborghini and Bentley scored their lone victories of the season at Road America and Porsche's first victories didn't come until Mid-Ohio when Dalziel swept the weekend. And, amazingly, eight manufactures won in GT and none of them were Audi.

9. There is a New GTS Champion
Correct! But to be fair, I didn't know at the time that Lawson Aschenbach was going to be moving to the Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge. The man who replaced Aschenbach at Blackdog Speed Shop, Michael Cooper, picked up right where Aschenbach left off. He won the title handily over the Phoenix American Motorsports Ford of Andrew Aquilante and GTSport Racing Porsche of Jack Baldwin. TRG-Aston Martin's Kris Wilson won the most races in GTS but, like Dalziel, missed a handful of rounds but not due to FIA WEC duty. If Wilson had run the full season, he might have taken the title and not Cooper.

10. Blancpain GT: Bentley Wins a Blancpain Title
Correct! The #84 HTP Motorsport Bentley of Vincent Abril and Maximilian Buhk won the Blancpain Sprint Series over Robin Frijns in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra.

11. The Moscow Blancpain Sprint Series Race Does Not Happen
Correct! Technically. I said the street race in Moscow would not happen and it didn't. The race was replaced with a round at Moscow Raceway but Moscow Raceway isn't in Moscow, it is in Volokolamsk, Russia, 60 miles from Moscow.

12. A non-German Manufacture Wins the Spa 24 Hours
Wrong! The #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 GT3 of Nicky Catsburg, Lucas Luhr and Markus Palttala won the Spa 24 Hours.

Champions From the Weekend
The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Brandon Hartley and Timo Bernhard won the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with a fifth place finish in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Sam Bird and Julien Canal won the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers with their victory in class in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. 

Richard Leitz, driver of the #91 Porsche won the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers by finishing fifth in class in Bahrain.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Aleksey Basov and Viktor Shaitar won the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers by finishing fifth in class in Bahrain. .

Kyle Busch won NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship by winning the finale at Homestead.

Chris Buescher won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship by finishing 11th at Homestead. 

Erik Jones won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with a seventh at Homestead. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about England's victory in the Nations' Cup, Sebastian Vettel and Kyle Busch but did you know... 

The #18 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Marc Lieb, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani won the 6 Hours of Bahrain. The #92 Porsche 911 RSR of Frédéric Makowiecki and Patrick Pilet won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin Vantage GTE of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am. 

Maro Engel won the FIA GT World Cup for Mercedes. He swept the weekend, winning the qualifying race and main race.  

Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup split the Saturday V8 Supercars races from Phillip Island. Lowndes would win the Sunday race as well.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Mitch Evans split the GP2 races from Bahrain. Vandoorne tied Pastor Maldonado as the all-time leader in GP2 race victories with ten. Marvin Kirchöfer and Luca Ghiotto split the GP3 races. 

Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Grand National Series finale at Homestead. Matt Crafton won the season finale of the Truck season, his sixth victory of 2015. 

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One season comes to a close in Abu Dhabi. 
GP2 and GP3 also end their seasons in Abu Dhabi. 
The World Touring Car Championship ends under the lights on Friday night in Qatar. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sebastian Vettel is Champion of Champions

For the first time in the history of Race of Champions, a German won the Champion of Champions competition.

Sebastian Vettel defeated Tom Kristensen in the final 2-0 to take the honor. Both races were competed in KTM X-Bows after mechanical issues struck both ROC cars. Kristensen slid into he barrier in the second heat, handing the title to Vettel. Vettel had to defeat David Coulthard in three races in the semifinals. Coulthard was hoping to become the fourth driver to win consecutive Champion of Champions.

Kristensen defeated Alex Buncombe in the semifinals. This was Kristensen's fourth final appearance. He lost to Sébastien Loeb in 2005, Sébastien Ogier in 2011 and Romain Grosjean in 2012. Kristensen's fourth runner-ups have come in France, Germany, Thailand and now the United Kingdom.

Vettel defeated Nico Hülkenberg in the quarterfinals and Petter Solberg in the round of 16. Kristensen defeated Jason Plato in his quarterfinal and Nelson Piquet, Jr. in the round of 16. The other Nations' Cup winner Andy Priaulx lost in the quarterfinals to Buncombe after forcing a third heat with the Blancpain Endurance Series champion. Felipe Massa was the other quarterfinalist.

Daniel Ricciardo, Jenson Button, Susie Wolff, Romain Grosjean, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Bradley Philpot were the drivers eliminated in the round of 16. Hülkenberg and Massa eliminated Ricciardo and Button respectively. Coulthard knocked out his Scottish teammate Wolff. Plato bounced Grosjean while Priaulx ended Hunter-Reay's night. Buncombe beat his fellow Englishman Philpot.

In the preliminary round, Hunter-Reay eliminated José María López while Philpot knocked out Mick Doohan. Priaulx eliminated Wehrlein after the German buried his Euro NASCAR in the barriers. Buncombe knocked out Jolyon Palmer.

Vettel joins Romain Grosjean as the only drivers to win the Champion of Champions competition while actively competing in Formula One. Vettel's victory continues the streak of European drivers winning Champion of Champions. A non-European has never won the competition.

Friday, November 20, 2015

England Defeats Germany; Wins Nations' Cup

The first half of the 27th Race of Champions is in the books and the Nations' Cup is in new hands.

The hosts England won the Nations' Cup as British Touring Car drivers Andy Priaulx and Jason Plato defeated the daunting German pairing of Formula One's Sebastian Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg. Priaulx defeated Vettel in the first heat of the final with Hülkenberg forcing a third and Nations' Cup deciding race. Priaulx defeated Hülkenberg in a KTM X-Bow finale.

Priaulx and Plato had to take the long-way to the final as they had to compete in a preliminary matchup against the Brazilians Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet, Jr. and they swept them to move on to the quarterfinals to face the Young Stars pairing of Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer, who defeated Team All-Stars of Romain Grosjean and Sir Chris Hoy in three races. Priaulx defeated Wehrlein and had to defeat Palmer in a third race to make it to the semifinals. It was an all-English semifinal as the BTCC drivers met Jenson Button and Alex Buncombe. Priaulx defeated Buncombe and forced Button to defeat Plato. Priaulx would knock off Button in the third race to make it to the finals.

This is the first time the Nations' Cup has gone to England. Germany had won six consecutive Nations' Cups they participated in. Germany was not represented in last year's Race of Champions. The 2014 Nations' Cup winners Team Nordic of Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg made the semifinal but were swept by Germany. Kristensen lost to Vettel in the first race by less than a tenth of a second. Kristensen needed to defeat Ryan Hunter-Reay in a third race in the quarterfinals after the American defeated Solberg in the second race of that quarterfinal matchup. Kristensen defeated José María López in the first race.

The closest race of the evening occurred in the England-Scotland quarterfinal. Jenson Button defeated David Coulthard by 0.0051 seconds to eliminate Scotland after Buncombe defeated Susie Wolff in the first heat.

Coulthard will get an opportunity to defend his Champion of Champions crown tomorrow afternoon. The only other past Champion of Champions winner competing in this year's edition of Race of Champions is Romain Grosjean, who won the event in 2012. A European driver has won every Champion of Champions competition but a German has never held the honor. No Englishman has ever won Champion of Champions. Beside Coulthard, the only other British driver to win it was Colin McRae in 1998. The two previous Race of Champions to take place in London were won by Mattias Ekström and Sébastien Loeb.

Friday Five: Bahrain and London

The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship ends their 2015 season in Bahrain this weekend and all four championships remain unclaimed. While sports car racing's best battle under the lights in the Persian Gulf, champions from all forms of motorsports, two-wheels and four, will compete in London in the 2015 edition of Race of Champions.

The battle for the world championship is between two teams. The #17 Porsche 919 Hybrid of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley extended their championship lead to 12 points over the #7 Audi R18 e-tron quattro of André Lotterer, Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer after winning in Shanghai. The #17 Porsche has won every race since Le Mans while the #7 has finished on the podium in every race this season but has not stood on the top step of the podium since Spa-Francorchamps in May. 

All three Porsche drivers are pursuing their first world championship. The three Audi drivers won the inaugural FIA World Endurance Drivers' Championship in 2012. 

The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Julien Canal and Sam Bird leads the #47 KCMG Oreca-Nissan of Matthew Howson and Richard Bradley by 16 points. The Russian team has finished on the podium in the last five races with two victories and three runner-up finishes. KCMG lost its lead in the LMP2 championship after retiring at Fuji. The team won at Le Mans and Nürburgring and finished on the podium in every other race but Silverstone, where the team finished fourth. 

Both teams are going for their first LMP2 titles. G-Drive finished runner-up last year with Rusinov, Canal and Olivier Pla. KCMG finished third last year with Howson and Bradley. 

Richard Leitz controls his own destiny for the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. The Porsche drivers leads with 135 points, 18 points ahead of co-driver Michael Christiansen. The Dane only trails the Austrian because he missed the Spa-Francorchamps round. Both will share the #91 Porsche. Twenty points behind Leitz is the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and James Calado. Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander both still have a shot to retain their title. The #51 AF Corse drivers trail by 22.5 points. 

Ferrari has won every title in GTE-Pro with Bruni taking a share in every previous World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers. Porsche is looking to sweep both the top prototype and GT championships.

The #72 SMP Racing Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Viktor Shaitar and Aleksey Basov lead with 155 points and are 19 points head of the #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas. Águas will miss the season finale and will be replaced by Matteo Cressoni. The #72 Ferrari won three races, including Le Mans, has three third and a sixth at Fuji. The #83 Ferrari has finished on the podium in every race this season but did not pick up its first victory until the most recent round at Shanghai. 

The streak of no repeat champions in GTE-Am will continue as neither SMP Racing nor AF Corse have won. Labre Compétition, 8Star Motorsports and Aston Martin Racing have each won the title while Aston Martin drivers have won both editions of the Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers. 

Race of Champions
The 27th Race of Champions will feature 20 drivers from 11 different countries. 

The defending Champion of Champions, David Coulthard returns and will pair with Williams F1 test driver Susie Wolff to represent Scotland in the Nations' Cup. Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg return to defend their Nations' Cup title for the Nordic team. After not competing in 2014, Germany will have a team represented. Sebastian Vettel also returns after missing in 2014 and he will be paired with Le Mans winner Nico Hülkenberg. Germany won six consecutive Nations' Cups with Vettel and Michael Schumacher from 2007-2012. 

The host England has two teams. British Touring Car Championship drivers Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx pair to form England 1 while Jenson Button and Blancpain Endurance Series champion Alex Buncombe form England 2. Daniel Ricciardo and Mick Doohan will represent Australia . Brazil will have a team in Race of Champions for the first time since 2005. Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet, Jr. were the drivers that year and both return in 2015. 

Ryan Hunter-Reay and José María López return to ROC and will form Team Americas. Runner-up last year's in the Champion of Champions Pascal Wehrlein returns and will pair with Jolyon Palmer to form the Anglo-German Young Stars team. Romain Grosjean and Jorge Lorenzo were schedule to form Team All-Stars but Lorenzo is out after suffering burns celebrating his MotoGP championship. Sir Chris Hoy will replace the Majorcan. The six-time Olympic gold medalist Hoy won the LMP3 championship this year in the European Le Mans Series. 

In round one of the Nations' Cup, Team All Stars will face off with Team Young Stars and England 1 will take on Brazil. The winners of those two match-ups will meet in a quarterfinal. 

Team Nordic will face-off against Team Americas. Former Red Bull teammates Ricciardo and Vettel will go head-to-head as Australia faces Germany. There will be a Calcutta Cup matchup as England 2 faces Scotland in the fourth quarterfinal. 

Each Nations' Cup round is a best-of-three with the winning drivers meeting in a third heat if necessary. 

For the Champion of Champions competition on Saturday there will be four first round match-ups. Team Americas teammates López and Hunter-Reay will meet. The winner of López/Hunter-Reay will meet the winner of Wehrlein/Priaulx in round two. Doohan will face the winner of ROC Factor  Bradley Philpot, a driver who has finished on a class podium in the 24 Hours Nürburgring. The winner of Doohan/Philpot will face the winner of Buncombe/Palmer. 

Coulthard will face Wolff in the first race of his title defense. Grosjean is the only other past Champion of Champions in the field and he will face Plato. Ricciardo and Hülkenberg meet in one of two all-Formula One driver match-ups. The other is Button vs. Massa. Vettel takes on Solberg while Kristensen will face Piquet, Jr. 

After the Champion of Champions is crowned, the drivers will take part in a karting competition. Two heats will take place with the top ten heading to the final. 

1. Over or Under: 2.5 cars finishing on the lead lap?
2. Over or Under: 2.5 Ligiers on the podium in LMP2?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 nationalities represented on the GTE-Pro podium?
4. Over or Under: 4.5 laps between the GTE-Pro winner and GTE-Am winner?
5. Over or Under: 1.5 British drivers in the semifinals of the individual competition?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Zero Chase drivers finished a lap down at Phoenix.
2. Under: One retirement in the Brazilian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr.
3. Under: The combine age of Andrea Caldarelli and Ryō Hirakawa is 46.
4. Under: The top three starters in GT300 at Motegi finished in the top three.
5. Under: Only one Scandinavian driver in the top five of Wales Rally GB, Andreas Mikkelsen.

1. All three privateer LMP1 entries finish the race.
2. Both Extreme Speed Motorsports cars finish and one finishes in the top half of LMP2.
3. One of the FIA WEC teams with a streak of five consecutive podiums or more ends at Bahrain.
4. Aston Martin wins in GTE-Am.
5. The Nations' Cup has a first-time winner.

Last Week's Predictions
1. One of the four drivers on the outside looking in entering Phoenix will be championship eligible at Homestead (Wrong. The four that entered were the four that left).
2. A car will retire while running in the top three (Wrong. Sainz, Jr. was never close to the top three).
3. The GT500 champion will have a race victory (Correct. Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli had two victories).
4. A non-Japanese manufacture will win the GT300 race at Motegi (Wrong. Toyota won).
5. Three British drivers finish in the points (Wrong. Only two. Kris Meeke and Elfyn Evans).
Overall: 1/5 Running Tally: 27/55

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thursday Three: NASCAR Championships

It is a busy weekend in the motorsport world, especially with the NASCAR national touring divisions all coming to a close and all with championships that remain undecided. A handful of drivers look to add another title to their résumé while others look to be crowd for the first time.

Cup Series
Four drivers are championship eligible for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title.

Jeff Gordon enters the final race of his career looking for his fifth Cup championship. He has not won a title since 2001. Gordon has one victory, which came at Martinsville last month. Should Gordon win the title and not win the race, he will become the fifth driver to win the Cup title with only one victory. The others were Bill Rexford in 1950, Ned Jarrett in 1961, Benny Parsons in 1973 and Matt Kenseth in 2003. Gordon could also set a record for fewest top five finishes for a champion in NASCAR's modern-era. Gordon has five top fives and the record was set at nine by Tony Stewart in 2011.

Kevin Harvick looks for his second consecutive title. He could become the 11th driver in NASCAR history to win consecutive titles joining Buck Baker, Lee Petty, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick has three victories and has finished in the top ten in the last three races. Harvick leads all drivers in top fives with 22 and is tied with Joey Logano for most top tens. Each has 27 top tens. Harvick has led 2,248 laps this season.

Martin Truex, Jr. will have a career-best finish in the Cup Series regardless of where he finishes. He could become the first New Jerseyan to win the Cup Series championship. Like Gordon, Truex, Jr. enters with one victory and could set the record for fewest top fives for a champion. Truex, Jr. has eight top fives this season. He could become the fourth driver to win NASCAR's top two national touring series championships joining Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski. If Truex, Jr. takes the title, Furniture Row Racing will become the first single car team to win the championship since Alan Kulwicki won the title in 1992.

Kyle Busch could become the first driver in NASCAR's modern-era to win the championship despite missing a race. Busch missed 11 races this season but has four victories, 11 top fives and 15 top tens. If Busch wins the title, he will set a record for fewest top tens for a champion in the modern-era. Of the four remaining drivers, Busch has led the second most laps at 694 laps. He could become the first Toyota driver to win the championship and could earn Joe Gibbs Racing their first title in a decade and fourth overall. Like Truex, Jr., Busch could become the fourth driver to win a title in each of NASCAR's top two divisions.

Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick each have one victory at Homestead, in 2012 and 2014 respectively. Gordon started on pole position last year. Martin Truex, Jr. and Kyle Busch each have made ten starts at Homestead with Truex, Jr. having three top fives and seven top tens to Busch's one top five and three top tens. Harvick has the best average finish of the final four at Homestead at 7.6. Truex, Jr. averages a 10.0, Gordon 10.6 and Busch 23.1.

Grand National Series
Like in the Cup Series, four drivers are still eligible for the championship in NASCAR's second division.

Chris Buescher leads with 1,157 points, 18 ahead of Chase Elliott, who is looking for his second consecutive title, Ty Dillon by 22 points and Regan Smith by 24 points.

Buescher has two victories, 11 top fives and 20 top tens and has an average finish of 8.3. He won at Iowa and Dover. Buescher has been running at the finish of all 32 races entering the season finale. He could give Roush Fenway Racing their fifth title, their first since 2012.

Elliott's lone victory came at Richmond in September. He has 11 top fives and 26 top tens and an average finish of 8.9. Elliott could become the ninth driver to win multiple titles in NASCAR's second division, joining Sam Ard, Jack Ingram, Larry Pearson, Randy LaJoie, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Of those nine, only Ingram and Harvick did not win the titles in consecutive years.

Dillon has not won a race this season and could join his brother Austin as the only drivers to win a NASCAR national touring division title without a victory. His best finish was second at Kentucky in September. He has 12 top fives and 24 top tens. Like Buescher, Dillon has finished every race this season.

Smith won at Mid-Ohio and Dover and has 11 top fives and 25 top tens. He has finished 31 of 32 races entering this season. He enters the season finale with 12 consecutive top ten finishes. Smith is the only of the four drivers to have won at Homestead. He won the 2012 Homestead race.

Truck Series
Three drivers are alive for the NASCAR's Truck Series championship.

Erik Jones leads with 861 points, 19 points clear of Tyler Reddick and 32 points clear of Matt Crafton.

Jones has three victories this season (Iowa, Mosport and Texas). He has the fewest amount of top fives among the remaining championship eligible drivers as he has 11 but has the most top tens among the final three with 19. He has averaged a finish of 6.3 and finished all but one race this season.

Reddick's two victories came at Daytona and Dover and he has 13 top fives and 18 top tens. He has averaged a finish of 6.5 this season and has finished every race this season. He could become the first driver to win a Truck championship driving for Ford since Greg Biffle in 2000.

Crafton has five victories this season, the most in the series. He won at Atlanta, Kansas, Texas, Kentucky and Martinsville. He has 12 top fives and 17 top tens and has averaged a finish of 8.0 in 22 races. He has three retirements this season. Crafton is seeking his third consecutive title, a record in the Truck Series.

Crafton has made 14 starts at Homestead with his best finish being second in 2009. If Crafton takes the green flag on Friday night, he will break a tie with Ron Hornaday for most Truck starts at Homestead. Reddick's lone Homestead start was last year and he finished sixth. Jones will make his Homestead debut.

1. 2.5 championship eligible drivers finishing in the top five?
2. 1.5 Grand National series regulars finishing in the top five?
3. 13.5 leader changes in the Truck race?

1. A championship eligible driver will not win the Cup race.
2. Chris Buescher wins the title but finishes behind two of his championship rivals.
3. One Truck championship eligible drivers finishes outside the top ten.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 Et Cetera Predictions: Revisited

Eleven months ago I made a dozen predictions for a dozen racing series from around the globe. Today we look back to see how I did after looking into the crystal ball at MotoGP, V8 Supercars, Super Formula, Indy Lights and Formula E just to name a few of the series.

1. MotoGP: The Title Will Come Down To The Final Race
Correct! Although it was much more anti-climatic than expected. Valentino Rossi entered with a seven-point lead over Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo but Rossi had to started last on the grid after he kicked Marc Márquez's bike during the Malaysian Grand Prix the round before. Lorenzo started on pole position and led lights-to-flag while Rossi charged from 26th to fourth but fell to Lorenzo in the championship by five points.

This season had a very sour ending. It was a good season and Lorenzo won the most races but you can't help but feel it would have played out differently had Rossi not be penalized. We will never know. Lorenzo might have had the better bike all weekend and would have still beat Rossi. Rossi might have been able to take the fight to the Majorcan. But had Rossi been disqualified from the Malaysian Grand Prix, Lorenzo would have had the championship lead entering Valencia and Rossi would have had a nine-point margin to overcome and there is no guarantee he would have been to overcome that. Both had great seasons but I don't think it ended the way anyone wanted it to.

2. V8 Supercars: Marcos Ambrose Does Not Finish in the Top Ten of the Championship
Correct! This was surprising. The long awaited return to V8 Supercars for Marcos Ambrose with the partnership of Dick Johnson Racing and Team Penske seemed like a potentially great mix and it didn't make it past the first round at Adelaide. Two 16ths and a 12th and Ambrose was done, replaced by Scott Pye. He only returned for the endurance races and the team retired at Bathurst with an eighth in race one from Surfers Paradise being Ambrose's best finish of the season.

I thought Ambrose would have finished around 15th in the championship. I expected him to struggle at the start of the season but eventually try to find his footing and get a few top tens as the season went along. I was really hoping this was going to work because Ambrose is a great driver. He left Australia at his prime and came to NASCAR and ran well. He has now retired for good at the age of 39. I wish Ambrose the best in whatever else he chooses to do.

3. Indy Lights: Grids Average Over 13 Entries
Wrong! Indy Lights average 12 cars in the first season of the IL-15. I was a little surprised. After all the buzz entering the season and all the talk about car orders and new car owners purchasing cars, I thought we would see 15-16 cars per race and that didn't happen. The buzz is still up for year two as Andretti Autosport could expand their operation to four cars in 2016 and 8Star Motorsport has had their program merger with Team Pelfrey, who has fielded championship-winning cars in U.S. F2000 and Pro Mazda. Foul me once, shame on you; foul me twice, shame on me. I want to believe that there will be significant growth in Indy Lights next year but I am not sure what to believe.

4. DTM: The Russian Round Doesn't Happen
Wrong! It did occur and Pascal Wehrlein and Mike Rockenfeller split the weekend. I thought the conflict in Ukraine and the economic downturn in Russia was going to cause DTM to bail on the event but that didn't happen. Will DTM return to Russia in 2016? We will have to wait and see.

5. Super GT: Lexus Retakes GT500 Title
Wrong! Nissan kept the title as Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won their second consecutive crowd. Nissan dominated and it wasn't just the factory pairing of Matsuda and Quintarelli. The #46 MOLA Nissan of Satoshi Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida won a round as did the #24 Kondō Racing Nissan of Daiki Sasaki and Michael Krumm. Lexus did have a good year. The #36 Petronas TOM's RC F of James Rossiter and Daisuke Itō won the Suzuka 1000km. The #37 KeePer TOM's entry of Andrea Caldarelli and Ryō Hirakawa won the bookends at Okyama and Motegi.

6. World Superbike/World Supersport: P.J. Jacobsen Takes His Game to the Next Level
Correct! The lone American in World Supersport nearly had his season end when his Kawasaki team closed it's doors. Fortunately, Honda picked him up and Jacobsen made history, becoming the first American to win in WSS when he made a final corner pass on Jules Cluzel at Sepang and then went on to win at Magny-Cours, both victories from pole position. He had seven podiums from 12 races, 11 top fives and his worst finish of the season was 10th in the season opener. Jacobsen finished second in the champion to Kenan Sofuoglu. Perhaps he can make a run at the title in 2016.

7. World Rally: Sébastien Loeb Wins a Rally
Wrong! Loeb only entered Rallye Monte-Carlo and he was looking like a contender until he hit a rock and he had to settle for eighth overall and second in the power stage. Perhaps Loeb is getting tired of racing touring cars (more on that in a moment). He is going to run the Dakar Rally in an all-star line-up for Peugeot that includes Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz, Cyril Despres and Romain Dumas. Maybe he will run a few more rallies in 2016.

8. World Touring Car Championship: Citroën Wins Less Than Seventeen Races
Wrong! There is still two races to go in the 2015 WTCC season and Citroën has won 19 of 22 races. I thought Honda would be more of a threat. I thought Lada would build off their success at the end of the 2014 season. None of that happened. José María López ran away with his second consecutive WTCC title and the round in Qatar the day after Thanksgiving is all for shits and giggles.

9. Formula E: At Least Five New Drivers Make a Start
Correct! I was only counting the latter half of the 2014-15 season for this prediction and in the eight races that took place from January-June, ten drivers made their Formula E debuts, four of them for Andretti Autosport. Marco Andretti, Scott Speed, Justin Wilson and Simona de Silvestro all made starts for the American team. Loïc Duval joined Dragon Racing in Miami, as did Vitantonio Liuzzi at Trulli. Four drivers debut in London. Oliver Turvey ran for China Racing and finished ninth in both races. Swiss drivers Fabio Leimer and Alex Fontana run for Virgin and Trulli respectively with Fontana replacing Liuzzi. Salon Yamamoto reminded the world he is still racing and had an ugly weekend driving for Aguri.

10. Super Formula: There Will Be At Least One First Time Winner
Correct! Hiroaki Ishiura won his first career race in the second at Okyama and he went on to win the Super Formula championship with another win at Motegi just for good measure. Ishiura is interesting. It took him 45 starts to score his first career Super Formula victory and he was out of the series for two seasons. He returned last year to Super Formula and had a career year finishing fifth in championship with two podiums. He won the Super GT GT300 championship as a rookie in 2007 with Kazuya Oshima. He is only 34 years old. I don't know what his career will bring outside of Japan but I congratulate him on a breakout season. 

11. European Le Mans Series: Porsche Wins a Race in a GT Category
Correct! The #86 Gulf Racing UK Porsche 911 RSR of Michael Wainwright, Phil Keen and Adam Carroll won the opening of the season at Silverstone. However, Ferrari did win three of five times in GTE and won three of fives times in GTC with BMW winning once in GTE and twice in GTC.

12. Asian Le Mans Series: Grid Size Grows Under ACO Control
Correct! Kind of. I did not expect the Asian Le Mans Series (which we are calling ALMS from now on) to adopt a split, autumn-winter schedule with two races in 2015 and two in 2016 but I think it will work for the series. It appears ALMS will benefit from LMP3 and the GT grid has been stellar. There were eight entries in the Sepang race on November. Considering the 2014 season opener from Inje, South Korea had eight cars total, 2015-16 season has been a big success. There were 16 total entries at Sepang across LMP2, LMP3, CN, GT and GT-Am and there were 13 cars at the season open at Fuji. The 2016-17 has already been released, which includes a stop in Zhuhai to open that season. I really hope this ALMS succeeds. I wish there was a way for ALMS could get GT entries from Australia. Especially with the two rounds in January 2016 taking place within a month of the Bathurst 12 Hour.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Numb

It was a difficult weekend worldwide. The motorsports events that took place are so inconsequential when looking at the bigger picture of life. Nico Rosberg dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix. It rained on another NASCAR weekend. There was a comeback at Motegi. The World Rally Championship season ended in Wales. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

After the events that took place on Friday evening in Paris, all I feel is numb. There is a bit of anger and a bit of sadness underneath but I just feel numb. There is nothing worth discussing this week. The struggles of racing series to get fans through the gates and watching races on television are so minuscule right now. It doesn't matter at all. There are bigger problems out there.

I don't want to say much but I still want to say something. There are more people in the world that want peace, that want love, that want to be able to go out on a Friday night and have a good time than those who want terror, who want blood, who want death. In fact, I will go as far to say that the amount of people who want peace, who love, who want freedom is so large that it could suffocate those who want terror, blood and death. How then can we take this vast majority use their power to prevent this sliver of the pie from causing destruction?

I don't have an answer but if there is one thing that gives me hope is that the numbers are on the side of peace, love and freedom and I hope and pray that solidarity of those who believe in those three things will cause change and that those thirsting for the darkness will drown in the over-powering light.

For all those who felt robbed because the NASCAR race was moved from NBC to NBCSN because of the lengthy weather delay and didn't like that the race ended because of weather, think about what happened over the last three days and realize how childish you sound.

Champions From the Weekend
Tsugio Mastuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won their second consecutive Super GT GT500 championship with a second place finish at Motegi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Nico Rosberg but did you know...

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the rain-shortened NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. join Jeff Gordon as the driver championship eligible heading to Homestead.

Sébastien Ogier closed out his 2015 championship campaign with a victory at Wales Rally GB.

The #37 KeePer TOM's Lexus RC F of Andrea Caldarelli and Ryo Hirakawa won the Super GT race at Motegi. The #31 apr Toyota Prius of Koki Saga and Yuichi Nakayama won in GT300.

Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Grand National Series from Phoenix. Timothy Peters won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
The FIA World Endurance Championship rounds out their 2015 season in Bahrain.
The NASCAR seasons end in Homestead.
Race of Champions will take place at the London Olympic Stadium.
The first ever FIA GT World Cup runs on the streets of Macau.
V8 Supercars run their penultimate round of the season at Phillip Island.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Five: Phoenix, Interlagos, Motegi, Wales

Two seasons come to a close this weekend and one championship will be crowned. Meanwhile, two seasons will be entering their penultimate rounds. Formula One remains in the Americas and heads south to Interlagos. NASCAR heads southwest to Phoenix and four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention while four drivers will advance with a shot at the title. Super GT ends at Motegi and World Rally ends in Wales.

The penultimate round of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will take place from Phoenix International Raceway. Jeff Gordon is the lone driver locked in as championship eligible for the season finale after his victory at Martinsville. Jimmie Johnson won at Texas, meaning at least two drivers will qualify for the season finale on points.

Kyle Busch is the top driver on points with 4,080. He is one point ahead of Kevin Harvick and current bubble driver Martin Truex, Jr. is four points behind Busch. Seven points behind Truex, Jr. and the first on the outside looking in is Carl Edwards. Brad Keselowski led 312 of 334 laps at Texas but was passed by Jimmie Johnson with four laps to go, taking a Chase spot away from the Penske driver. Kurt Busch trails Truex, Jr. by 28 points and Joey Logano trails by 63 points. Logano has to win the race to be championship eligible at the season finale.

Five of the eight Chase drivers have won at Phoenix. Kevin Harvick is the all-time leader in victories at Phoenix with seven, including the last four races at the one-mile oval. The last driver not named Kevin Harvick to win at Phoenix was Carl Edwards and he has two victories at Phoenix, as does Jeff Gordon. The Busch brothers each have one victory at Phoenix and both of them won in 2005, splitting the first year Phoenix had two Cup races. Kurt won the spring race and Kyle won in autumn.

Martin Truex, Jr. has one top five, seven top tens and a pole position in 19 starts at Phoenix. He finished seventh in the spring race back in March. After failing to finish in the top ten in his first five starts at Phoenix, Brad Keselowski has six top tens in his last seven Phoenix starts and his worst finish is 11th in that time frame. Four of those finishes were top tens. Joey Logano has two top fives and seven top tens in 13 starts at Phoenix, including starting and finishing in the top ten in the last four Phoenix races.

Jimmie Johnson has the top average finish amongst active drivers at Phoenix. His average finish is 7.8 and he has four victories at the track. Five other non-Chase drivers have won at Phoenix. They are Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Denny Hamlin.

Formula One
The penultimate round of the 2015 Formula One season will be the Brazilian Grand Prix from Interlagos.

Lewis Hamilton has the world championship locked up and he is still looking for his first Brazilian Grand Prix victory. In his previous eight starts, Hamilton has two podiums at Interlagos. Nico Rosberg is the defending Brazilian Grand Prix winner and he is looking to tie Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel for most Brazilian Grand Prix victories among active drivers. Rosberg is also looking to become the first driver to win consecutive Brazilian Grand Prix since Juan Pablo Montoya won the race in 2004 and 2005. Rosberg has a 21-point advantage over Sebastian Vettel for second in the championship after Vettel retired at Mexico City.

Valtteri Bottas has 126 points and is three ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Räikkönen. The two came together at Mexico City, which ended Räikkönen's race. Felipe Massa is nine points behind his Williams teammate. Daniil Kvyat has 88 points and is four ahead of his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo. Sergio Pérez has 68 points in ninth and Max Verstappen rounds out the top ten with 47 points. Romain Grosjean is two points behind Verstappan with Nico Hülkenberg a point behind Grosjean.

Felipe Nasr has 27 points, one ahead of Pastor Maldonado. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has 18 points and is two ahead of Jenson Button with Fernando Alonso a further five points back. Marcus Ericsson sits on nine points. Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens have yet to score for Manor. This will be Rossi's final race of the 2015 season. The American will be on GP2 duty for the next two week. He will run at Bahrain next weekend at the FIA WEC weekend, a make-up round for the German weekend being cancelled and the GP2 season finale is at Abu Dhabi. Rossi is looking to wrap up second in the GP2 championship. 

Super GT – GT500
The 2015 Super GT season ends this weekend at Twin Ring Motegi. Six teams are still championship eligible for the GT500 championship.

The #12 Calsonic Team Impul Nissan GT-R of João Paulo de Oliveira and Hironobu Yasuda lead with 66 points but they have yet to score a race victory this season but have four podiums in seven races. Both drivers are going for their first championships in Super GT. The #1 NISMO Nissan GT-R of Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda are two points behind the #12 Nissan and looking for their second consecutive title. The #1 Nissan has two victories this season, including the most recent round at Autopolis. Quintarelli is looking for his fourth title in five years.

Super Formula champion Hiroaki Ishiura looks to double-down on championships as he and his #38 Lexus Team Zent Cerumo teammate Yuji Tachikawa trail the #12 Nissan by 13 points. The #38 Lexus has three podiums this season. Ishiura won the 2007 GT300 championship and could join Pedro de la Rosa, Satoshi Motoyama and Richard Lyons as drivers who won a Super GT and Super Formula/Formula Nippon in the same year. Tachikawa is going for his fourth Super GT championship. The #46 MOLA Nissan GT-R of Satoshi Motoyama and Masataka Yanagida are fourth, 16 points back. Motoyama is going for his fourth Super GT title while Yanagida is going for his fifth Super GT, third in GT500. Motoyama and Yanagida won at Buriram.

The #100 Team Kunimitsu Honda NSX-GT of Naoki Yamamoto and Takuya Izawa and the #36 Lexus Team Petronas TOM's Lexus RC F of Daisuke Itō and James Rossiter are tied for fifth, 17 points behind the #12 Nissan. The #100 Honda won at Sportsland SUGO with the #36 Lexus winning the Suzuka 1000km. Yamamoto, Izawa and Rossiter are all going for their first titles while Itō won the 2007 GT500 title.

Super GT – GT300
In GT300, the title has already been decided. André Couto clinched the title at Autopolis with a second place finish. Couto is twenty points clear of his #10 Gainer Nissan GT-R co-driver Katsumasa Chiyo.

The #3 NDDP Racing with B-Max Nissan GT-R of Kazuki Hoshino and Mitsunori Takaboshi have won two races and are third on 61 points, 12 points clear of the #31 apr Toyota Prius GT of Yuichi Nakayama and Koki Saga. Seiji Ara and Jörg Müller are on 45 points and are looking for their first victory of 2015 in the #7 Studie BMW Z4 GT3.

The #55 Team Aguri Honda CR-Z of Takashi Kobayashi and Shinichi Takagi and the #11 Gainer Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 of Björn Wirdheim and Katsuyuki Hiranaka are tied on 41 points. The #55 Honda won at Fuji while the #11 Mercedes looks to close out their season with a victory.

World Rally
The final round of the 2015 World Rally Championship season is a dead rubber.

Sébastien Ogier already has the world championship locked up but the Frenchman has failed to finish in the point in the last two rounds, the first time he has failed to score in consecutive rallies since 2012. Ogier has not failed to finish in the points in three consecutive rounds since he failed to score in the final two rounds of the 2011 season and the first two rounds of the 2012 season. Ogier has won the last two Wales Rally GBs.

Jari-Matti Latvala is second in the championship and the Finn has finished first or second in the last five races. He is 26 points ahead of Volkswagen teammate Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian scored his first rally victory at Catalunya in the last round after Ogier had an accident on the final stage. Latvala is a two-time Wales Rally GB winner.

Citroën drivers Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke round out the top five in the championship. Østberg has 110 points with Meeke on 94 points. Meeke won Rally Argentina earlier this season and he is looking to become the first British driver to win Wales Rally GB since Richard Burns won in 2000.

Thierry Neuville has 90 points with Elfyn Evans nine points behind him. Dani Sordo is coming off a third in Catalunya and is on 77 points. Hayden Paddon is three points behind Sordo with Estonian Ott Tänak rounds out the top ten on 63 points.

1. Over or Under: 0.5 Chase drivers finishing a lap down?
2. Over or Under: 4.5 retirements in the Brazilian Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 70.5 years being the combined age of the winners in GT500 at Motegi?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 podium finishers in GT300 coming from outside the top three starters?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 Scandinavian drivers in the top five at Wales Rally GB?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: Valentino Rossi went from 26th to 4th. Twenty-two spots gained.
2. Under: The margin of victory in the Moto3 race from Valencia was 0.198.
3. Over: Naoki Yamamoto won race two at Suzuka, giving Honda a podium on the weekend.
4. Over: Three top ten finishers in Putrajaya started outside the top ten.
5. Over: Four Chevrolets finished in the top seven at Texas.

1. One of the four drivers on the outside looking in entering Phoenix will be championship eligible at Homestead.
2. A car will retire while running in the top three.
3. The GT500 champion will have a race victory.
4. A non-Japanese manufacture will win the GT300 race at Motegi.
5. Three British drivers finish in the points.

Last Week's Predictions
1. At least two riders outside the top sixteen in the MotoGP championship score points at Valencia (Wrong. Michele Pirro was the only one from outside the top 16 to score at Valencia).
2. Miguel Oliveira finishes ahead of Danny Kent but does not win the Moto3 championship (Correct. Oliveira won, Kent finished ninth and took the title).
3. André Lotterer wins at least one race at Suzuka (Correct. Lotterer won race one).
4. A driver scores their first career Formula E podium in Putrajaya (Correct. Robin Frijns crabbed to a third place finish in his second career start).
5. A Chase driver is involved in a caution at Texas (Correct. Joey Logano brought out a caution).
Overall: 4/5 Running Tally: 26/50

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wednesday Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2015 Season

The final Wednesday Wrap-Up has brought us to the championships winning team, Chip Ganassi Racing. Only one of the teams drivers won a race in 2015 but in a year when no team dominated, no team took the title by the throat and ran away with it, three wins is all the team needed for their best driver to take the title on the final day of the season.

Scott Dixon took his fourth championship in 2015
Scott Dixon
It was a tough start to the 2015 season for Scott Dixon. Pneumatic jack problems at St. Petersburg cost Dixon a decent finish as lengthy pit stops always dropped him to the rear of the field. He had to start at the back at NOLA and he could only manage an 11th place finish. He would score his first career Grand Prix of Long Beach victory in the third race of the season. He used pit strategy to jump Hélio Castroneves for the lead. Dixon kept up his perfect attendance of Barber podiums as he finished third behind Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal.

He was punted in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis by Castroneves on lap one and was set behind the eight ball when the race restarted after only two laps of caution. Dixon would recover a tenth place finish. Dixon won his second career Indianapolis 500 pole-position and led 84 of 200 laps, more than any other driver. However, the Penskes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power drove away and Dixon even slipped behind Charlie Kimball, dropping Dixon to fourth. He botched the tire strategy in Belle Isle 1 but finished fifth. In the second race at Belle Isle, Dixon was in the top ten when contact with Kimball would end his day.

He started the second half of the season with a victory at Texas. Dixon led the most laps (97) from seventh on the grid and won by over seven seconds to Tony Kanaan in second. He also lapped up to sixth position in the race. A subtle eighth place in Toronto and sixth at Fontana would follow his Texas victory. He would cap off the third quarter of the IndyCar season with a sixth at Milwaukee.

Scott Dixon owns Mid-Ohio. He started on pole position and led the first 22 laps before needing to pit under caution. He dropped back while Juan Pablo Montoya dominated the second third of the race and it appeared Dixon would lose a hefty margin to Montoya in the championship. However, Sage Karam spun right after Dixon made his final pit stop and Montoya was caught out. Dixon ended up finishing fourth while Montoya couldn't get back inside the top ten. While many had some type of issue at Pocono, Dixon brought the car home in ninth and kept his championship hopes alive. At Sonoma, Dixon started ninth and four championship contenders started in front of him. Dixon worked his way to the front while the other championship contenders faltered. His Ganassi teammates worked in Dixon's best interest. His pit crew made up ground in the pit lane and Dixon got to the lead, making Montoya chase down the title. Montoya got even with Dixon but Dixon took the checkered flag first and in doing so, took the tiebreaker and won his fourth IndyCar championship.

A solid season but not a spectacular season for Tony Kanaan
Tony Kanaan
The 2004 IndyCar champion was the top non-Penske driver at the season opener in St. Petersburg. The Brazilian finished third but couldn't challenge the Penske contingent at the front. At NOLA, Kanaan went off-roading but still managed a sixth place finish. He finished fifth at Long Beach but his streak of top tens would end at Barber when he came home in 13th.

He kept his nose clean in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and had a notable battle with Stefano Coletti with Kanaan finishing seventh. He started fourth in the Indianapolis 500 and was at the front, contending for the victory until one pit stop. Until he got caught out on cold tires and his race ended with 49 laps to go. There was no rebound at Belle Isle. He was collateral damage when James Jakes and Coletti made contact that also took out Graham Rahal. He finished on the lead lap in race two but started and finished 13th and was a non-factor.

The rebound would occur at Texas and it would start a pattern in the third quarter of the season. He led 57 laps and had a good battle with Scott Dixon before the Kiwi pulled away. Kanaan would come home in second in a Ganassi 1-2. At Toronto, Kanaan finished sixth after hanging around in the top ten all race. His return to Fontana would see him fall short of making it consecutive victories at the track as Rahal took the win and Kanaan came home in second. He ran at the front all day at Milwaukee but could only settle for sixth.

Kanaan had another great race going at Iowa. Only this time, mechanical gremlins ended his night, a theme for Ganassi in the Hawkeye State. He benefitted from Sage Karam's caution at Mid-Ohio and ended up finishing in the top five. Kanaan's poor track record at Pocono continued. Another race where he found himself at the front, another result that didn't match. He, like many, found the barrier at Pocono. Kanaan worked his way to the front at Sonoma and ran block for Dixon, making sure he put himself between Dixon and the Penskes of Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power. It worked and he finished fourth.

Charlie Kimball had a Charlie Kimball-esque season
Charlie Kimball
The American's season started rough. A tire rub and contact with Graham Rahal with a wounded car buried his race and put him down in 21st. However, it was all up hill from there for Kimball. A 14th at NOLA followed with a slight dip at his home race of Long Beach where he finished 15th after starting 15th. At Barber, he started 11th and finished 12th, just ahead of Tony Kanaan.

He started 14th in both Indianapolis races. In the Grand Prix, Kimball worked his way to the front and finished fifth. In the Indianapolis 500, Kimball worked his way into the top ten and benefitted from Tony Kanaan's accident. He was the leader because of the pit cycle and was on the pit lane when the accident occurred. He exited just before Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya came by on the front straightaway. Kimball would lead ten laps and fell back on the restart but would comeback and work his way to third passing Dixon along the way.

He slapped the barrier in race one from Belle Isle and he took out Dixon in race two but ended up finishing 11th. He ran in the top ten all race at Texas after qualifying ninth, a rare feat to see Kimball start in the top ten, and finished seventh. A 20th at Toronto was followed by an eighth at Fontana and 12th at Milwaukee.

The final quarter of the season did not go well for Kimball He had an accident at Iowa and finished 22rd. At Mid-Ohio, he qualified sixth but two spins but him three laps down and he finished 23rd. At Pocono, Kimball had to overcome an accident that had him graze the catch fence exiting turn three and contact damage from an incident with Jack Hawksworth during the race. Due to attrition, he finished 12th but retired, seven laps down. In the season finale, Kimball started seventh and ran up front. He worked his was on to the podium to close out the season.

Sage Karam's rookie season had bright spots and dark spots
Sage Karam
The rookie had an up and down first season in IndyCar. Sage Karam's first three races were disappointing. He finished a lap down in the first two races and at Barber, he started 12th but faded to 18th, matching his best finish in the first three races. After sitting out the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Karam returned to the Indianapolis 500 a year after a spectacular rookie driver that arguably was worthy of Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors. He improved his starting position by ten spots in 2015, rolling off from the outside of row seven but he didn't make it to the second turn of the race after Takuma Sato made contact with him exiting turn one.

At Belle Isle, Karam finished a lap down in race one in 16th and pinballed off Jack Hawksworth and Stefano Coletti in race two and was handed a penalty for his actions but ended up finishing 12th. At Texas, he started tenth but finished three laps down in 12th, a position ahead of Will Power. After missing Toronto, Karam returned for Fontana and started tenth for a second consecutive start. He faded to the back but recovered and fought his way to fifth, his first career top-five finish. He started third at Milwaukee but brushed the wall while running in the top and retired and finished 19th. Aggression paid off at Iowa for Karam. He blocked Hawksworth, he raced Ed Carpenter to the limit but he didn't go over it and finished third, his first career podium.

He had a rough weekend at Mid-Ohio. He started 19th and was never in contention. He had a suspicious spin just after his teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan made pit stops and that caution caught out Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power. The spin was questioned but Karam was absolved of any wrongdoing. Karam finally got to race at his home track, Pocono. He started 20th but worked his way through the final and found himself leading the race late. He had led seven laps when he spun exiting turn one while in the lead. That was Karam's final act in the 2015 IndyCar season.

Sebastián Saavedra drove for Ganassi. Never thought you'd hear that did you?
Sebastián Saavedra
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season was Sebastián Saavedra driving five races for Chip Ganassi Racing. The Colombian driver ran four races in place of Sage Karam in the #8 Chevrolet when Automatic Fire Sprinklers sponsored the car and he ran the #17 Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500.

At Long Beach, Saavedra made his debut for the team and started 11th and hung around the outside of the top ten all race and would finish tenth, his fourth career top ten in 57 starts. His next race would be the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Saavedra started eighth but faded to 17th in the race. In the Indianapolis 500, he started 27th and was never a contender in the race. Unfortunately, he made contact with Jack Hawksworth and then the wall and slid into the path of Stefano Coletti who hit the Colombian square in the side. Saavedra would be sidelined with a left foot contusion. His fourth race was at Toronto where he started 17th and finished 16th. He would be on the sidelines until the Sonoma season finale, where he started tenth and led 12 laps on pit cycle and would ultimately finish 13th.

What does the championship winning team need to work on?

For Scott Dixon, nothing. Nothing. If he were a football club, he would be Bayern München. He has finished in the top three of the championship nine consecutive years and has finished in the top four for the last ten championships. He is looking to make history in 2016. Dixon has won at least one IndyCar race in 11 consecutive seasons. No one has every won a race in a dozen consecutive seasons. Bobby Unser was the first to do it and his streak ended after a terrible 1977 season that saw him score one top ten in ten starts, an eighth in the season finale in Phoenix. Emerson Fittipaldi's shot at making it to a dozen ended when he broke his back at Michigan. Hélio Castroneves' streak snapped in 2011 even though he came close with two second place finishes that season at Edmonton and Sonoma.

It seems inevitable Dixon will get a dozen. His name is penciled next to Mid-Ohio. He could win any of the ovals. How many races will Dixon win next year? He is fifth all-time, one behind Al Unser, three behind Michael Andretti. History will happen in 2016. When and where is still up in the air.

I am preparing for 2016 to be Tony Kanaan's final IndyCar season. He turns 41 this New Years' Eve. He has made 310 career starts, 249 in a row. Should he start all the races on the 2016 schedule, those numbers will reach 326 and 265 respectively. He is bound to pass Michael Andretti and Al Unser on the list for most IndyCar starts. Kanaan is good. He isn't great. He can hold his own but he just doesn't have it on road and street courses to compete for the title. He can get top tens on those circuits but he can't find that extra gear to find victories on road and street circuits.

Charlie Kimball does a solid job bringing the car home in one piece and he is rewarded with a smattering of top tens with the occasional top five and podium. If Kimball could improve in qualifying, perhaps he would be in more battles for race victories and maybe he could find himself in a championship battle. While he isn't a sexy driver, he is a reliable driver. He is someone Ganassi can count on and someone I think Ganassi will be willing to keep for many years to come.

Sage Karam had a good rookie season but there is plenty of room for improvement. Ganassi seems to be uncommitted to running a fourth car in 2016 but he seems to want Karam for the long haul. Karam turns 21 in March. There is much more time ahead of him than behind him. IndyCar needs Sage Karam. He is the future. He is someone fans are drawn to, especially that younger demographic can relate to. At Pocono, he won a lot of fans over. The Andretti's might be the motorsports family of that Lehigh Valley-area but Karam could definitely carve out a fan base in that community. Especially with IndyCar returning to Pocono, Karam needs to be there and he needs to be on the grid full-time.

I didn't think Sebastián Saavedra would have ever ended up at Chip Ganassi Racing so I can't rule him out returning for a second season with the team. But once again, Ganassi hasn't been enthusiastic about a fourth car and Karam is also in the pipeline. The only advantage Saavedra has is Gary Peterson supports him with the AFS sponsorship. I don't understand what Peterson sees in Saavedra. Sixty-one starts, 0 victories, 0 podiums, 0 top fives, four top tens, one pole position that he won in the wet after the session was red flagged for a Ryan Hunter-Reay accident that ended the session. To be fair, Saavedra is only 25 and I have always pointed out that the likes of Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal are young and guys such as Dario Franchitti didn't start winning titles and Indianapolis 500s until he was 34.

The difference is Saavedra has never been there. Compare Saavedra to Josef Newgarden. Newgarden is turning 25 this Christmas Eve and has six more starts than Saavedra but Newgarden has two victories, six podiums, 11 top fives, 23 top tens and a pole position. I just don't understand why Peterson stays behind Saavedra while another driver he sponsored to an Indy Lights title JR Hildebrand is on the outside looking in and other top young drivers such as Karam, Conor Daly and Matthew Brabham struggle to get a foothold in IndyCar.

Regardless of what Ganassi does this offseason the team will be back in contention at the end of next season. Dixon will be there. Kanaan won't fade away. They will be there come the season finale at Sonoma. They are always there.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Musings From the Weekend: Who is the Best American Driver Today?

There were many thrilling races this weekend in the world of motorsports and three champions crowned. Reliable beat speed in Putrajaya in what is arguably one of the races of the year. Valentino Rossi made a gallant effort in Valencia. Heavy rain fell in Suzuka. There were a lot of tire failures at Texas. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Who is the Best American Driver?
Ryan Hunter-Reay will compete in his third consecutive Race of Champions on November 20-21st at London's Olympic Stadium. In the press release from Race of Champions, it is noted that Hunter-Reay is "the most successful American driver currently racing in open-wheel competition in the world today"with more victories than any other active American in open-wheel competition. Hunter-Reay has an IndyCar championship, he has a Indianapolis 500 victory and is sixth amongst active IndyCar drivers in victories and tied for 27th all-time with Dan Wheldon on 16 victories.

But is Ryan Hunter-Reay the best American driver today?

When people ask what the pinnacle of motorsports the majority is going to say Formula One and that is a very valid answer. Alexander Rossi is the lone American on the Formula One grid. If Formula One were the pinnacle of motorsports and if Alexander Rossi is the lone American on the grid, then wouldn't he be considered the best American driver today?

Despite Rossi's success in GP2 and respectable results in the handful of Formula One starts he has made, I don't think many would consider him the best American driver as we speak.

It's a tough question for the American motorsports community as it is a very divided and territorial. IndyCar fans are going to shoot down any NASCAR driver. NASCAR fans believe there drivers are hands down the best in the world. Sports car fans will make their arguments for any one of a dozen drivers. Dirt track fans will rally that there is nothing more difficult than riding the cushion.

I don't think there is a more diverse talent pool then that of American motorsport. While other countries may have an easier time selecting who the best driver is, many talented drivers will be forgotten. For the United Kingdom, it's pretty obvious that Lewis Hamilton would be considered it's best driver. Same for Germany and Sebastian Vettel and Spain with Fernando Alonso. But think about André Lotterer, who has won many races in sports cars and Super Formula. If Felipe Massa is considered the best Brazilian just because he was in Formula One, the likes of Lucas di Grassi, Hélio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Cacá Bueno would be left out and they all have valid arguments for being considered.

The United States isn't the only country that would have a difficult time selecting its best driver. What about Australia? Mark Webber has won in Formula One and is in position for a world championship in FIA WEC but Will Power has had a very respectable career in the United States and Jamie Whincup has more V8 Supercars championships and second most victories in the series. Craig Lowndes broke the century mark in V8SC race victories earlier this year and won his sixth Bathurst 1000 last month. What about Belgium? Stoffel Vandoorne has clinched the GP2 title and everyone believes he should be in Formula One next year but in the GT ranks, Laurens Vanthoor has won a few titles and is constant threat for victory in any race he enters.

To get back on point, who is the best American driver? There is no right answer. Last year, Robby Gordon ran Race of Champions and defeated Tom Kristensen. No one would consider Robby Gordon the best American driver today or better than Kristensen but it just goes to show that many drivers could be in the discussion, including those we infrequently mention.

Now who will partner with Ryan Hunter-Reay this year at Race of Champions? It would be cool to see Hunter-Reay pair with his brother-in-law, Robby Gordon. I suggested Matt Kenseth skip the final NASCAR race and get some much needed rest and relaxation and spend the week in London instead of having to deal with a million questions at Homestead. I wouldn't mind if Alexander Rossi did it though. He has had a great 2015 and it would be a nice reward for him, although he just said goodbye to London so either he hasn't been asked yet or declined the invitation. We will have to wait and see.

From Japan
Speaking of Stoffel Vandoorne, the GP2 champion will be testing a Super Formula car later this month and the McLaren development driver is rumored to run in the Japanese-based series in 2016 as McLaren will retain both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button for the 2016 Formula One season.

While the Belgian says he thinks Super Formula would prepare him the best for the high downforce of Formula One, this potential move should have IndyCar questioning themselves and their place in the motorsports landscape. It wasn't that long along that the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, Bruno Junqueira and Sébastien Bourdais were coming over to the United States fresh off International Formula 3000 championships, which was the predecessor to GP2. Heck, Timo Glock came over and ran a season in Champ Car before heading back to Europe and winning the GP2 crown and getting a ride with Toyota.

I admire Super Formula and I hope someday Super Formula and IndyCar can form a beautiful Pan-Pacific open-wheel relationship that sees a shared chassis and engine formula with teams and drivers coming over from Japan to attempt the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar teams and drivers returning the favor and returning to the Land of the Rising Sun. But what should really make IndyCar perk up their ears is that Vandoorne isn't just choosing Super Formula. Rather he is being directed there. His move to Super Formula is because of Honda. What does that say about how Honda views their racing properties? What does that say about the state of IndyCar?

While Honda may view Super Formula as more important than IndyCar, let's not forget that IndyCar isn't the easiest series to deal with and with teams struggle to make the grid each year, it might more hassle than it should be to try and get Vandoorne in a ride. With Super Formula, it appears to be easier for Honda to put Vandoorne in a ride than putting him in an IndyCar ride. While Vandoorne seems ready to run Super Formula next year, let's point out that Honda's track record in Super Formula is worse than their track record in IndyCar. Honda has struggled to keep up with Toyota in Super Formula. Honda won one of eight races in Super Formula this season and that victory was the final race of the season. Last year, Honda won one of nine Super Formula races and in 2013 Honda won two of seven. If anything, IndyCar should be higher on Honda's depth chart than Super Formula considering it's the series they are more competitive in.

I would love to see the Belgian in IndyCar and who knows? Maybe Honda can negotiate a test for him with Andretti. Andretti was working on a fourth car for Justin Wilson in 2016 and that would be Vandoorne's best option if he were to come to IndyCar. However, I think Vandoorne will be competing in Japan next year. Unless the Formula One regulations change and allow for teams to run a third car; then I expect him to be partnered with Alonso and Button.

More From Japan
1. Super Formula gets me. The first race at Suzuka started at 10:00 a.m. local time in Suzuka. That is a prime brunch hour. And for those on the East Coast of the United States, that was an 8:00 p.m. ET start. Who says American series can't race in Japan? They just need to take advantage of Japanese brunch time.

2. Quick sidebar: Do people in Japan have brunch? If so, what is it like? Is it just like American brunch where it's a mix of waffles and pancakes with sides of pork loin?

3. I am offering Super Formula $50 for the television and streaming rights to the series in the United States. I couldn't even find a "questionable" feed for the races this weekend. There are a lot of talented drivers in that series, the equipment is pretty good and I would like to bring it to the eyes and ears of the American people.

4. Yokohama is replacing Bridgestone as the tire supplier in Super Formula starting next season. I find that interesting. Bridgestone has pulled out of Formula One, this was the company's last season in MotoGP, is isn't involved in sports cars beyond Super GT in the GT500 class. What is the future of Bridgestone in motorsports and what does it mean for Firestone in IndyCar? Remember, Firestone wasn't keen on returning to IndyCar not that long ago and has pulled out of Indy Lights. It is just something for you to think about on this Monday.

Champions From the Weekend
Jorge Lorenzo won his third MotoGP championship with his victory at Valencia.

Hiroaki Ishiura won the Super Formula championship with a second to André Lotterer in race one from Suzuka and fourth in race two while Naoki Yamamoto won the race.

Danny Kent won the Moto3 championship with a ninth at Valencia while his championship rival Miguel Oliveira took the race victory.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lucas di Grassi, Jorge Lorenzo, Miguel Oliveira and what happened at Suzuka but did you know...

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Texas, meaning at least two drivers will qualify for the final race on points.

Jamie Whincup and David Reynolds split the Saturday V8 Supercar races from Pukekohe Park Raceway. Whincup won the Sunday race as well.

The #8 Race Performance Oreca-Judd of Nicolas Leutwiler and Shinji Nakano won the Asian Le Mans Series race from Sepang. The #3 Clearwater Racing McLaren 650S GT3 of Weng Sun Mok, Rob Bell and Keita Sawa won in GT. The #21 Avelon Formula Wolf Racing GB08 of Denis Lian and Giorgio Maggi won in CN. The #1 DC Racing Ligier JSP3-Nissan of David Cheng, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won in LMP3.

Esteve Rabat won the Moto2 race from Valencia in his return after missing the Asia-Pacific swing due to an injury in practice at Motegi. Moto2 champion Johann Zarco finished seventh.

Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Texas. Erik Jones won the Truck race.

Coming Up This Weekend
The penultimate round of the Formula One season: The Brazilian Grand Prix.
The penultimate round of the NASCAR season: Phoenix.
The season finale for the Super GT season: Motegi.
The season finale for World Rally Championship: Wales Rally GB.