Monday, October 31, 2016

1000 Words: IROC

Friday marked the tenth anniversary of the final IROC race. Don't feel bad if you had forgotten about it, where it was, who the winner was and who took the final championship. Martin Truex, Jr. won the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the second consecutive year he won the finale after he won at Atlanta the year prior. Tony Stewart clinched the IROC XXX championship with a third-place finish that day and he had won the two races prior at Texas Motor Speedway and on the road course at Daytona International Speedway. 

I don't know why I was infatuated with IROC. Looking back, I might have been the only one that cared. Maybe it was just because it was another race to watch and the realest thing we had to an all-star, best vs. best competition in motorsports even though it wasn't that close to being a true best vs. best competition. If you watched the final decade of IROC, you would have known that it was a NASCAR-heavy series. 

Take the final season as an example: Five full-time Cup drivers (Stewart, Truex, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Mark Martin, who won the IROC title in 2005), the Trucks champion (Ted Musgrave) and filling the second-half of the field was Max Papis, two years removed from winning the Grand-Am title, the defending Grand-Am champions of Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli who split a car, with Taylor taking the bookends of the season, the seven-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel who was working on his eight, Sam Hornish, Jr. who finished third in the IRL championship and two victories the year before, Scott Sharp who was coming off fifth in the 2005 IRL season and won a race that year, and Steve Kinser who became IROC's 12th man for the final few seasons. 

IROC rarely was an international race of champions. The series never raced outside the United States. It never made a trek to Canada to Mexico. In fact, all 30 champions were Americans and the only one that wasn't American-born was Mario Andretti. The inaugural season in 1973-74 featured ten Americans but had two World Drivers' Champions in Emerson Fittipaldi, who would win the title in 1974 and Denis Hulme. Peter Revson made it three Formula One drivers on the grid and he won two races in the 1973 season. Defending Can-Am champion Mark Donohue won the championship. George Follmer, 1972 Can-Am champion, was the second Can-Am driver on the grid. Bobby Unser, A.J. Foyt, George Johncock and Roger McCluskey represented USAC. David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Richard Petty represented NASCAR. 

The series tried to draw out the best from Formula One. Fittipaldi did another season. Ronnie Peterson, Graham Hill and Jody Scheckter participated in the second season. James Hunt did one season and pulled out after the first race of his second season to focus on Formula One. Jacky Ickx and Gunnar Nilsson contested the 1977-78 season. The 1979 and 1980 seasons featured a qualifying format with three races for eight NASCAR drivers, eight USAC drivers and eight road racing (Formula One, IMSA, etc.) drivers with the top four advancing to a two-legged finale with one race on a road course and one on an oval. In those seasons Alan Jones, Clay Regazzoni, Patrick Depailler, John Watson, Niki Lauda and Keke Rosberg all contested in the series. 

After IROC's first hiatus after the 1980 season, Formula One drivers never returned and the series became a NASCAR vs. IndyCar vs. sports car series. The series did get a little more international. The tenth season in 1986 featured the Germans Klaus Ludwig, Hans Stuck and Jochen Mass but other than those three it was guys named Unser, Elliott, Yarborough, Waltrip, Gant, Rahal, Haywood and Mears. In fact, outside of the 1979 and 1980 seasons with the three-race qualifying format, the series never featured more than three international drivers in a season.

While the first season was entirely on road courses with three races at Riverside and the finale on the Daytona road course, the series did a complete 180º turn by its final years. During the 1980s, there was a mix with races on the ovals and road courses but by 1992 all races where on ovals and it would be that way until the final season. Daytona typically opened the season. Michigan was regular on the schedule from the mid-1970s until the turn of the 21st century. Talladega was on the schedule often. Riverside hosted 16 races before it closed. 

The series bounced from track to track. Outside of Daytona, Riverside, Michigan and Talladega, the track that hosted the most IROC races was Indianapolis, which hosted IROC six times. The series raced at Atlanta and Watkins Glen five times, Darlington, Fontana, Mid-Ohio and Texas three times, Cleveland, Charlotte, Chicagoland and Richmond twice. Nazareth was the only track to host only one IROC race. 

Could IROC exist today? I remember around the end of IROC that Jeff Burton said something that the changing landscape of motorsports made the series obsolete, as more series were becoming single-spec series in certain elements. IndyCar was down to just Dallara and Honda. NASCAR was going to the Car of Tomorrow. The other issue was cars were being developed for a four-race series. The length didn't justify the costs. The length of races would be friendly today as most races took around an hour (except for the final road course race at Daytona which took nearly 90 minutes because IROC didn't count caution laps) and could be scheduled nicely in a television window. The actual length of the schedule wouldn't be a good thing. The final season had a race in February, April, July and October. We live in a hyper-attentive world in 2016. It can't be too long but it can't be too short. 

Would drivers do it? I am sure there are drivers that would want to compete for the love of racing but drivers are surrounded by bubble wrap more than ever. The issue would be getting drivers that are desirable. You could probably get Trevor Bayne to do it but could you get Kyle Busch? Formula One drivers wouldn't be allowed to. The difficult thing is getting it to work around every driver's schedule. When NASCAR drivers became the core of the grid, races were held on NASCAR weekends.

The biggest issue is money. What company is going to pony up the millions of dollars it is going to take to support a purse large enough to draw top drivers, cover the costs of the cars and be able to draw eyeballs to the television set, computer screen and get people into the grandstands? 

For kicks and giggles, let's just brainstorm how IROC could exist in this messed up world that we call the year 2016 or rather let's imagine it for 2017 because today is the final day of October. What would it look like? I see a balance, two ovals and two road courses. Open the season at Daytona on the oval during Speedweeks, preferably the Friday evening before the Truck race like it was in the final few seasons. After that there will be a somewhat lengthy hiatus as the next round would be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day. The penultimate round would take place at Montreal on the Saturday of Canadian Grand Prix weekend. The season ends the last weekend at June at Road America on Saturday and in conjunction with the IndyCar race. 

The car would need to be something that is already in existence and readily available. Spec Miatas or Porsche Carrera Cup cars would make sense but the issue with both is having them race on ovals. I am sure it can be done though. The roster of drivers needs to be diverse but what series to choose from and should there be a limit of amount per series? It would be nice to see the champions from Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, WEC, IMSA, Supercars, USAC, World of Outlaws, DTM and a few other drivers sprinkled in. For pure fantasy let's imagine a grid with Lewis Hamilton, Simon Pagenaud, Kyle Busch, Romain Dumas, Dane Cameron, Shane Van Gisbergen, Marco Wittmann, Donny Schatz, Laurens Vanthoor, Kevin Harvick, Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Nico Rosberg, Mark Webber, Pipo Derani and Sébastien Buemi. 

I might be alone in this boat of missing IROC. In fact, I am not sure if anyone outside of the United States knew IROC existed. I guess that just adds to the oxymoronic nature of the series. I remember when Tony Stewart won the title he said he would return the $1 million prize for an IROC race at Eldora Raceway in 2007. Unfortunately, that never happened. In a way, Stewart's IROC idea and the charity Prelude to the Dream all-star race sparked interest in major series racing on dirt and has led to the NASCAR Truck race at Eldora in July. 

IROC is gone and is likely never going to comeback. The money does flow through motorsports like it once did and the appetite doesn't appear to be there. It was fun while it lasted.

Musings From the Weekend: Montoya is Moving On by Staying Put

Lewis Hamilton kept his championship hopes alive with a victory at Mexico City but Nico Rosberg could clinch the World Drivers' Championship with a victory in Brazil in two weeks. Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo all finished third yesterday. NASCAR had scoring issues despite having electric timing and scoring. A Welshman ended 2016 on fire but an Englishman took a championship for the second consecutive year. Marc Márquez fell again. There was a photo finish; André Lotterer was a bridesmaid three times on Sunday and the Asian Le Mans Series season started in Zhuhai. Today is Halloween. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Montoya is Moving On by Staying Put
I was watching the world feed of Friday practice for the Mexican Grand Prix. The fifteen minutes prior to the green light turning on and the clock striking two in the afternoon local time was full of shots of fans waving at the camera, drivers walking in the paddock and being stopped for a photo or autograph and other guests at the track. The audio isn't great. It's good if you like the sound of ambiance of a race weekend. The PA announcer letting fans know when the next session begins, the beeping noises from a garage stall and occasionally the cameras pick up a conversation. Most times the conversations are about nothing. At 2:46:33 p.m. ET on Friday, the conversation eased dropped on was truly something.

Juan Pablo Montoya was at the track this weekend doing commentary for the Latin American coverage. He was hanging out in the Williams garage for part of the day and probably meeting old friends and former co-workers. I joked he was there putting feelers out for a return and gauging how interested teams would be in a guy who left Formula One a decade ago. At 2:46:33 p.m. ET, Montoya wasn't at the Williams garage. He was in the Red Bull hospitality area with Christian Horner and Dr. Helmut Marko sitting around a table, Horner to his right and Marko ahead of him. The camera was close enough to catch the conversation. Marko asked, "what are your plans for next year?" Montoya answered, "I am going to stay with Penske. Do Indy only next year." And then the background noise picked up and between the ambiance you could here him mention sports cars and Le Mans but the exact wording of his sentence wasn't clear. Montoya follows by saying, "I wanted to stay in Indy but..." and the camera and audio fades away to a scenic shot of the Mexico City skyline.

Montoya could be yanking our chain. How couldn't he have seen the camera? But he could have underestimated the strength of the microphone and in what he thought was a semi-private sit down with his former boss (Montoya drove for Marko in the 1997 International Formula 3000 Championship) and former competitor (Montoya drove against Horner in International Formula 3000 in 1997 and 1998. Montoya finished second and won the championship those two years. Horner scored one point and zero points in those respective seasons) it appears he has revealed his future plans to the attentive listeners. I have to believe he is telling the truth. Why would he lie to Marko and Horner, especially when his history with the two men dates back nearly 20 years? A journalist, I could see him lying to. The man who gave him his first break? I have to think Montoya wouldn't lie to Marko.

Why would Montoya choose Penske's offer of just the Indianapolis 500 and some sports car program that is still a mystery when he says he wants to stay in IndyCar and was rumored to be a possible driver at Ganassi, Foyt and ECR? First, he knows that race is worth more than the championship. Win the Indianapolis 500 and you get around $2.5 million. Win the IndyCar championship and you get $1 million. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what is the better deal and Montoya knows Penske is always in contention at Indianapolis. Second, the three teams listed above probably wanted/needed Montoya to bring money and at 41 years old he probably doesn't want to open his checkbook or search for sponsors and you can't blame the man. Two Indianapolis 500 victories, an IndyCar championship, seven victories in Formula One, two victories in NASCAR and three 24 Hours of Daytona successes is enough to show that Montoya deserves to be paid up front and rest in his hammock during the offseason, not go boardroom to boardroom begging for dimes. Third, he has a chance to make history in sports cars and the schedule would be a little more relaxed the IndyCar schedule.

If what the microphones picked up turns out to be true, the IndyCar landscape is on the cusp of a significant shift in 2017. Conor Daly was one driver who was also rumored for the seats at Foyt and ECR just like Montoya. Has his life gotten a little bit easier and could the same be said for Spencer Pigot? The fight for the #21 ECR Chevrolet is still a contentious one as Daly, Pigot and JR Hildebrand are all vying for it but regardless of who ends up in the #21 Chevrolet, a driver who has been on the periphery the last few years will get a ride with a team that has challenged for the championship. Daly could be marked as the favorite for the second Foyt seat as Tony Kanaan and Montoya were the other drivers seriously linked with Foyt and both are staying with Ganassi and Penske respectively. Barring a cruel winter, I think Daly is in for a treat come 2017.

What about the fourth Ganassi? It appeared it was either Montoya, retaining Max Chilton or that entry falling off the grid. Montoya is out and unless Ganassi is talking to someone else behind the scenes it appears Chilton is either going to return or that seat will disappear. I think this bodes well for Chilton, who wanted to know sooner rather than later whether Ganassi were going to retain him or not. While Chilton's father owns interest in Carlin and Carlin could be getting in bed with KV, I think the younger Chilton knows success is more likely if he stays with Ganassi for a second season than going to an operation in transition for his sophomore season.

Montoya's second IndyCar spell lasted a year longer than the first and he showed, despite almost a decade and a half after he dazzled us winning the CART title as a rookie and then winning the Indianapolis 500 as rookie, he is truly one of the greatest races of all-time and a throwback to a bygone era when a driver running multiple disciplines was a norm. Now it appears he hopes to continue to climb the stairs of greatest to a level where only Graham Hill breathes: Triple Crown winner. All that is in Montoya's way is 24 hours at Le Mans.

Champions From the Weekend
Jonathan Rea clinched his second consecutive World Superbike championship with a second-place finish in race one from Qatar. He finished third in race two.

Yuji Kunimoto won the Super Formula championship after a victory and sixth-place finish in the season finale at Suzuka.

Johann Zarco clinched the Moto2 title with his victory at Sepang.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Hamilton, Kunimoto and Zarco but did you know...

Jimmie Johnson won the NASCAR Cup race from Martinsville and will have a shot for his seventh championship at Homestead. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race.

Andrea Dovizioso became the ninth different winner in MotoGP this season by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix. Francesco Bagnaia won in Moto3.

Stoffel Vandoonre won the second half of the Super Formula doubleheader from Suzuka.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races from Qatar, his third consecutive race weekend swept. Kyle Smith won the World Supersport finale by 0.006 seconds over Kenan Sofuoglu.

Sébastien Ogier won Wales Rally GB, his fourth consecutive victory of the season.

The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes and Ho-Pin Tung won the Asian Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Fuji. The #1 Jackie Chan DC Racing Ligier-Nissan of David Cheng, Pu Jun Jin and James Winslow won in LMP3. The #38 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 of Marco Cioci, Rui Águas and Nasrat Muzayyin won in GT.

Coming Up This Weekend
The FIA World Endurance Championship heads to its penultimate round of the season in Shanghai.
NASCAR returns to Texas for the antepenultimate round for all three series.
Supercars head east to New Zealand for its penultimate round.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday Five: Mexico City, Martinsville, Sepang, Qatar and Suzuka

The final weekend of October sees races from Appalachia to the Persian Gulf. Formula One returns to its new favorite party site and the championship could be decided this weekend. While we aren't sure about the title in Formula One, three championships will come to an end this weekend and two will see a champion crowned, one of which will be done at night.

Mexican Grand Prix
The antepenultimate round of the 2016 Formula One season takes place at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City for the Mexican Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton is fresh off his fourth victory at Circuit of the Americas and he looks to sweep the North American races after winning in Montreal in June. Hamilton decreased the margin to teammate Nico Rosberg in the World Drivers' Championship to 26 points as the German finished second after benefitting from being able to pit under the virtual safety car, jumping Rosberg ahead of Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo. If Hamilton wins the final three races and Rosberg finishes second in each of the final three races, Rosberg would take the championship by five points. Rosberg won last year's Mexican Grand Prix with Hamilton finishing second. Rosberg could clinch the title with a victory and Hamilton failing to score any points.

Daniel Ricciardo could clinch third in the world championship at Mexico City. The Australia has 277 points, fifty clear of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel. Barring either Kimi Räikkönen or Max Verstappen winning the Mexican Grand Prix, if Ricciardo scores one point more than Vettel this weekend third in the championship will be his, matching his best finish in the world championship, which occurred in 2014. Vettel has finished fourth in the last two races while Räikkönen and Verstappen both retired at Austin. Five points separate the Finn and Dutchman in the championship while Vettel is only seven points clear of his teammate.

Sergio Pérez heads home seventh in the championship on 84 points and has finished in the points in seven consecutive races. Pérez finished eighth in last year's Mexican Grand Prix. He is three points ahead of Valtteri Bottas and 30 points clear of his Force India teammate Nico Hülkenberg. Fernando Alonso's fifth-place finish in Austin jumped him ahead of Felipe Massa in the championship and is two points behind Hülkenberg. Massa is three points behind Alonso with 49 points.

Carlos Sainz, Jr.'s sixth-place finish at Austin has him on 38 points while Romain Grosjean has 29 points, four clear of Daniil Kvyat. Jenson Button's two points at Austin increases his total to 21 points. Kevin Magnussen has seven points. Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne are all tied on a point. Esteban Gutiérrez heads home and looks to score his first point since the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix. Sauber drivers Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr are each still looking for their first points of the season. Esteban Ocon has not scored in his first six starts.

The Mexican Grand Prix will be held at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 30th.

Martinsville Raceway
NASCAR is down to its final four series in the Cup Series and eight drivers remain championship eligible.

Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano enter after winning the three races in the previous round. Johnson ended the second round on top of the points with 3,100 points. Kurt Busch was second in points, one behind the six-time champion. The 2004 champion has finished in the top ten in all even-numbered Chase races but his best finish in odd-numbered Chase races is 13th but his worst finish in the Chase is 15th. His fourth-place finish at Talladega was his best of the Chase and best since finishing fourth at Kentucky at July.

Logano was third in points, 11 points behind Johnson with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five, a point and five points behind Logano. Kenseth and the defending champion Busch had finished in the top ten in all five Chase races prior to Talladega, where they and Carl Edwards rode at the back of the field. Harvick and Edwards ended tied on points with 3,082 points. Harvick has won two races in the Chase while Edwards has only two top ten finishes in the Chase. Denny Hamlin was the final driver to make the semifinal round after advancing on tiebreaker over Austin Dillon. His third-place finish at Talladega was his best finish of the Chase.

Johnson and Hamlin lead the Chase drivers in victories and average finish at Martinsville. Johnson has eight victories and an average finish of 7.5 while Hamlin has won five and an average finish of 9.5. Kurt Busch has two victories at Martinsville while his brother scored his first cup win at Martinsville in the spring and Harvick has one victory at the short track. The elder Busch brother has the worst average finish at the track of the Chase drivers at 21.2.

Jeff Gordon returns for his 47th Martinsville start substituting for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Gordon won for the ninth time at Martinsville last October and he has 29 top five finishes and 37 top ten finishes at the track. He is tied with Richard Petty for most top ten finishes all-time at Martinsville. Gordon has been running at the finish of all 46 of his Martinsville starts and has completed 22,769 of a possible 22,890 laps.

The 500-lap race from Martinsville will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 30th. 

Malaysian motorcycle Grand Prix
Two weeks after clinching his third MotoGP championship and one week after falling while leading at Phillip Island, Marc Márquez heads to Malaysia trying to get his sixth victory of the season. Márquez retired from last year's race at Sepang after contact with Valentino Rossi where the Italian was ruled to have intentionally knocked the Spaniard off his bike. In seven starts at Sepang, Márquez has two victories with one coming in his 2010 125cc championship season and the other in his 2014 MotoGP championship season.

Valentino Rossi is currently second in the championship and could cement himself as vice-champion this weekend. He has 216 points holds a 24-point advantage over his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi has the most Malaysian Grand Prix victories with seven, six of which have come at Sepang. Jorge Lorenzo has never won in MotoGP at Sepang. His only victory at the track was in 2006 during his 250cc championship season.

After consecutive third-place finishes, Suzuki's Maverick Viñales sits fourth in the championship and is 11 points behind Lorenzo, the man he will be replacing next year at Yamaha. Viñales won at Sepang in 2011 in the 125cc class and won in 2014 in Moto2. The last Suzuki victory at Sepang was in 2000 by Kenny Roberts, Jr. Dani Pedrosa will miss this weekend's race due to a collarbone injury. It is his third consecutive race missed. Pedrosa had won three of the last four MotoGP races at Sepang and he is tied with Mick Doohan and Max Biaggi for second all-time in Malaysian Grand Prix victories with five. Hiroshi Aoyama substitutes in for the injured Spaniard.

After winning his second race of the season at Phillip Island, Cal Crutchlow sits on 141 points and is four points ahead of Andrea Dovizioso. Pol Espargaró has 117 points, 20 behind Dovizioso. Andrea Iannone is set to return after missing the last four races due to a fractured vertebra. Iannone has 96 points and is ninth in the championship. Héctor Barberá rounds out the top ten with 84 points, two ahead of Aleix Espargaró.

MotoGP's Malaysian Grand Prix will take place at 3:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 30th.

The final round of the 2016 World Superbike season takes place at Losail International Circuit in Qatar. The championship will be one of the two Kawasaki riders Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes with Rea all but assured to take the title.

Rea leads Sykes by 48 points with 50 points left on the table. For Sykes to take the title he would need to sweep the weekend and have Rea fail to score two points or more. Rea holds the tiebreaker with nine victories to Sykes' five victories. Rea has 21 podiums from 24 races while Sykes has been on the podium on 19 occasions.

Ducati rider Chaz Davies enters the season finale having won the last four races and five of the last six. He has 15 podiums this season. Davies will finish third in the championship. Honda riders Michael van der Mark and Nicky Hayden are fourth and fifth in the championship. The Dutchman has 255 points to the American's 228 points. Hayden is the only non-British rider to win this season after he won in the wet at Malaysia. Ducati's Davide Giugliano sits on 197 points, two ahead of BMW rider Jordi Torres.

Qatar also marks the final round of the World Supersport season. Kenan Sofuoglu locked up the title with his victory at Jerez. Three riders are within seven points of second. Swiss Kawasaki rider Randy Krummenacher sits on 129 points, five ahead of MV Agusta's Jules Cluzel and seven ahead of Honda American rider P.J. Jacobsen. Krummenacher won the season opener at Phillip Island but only has two podiums since. The Frenchman Cluzel has won two races, at Buriram and Magny-Cours. Jacobsen has four podiums, including runner-up finishes at Donington Park and Misano. The quiet star of Supersport has been Finnish Yamaha rider Niki Tuuli, who has finished second-place in each of his three Supersport starts this season. He finished ninth in his Supersport debut last year at Donington Park.

The first Superbike race will take place at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday October 29th. The Supersport finale will be at 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday October 30th with the final Superbike race starting at 2:00 p.m. ET.

A dozen drivers are still alive for the Super Formula championship as the season heads to the season finale doubleheader at the Suzuka Circuit.

Yuhi Sekiguchi leads with 28 points after he scored his second victory of the season in the most recent round at Sportsland SUGO. Four and a half points behind Sekiguchi is Yuji Kunimoto, who won the second half of Okayama doubleheader. André Lotterer trails by six points but has only one podium this season, a second at Motegi. Two-time Super Formula champion Kazuki Nakajima sits on 20 points and has finished second at Fuji and Okayama.

Defending champion Hiroaki Ishiura and McLaren's Stoffel Vandoorne are tied on 19 points. Both drivers won at Okayama with Ishiura taking the rain-shortened race in May while Vandoorne won the first race of the doubleheader in September. Three and a half points behind the two Honda drivers is 2013 champion Naoki Yamamoto, who won the season opener at Suzuka. João Paulo de Oliviera has 12.5 points after a victory at Fuji but he has only finished in the points in two other races.

Tomoki Nojiri and James Rossiter are tied on 12 points. Koudai Tsukakoshi has 11 points and Daisuke Nakajima is alive on 10.5 points.

The first race of the doubleheader will be at 8:45 p.m. ET on Saturday October 29th with the final race of the 2016 season taking place at 1:45 a.m. ET on Sunday October 30th.

1. Over or Under: 19.5-point gap between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton after Mexico?
2. Over or Under: 250.5 laps led by Toyota drivers at Martinsville?
3. Over or Under: 28.5 points scored by British riders at Sepang?
4. Over or Under: 2.5 finishing position for Niki Tuuli in the Supersport race?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 drivers finishing with 30 points or more in the final Super Formula championship?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Six cars finished on the lead lap in the United States Grand Prix.
2. Over: Simon Dolan, Harry Tincknell, Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard were all victorious at Estoril.
3. Over: Martin Truex, Jr. and Brad Keselowski both caused cautions for engine failures.
4. Under: There were 14 lead changes between the two Supercars races at Surfers Paradise.
5. Under: Nicky Hayden started seventh at Phillip Island.

1. A Ferrari driver finishes on the podium.
2. Jeff Gordon finishes ahead of at least two of his teammates.
3. A rider that hasn't finished on the podium in the last two races finishes on the podium at Sepang.
4. Neither Superbike race from Qatar features an all-British podium.
5. André Lotterer wins at least one of the two races.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Haas F1 scores points at its home race of Austin (Correct. Romain Grosjean finished tenth).
2. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan finishes ahead of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan in the race (Correct. The #38 Gibson won and the #47 Oreca finished ninth in class).
3. At least one driver outside the top twenty of the championship gets a top ten finish at Talladega (Correct. Brian Scott finished second and his teammate Aric Almirola finished eight).
4. Holden does not sweep the Gold Coast 600 for the third consecutive season (Wrong. The Red Bull Racing Australia Holdens of Shane Van Gisbergen/Alexandre Prémat and Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell split the Gold Coast 600).
5. A rider running in the top five falls in turn four at Phillip Island (Correct. Marc Márquez fell in turn five while leading the race).
Last Week: 4/5 Overall: 13/25

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Three For Your Thursday: Audi, Limits and Dates

Normally I don't write a spur of the moment reaction to news. I do my weekly Musings From the Weekend column on Mondays but that is normally thought out over a few days and normally offers ideas and solutions and can be a brainstorming session. The Monday column is something I hope gets people thinking and considering new ideas. The last day or so has me want to write about my feelings about the recent news. Here you go and enjoy.

Audi's Departure From LMP1
After nearly two decades dominating the top echelon of sports car racing, Audi will be exiting LMP1 and the FIA World Endurance Championship after this season. Since debuting in 1999, Audi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans 13 times putting Audi second all-time in Le Mans victories behind only Porsche. It had at least one car on the overall Le Mans podium since 1999. Audi won the 12 Hours of Sebring on 11 occasions behind only Porsche and Ferrari. To put into perspective Audi's success, when it debuted at Le Mans in 1999, Ferrari was second all-time in Le Mans victories with nine and Nissan was third all-time in Sebring victories with four.

This isn't even mentioning two World Endurance Manufactures' Championships, nine consecutive American Le Mans Series championships, an ungodly amount of victories in the ALMS, the 2008 Le Mans Series title after trailing Peugeot the entire season entering the final round, nine consecutive Petit Le Mans victories including Allan McNish's masterful performance after the team started two laps down because of an accident during the morning warm-up.

I am not devastated Audi is gone. The rumors have been there for a while that 2016 could be it. Maybe if the team didn't get disqualified at Silverstone and hadn't coughed away Nürburgring, Mexico City and Austin the team would have saw out the planned 2017 season and left in 2018 but we will never know. Audi and the entire Volkswagen Group has been marred by the emissions scandal for the last year and when that news broke and the reported fines started to be calculated we had to know cuts were going to be coming especially to the motorsports department.

Audi is still going to have its fingers in motorsports. The DTM program isn't going anywhere and it is diving in with Abt Sportsline in Formula E. They will still be present in GT3 series around the globe. There are going to be a few drivers looking for work. Lucas di Grassi has Formula E to fall back on, as does Loïc Duval. André Lotterer will probably still run Formula E but he is going to need more than those eight races to keep him busy. Oliver Jarvis will need a job. Marcel Fässler and Benoît Tréluyer will both be 40 years old at the end of the years (Tréluyer is sneaky old) and I am sure there will be GT3 opportunities for them.

Never is a long time and I won't say never to Audi returning to Le Mans. Maybe it will be a decade, maybe it will be two but Porsche returned. Ford returned this year. Toyota returned a few years ago and Peugeot has been in the rumor mill of returning for the last few months. Le Mans won't be the same next year. Something will be missing but hopefully Porsche and Toyota up the ante and run three cars next year to fill the void.

NASCAR Driver Limits
About a decade late, NASCAR has issued limits to the amount of races full-time Cup drivers can run in the lower two national touring series. Cup drivers with more than five years of Cup experience can run up to ten Grand National Series races a year and seven Truck races a year (Ironically, I actually suggested limiting championship ineligible drivers to seven Truck races a season almost three years ago).

It is a step in the right direction. There are still holes. The limit not coming into affect until a driver reaches five years of Cup experience makes it sort of like the silver rating when it comes to the FIA WEC, ELMS, IMSA and more. There are some drivers who are incorrectly marked as amateurs but are actually professional and a team can draft them in and give them an advantage. While Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski will be limited, the likes of Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Chris Busecher, Erik Jones and company are still in the clear for the next few seasons. I think the limit should be a clear mark in the sand and should be lower than five years of Cup experience. Make it if you declare eligibility for the Cup championship and have 80 Cup starts or more then you are limited in the lower divisions.

Looking at this year, only Kyle Busch, Logano and Keselowski and technically Timmy Hill (who has raced in at least one Cup race in each of the last five seasons but has only made 48 Cup starts in his career) have exceeded the limit of ten. The problem hasn't been that Cup guys run too much in the second division but a handful of Cup guys run too much in the second division and they win a higher proportion of the races.

I am not against Cup guys running in the lower divisions. I actually like seeing it from time to time and making it a special occurrence but when a driver runs 15-20 races in the lower divisions, then it isn't special. I like the idea of Jimmie Johnson showing up and running a Truck race at Bristol. I like the idea of Clint Bowyer or Carl Edwards going to run the Eldora Truck race. I remember when Tony Stewart ran at Kansas in the Grand National Series in 2004 and my uncle made it a viewing appointment because Stewart didn't run in the other two national touring series that often. It became a special race for some to tune in to. When a driver runs 2/3rds of the season, novelty doesn't exist when they venture to the other series.

As for barring drivers from the Chase races in the lower two divisions, I am ok with that. As for the Dash 4 Cash races, the four meaningless and subjective races that more money is put down on, who cares?

I wonder how effective the limits will be. Joey Logano probably won't try to get around it and enter a race as Logan Josephson but think about it this way and let's use Penske's #22 Ford as an example: Logano could run ten races in that car, Keselowski could run ten races in that car and Ryan Blaney could run the remaining 13 races but in all likelihood end up running ten to 11 races and let Alex Tagliani do a road course or two. Other than having Logano and Keselowski run four or five fewer races, that is basically what Penske is doing with that car this season, which makes me wonder if the rules is going to change anything and if it doesn't how will fans react? I know how they will react, they will call for tighter restrictions but will NASCAR be quick to trigger like it has been with altering the Chase format almost every other year since 2004 or will it say they tried and move on?

I am interested to see how it plays out and if it solves the problems that have followed NASCAR's second division for the last decade or so. I am concerned it could affect entries and hope we don't see races with only 35 cars entered but I think teams will make it work and it could lead to more Cup driver competing as a sponsor might want a Cup driver to be associate with and could lead to teams needing to call someone in for a handful of races.

United States Grand Prix Wants Mexican Grand Prix to Move to June
Just days after having the largest weekend crowd since taking over hosting duty of the United States Grand Prix in 2012, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein complained that the United States Grand Prix has suffered in terms of ticket sales by having the Mexican Grand Prix the week later and he thinks the Mexican Grand Prix should move to June and be paired with the Canadian Grand Prix.

I am going to tear Epstein apart. Where does he have the gall to declare Mexico should move to June when he damn well knows that would be putting the race in the heat of the early summer, the same thing his event is avoiding by running in the middle of October? Did the Mexican Grand Prix take away spectators from last year's race in Austin? Hell yeah it did because now fans didn't have to cross the border to see Sergio Pérez. Has the Belgian Grand Prix seen an uptick in spectators since Belgian-born Dutch-national Max Verstappen has blossomed? Hell yeah and would the race see a decrease if the Dutch Grand Prix returned at Zandvoort? You bet.

If Epstein wants to maximize it's potential race crowd, it should move and rearrange its dates. Maybe the United States Grand Prix should kick off the season in March. I have been to Austin in March. It is lovely. You could still have a concert or two. The race would get away from going head-to-head from the NFL and it could be done the weekend before the NCAA Tournament starts, that final weekend of the late-winter lull in the American sports calendar.

If Epstein wants what is best for his race, he should seek making it better not suggesting others should change because they are more successful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's 2016 Season

The final Honda team to be picked a part will be Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. For the second consecutive season the single-car team proved to be the #1 weapon for the Japanese manufacture and topped all its counterparts.

Graham Rahal had another season to be happy about
Graham Rahal
Rahal was coming off a disappointing end to the 2015 season where his championship hopes where crushed with two accidents in the final two races and in both he was the innocent bystander. He started sixth in the season opener at St. Petersburg but had a top ten taken from him when he was drilled by Carlos Muñoz in turn three, knocking Rahal to a 16th-place finish. If it wasn't for Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rahal would have had our attention at Phoenix as he went from 19th on the grid to fifth with passes on restarts and on the outside. Unlike Hunter-Reay, Rahal caught a break with a caution. He tried to go off strategy at Long Beach to get a top ten but slipped to 15th. At Barber, Rahal caught Pagenaud and if it weren't for Jack Hawksworth choosing the inside line exiting turn five, he would have won the race but limbed home to second.

Rahal had his qualifying time disallowed for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and went from the second row to 24th, the second to last position on the grid. He stretched his fuel unlike anybody else and ended up finishing fourth. He stumbled in Indianapolis 500 qualifying and had to start 26th. He made his way forward during the race but couldn't get a top ten and finished 14th. At Belle Isle, Rahal went all-out while others were conservative and finished fourth. In the second race, he needed to make an emergency stop prior to the green flag because of a concern with the brakes. He went from the back to finish 11th.

At Road America, Rahal was up at the front for the entire race and challenged the likes of Simon Pagenaud and Tony Kanaan. Rahal finished third for the second time in his two IndyCar starts at the famed road course. Rahal didn't have a great race at Iowa but was in contention for a top ten until being caught out by a caution just after making a late pit stop. Toronto was Rahal's most mediocre race all season with him starting 16th and finishing 13th. Rahal returned to his home race looking to defending his race victory. He started sixth and was strong all day but didn't have anything for the Penskes of Pagenaud and Will Power but finished a respectable fourth.

He started 11th and finished 11th at Pocono and never really challenged to be a contender. Rahal improved constantly over the night at Texas and was in contention late. He didn't pit when the likes of Kanaan, Pagenaud and Hélio Castroneves did and he juked out James Hinchcliffe to take the lead in turn three and held for the victory on in the charge to the line as Hinchcliffe made one final lunge in what ended up being the fifth-closest finish in IndyCar history. Contact with Charlie Kimball exiting turn one ended what could have been a top ten finish at Watkins Glen. Rahal ended the season with another hard-fought battle with Simon Pagenaud for the victory but the Frenchman pulled away and Rahal settled for a well-deserved second-place finish.

Graham Rahal's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 5th (484 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 4
Top Fives: 8
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 14
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 5
Fast Twelves: 7
Average Start: 12.8125
Average Finish: 8.875

I thought Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would have a good season. I didn't expect fifth in the championship and to be the top Honda team for the second consecutive season. I don't what that team is doing. If history has taught us anything RLLR should have taken a step back. Single-car teams having extended success in IndyCar isn't common. With the lack of information gathered by RLLR, you would have expected it to fall back behind Andretti Autosport and maybe even Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Instead, the team kept up the success from 2015.

Rahal's consistency has been a revelation the last two seasons but if there is one thing we can see as the difference between Rahal's 2015 season and his 2016 season was even though he was consistent this year, he wasn't consistent enough. While Rahal had eight top five finishes, those were his only top ten finishes of the season and amazingly his average finish was only worse by 0.375 points (his average finish was 8.5 last year) but imagine how much better Rahal's season would have been had his finishes of 11th, 13th, 14th and 15th were finishes of eighth, ninth and tenth. Not to mention the field as a whole was better in 2016 as the only drivers who had a better average finish than Rahal last season were Juan Pablo Montoya at 6.875 and Scott Dixon at 7.6875. This year, four drivers had a better average finish than 8.5 and Simon Pagenaud's average finish this year was 6.125.

With aero kit development being frozen for the 2017 season, there is no reason to expect RLLR to step back in terms of its performance. At the same time though, you can't expect RLLR to take a step forward unless it comes down to have more spells of good fortune and capitalizing on things such as double points and qualifying points at Indianapolis. Consider that Rahal qualified 26th for the 100th Indianapolis 500, which paid eight points. Had he qualified ninth, he would have scored 18 more points, enough to put him level with Josef Newgarden on points and actually giving Rahal fourth in the championship on tiebreaker.

RLLR is on the cusp of being a championship team and they can probably do it without having to expand the operation to two cars. While taking the fight to the Penske juggernaut may be an uphill battle, if the last two seasons have taught us anything is you can't count the little Ohioan team out.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Auditing IndyCar Seats

Lewis Hamilton remains the king of Austin after he picked up his fourth career victory at Circuit of the Americas. He trails Nico Rosberg by 26 points with three races to go and the German could clinch his first World Drivers' Championship in Mexico City with a victory and Hamilton failing to score points. The undecided championships in the European Le Mans Series were turned upside down at the finale at Estoril. Two drivers saw their championship hopes end with engine failures in NASCAR. Marc Márquez pulled away and fell at Phillip Island. Red Bull Racing Australia rebounded after having its Bathurst appeal thrown out. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Auditing IndyCar Seats
Some times when confused getting out your fingers and toes is the best way to solve a problem. With all the movement in IndyCar in the past three weeks, don't feel bad if you had trouble keeping up with how many Chevrolet teams there are and how many are lined up to drive Hondas in 2017. This should clear everything up.

Let's start with the defending manufactures' champions Chevrolet and let's just assume everyone, Chevrolet and Honda teams, holds serve in terms of car count for 2017.

Penske has Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden under contract. That is four.

Ed Carpenter Racing appears will run two cars again. The driver of the #21 Chevrolet is unknown and Ed Carpenter's partner in the #20 Chevrolet is another mystery. That is six.

KV's future is the blurriest of all the IndyCar teams but it seems to be a safe bet that one car would be on the grid from this entity regardless if the team initials are KV or something else. That is seven.

AJ Foyt Racing is moving over to Chevrolet after five seasons with Honda in the DW12-era. All signs point to the team retaining two cars in the #14 and #41 with the drivers to be determined but one appears close to be signed. That is nine.

Now onto Honda.

Andretti Autosport with its partnership with Bryan Herta Autosport has Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti on the books and all signs point to a fourth car with that team. That would be four for Honda.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has Graham Rahal, the top Honda driver in the championship the last two seasons, returning for 2017. That is five.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports appears set to return and two cars is the minimum the team will run full-time. James Hinchcliffe is secure. Mikhail Aleshin's future isn't as clear but the feeling is the Russian will return to SPM in 2017. That is seven.

Dale Coyne Racing always has two cars. Sébastien Bourdais is set. The second car likely won't be set until March 10th. That is nine.

Chip Ganassi Racing switches back to Honda after two seasons with Chevrolet. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball are all going to return. The fourth seat is in question but it seems likely to return. That would be 13 Hondas and 22 cars total.

Thirteen is a lot of cars to support full-time but it isn't improbable. Any more than 13 full-time Hondas are hard to fathom. Maybe a 14th could be pulled together if the money is there but no more than that. On the Chevrolet side of things, there is the KV-Carlin marriage that could happen but that is a little hazier than it appears. It might be Kevin Kalkhoven leaving Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan and the Australian pairing with Trevor Carlin's operation. If that happens, could there be the Kalkhoven-Carlin team and the emergence of a team run by Vasser and Sullivan? I am not sure that is the best thing but if KV remains united and partners with Carlin and the team can expand back to two full-time entries that would be a big gain for the series but just keeping the #11 Chevrolet going is all we are asking for right now.

Here is where it gets tricky and this was something I was asking myself last week: where are the additional Indianapolis 500 teams going to come from? To get as balanced of a 33-car field as you can, one manufacture needs to power 17 entries and the other needs to run 16. Honda is very close to 17 entries. Taking the 13 entries we are sure about we can likely add a fifth Andretti entry, a second RLLR, a third SPM, a third Coyne and it wouldn't be entirely crazy to see Ganassi run an additional entry, although Ganassi is the least likely of the Honda teams to expand come May. Even if Ganassi doesn't run a one-off, Honda getting to 17 entries is easy.

Chevrolet would need to come up with seven additional entries across its four teams to get to 16 entries. We know Ed Carpenter Racing has run a third car the last few seasons for JR Hildebrand at Indianapolis and even if Hildebrand moves on, I would count on a third ECR come May. Foyt runs third cars at Indianapolis even when he says he won't run additional entries so put him down for one. The KV team has run as many as two extra cars at Indianapolis in recent years. If the team were still at only one full-time team, I wouldn't rule out two additional entries, especially if one is a partnership with another team.

Penske said he made an offer for Juan Pablo Montoya that included a one-off at Indianapolis and in sports cars. If Montoya declines the offer, is the fifth Penske entry for Indianapolis still on the table or that a special Roger-opening-up-his-wallet entry that is reserved to top echelon drivers and those who won an Indianapolis 500 for The Captain?

If ECR, Foyt and KV all run one additional car, we are at 12 Chevrolets and 29 total entries. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing has run Chevrolet the last few seasons as a one-off and I don't see that changing and maybe Buddy Lazier can scrape the pieces together for another month of May. That would get Chevrolet up to 14 entries and the total count to 31.

Where could those two entries come from? We still haven't listed the Jonathan Byrd's Racing entry. That was pretty much a fourth Coyne car last year. I wouldn't rule out Coyne running it again and running four cars again but anymore than 18 Honda entries would be surprising. Byrd-Coyne would be the 32nd entry with one to go. Maybe Penske runs that fifth car. Dreyer & Reinbold talked about running a second entry last year and maybe that happens in 2017. Maybe KV runs a third additional entry. Maybe Michael Shank Racing finally gets to enter the Indianapolis 500 five years after initially planning to expand to run an IndyCar full-time. After all, he has the connections as he is running the Acura NSX program in IMSA next year. All would get the entry list up to 33 cars. Getting to 33 is tough but we will have 33 cars. We always find a way to get 33 cars. Hopefully, soon we reach a day where 33 is easily reached and surpassed and we have 37-40 cars attempting to qualify come May.

Champions From the Weekend
The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Harry Tincknell, Giedo van der Garde and Simon Dolan won the European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship after winning the 4 Hours of Estoril.

The #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard won the European Le Mans Series GTE championship after winning at Estoril.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton and what happened in Estoril but did you know...

Cal Crutchlow won the MotoGP Australian Grand Prix. Thomas Lüthi won his second consecutive Moto2 race and beat Franco Morbidelli by 0.010 seconds. Brad Binder won in Moto3 for the sixth time this season.

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega. Grant Entfinger won the Truck race, his first career victory.

The #18 M.Racing - YMR Ligier-Nissan of Yann Ehrlacher, Thomas Laurent and Alexandre Cougnaud won in LMP3 at the 4 Hours of Estoril.

Shane Van Gisbergen and Alexandre Prémat won the first race of Supercars' Gold Coast 600. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell made it a sweep of the Gold Coast 600 for Red Bull Racing Australia.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One goes south to Mexico City.
NASCAR goes north to Martinsville
MotoGP wraps up its Asia-Pacific trip in Malaysia.
Super Formula crowns a champion at Suzuka and Stoffel Vandoorne finishes his semester abroad.
World Superbike crowns a champion in Qatar.
The World Rally Championship contests Wales Rally GB.
The Asian Le Mans Series starts the 2016-17 season at Zhuhai.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Five: Austin, Estoril, Talladega, Surfers Paradise, Phillip Island

Every thing is bigger this weekend. Three endurance races, a superspeedway and a grand prix take place this weekend. Two championships will be decided in Portugal. Teammates go at it in Texas and Queensland. Meanwhile, the fight is for second in MotoGP as its Asia-Pacific trip takes the series south to the home of Casey Stoner and Jack Miller.

United States Grand Prix
The two Mercedes drivers head to Circuit of the Americas as the final two drivers standing for the World Drivers' Championship. Nico Rosberg extended his championship lead to 33 points over Lewis Hamilton after his victory at Suzuka. Rosberg's 2016 season has been a year of firsts as the German has scored his first victories at Bahrain, Sochi, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, Singapore and Suzuka. His victory at Melbourne was his second at the track and he won the maiden race in Baku. Rosberg has never won at Circuit of the Americas and has finished second from pole position at the track the last two years. He retired in the inaugural Austin race and finished ninth in 2013.

Hamilton heads to Austin as the winner of the last two United States Grand Prix and has won three of four races held at Austin with his worst finish being fourth. Hamilton has eight podiums in his last nine races with his engine failure at Sepang being the only blip in that span. Rosberg has seven podiums in the last nine races. Hamilton and Rosberg have both won eight pole positions this season but the British driver has started on pole position at Austin as all three of his victories have come from second on the grid and his worst starting position at the track is fifth.

With 100 points remaining on the table in the Formula One season, Daniel Ricciardo trails Nico Rosberg by 101 points and is just out of championship contention. After finishing on the podium in the 2014 race, Ricciardo finished tenth last year at Austin. He is 52 points clear of Kimi Räikkönen. The Finn has failed to score points the last two years at Austin. He missed the 2013 race due to a back injury and finished sixth in 2012. Räikkönen is five points ahead of Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel. Verstappen is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes while Vettel has finished on the podium in three of four Austin appearances.

Valterri Bottas sits on 81 points, one ahead of Sergio Pérez. Nico Hülkenberg sits on 54 points, 11 ahead of Felipe Massa, who sits tenth in the championship a point ahead of Fernando Alonso. Carlos Sainz, Jr. has failed to score points in the last six races but he is 12th in the championship with 30 points. Romain Grosjean leads Haas F1 into it's first home race having not scored a point in the last two races and two points behind Sainz, Jr. Daniil Kvyat trails Grosjean by 3 points and Jenson Button rounds out the top fifteen on 19 points.

Kevin Magnussen has seven points while Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne all have one points. Esteban Gutiérrez, Marcus Ericsson, Felipe Nasr and Esteban Ocon are all looking for their first points of 2016.

The United States Grand Prix will be at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

4 Hours of Estoril
The final round of the 2016 European Le Mans Series takes place at Estoril and two of the three class championships are still up for grabs.

Mathias Beche and Pierre Thiriet of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan lead the three-horse race for the LMP2 championship with 92 points. Beche and Thiriet have three victories this season and finished third in the most recent race at Spa-Francorchamps. Ryō Hirakawa has run four of the five previous races in the #46 Oreca-Nissan after missing the teams victory at Circuit Paul Ricard and will be in the car this weekend for the finale.

Fourteen points behind the Swiss-French duo is the #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan of Giedo van der Garde, Simon Dolan and Harry Tincknell. The Anglo-Dutch trio won the season opener at Silverstone and finished on the podium in the following two races but has finished fifth at Circuit Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps. Stefano Coletti and Andreas Wirth of the #32 SMP Racing BR01-Nissan are still alive for the title but trail by 24 points. They finished second at Silverstone and Circuit Paul Ricard. Vitaly Petrov returns for the second consecutive race as the third driver in the #32 BR01.

Two British teams are vying for the GTE championship.

The #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari of Andrea Bertolini, Rory Butcher and Robert Smith has won the last three races and finished fourth at Imola and led the championship with 93 points. Twenty points behind the JMW Motorsport Ferrari is the #99 Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Alex MacDowall and Andrew Howard. The #99 Aston Martin won the season opener at Silverstone but the teams only other podium was a third at Circuit Paul Ricard.

The LMP3 championship has already been locked up by the #2 United Autosport Ligier-Nissan of Alex Brundle, Mike Guasch and Christian England. The #9 Graff Ligier-Nissan of Paul Petit, Eric Trouillet and Enzo Guibbert has won the last two LMP3 races.

The 4 Hours of Estoril starts at 8:27 a.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega Superspeedway marks the final race of the second round of the Chase. Kevin Harvick joined Jimmie Johnson in the semifinal round after the Stewart-Haas Racing driver won at Kansas. Johnson leads on points with 3,082 after finishing fourth at Kansas, his fourth consecutive top ten finish. He is eight points ahead of Matt Kenseth, who has finished in the top ten in all five Chase races. Kyle Busch has 3,072 points and like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kenseth has finished in the top ten in all five Chase races.

Carl Edwards has 3,069 points after finishing second at Kansas. That second place finish was Edwards' first top five finish since he finished second at Kentucky in July. Edwards hasn't had consecutive top five finishes since he won at Bristol and Richmond in April. Kurt Busch has yet to finish in the top ten on an odd-numbered Chase race but he has 3,062 points and four points ahead of Martin Truex, Jr., who has yet to finish in the top ten in round two after winning two of the first three Chase races and finishing seventh in the other.

Harvick has 3,048 points and three points behind him are Joey Logano and Austin Dillon for the eighth and final transfer spot. Logano currently holds the tiebreaker with his third-place finish at Kansas over Dillon's sixth at Kansas. Denny Hamlin is six points behind Logano and Dillon while Brad Keselowski trails by seven points. Keselowski had three top five finishes and his worst finish was seventh in the first four Chase races before an accident ended his day at Kansas. Chase Elliott is 25 points out after two consecutive finishes outside the top thirty.

Keselowski leads all Chase drivers with four Talladega victory with his most recent coming this May and has the best average finish of the Chase drivers with at least three Talladega starts at 13.9. Elliott finished fifth in his Talladega debut in May from pole position. Dillon has never led a lap at Talladega but he scored his career best finish at the track in May when he finished third. Logano won last year's Chase race at Talladega but he had finished outside the top twenty in eight of 15 starts and he has finished outside the top thirty five times at the track. Kurt Busch leads all active drivers with most starts at Talladega without a victory. Kurt Busch will be making his 32nd start at the track.

The 500-mile race from Talladega will be at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

Gold Coast 600
Shane Van Gisbergen holds the Supercars championship lead with 2,524 points and the New Zealander and Alexandre Prémat have finished second in both endurance races held. Despite the two runner-up finishes, the Red Bull Racing Australia pairing does not lead the Enduro Cup standings as Tekno Autosports and Bathurst winners Will Davison and Jonathon Webb lead that championship with a third in Sandown on top of their Bathurst victory. Van Gisbergen and Webb won the first race of the Gold Coast 600 each of the last two seasons. Davison is fourth in the championship, 412 points behind Van Gisbergen.

Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell had their Bathurst appeal denied as the duo looked to have the 15-second penalty that dropped them from victory to 11th in the final race standings reversed. Whincup trails his teammate in the Supercars championship by 139 points. Craig Lowndes makes it a sweep of the top three for the Red Bull Racing Australia trio and he is 319 points behind Van Gisbergen. Lowndes and co-driver Steven Richards are coming off a 16th-place finish at Bathurst. Whincup leads all drivers with four victories at Surfers Paradise since the endurance-era began in 2009. Lowndes has one victory on the Gold Coast.

Scott McLaughlin trails Van Gisbergen by 440 points as the Volvo driver and his co-driver David Wall look to bounce back after their retirement at Bathurst. Defending Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom is 616 points behind Van Gisbergen. He and Dean Canto's best finish in the first two endurance race is 23rd. Winterbottom hasn't finished on the podium in the last six races. He has two victories at Surfers Paradise with the most recent coming in 2011. Chaz Mostert sits on 1,853 points as he looks for his first victory with Rod Nash Racing and Steve Owen joins him in the #55 Ford. Twenty-nine points behind Mostert is Tim Slade and Slade's co-driver will be Ashley Walsh.

Michael Caruso sits on 1,818 points and the Nissan driver shares his seat with Dean Fiore. Fabian Coulthard is 110 points behind Caruso and the Penske driver rounds out the top ten in the championship. He and Luke Youlden have finished sixth in both endurance races this season. Holden Racing Team drivers James Courtney and Garth Tander are the final two drivers mathematically eligible for the championship. Their co-drivers are Jack Perkins and Warren Luff respectively.

Race one Surfers Paradise will be at 11:55 p.m. ET on Friday October 21st. The second race will be at 12:25 a.m. ET on Sunday October 22nd.

Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
Marc Márquez has already locked up the MotoGP world championship but the Spaniard looks for his sixth victory of 2016 and his second consecutive victory at Phillip Island. Should Márquez win in Australia, it would be his third consecutive victory in 2016 and it would be his longest winning streak since he won ten consecutive to start the 2014 season.

The battle for second in the championship will be between the Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi has 196 points, 14 clear of his teammate. Prior to his retirement at Motegi, Rossi had finished on the podium in four consecutive races. Lorenzo had finished on the podium in two consecutive races before his fall at Motegi. Márquez, Rossi and Lorenzo have won the last three Australian Grand Prix.

Maverick Viñales scored his third podium of the season at Motegi and the Suzuki rider sits fourth in the championship on 165 points. Viñales is ten points clear of Dani Pedrosa, who will miss the Australian round due to a collarbone injury suffered at Motegi. Nicky Hayden returns to the factory Honda team as Pedrosa's substitute. Hayden finished 15th at Aragón substituting for Jack Miller. Hayden's last race with the factory Honda team was the 2008 Valencian Community Grand Prix, where he finished fifth. All three of Hayden's podiums at Phillip Island came riding for Honda. He finished second in the 2005 race behind Rossi.

Andrea Dovizioso finished second at Motegi, his third runner-up finish this season and he has 124 points, eight ahead of Cal Crutchlow. Pol Espargaró is ten points behind Crutchlow. Andrea Iannone has missed the last three races due to a T3 vertebra fracture and is ten points behind Pol Espargaró. Héctor Barberá rounds out the top ten in the championship with 84 points, two ahead of Aleix Espargaró. Barberá replaces Iannone on the factory Ducati for the second consecutive race.

The Australian motorcycle Grand Prix will be at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 23rd.

1. Over or Under: 12.5 cars finishing on the lead lap in the United States Grand Prix?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 British drivers winning across the three classes at Estoril?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 cautions that involve Chase drivers at Talladega?
4. Over or Under: 15.5 lead changes between the two races at Surfers Paradise?
5. Over or Under: 14.5 on the starting grid for Nicky Hayden at Phillip Island?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Three riders were within ten seconds of Motegi winner Marc Márquez.
2. Over: The #67 Ford won GTE-Pro and completed 212 laps.
3. Under: There were two Toyotas in the top seven at Kansas (Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch).
4. Over: Marco Wittmann and Timo Glock finished in the top ten of the DTM championship.
5. Over: Nicky Hayden scored 26 points at Jerez.

1. Haas F1 scores points at its home race of Austin.
2. The #38 G-Drive Racing Gibson-Nissan finishes ahead of the #46 Thiriet by TDS Racing Oreca-Nissan in the race.
3. At least one driver outside the top twenty of the championship gets a top ten finish at Talladega.
4. Holden does not sweep the Gold Coast 600 for the third consecutive season.
5. A rider running in the top five falls in turn four at Phillip Island.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Marc Márquez does not clinch the championship but he increases his lead over Valentino Rossi (Wrong and Correct. Márquez did clinch and he increased his lead over Rossi).
2. A team gets its first victory of 2016 at Fuji (Correct. The #6 Toyota, #26 G-Drive and #67 Ford all got their first victories of 2016).
3. None of the cautions at Kansas involve Chase driver front on Chase driver rear contact (Wrong. Denny Hamlin got into the back of Brad Keselowski but it was intentional).
4. One of the three championship contenders wins a race at Hockenheim (Correct. Edoardo Mortara won the second race from Hockenheim).
5. Both World Superbike and World Supersport championships are clinched at Jerez (Wrong and Correct. Jonathan Rea fell two points shy of clinching the WSBK title. Kenan Sofuoglu did clinch the WSS title).
Last Week: 3/5 Overall: 9/20

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti Autosport's 2016 Season

We covered one-fourth of the Andretti Autosport team on Tuesday. Here are the other three-quarters of the team.

Carlos Muñoz was the top Andretti Autosport driver in 2016 and his reward might be the door
Carlos Muñoz
The Colombian started his fourth season of IndyCar with an unimpressive eighth-place finish at St. Petersburg. Normally you say eighth is unimpressive if a driver was on top all weekend but Muñoz's pinball maneuver in turn three took out a few cars. At Phoenix, he had an accident in qualifying that forced him to start 21st and he would finish 22nd after an accident just prior to the halfway point. Long Beach was a good step forward for Muñoz as he started 10th and finished 12th. However, Long Beach was followed by a mediocre 15th at Barber.

An early spin in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis set Muñoz back but he recovered to finish 12th. On the oval, Muñoz started in the middle of the second row and while he didn't dominate the race like his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, he was up front all day and while some stretched fuel, Muñoz found himself as the front-runner of those who took a splash of fuel but he couldn't chase down Alexander Rossi and finished second in the Indianapolis 500 for the second time in his career. He followed his runner-up finish with another fifth-place start in the first Belle Isle race and he finished sixth. The second race he started 13th and finished 15th despite trying to go off-strategy.

He started and finished tenth at Road America, a race where he wasn't really a factor. At Iowa, Muñoz was just one of three Andretti cars mired in the back of the field but he finished 12th. He wasn't much of a factor at Toronto and a flat tire didn't help his day at all leaving him in 17th. After a rough July, Muñoz caught a break at Mid-Ohio where he pitted just before the Scott Dixon caution and vaulted himself up to the front of the field, where he would finish third.

Pocono was another really good day for Muñoz as he started fifth and ran in and around the top five all day but fell to seventh. He started on pole position for Texas and in June he led the first 37 laps but when the race restarted in August, Muñoz was never a factor but ended up finishing in seventh position. He didn't have the speed at Watkins Glen but went off strategy, led a few laps and ended up finishing 11th. He ended the season with an uninspiring 15th at Sonoma.

Carlos Muñoz's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 10th (432 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 7
Laps Led: 50
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 3
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.8125

The 2016 season was another rough one for Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay
The American's 2016 season started much better than his 2015 season. He qualified fifth at St. Petersburg and ran at the front all day and ended up finishing third in what is his de facto home race. Phoenix doesn't look that great on paper as he finished 10th after starting 12th but he gained five positions on the start, made up two spots on every restarted and if it weren't for being caught on pit lane twice when cautions came, he would have had a top five and maybe a podium finish. At Long Beach, he qualified 11th but the setup sent him backward in the race and he ended up 18th. Ironically, he started 18th at Barber and finished 11th.

He went from 15th to 7th in the first turn at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis thanks to a few cars getting together and running wide. He ultimately settled for a ninth-place finish. Hunter-Reay was one of the top drivers the entire month of May and he started on the outside of the front row. He dominated in the race leading 52 of the first 120 laps but contact with teammate Townsend Bell while leaving the pit lane ended his hopes of a second Indianapolis 500 victory and he finished two laps down in 24th. He had a hard fought seventh in the first race at Belle Isle and he started second and finished third in the second race.

Hunter-Reay was around the top five all day at Road America and he was rewarded with a fourth-place finish. When the calendar turned to July, unlike 2015 where Hunter-Reay hit the ground running and made up ground, the bottom fell out. He had an engine failure at Iowa just a third of the way into the race. At Toronto, he started 18th, had contact with Charlie Kimball force a wing change, had to make another wing change and ended up finishing 12th. At Mid-Ohio, he started fourth, was in the top ten all day and the crew didn't get the car filled on the final pit stop, forcing Hunter-Reay to conserve and drop to 18th.

A practice accident at Pocono kept Hunter-Reay from qualifying and forced him to start 22nd. Despite the set back he charged to the lead by lap 49 and was a contender until he hit a glitch just within the final 100 miles of the race. He fell a lap down but a caution and a wave around got him back on the lead lap and he went from 12th to third in the final 20 laps. He was in position for a top ten at Watkins Glen but like Mid-Ohio had to save fuel and dropped to 14th. He qualified sixth at Sonoma and was in the top ten all race before finishing fourth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 12th (428 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 3
Top Fives: 5
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 97
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 3
Fast Twelves: 5
Average Start: 11.875
Average Finish: 10.9375

Marco Andretti's 2016 season wasn't much to brag about
Marco Andretti
I am going to be frank on Marco Andretti because it wasn't a great year. It wasn't a terrible year and I am not a part of the mob who thinks Andretti should be banished from IndyCar because at 29 years old (yeah, he isn't even 30 yet) he hasn't lived up to a segment's expectations that he would be a mix of his grandfather and father.

He had a really good run at St. Petersburg as he went from 14th to eighth early only to lose it all in an ambitious move on Luca Filippi and that kind of set the precedent for his season. After that 15th-place finish in the opener, he started 11th and finished 13th at Phoenix as he couldn't break into the top ten and pass cars like Hunter-Reay. He finished 19th after starting last at Long Beach. He went from 19th to 12th at Barber.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw another 19th-place start and another 15th-place finish. In the Indianapolis 500, Andretti started 14th but was in the top ten for a good chunk of the race before a pit stop where the team put right side tires on the left side and left side tires on the right and caused him to fall like a rock as all he could do was hold on because the balance was off. He recovered for a 13th-place finish. He was not a factor in the first Belle Isle race as he finished 16th but went from 22nd to ninth in the second race.

Road America saw him go 21st to 12th. At Iowa, he started 19th and finished 14th and he went from 22nd to tenth at Toronto after being in the right spot when the caution came out for Josef Newgarden's accident. Mid-Ohio was another race where Andretti started on the 11th row and he finished 13th. He had three consecutive 12th-place finishes at Pocono, Texas and Watkins Glen. Sonoma was the location of his best finish of the season, eighth-place from 14th on the grid.

Andretti was running at the finish of every race and completed 2,062 of 2,070 laps.

Marco Andretti's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 16th (339 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Top Fives: 0
Top Tens: 3
Laps Led: 0
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 0
Average Start: 17.5
Average Finish: 12.8125

This wasn't a great season for Andretti Autosport and I don't think the 1-2 finish at Indianapolis 500 makes up for it all that much. It wasn't a terrible season when you consider how poor Honda was and Andretti Autosport had three of the top four Honda drivers. Carlos Muñoz appears to be on his way out and while that is unfortunate, sometimes that is how sports works. How many times have coaches come off a good season or had a stretch of playoff appearances and still get fired? Muñoz has a place in IndyCar and in someway he should be at Andretti Autosport in 2017 but a move for him could be beneficial.

You have to think Andretti Autosport will rebound. It is hard to believe Ryan Hunter-Reay will go winless for a second consecutive season. The team has brought in some big names on the engineering side with Eric Bretzman moving over from Chip Ganassi Racing's NASCAR operation and Jeremy Milless moving over from Ed Carpenter Racing. They have also lost some big names as Craig Hampson reunites with Sébastien Bourdais at Dale Coyne Racing and Tom German might also be moving to a new team for 2017. It is a lame-duck season with the aero kit development freezing and the universal kit being introduced in 2018 but maybe the new technical team at Andretti Autosport can find the speed to get the cars to the front.

Who could jump in and get results right away for Andretti Autosport? Conor Daly had a good rookie season. Juan Pablo Montoya is still out there but I think he doesn't want to take his chances with a Honda team unless it is the familiar surroundings of Chip Ganassi Racing (remember, Andretti Autosport was reportedly the first team interested in bringing Montoya to IndyCar for 2014). Takuma Sato is out there but maybe you take a pass regardless of how much money he brings. J.R. Hildebrand has done nothing but jump into a car and gotten results since being dubiously sacked by Panther Racing in the middle of 2013, plus Hildebrand would probably have some experience working with Milless.

The key thing for Andretti Autosport is not to overthink it because that seems to be what the team has done the last two seasons.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Andretti-Herta Autosport's 2016 Season

The midway point of IndyCar team reviews looks at the partnership between Andretti Autosport and Bryan Herta Autosport. The 11th-hour, shotgun wedding got Alexander Rossi on the IndyCar grid. It ended up being a beautiful friendship and one of the few bright spots for a team that had a trying year and probably didn't get the results they were looking for.

Alexander Rossi's rookie year wasn't that bad
Alexander Rossi
The California-native moved to IndyCar from Formula One and Manor Marussia F1. His debut was a run of the mill debut. He started 18th but kept his nose out of harms way and worked his way to 12th, the top rookie finisher. Phoenix was his first oval race and he was in contention for a top ten finish until he had to stop to top off for fuel and then brushed the barriers exiting turn four to bring out the final caution of the race and dropping him to 14th. Long Beach was a terrible race for all the Andretti cars and Rossi was the worst of the four in 20th. He had a great start at Barber but faded to 15th.

His first month of May started with an impressive run in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Rossi forced Will Power into a mistake that caused the Australian to spin off track. He would finish tenth and pick up fastest lap of the race on his way to his first career top ten finish. We all remember Rossi's incredible conservation run to victory in the Indianapolis 500 but he was respectably fast all month and started 11th, he ran fastest lap in the race and probably ran the slowest green flag lap as well. The following week he needed to conserve fuel again just to finish tenth at Belle Isle. In the second race of the doubleheader he finished 12th.

Rossi was quick at Road America but a caution in qualifying forced him to start 16th and contact in the race forced him to change his front wing and instead of a top ten finish, he finished 15th. At Iowa, Rossi carried the Andretti flag and went from 17th to sixth with the help from some cautions. Toronto was a rough weekend for Rossi where he didn't feature much, started 19th and finished 16th. Rossi made the second round of qualifying for the first time in his career at Mid-Ohio but couldn't pick up the pace in the race and finished 14th.

He started seventh at Pocono and was running at the front until he, Charlie Kimball and Hélio Castroneves came together in the pit lane ruining all three of their races and ending Rossi's chance of doubling down on 500-mile race victories in his rookie season. Rossi's car was a bucking bronco at Texas but he held on and finished 11th. Rossi worked his way into the top ten at Watkins Glen after starting 15th and had to conserve fuel again but finished eighth. He had his best starting position on a road/street course at Sonoma in eighth and jumped into the top five early. He would have finished fourth had he not ran out of fuel coming to the start/finish line and only to drop to fifth but he was comfortable took the honor of Rookie of the Year.

Alexander Rossi's 2016 Statistics
Championship Positions: 11th (430 points)
Wins: 1
Podiums: 1
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 6
Laps Led: 23
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 2
Average Start: 14.375
Average Finish: 11.8125

If Andretti Autosport can pick up its game in 2017, I am really looking forward to seeing what Rossi can do. He did everything we expected from him in his rookie season. He had a handful of top tens, he had a few really good races, he ended up on the cusp of a top ten finish in the championship and he ended up winning the Indianapolis 500. He improved throughout the season and a second year on all these tracks in hopefully an improve car could see him definitely in the top ten of the championship if not in the championship discussion.

For a driver who expressed trepidation of racing on ovals, Rossi looked like a guy who grew up on them. He did really well at Phoenix and if you forget the victory for a second and just look at what Rossi did in practice and qualifying, he was easily the top rookie all month and one of the top ten drivers all month. He was a bit out of his element at Texas but managed and got a respectable finish. Iowa was a great for him and outside of the pit lane pile-up he appeared to be a contender for at least the podium at Pocono.

Rossi seems to have settled for life in the United States. Formula One may never call again but he had a good career in Europe. He won a handful of races across the top junior series. He got five Formula One starts and was respectable for a bad team in all five. He even got a Le Mans start. Rossi could still have a full career and be an IndyCar driver, the likes of Scott Dixon, Sébastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud are proof of that. He was in the rumor mill for a ride with Penske with Josef Newgarden. He already has everyone's attention in IndyCar. He could win at Andretti Autosport but it is good to know that the best are interested. I am not saying he could be on his way to re-writing the IndyCar record books but he seems to have found solid ground for what could be a long career in his native land.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Musings From the Weekend: Is Anyone Working On It?

Marc Márquez clinched his third MotoGP world championship after victory at Honda's house while both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo fell while running second. Another team won in its own house. A Turk won another title. A German won another title. A Frenchman won another title. A Welshman is on fire. Alex Zanardi won the finale of the Italian GT Championship season in his return weekend to racing after taking over a year off to focus his training for the Paralympics. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Is Anyone Working On It?
The fifth anniversary of the death of Dan Wheldon passed this weekend. It is an accident that will go down as a marker in IndyCar history of when pack racing on mile-and-a-half ovals had to be addressed after almost a decade of finger-crossing and sighs of relief when the likes of Kenny Bräck and Ryan Briscoe survived flights though left race track in ambulances.

That day seemed to last a week and that week seemed to last a day. The accident happened so early that we waited and we waited and we waited. The championship was already decided after Will Power was involved but 188 laps remained in the IndyCar season and in the single-engine, IR07-era and there were still about 20 cars with all four wheels intact. It just seemed inevitable the race would never be restarted even though a façade was erected saying otherwise. After the announcement and the cancellation and the tribute laps and the sunset, it is all kind of a blur. It ended up being the final IndyCar appearances for Danica Patrick, Davey Hamilton, Vitor Meira, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Paul Tracy, Alex Lloyd and Buddy Rice. Some drivers had to go to Australia. Some drivers were planning to go to a funeral. Some drivers decried IndyCar racing on ovals and most of those drivers didn't race in IndyCar. Some drivers decried the catch fences.

We all wondered what could have been done to prevent the accident. How could packs be broken up? How could the cars be kept on the ground? How could driver protection improve? How could catch fences be made better?

Breaking up the pack wasn't that difficult as all it required was different aero regulations and a degrading tire. The changes in aero regulations and wheel guards, though wheel guards have been met with hostility, have kept the cars on planet Earth and for the most part prevented cars from somersaulting over one another after wheel-to-wheel contact. We are making progress on protecting drivers through some type of windscreen/canopy/halo device but the one aspect of Wheldon's accident where it appears to have zero development since the accident is catch fencing.

Catch fencing was a sticking point after Wheldon's accident after it was found that his head trauma came after his head struck a pole that was located on the inside of the fence itself and not on the outside. It led to a very public war of words between drivers, notably Oriol Servià, and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. Since those bitter days within the year of the accident, all has gone quiet on the development of catch fences. Within that first year we all expected someone to take the reigns and lead the charge in catch fence development the same way Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Dr. Dean Sickling, then working at the University of Nebraska.

However, five years later with no reported improvements, no reports of prototyped designs being tested, no track with a massive press conference announcing it has taken the baton of motorsports safety development and is setting the standard going forward, I have to ask: Is anyone working on a new and improved catch fence?

I thought we would have heard something by now considering it has been five years. Safety developments take time. It took four years for the SAFER barrier to reach its full potential. The PEDS barrier debuted in 1998 but showed its flaws and the SAFER barrier's introduction in 2002 addressed those issues and 14 years late SAFER barriers are as unnoticeable at a race track as the snow cone vendors. But it feels we haven't even reached the PEDS level of catch fence development and the biggest reason is money. In a 2012 Autoweek article, Dr. Sickling estimated that it would take $100 million to research a new catch fence design. Bricks of money aren't raining down on motorsports. Budgets are getting tighter and tighter and there isn't uniformity over the issue. While catch fences are a concern for IndyCar, they are less of a concern for the FIA and NASCAR, even though in recent history car have frequently gotten into the catch fences at Daytona and Talladega.

The only way advancements in catch fence development will be made is if all parties pitch in together for a change. Ideally, the next-generation of catch fences wouldn't grab a car and tear it to bits but let a car glide along while not shredding it like cheddar, keeping the debris from spreading across the race track and potentially getting into the grandstand. That catch fence would not only benefit IndyCar but NASCAR as it wasn't that long ago 30 spectators were injured after Kyle Larson got into the catch fence in the tri-oval at Daytona.

Motorsports will never be 100% safe and a lot of improvements have been made since Dan Wheldon's accident but there are still a few areas that are lacking and the catch fence is one of those areas. It isn't an impossible fix but it will take cooperation. While $100 million is a lot of money, it is absolutely worth it if it means keeping drivers and spectators safe.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Marc Márquez but did you know...

Kenan Sofuoglu clinched his fifth World Supersport championship and second consecutive with a victory on Sunday at Jerez.

Marco Wittmann won his second Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship with a second-place and fourth-place finishes at Hockenheimring.

Sébastien Ogier clinched his fourth consecutive World Rally Drivers' Championship with victory in Rally de Catalunya.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Márquez, Sofuoglu and Ogier but did you know...

The #6 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stéphane Sarrazin won the Six Hours of Fuji. The #26 G-Drive Racing Ligier-Nissan of Romain Rusinov, Alex Brundle and Will Stevens won in LMP2. The #67 Ford GT of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell won in GTE-Pro. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda won in GTE-Am.

Thomas Lüthi won his third Moto2 race of the season at Motegi. Enea Bastianini jumped to second in the Moto3 championship with victory at Motegi.

Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup race at Kansas. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

Miguel Molina and Edoardo Mortara split the DTM races at Hockenheimring.

Chaz Davies swept the World Superbike races at Jerez.

Coming Up This Weekend
The United States Grand Prix takes place at Circuit of the Americas.
MotoGP heads to Phillip Island.
NASCAR's second round of the Chase ends at Talladega.
The European Le Mans Series season wraps up in Estoril.
Supercars run two races around Surfers Paradise.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Five: Motegi, Fuji, Kansas, Hockenheim, Jerez

One championship will be awarded this weekend and another four could be claimed but will need a bit of work, luck or some combination of the two. There is a mixture between past champions looking to making another addition to their trophy cases and drivers looking for their first piece of silverware.

Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix
MotoGP begins its three week Asia-Pacific trip at Twin Ring Motegi and with 100 points left on the table, five riders enter the Honda-owned track still alive for the 2016 championship but the title could be wrapped up this weekend.

Honda's Marc Márquez is coming off his fourth victory of the season at Aragón and has 248 points, 52 points ahead of Valentino Rossi. If Márquez wins at Motegi and Rossi finishes 14th or worse, Márquez will clinch his third MotoGP world championship. Márquez has yet to win at Motegi in the MotoGP class and he has not won at the track since in Moto2 in 2012. He leads all riders with ten podium finishes this season and has finished in the top five in 13 of 14 races. Rossi is a four-time winner at Motegi in MotoGP but has not won there since 2008. Rossi enters with four consecutive podium finishes.

Defending champion Jorge Lorenzo trails Márquez by 66 points and he has won three times at Motegi, including two of the last three races and in eight MotoGP starts he has six podium finishes and his worst finish at the track is fourth. Last year's Motegi winner Dani Pedrosa trails his teammate by 93 points. Pedrosa is also a three-time Motegi winner. Maverick Viñales trails Márquez by 99 points and has finished second at the track three times in five starts since his 125cc rookie season in 2009. He retired from last year's race after an accident.

The Japanese motorcycle Grand Prix takes place at 2:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 16th.

Six Hours of Fuji
The antepenultimate round of the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship takes place in Toyota's backyard of Fuji Speedway. The #2 Porsche of Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb and Neel Jani lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 130 points from six races. The #2 Porsche won two of the first three races and finished second in the other but has finished fourth in the last three races since winning Le Mans.

The #8 Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loïc Duval trails the #2 Porsche by 37.5 points and the team is coming off its fourth podium of the season at Circuit of the Americas. The #6 Toyota of Stéphane Sarrazin, Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Conway has not won this season but four podiums, including finishing third in the last two races has that trio a half-point behind the #8 Audi. The defending champion #1 Porsche of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brandon Hartley trail its teammate by 51.5 points but has won the last three rounds. The #7 Audi of André Lotterer and Marcel Fässler are a half-point behind the #1 Porsche despite having only one podium finish. Third driver Benoît Tréluyer has missed the last two rounds due to injury but is slated to return. The #5 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson has only 21 points from six races and has yet to finish on the podium.

Four teams are still alive for the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. The #36 Signatech-Alpine of Gustavo Menezes, Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi has 156 points after winning four of six races, finishing second and fourth and could clinch the championship this weekend. The #43 RGR Sport by Morand Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Albuquerque, Bruno Senna and Ricardo González trails by 41 points and the trio has won two races and has four podium finishes. Romain Rusinov sits on 86 points after three points this season and the Russian driver will be joined by Will Stevens and Alex Brundle in the #26 G-Drive Racing Oreca-Nissan. The #31 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Pipo Derani, Ryan Dalziel and Chris Cumming has 84 points and has four podiums this season. The team is still looking for its first victory in the WEC.

Danish drivers Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen lead the World Endurance Cup for GT Drivers with he 109 points and the #95 Aston Martin is coming off victory in Austin and has five podiums this season. Twelve points behind the Danes is the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird. Rigon and Bird won the first two races. Darren Turner is a point behind Rigon and Bird and the #97 Aston Martin driver will be joined by Richie Stanaway at Fuji. They were victorious at Mexico City. Gianmaria Bruni and James Calado have scored 80 points in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari and has finished on the podium in the last three races, including victory at Nürburgring.

Since winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Ford GTs best finish has been fourth. Le Mans winners Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla have 73 points in the #66 Ford. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell has scored 54.5 points but will not be joined by Marino Franchitti in the #67 Ford after he contested the first six races. A half-point behind the #67 Ford is the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Michael Kristensen and Richard Leitz, whose best finish this season is fourth.

The #83 AF Corse Ferrari of Emmanuel Collard, François Perrodo and Rui Águas lead the World Endurance Trophy for LMGTE Drivers with 137 points. They have won or finished second in five races this season and Austin was the first race they didn't finish in the top two after finishing sixth. The #88 Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing Porsche of David Heinemeier Hansson and Khaled Al Qubaisi trails by 33 points. Patrick Long will be the third driver in the #88 Porsche this weekend. The #98 Aston Martin has won three of six races but has retired from two of three including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda trail the #83 AF Corse Ferrari by 41 points.

The Six Hours of Fuji begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday October 15th.

Kansas Speedway
The second race of the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup will take place at Kansas Speedway. Eleven drivers are vying for seven spots.

Jimmie Johnson earned a spot in the semifinal round of the Chase with his victory at Charlotte last Sunday. It was Johnson's third victory of the season but first since Fontana in March. Matt Kenseth finished second at Charlotte and picked up his third consecutive top five finish. He sits on 3,040 points, four points ahead of teammate Kyle Busch, who finished sixth at Charlotte. Two points behind Kyle Busch is Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch sits fifth in the championship with 3,033 points after an eighth-place finish at Charlotte. He is four points clear of Carl Edwards and five points ahead of Martin Truex, Jr.

Five of the 12 remaining Chase drivers finished 30th or worse at Charlotte. Denny Hamlin had a late engine failure drop him to 30th and he has 3,012 points after Charlotte. Three points behind Hamlin are Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott after the two drivers were caught in a 12-car accident on lap 260. Joey Logano had two accidents at Charlotte, one because of a tire failure and he is six points behind Hamlin. Kevin Harvick suffered an engine failure and retired after 155 laps at Charlotte. He is nine points behind Hamlin.

Joey Logano won last year's Chase race at Kansas after the infamous spin of Matt Kenseth with four laps to go. Kyle Busch won the Kansas race earlier this season after leading 69 laps. Martin Truex, Jr. led 172 of 267 laps at Kansas in May but finished 14th after an unscheduled pit stop. Jimmie Johnson is tied with Jeff Gordon for most Kansas victories at three but Johnson has the best average finish among drivers with at least three Kansas starts at 9.2.

The NASCAR Cup race from Kansas will be held at 2:15 p.m. ET on Sunday October 16th.

The 2016 DTM season comes to a close this weekend at the Hockenheimring and three drivers are fighting for the title, one from BMW and two from Audi.

Marco Wittmann enters as the championship leader on 176 points. Fourteen points behind Wittmann is Italian Edoardo Mortara and fellow Audi driver Jamie Green trails Wittmann by 38 points. Wittmann has three victories this season and has five podium finishes. He has finished outside of the points on two occasions and was disqualified from a fourth-place finish in second Hungary race due to excess wear to the skid block. Mortara has four victories and six podium finishes this season but has finished outside the points in five races this season. Green has many podium finishes as Mortara but has one victory and did not score points in seven of 16 races this season.

Wittmann is going for his second DTM championship in the last three seasons. Mortara and Green are both going for their first title. Mortara's previous best championship finish came last year when he finished fourth. Green finished second last year in the championship by 19 points to current Manor F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein.

Audi leads BMW in the Manufactures' Championship with 609 points to 572 points. BMW is going for its fourth Manufactures' Championship in the last five seasons.

The top Mercedes-Benz driver in the championship is Robert Wickens in fourth on 122 points. Mattias Ekström enters in fifth but the Swedish driver will not contest the Hockenheim finale as he goes for the World Rallycross Championship. British driver Tom Blomqvist and Paul di Resta are two points and seven points respectively behind Ekström for fifth in the championship. Nico Müller has 88 points, Maxime Martin sits on 82 points and Gary Paffett rounds out the top ten with 73 points. Lucas Auer and Timo Glock are five points outside the top ten in the championship.

Race one from Hockenheim will be Saturday October 15th at 7:38 a.m. ET. Race two will be on Sunday at 7:58 a.m. ET.

Circuito de Jerez
The penultimate round of the 2016 World Superbike season takes place this weekend at Jerez and three riders are still alive for the title.

After finishing fourth and second at Magny-Cours, Jonathan Rea still maintains the championship lead over his Kawasaki teammate Tom Skyes but the gap is down to 48 points with 100 points remaining. Sykes finished third in both races. Chaz Davies swept the weekend at Magny-Cours and trails Rea by 81 points. Sykes and Davies split last year's races at Jerez with Rea finishing fourth in both races. Davies had a second in the other Jerez race while Skyes finished fifth.

Honda riders Michael van der Mark and Nicky Hayden are fourth and fifth in the championship on 324 points and 302 points respectively. Ducati rider Davide Giugliano did not participate in the Magny-Cours round because of a shoulder injury and dropped to sixth in the championship on 194 points.

After retiring at Magny-Cours, Kenan Sofuoglu remains on 171 points and Randy Krummenacher remains alive of the World Supersport title. The Swiss rider trails his Kawasaki teammate by 42 points with 50 points remaining from the final two rounds. Krummenacher finished fifth at Magny-Cours. Jules Cluzul won the Magny-Cours round is up to third in the championship on 116 points. American P.J. Jacobsen retired after a first lap accident at Magny-Cours and he is fourth in the championship on 109 points. Jacobsen won last year's World Supersport race at Magny-Cours.

The first World Superbike race will be at 7:00 a.m. ET on Saturday October 15th. The World Supersport race will be 5:20 a.m. ET on Sunday with the second World Superbike race scheduled for 7:00 a.m. ET.

1. Over or Under: 4.5 riders finishing within ten seconds of the Motegi winner?
2. Over or Under: 206.5 laps completed by the GTE-Pro winner at Fuji?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 Toyotas in the top seven at Kansas?
4. Over or Under: 1.5 German drivers in the top ten of the final DTM championship standings?
5. Over or Under: 25.5 points scored by Nicky Hayden at Jerez?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Shane Van Gisbergen was the only New Zealander that finished in the top five at Bathurst.
2. Under: The margin between Álvaro Parente and Patrick Long in the PWC championship was
3. Under: There were zero safety car periods at Suzuka.
4. Under: Sébastien Buemi finished first, Nico Prost finished fourth, which averages to 2.5.
5. Under: Martin Truex, Jr. led zero laps in the Cup race at Charlotte.

1. Marc Márquez does not clinch the championship but he increases his lead over Valentino Rossi.
2. A team gets its first victory of 2016 at Fuji.
3. None of the cautions at Kansas involve Chase driver front on Chase driver rear contact.
4. One of the three championship contenders wins a race at Hockenheim.
5. Both World Superbike and World Supersport championships are clinched at Jerez.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Shane Van Gisbergen wins the Bathurst 1000 (Wrong. He finished second).
2. One of the PWC GT championship eligible drivers qualifies outside the top six (Wrong. The worst qualifier was Álvaro Parente qualified sixth).
3. Only one McLaren finishes in the points (Wrong. Neither finished in the points).
4. At least two drivers score their first Formula E points (Correct. Maro Engel and Felix Rosenqvist both got points in their Formula E debuts).
5. Both Busch brothers finish in the top ten at Charlotte (Correct. Kyle finished sixth and Kurt finished eighth).
Last Week: 2/5 Overall: 6/15