Friday, December 29, 2017

2018 IndyCar Predictions

This is it! The final post of the year 2017 and the final set of predictions for the coming new year. We end with IndyCar and another new era for the series, the third new era in the last seven years. The Chevrolet and Honda aero kits are heading to museums (or will be used for show cars). We have a new oval qualifying format. Indianapolis 500 qualifying pays fewer points than recent seasons. There will be two new full-time teams and two teams expanding their efforts and running more in IndyCar after being one-offs. It is understandable if you are a bit excited for the start of the IndyCar season.

1. Andretti Autosport has at least one driver finish in the top five of the championship
Andretti Autosport has had nine drivers finish in the top ten in the championship the last four seasons. However, none of those drivers have finished in the top five of the championship. The last time an Andretti Autosport driver cracked the top five was Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013 coming home in fifth. Hunter-Reay missed out on a top five by one position in 2014 and 2015.

The team went through a rough patch during the aero kit-era and two Indianapolis 500 victories can't erase the disappointing championship results. The team ended 2017 on a high note. Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi each won a race for the team. Ryan Hunter-Reay came close but is still looking for his first victory since the 2015 Pocono race. Marco Andretti improved from his 2016 season. Rossi is the dark horse everyone is picking. Hunter-Reay has put together solid results despite not winning a race. Andretti finished fifth in the championship in 2013 prior to the aero kit-era and the universal aero kit will be more like the original aero kit, which could benefit Andretti.

No one would be surprised if Rossi or Hunter-Reay found a way into the top five in the championship.

2. Ed Jones wins a race
Go listen to The Marshall Pruett Podcast episode with Mike Hull. In the episode, Hull said Chip Ganassi Racing wants drivers that don't need to be taught to win. If that is the case, then Ed Jones better win a race in 2018. The 2017 IndyCar Rookie of the Year was impressive at the start of the season but tailed off.

Chip Ganassi Racing will benefit from the introduction of the universal aero kit but the team has been a one-horse stable despite fielding as many as four cars since the start of 2012. In the DW12-era, Chip Ganassi Racing has won 17 races. Scott Dixon has won 14 of those races. Dario Franchitti won the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Charlie Kimball won at Mid-Ohio in 2013 and Tony Kanaan won the 2014 season finale at Fontana. Dixon has won six consecutive races for Chip Ganassi Racing despite the talent he has had around him.

Jones will have a monumental task ahead of him and I think he will breakthrough. I don't think he will beat Dixon in the championship nor do I think he will be a title contender but he can have his day.

3. Takuma Sato has more top ten finishes than he did in his first season with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
The 40-year-old Japanese driver turns 41 on January 28th and he is coming off his best season in any discipline since he finished eighth in the World Drivers' Championship in 2004. Sato finished eighth with a victory in the Indianapolis 500 as well as three other top five finishes at St. Petersburg, Belle Isle and Mid-Ohio and he had seven top ten finishes.

When Sato was at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he had a handful of promising results. He had a solid run from 25th to third at São Paulo. We all remember how close he came to winning the Indianapolis 500 that year. He gave Hélio Castroneves a run for his money at Edmonton. Sato led 12 laps in the wet at Baltimore before his race ended due to a mechanical issue and he had accident on the final lap at Fontana while in the top five and was still classified with a seventh place finish.

Despite all the good runs, Sato had only five top ten finishes that season and finished 14th in the championship. I don't think he will match his 2017 results and I don't think he will top Graham Rahal in the championship but I think Sato will be competitive and six top ten finishes isn't asking a lot.

4. No rookie finishes in the top 13 of the championship
It is tough being a rookie in IndyCar. Track time is limited. There is next to no testing. A driver really needs at least two seasons if not three seasons before he or she has a handle on IndyCar. While Simon Pagenaud was classified as a rookie for the 2012 season, he had run a season in Champ Car in 2007. Of true rookies, only one has finished in the top ten as a rookie and that was Carlos Muñoz in 2014. The only other drivers to finish in the top 13 were Rubens Barrichello in 2012 (he wasn't classified as a rookie but he was a rookie), who finished 12th and Alexander Rossi, who finished 11th in 2016.

At time of writing, there are three rookies confirmed for full-time competition with Matheus Leist at A.J. Foyt Racing, Zach Veach at Andretti Autosport and Robert Wickens at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and each have a hurdle. Leist will only be 19 years old and teenagers haven't been consistent. Veach did well in Indy Lights and seemed to improve each year but he is tiny and physically could be at a disadvantage. Wickens moves over from DTM and this could be a shock for his system as he has not regularly been in a single-seater car since 2011.

5. There is at least one driver who wins his or her first 500-mile race
The following drivers have yet to win a 500-mile race in their IndyCar careers: Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Sébastien Bourdais, Ed Jones, Spencer Pigot and Danica Patrick. And that isn't the entire list. You wouldn't rule out either Newgarden or Pagenaud being responsible for another Team Penske Indianapolis 500 victory. At the same time, Andretti has always been competitive at Indianapolis. Bourdais was the fastest man at Indianapolis before his accident. And there is also Pocono and Will Power can't win every race at that track.

6. At least two part-time drivers (except Ed Carpenter) finish in the top ten in the Indianapolis 500
One-offs have success in the Indianapolis 500. Last year, Juan Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves each finished in the top ten and Fernando Alonso spent most of the day in the top ten. J.R. Hildebrand finished in the top ten the last three years he was an Indianapolis 500 one-off. Kurt Busch and Sage Karam each got top ten finishes as one-offs in 2014. Carlos Muñoz finished second as an Indianapolis 500 one-off and A.J. Allmendinger also finished in the top ten in 2013.

Patrick, Hélio Castroneves, Jack Harvey, Kyle Kaiser and Stefan Wilson are just a few of the early part-time drivers slated to participate in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 and the likes of Sage Karam, James Davison and Oriol Servià are three drivers you wouldn't be surprised to be at Indianapolis, nor be surprised if any of them finished in the top ten.

7. Honda wins at two tracks that it has won at once or fewer in the DW12-era (excluding Portland and Gateway)
Honda has had a rough six seasons in the DW12-era. While it has won four Indianapolis 500s, Honda has won only one drivers' championship and zero manufactures' championships since 2012. A few tracks have seen complete Chevrolet domination. Chevrolet is unbeaten at Sonoma. Before last year, Chevrolet was unbeaten at St. Petersburg. Chevrolet is two-for-two at Phoenix. Chevrolet has won five of six Barber races. Chevrolet has won three consecutive editions of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

I think Honda will win at a few of the places listed above. Honda teams will now have a shot at Phoenix and be on more level footing at the natural-terrain road courses. We are going to see a few breakthroughs in 2018.

8. The total number of caution laps is up by at least 4.5%
The 2017 season had 13.34% of laps run under caution, the lowest percentage in the DW12-era. Ten races featured single-digit totals of caution laps and there were two caution-free races. However, we are getting a new aero kit and in the first season of the aero kit-era, the percentage of laps under caution was 19.08%, the highest percentage during the DW12-era. I think drivers will be getting used to the new feel and drivers will make mistakes because they will be finding where the limits will be.

We don't know the length of the Portland race yet but if all other race distances remain unchanged and let's say Portland will be 105 laps, the total laps for the 2018 season will be 2,376 laps. An increase of 4.5% would mean 17.84% of laps will be under caution. That means around 424 laps would need to occur under caution.

9. No more than three new track records are set
We have gotten used to re-writing the record book the last couple years during the aero kit-era. Ten tracks saw the current track record set within the three seasons of the aero kit-era and it wasn't just road and street circuits. That won't continue with the new lower downforce universal aero kit. The speeds might be quicker entering corners at some road and street circuits but the cars will be on the brakes more and slower corner speeds will slow down lap times. I will leave the door open that the track record at Portland will be broken because IndyCar hasn't been there in 11 years and the track record was set in 2005 and maybe the track record is broken at Iowa but I don't think we will need a pen as much as we have the last few years.

10. At least three teams have multiple race winners
While IndyCar has had many race winners, most of those race winners have come from the same place: Team Penske. The team had three of four drivers win a race in 2016 while all four drivers won in 2017. Team Penske was the only team to have multiple race winners in 2016 and one of two teams to have multiple race winners in 2017 with Andretti Autosport having Takuma Sato win at Indianapolis and Alexander Rossi win at Watkins Glen.

Team Penske will likely have all three drivers win a race in 2018. I already have Ed Jones winning a race and if I have Jones winning a race then I definitely think Scott Dixon will win at least one race, and Andretti Autosport I have placing a driver in the top five of the championship and I think Rossi, Hunter-Reay and Andretti could all win a race. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has two stout drivers. Ed Carpenter Racing could have three contenders. Once again, the IndyCar grid is deep and there are more drivers you think can win than you think can't.

11. At least three races are won by drivers starting outside the top ten
Last year, the only race won from outside the top ten was St. Petersburg and that was when Sébastien Bourdais won from 21st, dead last on the grid. The DW12-era has been known for winners coming from anywhere. Twenty-three of 101 races in the DW12-era have been won from outside the top ten and 11 of those have come on an oval (there have been 34 oval races in the DW12-era). Prior to last season the fewest victories for drivers starting outside the top ten was two in 2013. The 2014 and 2015 seasons each had seven races won by drivers outside the top ten.

With the new aero kit I think we will still see unpredictable races and perhaps a better chance for a car to win from the back on a road/street course. The oval races should be as chaotic as ever and you can win from anywhere at Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono.

12. A new title sponsor is not announced prior to the Sonoma finale
This is a negative prediction and I hope it turns out to be wrong but we are in uncertain times for IndyCar and motorsports as a whole. Money is tougher to find. While IndyCar ratings may be improving the numbers still aren't attractive and that will keep companies away. The series may have to wait on how the numbers turn out for the 2018 season and a title sponsor may depend on how the television deal for 2019 and beyond plays out. Perhaps a title sponsor is announced prior to the end of the calendar year but I think it is a stretch to expect it by Sonoma.

We are done. Two days remain in the year and how wonderful is it we end with a weekend? But that is all the break we will get. The first post of 2018 will come on the first day of the year. Don't worry; you will get to start the New Year with something to ponder to get pissed at.

Happy New Year, folks!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2018 Sports Car Predictions

We have reached the penultimate set of predictions for 2018; four sports car series, two American-based, one European-based and a world series. We are seeing the landscape of sports car racing change in most of these series. Manufactures are leaving. Some manufactures are entering. Regulations are changing. And we still have Balance of Performance and driver rankings to try to ignore.

1. IMSA: Cadillac does not win more than 50% of the races
Cadillac got it right in 2017 and no one came close. Wayne Taylor Racing won the first five races and Action Express Racing made it seven consecutive victories before Extreme Speed Motorsports Nissan took two of the final three races with the Laguna Seca victory by the Ligier-Gibson of VisitFlorida Racing sandwiched in-between.

Cadillac will have all three cars return and gain the rebranded Spirit of Daytona Racing. However, I think we will see Nissan make a gain, Mazda come back strong and Team Penske Acura pull no punches. The Prototype grid is going to be massive and perhaps the Balance of Performance finally catches Cadillac. Wayne Taylor Racing sees Ricky Taylor leave and Renger van der Zande enter. Filipe Albuquerque joins João Barbosa in the #5 Cadillac and Dane Cameron is gone from the #31 Cadillac and Felipe Nasr enters. A lot of changes have occurred and it will shake things up.

2. At least two new teams pick up victories in Prototypes
Would anybody be surprised if Team Penske won the 24 Hours of Daytona? No. Would anyone be surprised if Team Joest found a way to win at Mosport? No. Those teams are two top shelf teams and and they will be in contention for victories almost from the drop of the hat. Team Penske drafted in two past Prototype champions in Dane Cameron and Ricky Taylor and the team brings Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves to the table. Team Joest kept Jonathan Bomarito and Tristan Nunez and brought in Harry Tincknell and Oliver Jarvis. Both teams will win races.

Besides the Acura and Mazda efforts, there is also JDC-Miller Motorsports, which saw the #85 Oreca of Misha Goikhberg and Stephan Simpson and finished fourth in the championship with two runner-up finishes. CORE Autosport enters the class full-time with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett and there is also the possibility a one-off wins the 24 Hours of Daytona. Could United Autosport steal a victory with one of its two all-star entries? What about Jackie Chan DC Racing with Jota? There will be new faces on top.

3. No GTLM team successfully defends a class victory
What do I mean by this? No team will win at a track in 2018 that they won at in 2017. So this means the #66 Ford GT won't win the 24 Hours of Daytona nor will the #3 Corvette win the 12 Hours of Sebring. The #4 Corvette won't go back-to-back at Long Beach nor will the #25 BMW Team RLL defend its Petit Le Mans victory. You get the picture. This is the stretch but you got to try something different that could be a risk.

4. WEC: Toyota wins the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans but does not sweep the overall podium
It has to be Toyota's year. It is the only manufacture in LMP1 for 2018 and likely also for 2019. The team is likely going to field three cars. One of them have to be good enough and not breakdown to win the race. However, knowing Toyota's history, one of those cars will crap out. It is bound to happen. One of them is going to have a $2 piece fail on them or have a car spin in the wet and back into the barrier. Toyota should win it. If it doesn't, the manufacture may need to disband entirely.

5. Gianmaria Bruni wins more races than Ferrari in 2018
The Italian is back and he is going to a top team. He replaces Frédéric Makowiecki and joins Richard Leitz. The Austrian-French combination finished second in the World GT Drivers' Championship despite not winning a race. Porsche did not win a race in GTE-Pro in 2017 despite nine podium finishes between the manufactures' two entries. He is fresh off a limited 2017 season and Porsche has a good car. Plus, with the LMP1 program gone, this is Porsche's child and it will make sure it comes out on top. Ferrari won five out of nine races in 2017. I don't think Bruni wins five races but he will take victories away from AF Corse.

6. Less than 50% of the races in 2018 feature a British winner in GTE-Pro
Eight of nine GTE-Pro winners featured at least one British driver. The exception was at Mexico City where the all-Danish line up of Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim won in the #95 Aston Martin. There are a lot of British drivers lined up to be in GTE-Pro. James Calado is the defending champion with Alessandro Pier Guidi. Sam Bird won twice with Davide Rigon. Ford is keeping Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell and they won twice. Darren Turner will likely be back with Aston Martin.

Four of eight full-time GTE-Pro entries had a British driver in 2017. BMW enters and could bring Alexander Sims to the grid. Porsche will not have a full-time British driver but will have Nick Tandy come in at Le Mans. This is like the GTLM prediction. It is a stretch but it doesn't hurt to throw it out there.

7. ELMS: Each class champion has more than one victory
The LMP2 champion #22 G-Drive Racing Oreca and the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari each only won once during the 2017 season. Both teams were consistent and that was enough to get the respective championship. However, I think teams will have to win multiple times in 2018 to take the championship. The #32 United Autosport Ligier and the #40 Graff Oreca each won twice in 2017. The #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari won back-to-back races but could not finish on the podium in any other races. One victory will not be good enough in 2018.

8. There will be fewer victories by American drivers
In 2017, American drivers won five times with Will Owen taking two victories in LMP2 with the #32 United Autosport Ligier, the #2 United Autosport Ligier of Sean Rayhall and John Falb won twice in LMP3 and Mark Patterson won in the #3 United Autosport Ligier in LMP3. That is quite a bit of success and United Autosport is a top team. Will Owen is slated to be back in ELMS for 2018 but I am not sure he can match his success and we see drivers rotate frequently in ELMS because of driver ranking changes.

9. A French driver wins at least once in the GTE class
A French driver has not won a GTE race in ELMS since 2015 and only twice has there been French winners in GTE since ACO took over control of the series in 2013. There are a lot of French drivers that go through ELMS but most seem to head to LMP2 and LMP3. One of them will eventually land in GTE and we are due for a French winner. Although, we could know before the 2018 season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard if this prediction has a shot of coming true.

10. PWC: American automobiles win more GT races than they did in 2017
Cadillac is out and that is a blow for the series. The manufacture only won three of the 19 GT races between Sprint and SprintX seasons. However, the introduction of the Callaway Corvette to the series could be a saving grace and the two-car effort has picked up two stellar drivers. Michael Cooper moves over to Callaway Corvette from Cadillac and ADAC GT Masters champion Daniel Keilwitz joins the series. The Callaway Corvette has been highly competitive and successful in Germany the last few years and if grid sizes are down then I expect Cooper and Keilwitz to pick up their fair share of victories.

11. The average number of GT entires in SprintX is down by at least two cars
We are seeing teams exit PWC in worrying numbers. Magnus Racing has returned to IMSA after one season in PWC. The championship winning Wright Motorsport has left for IMSA. Cadillac is gone. Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing has shut its doors. It is a bit worrying and the series had a really good first full season of SprintX.

The 2017 season saw an average of 25 GT entires per the five SprintX rounds. The season opener at VIR had the most entires with 29 GT cars and the lowest number of GT entires was 22 entries for the finale at Circuit of the Americas. It is tough to see two-dozen GT cars entered for each race.

12. The top five drivers in the GTS championship each win at least one race
Last year was an odd year in GTS. Lawson Aschenbach won the championship despite only winning two races. The lack of full-time competition and the Panoz Avezzano GT working out the kinks for the first half of the season were the two main reasons. However, while Aschenbach and Ian James were dominant, you had a handful of part-time drivers sweep race weekends. Andrew Aquilante, Nico Jamin and Jade Buford all swept race weekends and they combined to make seven starts.

Martin Barkey finished third in the championship and he had one podium finish. Flying Lizard drivers Rodrigo Baptista and Nate Stacy finished fourth and fifth in the championship and Baptista won four races. I am hopeful there is more full-time competition in GTS in 2018 and there is more competition for the championship.

Four down, one to go. Catch up on predictions for NASCAR, Formula One and et cetera. Tomorrow, we close 2017 with the final post of the year and it will be IndyCar predictions.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2018 Et Cetera Predictions

Round three of predictions are here and this is the et cetera set of predictions. We don't have enough time or minds to write 18 sets of predictions so here is one set of predictions for 12 different series from two wheels to four, junior single seaters to GT3, dying touring car series to dying touring car series.

1. MotoGP: There are at least three races decided by a pass on the final lap
In 2017, three races were decided with a final lap pass. Those races were Le Mans where Maverick Viñales overtook Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi; Misano, where Marc Márquez stalked Danilo Petrucci in the wet before making his move as late as possible; and Valencia, where Dani Pedrosa spoiled the party and kept Johann Zarco from closing his rookie season with his first career MotoGP victory. 

Besides those three races you had Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso have two battles go to the final corner at Red Bull Ring and Motegi with the Italian holding on in each. Petrucci made a late charge on Rossi at Assen but fell 0.061 seconds short. Even the season opener had Viñales hold off Dovizioso. I think we are looking at another competitive season and races going to the wire. 

2. Indy Lights: Carlin does not win an oval race
Carlin has become the oval-dominant team in Indy Lights ever since the team entered the series in 2015. The team has won four of nine oval races since 2015 including three consecutive victories from Iowa 2016 to Iowa 2017 with the 2017 Freedom 100 in the middle. The team has had eight podium finishes on ovals. 

However, I think the team is shutout on the ovals in 2018. First, the team is going through a transition as the team has announced its move into IndyCar. The team was not present at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October and it is unknown who the two drivers will be. With the move to IndyCar, Carlin will only run two Indy Lights cars next year. Second, Matheus Leist is gone from the team and he won at Indianapolis and Iowa last year. 

While much about the 2018 Indy Lights grid remains unknown, we do know Colton Herta will be back and I think he will win an oval race. Juncos Racing has done well on the short ovals and depending on the drivers you can't rule that team out. Aaron Telitz has had success on ovals in his Road to Indy career and he finished second at the Freedom 100 to Leist. 

3. Supercars: At least three full-time drivers who didn't win a race in 2017 win in 2018
While the 2017 Supercars Championship saw ten different race winners, a few notable names did not stand on the top step of the podium. Craig Lowndes didn't finish on the podium at all in 2017 and the three-time champion and second all-time in Supercars victories still finished tenth in the championship. He is going to find himself in position to get a victory or two in 2018 and he will close. Mark Winterbottom was shutout in victories and he finished sixth in the championship. He did have two runner-up finishes. In his first season with Garry Rogers Motorsport, Garth Tander's best finish was third and he finished nine points ahead of Lowndes in the championship.

Those three could all win a race in 2018 and then there are the likes of Tim Slade, Rick Kelly and Nick Percat, three drivers who have won prior in their careers. Scott Pye has yet to win a Supercars race but he will be driving for the super-team of Walkinshaw Andretti United and I bet that team will have its competitive days. 

4. World Superbike: P.J. Jacobsen finishes better in the championship than all Honda riders did in 2017
After four seasons in World Supersport, the American has taken the promotion to World Superbike. Jacobsen won twice and finished second in the WSS championship in 2015. In 47 starts, he had 16 podium finishes and won five pole positions. Jacobsen will be on the TripleM Honda WSBK Team. Honda was dreadful in 2017 and the death of Nicky Hayden and an injured Stefan Bradl did not make things any easier. Bradl was the top Honda rider in 2017, 14th in the championship on 67 points. The German's best finish was sixth at Assen but he had only five top ten finishes from 18 starts. 

Jacobsen won't be the only American on a Honda in WSBK. Jake Gagne earned a promotion to the factory team after he made six starts for the team and scored 14 points with his best finish being 12th in his final three starts and he scored points in five races. Leon Camier moves to Honda from the factory MV Augusta effort. I think the Honda will improve and Jacobsen can consistently score points. He won't set the world on fire but he will be respectable. 

5. World Supersport: Kenan Sofuoglu clinches the championship before the season finale
The Turkish rider finished second in the championship with five victories and seven podium finishes despite missing four of 12 races due to injury. If he were healthy Sofuoglu would have comfortably won the title despite the consistency from Lucas Mahias. Sofuoglu is the greatest rider in World Supersport history and he doesn't appear to be slowing down. If he keeps himself fit and healthy then the Supersport grid is in trouble.

6. Blancpain GT: At least two different non-European drivers win races overall and at least one of those races do not come in a qualifying race for a sprint weekend
Last year, only one non-European driver won a Blancpain GT Series race and that was Félix Serrallés in the finale, the 3 Hours of Barcelona. Somewhat unsurprisingly, European drivers have dominated the European-based Blancpain GT Series. However, there have been a handful of international instances of success. Shane Van Gisbergen won twice in the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2016 on his way to the Blancpain Endurance Series championship with Garage 59. Katsumasa Chiyo won the year prior with Nissan at Circuit Paul Ricard. Brazilian César Ramos also won a handful of races when he drove for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. I think there will be a little more international flair in the series in 2018.

7. Asian Le Mans Series: Harrison Newey's ALMS success leads to starts in either WEC or ELMS
We are two races into the ALMS season and two remain in January. Harrison Newey has won both races with Jackie Chan DC Racing X Jota teammates Thomas Laurent and Stéphane Richelmi. I think the 19-year-old will get a breakthrough somewhere and his name doesn't hurt. Name aside, he has done well in junior formula racing. Someone will give him an opportunity even if it is a one-off. 

8. Super Formula: A rookie does not finish in the top four of the championship
The series won't have the GP2/Formula Two champion coming to Japan as a sort of gap year before a Formula One seat opens up and no other top European junior formula driver appears destined for Japan. Nobuharu Matsushita won races in GP2/Formula Two and he was at Super Formula rookie test and was respectable, as was GP3 race winner Nirei Fukuzumi. Other notable first timers at the rookie test were Rio Haryanto and Félix Serrallés. It isn't clear if Matsushita and/or Fukuzumi will return to Japan after running in Europe but I think the Super Formula experienced drivers will show the way and control the championship. 

9. Super GT: Jenson Button has at least two podium finishes
After a year away Jenson Button will return to full-time competition in the Super GT series. Button made his debut at the Suzuka 1000km and he finished 12th. Honda won twice in Super GT in 2017 but the manufacture was well behind Lexus and kind of equal to Nissan. 

However, I don't think Button would make this decision if he didn't think he would be in a competitive ride. He will drive for Team Mugen and his co-driver is to be confirmed. Last year, the team fielded Hideki Mutoh and Daisuke Nakajima as it returned to Super GT competition after the manufacture withdrew from the GT300 class after the 2014 season. It will be a challenge but I think Button will be motivated and get results. 

10. DTM: A non-German driver wins a race in that driver's home country
The DTM season is a mix of a lame duck season, as Mercedes-Benz will be exiting after 2018 and that will leave the series' future in flux but it is a fun calendar. The series drops Moscow Raceway, somehow will be at Lausitz despite the track being sold and it has been known the racetrack will be discontinued, and the series will return to Brands Hatch, only this time on the grand prix circuit and the series makes its debut at Misano. 

British drivers do well at Brands Hatch and Jamie Green and Gary Paffett will likely be there. Paul di Resta we aren't sure about but if he doesn't get the Williams F1 ride he will be there. The only Italian on the grid in 2017 was Edoardo Mortara and while he had a tough first season with Mercedes-Benz no one would be surprised if he turned it around in 2018 and contend for victories and why couldn't that come at Misano?

Then there is Lucas Auer, the Austrian who won three races and was the top Mercedes-Benz driver in the championship in 2017 by finishing fifth. The series will be at Red Bull Ring and I am sure Auer would cherish a victory at home and he won't be the only Austrian, as Philipp Eng will drive for BMW. The DTM doesn't have a Hungarian driver or a Dutch driver lined up but if DTM get a driver from either country that driver would have a home race at the Hungaroring or Zandvoort.

11. World Touring Car Cup: WTCC race winners in 2017 win more races than 2017 TCR International Series race winners in 2018
I am not entirely sure what this prediction says. I am not entirely sure what is going on with the World Touring Car Championship and the TCR International Series. They are merging but it is no longer a world championship but a world cup and I ask what the fuck is the difference? We aren't sure who will be driving what or what percentage of the grid will be WTCC teams or TCR teams.

Here are the WTCC race winners in 2017: Esteban Guerrieri, Tiago Monteiro, Tom Chilton, Thed Björk, Mehdi Bennani, Nick Catsburg, Norbert Michaeliz, Yann Ehrlacher, Néstor Girolami and Rob Huff.

2017 TCR International Series race winner: Davit Kajaia, Pepe Oriola, Roberto Colciago, Dušan Borković, Stefano Comini, Jean-Karl Vernay, Attila Tassi, Gianni Morbidelli, Norbert Michaeliz, Aurélien Panis and Rob Huff. 

So Michaeliz and Huff count for both. Besides those two there were eight other WTCC winners and nine other TCR International Series winners. I think the WTCC winners are vastly more talented than the TCR grid. It will be interesting to see what happens in terms of which manufactures commit and which don't and that could decide how this prediction turns out. 

12. WRC: The champion will not be named Sébastien
Sébastiens have won 14 consecutive World Rally Championships. There is a generation of kids who know nothing other than Sébastiens winning the World Rally title. They probably think that is all it takes. We have to be running out of Sébastien champions soon. Sébastien Ogier has won five consecutive championships and last year was his worst year of the five as he won two rallies, his fewest victories since 2012. He returns to M-Sport but Ott Tänak moves from M-Sport Ford to Toyota and joins Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi. Thierry Neuville won four rallies for Hyundai in 2017. Someone different is going to breakthrough especially if Ogier can only manage two victories once again.

We have got two more predictions, two more posts for 2017. We once again will focus on multiple series as we have the sports car predictions. Don't forget to check out the NASCAR predictions and Formula One predictions. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2018 Formula One Predictions

Christmas is behind us and we are in the final week of 2017. Soon 2018 will be here and one-by-one each series will commence another new season. Let's run through another set of predictions and this time we will look over Formula One. Lewis Hamilton is coming off his fourth World Drivers' Championship. Mercedes has won four consecutive World Constructors' Championships. Ferrari's challenge ended in Singapore. Renaults dropped like flies and McLaren separated from Honda. Mercedes could become the second manufacture to win five consecutive World Constructors' Championships in 2018. Here are 12 things I think will happen next year.

1. The record for youngest pole-sitter is broken
I think Max Verstappen will win a pole position and he will not be 21 years old until September 30th. The record is currently held by Sebastian Vettel at 21 years and 72 days when he won pole position for the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, the race he would ended winning for his first career grand prix victory. Verstappen will be 21 years and 55 days old when the qualifying session for the 2018 season finale at Abu Dhabi takes place. If he doesn't do it this year than he will never be the youngest pole-sitter. We also have Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc who will have all season to break the record while Pierre Gasly will have a few opportunities to do it during the early part of 2018. Verstappen isn't the only one who could break it but he is the best hope.

2. Fernando Alonso gets a podium before his 301st start
The Spaniard is ten starts away from his 301st start so if everything goes right he will have nine races, by Austria, to stand on the podium. I think the Renault engine will give McLaren a shot and that is all Alonso needs. The man is hungry to win races and if he can get the McLaren-Honda to sixth on the grid for last year's Spanish Grand Prix then what can he do with a Renault engine that he doesn't have to worry about? The man will be kicking asses and taking names in 2018.

3. Ferrari does not win the French Grand Prix
No manufacture has won the French Grand Prix more than Ferrari, as the Maranello-based team has won the French Grand Prix 17 times. The next closest manufacture is Williams on eight victories. Ferrari has won three consecutive French Grands Prix with three different drivers (Michael Schumacher, Kimi Räikkönen and Felipe Massa). Ferrari won the most recent time Formula One visited Circuit Paul Ricard with Alain Prost in 1990. However, the team has not won the last six French Grands Prix held on the full course at Circuit Paul Ricard. The last time Ferrari won on the full course was Niki Lauda in 1975.

4. Brendon Hartley ends the 2018 season with the fourth-most points for a New Zealand driver
The 2017 World Endurance Driver champions and 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans winner made four starts at the end of the 2017 season with Toro Rosso. He did not score any points but had two retirements due to Renault engine issues. The team takes on Honda engines and the hope is this will be the year the Japanese manufacture gets it right. He became the ninth New Zealander to start a Formula One race. Four New Zealanders have scored points in Formula One. Denny Hulme leads with 248 points with Bruce McLaren second on 188.5 points and Chris Amon third on 83 points. Howden Ganley scored five points in his Formula One career including a fifth-place finish in the famous 1971 Italian Grand Prix where Ganley finished 0.61 seconds behind race winner Peter Gethin. I think the Honda engine will be good enough for Hartley to score six points. All he needs is a seventh place finish in one race.

5. Williams has its worst finish in the Constructors' Championship with Mercedes engines
The British manufacture has seen a minor boost since it started using Mercedes engines in the 2014 season. Williams finished third in the Constructors' Championship in 2014 and 2015. The last two years the team has finished fifth and the team has scored fewer points the last four seasons. Williams brought on Paddy Lowe before the 2017 season but the team's most experience driver will likely be Lance Stroll going into 2018. The team's other options are Paul di Resta, who prior to his start at Hungary this season for an injured Felipe Massa hadn't been in a car since 2013; Robert Kubica, who has been out of Formula One since 2010; Daniil Kvyat, who was broken by Red Bull over the last two seasons; and Pascal Wehrlein, who scored five points last year and scored a point with Manor. Quieter options are Jolyon Palmer and Oliver Rowland. 

I think the team's best option is Wehrlein but I think McLaren will take a step forward and so could Renault. Williams could be the surprise team if it finds results but I think it be a rough year with the team searching for answers and a lead driver.

6. Mercedes becomes the fifth manufacture to win 100 pole positions
Mercedes has won 88 pole positions from 168 starts. It has won pole position in 52.38% of the races the team has entered. Last year was the team's worst season in terms of pole positions since the start of the hybrid-era in Formula One in 2014 and the team won 15 pole positions. A dozen pole positions seem like a lot but it can't be ruled out. The top four manufactures in pole positions are Ferrari (213), McLaren (155), Williams (128) and Lotus (107). Lotus better look out.

7. Haas F1 moves to sixth all-time in most race starts without a podium finish
Haas F1 has started 41 races over the team's first two seasons. The team's best finish was Romain Grosjean's spectacular fifth-place finish in the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix. I don't think the team will get closer to the podium in 2018. With another 21 races scheduled for 2018, Haas will have started 62 races at the end of next season. The team is currently ninth all-time in most race starts without a podium finish behind Minardi (340), Osella (132), Ensign (98), ATS (89), Marussia (73), HRT (56), Caterham (56) and Zakspeed (54).

8. Force India reaches 1,000 points before winning a race
Thanks in part to the increase in points being awarded since the 2010 season; Force India has scored the most points all-time for a team yet to win a race. Force India has scored 987 points. The next closest team without a race victory is Toyota, which scored 278.5 points from 2002-2009. Force India may score 13 points in the first race but it is hard to see the team on the top step of the podium before reaching 1,000 points. The team will need some rain and a little more help than that.

9. Every team scores at least ten points
This is a stretch because it has never been done. Granted, there are more points being doled out in modern Formula One with 25 points awarded to the victorious driver and everyone to tenth scoring a point. In 2008, nine teams scored more than ten points. Force India failed to score a point and Super Aguri-Honda closed its doors after Barcelona. In 2009, the final season before the points system change, the top nine teams scored over ten points and Toro Rosso finished tenth with eight points and had the points system change come in 2009, Toro Rosso would have had ten points in the first race of the season. I think the grid will be as strong as 2009, ironically the season prior to the introduction of Lotus Racing, HRT and Virgin Racing. It is a stretch but I think it is possible.

10. Stoffel Vandoorne is the top championship finisher out of the last three GP2/Formula Two champions
The Belgian is hoping to have an uptick in results in his sophomore season. McLaren has shed the Honda engine and if the Renault can be reliable than he may be up at the front contending with his teammate. Charles Leclerc heads to Alfa Romeo Sauber and I think he will be respectable but Vandoorne's year of Formula One experience may be the edge he holds over Leclerc. Then you have Pierre Gasly. Toro Rosso was a disaster in its final races with Renault engines. Now the team has Gasly and Brendan Hartley, two drivers yet to score points. Is the team transitioning at the right time when the Honda engine becomes fast and reliable or will it be another trying year? I think the Honda engine is better but still not great. Give me the Renault engine and Vandoorne. 

11. Both Alfa Romeo Sauber drivers have at least two finishes of ninth or better
The last time Alfa Romeo fielded a factory team was in 1985, the team failed to score points because only the top six finishers were awarded points and the best finish for the team was ninth with Riccardo Patrese at Silverstone and Brands Hatch and with Eddie Cheever at Detroit. With Alfa Romeo coming back into Formula One, I think the team is going to improve over the last few seasons. Sauber has had two finishes of ninth or better the last two seasons. Charles Leclerc has been a gem and the Monegasque driver is going to go far. Marcus Ericsson has had two rough seasons and he has not scored points since he finished ninth in the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. I think both drivers will have good seasons.

12. Antonio Giovinazzi makes more starts in sports cars than in Formula One
If Leclerc and Ericsson are both respectable than Giovinazzi will be the odd man out. Unfortunately, his Formula One career may be remembered more for one rough weekend at Shanghai. The good news is he may have a hell of a career in another discipline and become one of those drivers we wished we saw more in Formula One.

Formula One down, NASCAR predictions were completed last week and we will be back tomorrow with another set of predictions looking at a dozen different series.

Friday, December 22, 2017

2017 Motorsports Christmas List

Another Christmas is upon us and even the multi-millionaires in the world of motorsports have things they need each Christmas. Once again, I am here to hand up what many are asking for and what some need but aren't thinking about.

To IndyCar: A television deal that pumps more money into the series and allows the series to have an audience that is attractive to potential sponsors.

Also to IndyCar: 500-mile races at Fontana and Michigan. These are gems. Fans love them and non-fans will turn them on for the thrill but the series has to do more of them.

To Josef Newgarden: The respect of Formula One team principals. Also, a NASCAR ride for at least one of the road course races in either of the top two series.

To Will Power and Simon Pagenaud: A Bathurst 1000 entry to share and if they are really good it could also be used for the Gold Coast 600.

To Scott Dixon: All four wheels staying on the ground in 2018.

To Graham Rahal: A personal jet because he travels a lot.

To Conor Daly and Carlos Muñoz: Full-time IndyCar rides and respect because both should be full-time drivers and shouldn't be on the outside.

To Takuma Sato: A bottle to keep some of consistency from the 2017 season for later.

To the entire Andretti Autosport organization: A solid season from start to finish.

To Juan Pablo Montoya: An Indianapolis 500 entry.

To Hélio Castroneves: A handful of IndyCar races that aren't the Indianapolis 500.

To Zach Veach: A personal gym and a year supply of spinach.

To Robert Wickens: An extra three days of testing at any track he wants with as many tires as he needs.

To Ed Carpenter: A road course driver that can match or slightly exceed his results on ovals.

To Michael Shank Racing: Somebody stepping up and funding a full-time IndyCar effort six years later than it should have happened.

To Juncos Racing: The same as Michael Shank Racing, full-time IndyCar funding.

To Phoenix International Raceway: A competitive IndyCar race that wakes up the fan base after two dull years.

To Iowa Speedway: The crowds it used to know.

To Pocono Raceway: It's IndyCar race ending up on national television because it deserves that kind of attention.

To Firestone: A reliable tire for Texas that doesn't force the series to use competition cautions every 30 laps.

To Formula One fans: Less downforce.

To American Formula One fans: The hope that one day the U.S. television coverage will once match the NBC-era of Formula One coverage.

To Lewis Hamilton: Run-flat tires.

To Sebastian Vettel: A stress ball.

To Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen: Reliability.

To Felipe Massa: The peace of having no one ask him if he is ever going to return to Formula One ever again.

To Pierre Gasly: Being in the right place at the right time.

To Brendon Hartley: A seat waiting for him in IndyCar if this Formula One thing doesn't work out.

To Jolyon Palmer: A successful second act in another series whether it is IndyCar or sports cars, who cares?

To Williams: A competent veterans driver even if he or she hasn't been in Formula One ever or for a while. Sébastien Buemi, Sam Bird, André Lotterer, heck even Jolyon Palmer will do.

To Haas F1: A shoulder to cry on because it won't be fun dropping to the third best Ferrari-powered team out of three in the team's third season.

To Force India: Someone who will enforce team owners, choose a lead driver and prevent two drivers from running into one another.

To Circuit Paul Ricard: Some grass to line the racetrack because it has way too much runoff and it will let someone try something idiotic.

To Interlagos: A shitload of police officers. Armored cars and all.

To the NASCAR Modified Series: More national coverage.

To NASCAR fans: A minimum ride height to get those cars off the racetrack.

To Martin Truex, Jr.: Pork roll. Lots and lots of pork roll.

To Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: The gift of never having to do a press conference ever again.

To Kyle Larson: A shred of hope that Chip Ganassi will actually give him a shot in the Indianapolis 500.

To Matt Kenseth: Peace and quiet.

To Denny Hamlin: A book to keep track of all the races he has ever been in.

To Brad Keselowski: A pacifier.

To fans who wanted a road course in the Chase: An actual road course in the Chase. Road America, Virginia International Raceway, Road Atlanta, Circuit of the Americas, pick one. Hell, go to Sebring if necessary.

To Indianapolis Motor Speedway: At least two top IndyCar drivers, including the Indianapolis 500 winner entered for the Brickyard 400.

To the FIA World Endurance Championship and the ACO: The stone to admit the Daytona Prototype International class is genius and to invite to Le Mans and at least consider it becoming the replacement for LMP1.

To the entire FIA World Endurance Championship grid: Hobbies because they are going to need them for the downtime during the 2018-19 super season.

To Fernando Alonso: The most reliable Toyota TS050 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

To Sebring International Raceway: Realizing starting a 1,500-mile race after a 12-hour race at midnight on a Sunday morning is absurdly stupid and considers starting it at a more reasonable hour and making it a six-hour race.

To Wayne Taylor: The comfort of knowing there will always be a car between Jordan and Ricky to prevent any contact between the two taking a win from the other and save the family of awkward holiday moments for years to come.

To Robin Frijns and Felix Rosenqvist: People realizing they are better than the Formula One co-driver in their 24 Hours of Daytona entry.

To Portugal: The ability to watching IMSA on television because the country's top drivers are in that series.

To Dane Cameron and Ricky Taylor: A taste of that fourth IndyCar seat at Team Penske.

To Pato O'Ward: A full-time Indy Lights ride and the attention of Mexican companies with money to spend.

To Pro Mazda: A healthy grid size with the new chassis.

To the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters: A replacement manufacture for Mercedes-Benz and a set of rules that makes the series more interesting.

To the California 8 Hours: More entries and high-profile entries.

To Marc Márquez: The ability to know when enough is enough.

To Valentino Rossi: A ten-day vacation in Southeast Asian between the Thailand and Japan rounds next season.

To Jorge Lorenzo: Contact lenses... so he can read the pit board.

To Andrea Dovizioso: A teammate who can read the pit board.

To P.J. Jacobsen, Jake Gagne and Leon Camier: A competitive Honda in World Superbike.

As always, to MotoGP: A race at Barber Motorsports Park. It is going to be on this list until it happens.

And finally, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Despite the lack of motorsports, this is a wonderful time of the year and I hope everyone has a joyous time with family, friends and loved one. Next week we end 2017 by looking ahead to 2018.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2018 NASCAR Predictions

We are less than a week away from Christmas and we are in the final two weeks of 2017 and 2018 will be here before we know it. With most major series settled in the comfort of the offseason it is time to look forward. The trophies from the year are starting to collect that first layer of dust and the skid marks from celebratory burnouts are starting to fade away. We start with NASCAR, which ended a month ago and soon will be here again.

1. Martin Truex, Jr., finishes outside the top ten in at least two races at 1.5-mile tracks
The New Jerseyan and Cup champion had a historic season on 1.5-mile racetracks. Truex, Jr., won seven of 11 races on 1.5-mile racetracks. His worst finish on 1.5-mile racetracks was eighth on two occasions in 2017. As much as people loathe the cookie-cutter ovals and the number of races they host, if you run well in those races you will likely be a title contender. Truex, Jr., was the pied piper in 2017 but for all the fortune he had he is bound to have a race go against him. Whether he has an engine failure or gets an untimely pit lane speeding penalty, he will have at least two races where he isn't there. He is still going to do well at 1.5-mile ovals. He will win a few times but the luck will eventually run out.

2. Aric Almirola sets a career-high in top ten finishes in a season
The Floridian driver moves to Stewart-Haas Racing after six seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports. Last year was a difficult year for Almirola after a back injury forced him to the sidelines for seven races. Despite the absence, Almirola had a respectable season. He finished 29th in the championship and was nine points behind Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick in the championship. Almirola had three top five finishes and six top ten finishes compared to Patrick's one top ten finish. All three of his top five finishes came at the restrictor plate races, which Ford dominated in 2017.

Brad Keselowski might think Ford will be in trouble next season. That might be true but he is better at exaggerating than driving a race car. If Almirola can get six top ten finishes with Richard Petty Motorsports then I think he can get at least eight with Stewart-Haas Racing. He had seven top ten finishes in 2014. I think Almirola beats that in what is his one shot at a breakthrough.

3. Hendrick Motorsports wins more than three races
Hendrick Motorsports was lost last year. Jimmie Johnson won three races before the start of the summer and then the team didn't win again in 2017. Johnson and Elliott both made the semifinal round of the Chase but neither made the final four. Elliott had five runner-up finishes in 2017. The man couldn't get a break. Chevrolet is introducing a new body style for 2018, which hopefully allows the manufacture to be closer to Toyota. It was a rough end to the season as Chevrolet's final victory of 2017 came at Richmond in September.

Johnson is good for at least three victories on his own and Elliott can't have another season with five runner-up finishes. One of these races will eventually fall into his lap. Besides those two, Alex Bowman enters on a wave of confidence and William Byron is coming off a championship in NASCAR's second division. Three is setting the bar low but it is a start.

4. Ford does not win more than two restrictor plate races
The manufacture swept the four restrictor plate races in 2017 with Kurt Busch winning the Daytona 500, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., taking the spring Talladega race and the July Daytona race and Keselowski winning the autumn Talladega race. That isn't happening again in 2018. Restrictor plates are the crappiest of crapshoots and eventually Ford will be crapped on. Busch used fuel mileage to his advantage in the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin were in control for much of the spring Talladega race. The final two restrictor plate races were demolition derbies. Ford came out on top all four times but that won't happen again in 2018.

5. Team Penske does not win the autumn race at Talladega
The team has won four consecutive autumn races at Talladega. It is a numbers game that will eventually go against The Captain. If last year's race is any proof of how unforgiving restrictor plate races are you could be the best car on track and still be taken out. Five consecutive isn't happening. This roll of the dice is going to go against Penske even if the team has three rolls in 2018.

6. Darrell Wallace, Jr., is the top rookie finisher in at least 12 races
Richard Petty Motorsports was on the verge of being a dumpster fire in 2017. First the sponsor left, then Petty butted heads with the company, now it appears the company is back. I don't know. The team needs someone else running the business side of the team. Either way, the team has Darrell Wallace, Jr. He is an underrated talent in my eyes. When his ride with Roush Racing disappeared after Pocono last June he was fourth in the championship. He made one more start in a one-off at Chicagoland in September. Despite not starting 20 races, he still finished 20th in the Grand National Series championship.

The team might be making the switch to Chevrolet at the right time and Wallace, Jr., is in a shallow rookie class. It is Byron and Ray Black, Jr. Byron is a top driver and maybe he would have been the Grand National Series champion even if Wallace, Jr., ran the full schedule but I think age and the handful of Cup starts could play in Wallace, Jr.'s favor. It is still Petty vs. Hendrick so Wallace, Jr., has a disadvantage but he will have his days while Byron will have his eye-opening days in a Cup car.

7. A change is made to the Charlotte roval event before the race occurs
This race is bound to be a disaster. The layout might be too slow and too tight. The race is scheduled to be 500 km, over 300 miles and for comparison the Sonoma race is 219 miles and Watkins Glen is 220.5 miles. Sonoma took two hours and 46 minutes in 2017 and Watkins Glen took two hours and seven minutes, the fastest Cup race at the historic New York track. Even if the Charlotte race is as clean as Watkins Glen was in 2017 it will take about three and a half hours and there will likely be a red flag or two. Something will be done to make sure this race doesn't take five hours to complete. Or they will add a chicane on the back straightaway to create a passing zone.

8. At least five drives make the Grand National Series Chase by victory
I am really excited for the Grand National Series next year. The field looks competitive with JR Motorsports retaining Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett with Tyler Reddick joining the team, who won at Kentucky driving for Ganassi last year in a part-time season. Daniel Hemric made the final four without winning a race and Matt Tifft joins him at Richard Childress Racing. Cole Custer improved throughout the season and he bossed the season finale at Homestead. Ryan Reed can only win the February Daytona race. Christopher Bell moves up from winning the Truck championship with Joe Gibbs Racing and last year we had Jeremy Clements take a surprising victory at Road America.

I listed ten drivers that wouldn't surprise anybody if they won one of the first 26 races and I didn't even include Blake Koch, Kaz Grala, who is moving up from the Truck series and J.J. Yeley. Last year, only four drivers qualified for the Chase based on victories and the rules to limit Cup drivers moonlighting get tighter in 2018. This could be a fun season in NASCAR's second division.

9. Brendan Gaughan competes in at least three of four August Grand National Series races
It appears the Las Vegas-born driver will not be full-time in 2018 but I doubt he is going away. The 42-year-old has professed his love for the month of August with road course races at Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio and Road America with Bristol in the middle of that stretch. I think he puts together a part-time schedule and figures out a way to do most if not all those races.

10. The Eldora truck race has a sixth different winner in as many years
Through five truck races at Eldora there have been five different winners. Austin Dillon won the inaugural race and Darrell Wallace, Jr., won the following year. Christopher Bell won the next year in his third career start. Kyle Larson won in 2016 and Matt Crafton won last year. The only likely returnee is Crafton. Perhaps Bell or Dillon would return but it seems Wallace, Jr., will focus on Cup and who knows what Chip Ganassi will allow Larson to do.

You have a handful of full-timers such as Johnny Sauter, Ben Rhodes, John Hunter Nemecheck, Ryan Truex, Justin Haley, Stewart Friesen and Noah Gragson who could win and possible one-offs such as Bobby Pierce, Tyler Dillon, Ryan Newman and maybe Kyle Busch goes out and tries out.

11. Ryan Truex wins a truck race
Speaking of Truex, I think the younger Truex wins a Truck race next year. He was strong with Hattori Racing Enterprises in 2017 and missed out on the Chase by a whisker. He isn't confirmed to return but 2017 was promising. I think he rides a wave of momentum off his brother's championship and he gets some of that mojo to his advantage.

12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., runs one track he has never raced at before
He might be done with the Cup series but Dale Earnhardt, Jr., seems open to running some Grand National Series races. I think he will go to some tracks he has never been before. He will likely still want to do Bristol and Richmond and he said he wants to run Homestead but after all these years running the Cup series he hasn't been to the likes of Iowa. Maybe he goes to Mid-Ohio or Road America for fun. It depends on how many races he wants to do and how many he is comfortable doing. He retired from full-time competition because of his health. I can't see him doing anymore than three races. The limit may keep him from trying a few new places.

One set of predictions down and four more to come. Stay tuned, as the rest will come after Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2017

2017 For The Love of Indy Awards

Another year is close to over and it is time to reflect and honor all that happened in 2017. It was another sensational year and it was a year with stories taking over the globe. Drivers left their comfort zones and took on monumental tasks that were once common quest of drivers from the 1960s. We had first time champions and modern legends add to their lore. We had smiles and we had tears. Let's get started.

Racer of the Year
Description: Given to the best racer over the course of 2017.
And the Nominees are:
Brendon Hartley
Jonathan Rea
Jordan Taylor
Lewis Hamilton
Martin Truex, Jr.
Sébastien Buemi

And the winner is... Brendon Hartley
The man started the year by winning the Dubai 24 Hour with Herberth Motorsport. Hartley would then go on to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid and that team would go on to win the three races after Le Mans as well. Then he won Petit Le Mans in the #2 Extreme Speed Motorsport Nissan with Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp. Then he was linked and likely had signed a deal to become Chip Ganassi Racing's second driver for the 2018 IndyCar season until Scuderia Toro Rosso came knocking and put him in its car for the prematurely departing Carlos Sainz, Jr. In-between Formula One starts, Hartley clinched the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with Bernhard and Bamber.

Anyone else come closing to matching Hartley for most diverse 2017? The man drove everything and was linked to everything but a NASCAR Cup ride. He won endurance races in three entirely different machines. He got to drive a Formula One car and he was competitive considering the lack of seat time. If Hartley didn't have so many grid penalties and gotten a morsel of reliable from Renault he could have scored at least a point.

Hartley took the long road to Formula One and collected some precious silverware along the way. What can he do now that he has hit the big time?

On the other nominees:
Jonathan Rea is the competitor we are talking the least about and we should be talking about him more. The man has dominated the World Superbike Championship for three consecutive seasons and he might have had his best season yet in 2017. He won 16 races, the second-most all-time in a single-season; he stood on the podium 24 times, a single-season record; he set 14 fastest laps; matching a single-season record. He is tied for second all-time in World Superbike titles and he is second all-time in World Superbike victories. He will likely be the most successful rider in WSBK history after 2018.

Jordan Taylor won the IMSA Prototype championship, the Pirelli World Challenge SprintX GT championship, the 24 Hours of Daytona overall, the 12 Hours of Sebring overall and he finished third in GTE-Pro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and if it wasn't for a flat tire on the final lap he would have won that bloody race too.

Lewis Hamilton proved to once again be one of the best drivers alive. In a year where Mercedes was equally matched, if not bested by Ferrari, Hamilton found a way to win his fourth World Drivers' Championship. He won nine races, picked up 11 pole positions, sits on 62 career victories and 72 career pole positions, second all-time and first all-time in each respective category.

Martin Truex, Jr., had a dominant NASCAR Cup season. He won eight races, seven on 1.5-mile ovals, a record for most victories on that discipline in one season. He should have locked up the championship with two races to go but despite the format, he still went on to win the finale and take his first Cup championship.

The only non-champion nominated is Sébastien Buemi and it is because the Swiss driver did everything to win a title. He won five FIA World Endurance Championship races in the #8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid with Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima, more than Hartley and the #2 Porsche. Besides his success in the FIA WEC, Buemi won four Formula E races in the calendar year but finished second in each championship.

Past Winners
2012: Kyle Larson
2013: Marc Márquez
2014: Marc Márquez
2015: Nick Tandy
2016: Shane van Gisbergen

Race of the Year
Description: Best Race of 2017.
And the Nominees are:
ABC Supply 500 from Pocono Raceway
Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
All three races at the World Superbike/World Supersport weekend at Phillip Island
Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway
Supercross 450cc Main Event from Phoenix

And the winner is... All races at the World Superbike/World Supersport weekend at Phillip Island
It was late-February and you could not ask for three better races to occur in two days that is why they are being grouped together. Marco Melandri led the first lap of the WSBK season and the first race played out to be a Kawasaki vs. Ducati battle. Jonathan Rea took the lead before Melandri retook the point a few laps later. Tom Sykes led a lap and Yamaha's Alex Lowes even got in the fight. Melandri fell off his bike and the battle continued. Rea led before Sykes jumped to the top. It became a Rea vs. Chaz Davies battle for the final three laps. Davies was on the Northern Irishman's back wheel exiting the final corner but he could not get alongside Rea and finished 0.042 seconds back.

World Supersport took the stage early on Sunday and a red flag forced a shortened race. Jules Cluzel led most of the race but any one of seven bikes could have won the race as the top seven were covered by 0.860 seconds at the start of the final lap. Roberto Rolfo made move to the outside entering the second corner to go from third to first. Cluzel's charge to the front ended with an accident with Federico Caricasulo and that left Rolfo one-on-one with Lucas Mahias. The two were side-by-side coming to the line and right when it appeared Mahias had him, Rolfo came back and the result was too close to call at the line with timing and scoring jumping between the two riders on who was the winner. The result was investigate and Rolfo was ruled the winner by 0.001 seconds.

If that wasn't close enough for you, World Superbike returned to the track to see if it could match the show it put on in the first race of the season. It took six laps for Rea to get to the lead and Davies took the lead on lap eight. Davies led for a good portion of the race before Melandri got to the front and led four laps. Rea led with two laps to go and Davies retook the lead at the start of the final lap but Rea took the lead back in the first corner. Davies sat behind Rea and had a great run in the middle of the final corner but Rea was better on exit. Davies looked to the outside and then swung back to the inside but fell 0.025 seconds short. The top two were covered by less than a tenth of a second at the completion of each of the final four laps.

On the other nominees:
IndyCar has put on some of the best 500-mile races in the DW12-era and Pocono proved to be a stellar race with a Pocono record 42 lead change and a famous 12-lap battle where Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal swapped the lead constantly. However, the end saw a Will Power-Josef Newgarden-Alexander Rossi battle with the Australian holding off the American drivers after Power was forced to change front wings and go on a different fuel strategy.

Azerbaijan is the race that shaped the World Drivers' Championship. Sebastian Vettel hit Lewis Hamilton. He was penalized. Hamilton had a headrest come loose and force him to pit. The Force Indias ran into each other when it appeared one of them could steal the race. This allowed Daniel Ricciardo to take the victory with Valtteri Bottas beating Lance Stroll in a drag race to the line for second.

I think we need to do a separate category for four-wheel race of the year and two-wheel race of the year and possibly another category for Phillip Island race of the year because MotoGP had a race there that rivaled the three February race. It felt more like a Moto3 race with the riders at the front constantly rotating. However, Marc Márquez took control of the race with seven laps to go and never looked back.

Say what you want about the NASCAR Chase format but it allowed for an exciting season finale. Martin Truex, Jr., and Kyle Busch ran at ten-tenths for 400 miles and Kyle Larson, with nothing to lose ran them down while Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were good but not good enough. The top three of Truex, Jr., Busch and Larson were all within sight of each other until the final lap.

Eli Tomac dominated the Supercross main event at Phoenix but from second to tenth the battle was tremendous. Chad Reed flexed his muscle and beat Ryan Dungey and Cole Seely for second after those had there own back and forth battle.

Past Winners
2012: Indianapolis 500
2013: British motorcycle Grand Prix
2014: Bathurst 1000
2015: Australian motorcycle Grand Prix
2016: Spanish Grand Prix

Achievement of the Year
Description: Best success by a driver, team, manufacture, etc.
And the Nominees are:
Christopher Bell: For becoming the second driver to win the Chili Bowl and Turkey Night Grand Prix in the same year.
James French and Pato O'Ward: For winning seven of right Prototype Challenge races in ISMA.
Jonathan Rea: For becoming the first rider to win three consecutive World Superbike championships.
Lewis Hamilton: For breaking the record for most Formula One pole positions.
Martin Truex, Jr.: Lowest average finish on 1.5-mile ovals in NASCAR Cup Series History and record seven victories on 1.5-mile ovals.

And the winner is... Jonathan Rea: For becoming the first rider to win three consecutive World Superbike championships.
I kind of said it all above. Rea had a dominant season and he has had a dominant three seasons. He has won 40 of 78 races over his three championship seasons. He has stood on the podium for 70 of those races. He has retired from five races over the last three seasons but his worst finish in three seasons is fourth. If there is one gripe it is that Rea has only won 14 pole positions in those three seasons.

On the other nominees:
Christopher Bell might be underrated. He seemed to be forgotten when teammates with William Byron in the Truck series as Byron was pegged as a future star. Besides winning the Truck Series championship this year, Bell won the two most prestigious midget car races in the United States. The Oklahoman won his home race for the first time in his career and he picked up his second Turkey Night Grand Prix victory. The only other driver to accomplish this feat was Billy Boat in 1997.

I know the final year of the Prototype Challenge class wasn't the most exciting bit of racing ever and most races only featured three cars but going 7-for-8 is something. James French and Pato O'Ward are two drivers to watch out for in sports cars and possibly even open wheel racing. It is a shame they missed out on the perfect season in the final race.

What else can't be said about Lewis Hamilton that has been said already? The man put himself at the top of the list when it comes to pole positions and in the same sentimental way Michael Schumacher did it. Schumacher broke Ayrton Senna's at Imola. Hamilton broke Schumacher's record at Monza. He sits on 72 pole positions, four above Schumacher and 22 ahead of Sebastian Vettel, the closest active driver.

Say what you want about mile-and-a-half racetracks in NASCAR. There may be too many but if you succeed on those you are going to have a great season. Martin Truex, Jr., did just that. His average finish was 2.454, a record. His worst finish all season in 1.5-mile oval races was eighth. Every time NASCAR went to a 1.5-mile racetrack it seems like you could count on Truex, Jr., to lead at least a third of the race.

Past Winners
2012: DeltaWing
2013: Sebastian Vettel for winning nine consecutive races on his way to a fourth consecutive title
2014: Marc Márquez: Setting the record for most wins in a premier class season.
2015: Justin Wilson Memorial Family Auction
2016: Jimmie Johnson for his seventh NASCAR Cup championship

Fernando Alonso Memorial Moment of the Year
Description: The Most Memorable Moment in the World of Racing from Fernando Alonso during the 2017 season.
And the Nominees are:
Fernando Alonso announcing his Indianapolis 500 ride
Fernando Alonso's press conference at Barber Motorsports Park
Fernando Alonso killing two birds at once during this first test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Fernando Alonso stealing the moment before Formula One's summer break at Hungary
Fernando Alonso at Monza wanting to know where Jolyon Palmer was after an incident between the two

And the winner is... Fernando Alonso announcing his Indianapolis 500 ride
This event turned the world on its ear for all of 2017. Forget the race. We will be asking ourselves where were we on April 12, 2017, when the Spaniard made the stunning decision to head to Indianapolis instead of Monaco for the final weekend in May.

A lot of people have been throwing his name around as the best racer or driver of the year because of what he did at Indianapolis and what he did with a horrendous car in Formula One but let's be realistic. You need results to be either of those two things but Alonso does deserve recognition for doing what many would never fathom trying in stepping away from Formula One for one race to race another discipline. If he doesn't do this we would have had less excitement in 2017 and two of the four other nominees wouldn't exist.

The man stole the spotlight in 2017 and he didn't even win a race but he made us realize how great motorsports can be when a driver branches out.

On the other nominees:
The press conference was the United States' first taste of the Spaniard after his announcement and he came off relaxed despite being in such a structured situation. He even left us with a few zingers, such as when asked about what the reaction from the other Formula One drivers had been, his response "we don't talk much."

There is something about watching a race car shred wild life to bits. I love animals but let's face it. Humans are on top and Fernando Alonso put two points on the scoreboard for mankind. Humans 2, Animals 0.

The man is a good sport. In honor of his famous sunbathing session in a beach chair after his car broke down during practice at Interlagos, a mural was made featuring the Spaniard reclined at a beach to signify the start of the Formula One summer break. To go along with the artwork, Alonso came out and reclined in a beach chair while Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas celebrated on the podium. He stole the show once again and not only did he steal the show from the drivers on the podium but from himself as well. Alonso finished sixth in the race and it was his best finish of the season. How many didn't realize that?

Monza saw Alonso lose a position to Palmer after the Renault driver cut the second chicane. The British driver did not give the position back but Palmer was handed a five-second penalty. This irked the Spaniard. However, Palmer was forced to retired. Alonso then asked where he was and told that the Brit had dropped out of the race. His response was another gem: "Karma."

Past Winners
2012: Alex Zanardi
2013: 24 Hours of Le Mans
2014: Post-race at the Charlotte and Texas Chase races.
2015: Matt Kenseth vs. Joey Logano
2016: Toyota Slows at Le Mans

Pass of the Year
Description: Best pass of 2017.
And the Nominees are:
Roberto Rolfe: From third to first on the final lap in World Supersport at Phillip Island.
Jamie McMurray: From fifth to second at Talladega.
Hélio Castroneves: From third to first at Toronto.
Renger van der Zande: From second to first on Dane Cameron at Laguna Seca.
Chalrles Leclerc: From second to first on Alexander Albon at Yas Marina.

And the winner is... Renger van der Zande: From second to first on Dane Cameron at Laguna Seca
When you have Alex Zanardi's approval of a pass in the corkscrew you know it was a damn good pass.

The Dutchman threw it up in the inside of the American's Cadillac in the closing laps and the two went side-by-side into the corkscrew with van der Zande coming out ahead. It was a no mercy, hold your breath move and it paid off. Van der Zande then ran away with it and won comfortably over Cameron.

On the other nominees:
Rolfe had never won a World Supersport race and on the final lap he made his move to the outside of Yamaha riders Lucas Mahias and Federico Caricacsulo entering turn two. It was a gutsy move and despite the move coming so early the Italian held on for the victory.

The restrictor plate races are a crapshoot and most of the time it is out of a driver's control but on the final lap in the May Talladega race, McMurray made an audacious move to go from the bottom pass Kasey Kahne and split Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson to get to second. He was on Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.'s rear but didn't have enough momentum. It was still a hell of a move to get to second.

The first corner at most IndyCar street races are hair-raising and any daring move up the inside could leave at least one but possibly two guys pissed off. Hélio Castroneves went from side-by-side with Graham Rahal to the inside of Simon Pagenaud and into the lead by turn two with no contact to boot. It was flawless.

Abu Dhabi may have two passing zones but Charles Leclerc used all the straightaway into turn eight to pass Alexander Albon in what was a side-by-side battle that seemed to last an eternity. The Monegasque driver has been proving he is something special all season and in the Formula Two finale he may have put the cherry on top of the sundae.

Past Winners
2012: Simon Pagenaud at Baltimore
2013: Robert Wickens at Nürburgring and Peter Dempsey in the Freedom 100
2014: Ryan Blaney on Germán Quiroga
2015: Laurens Vanthoor from 4th to 2nd on the outside in the Bathurst 12 Hour
2016: Scott McLaughlin on Mark Winterbottom at Surfers Paradise

The Eric Idle Award
Description: "When You're Chewing on Life's Gristle, Don't Grumble, Give a Whistle, And This'll Help Things Turn Out For The Best, and...  Always Look On The Bright Side of Life."
And the Nominees are:
Pierre Gasly: For having his Super Formula title hopes ended by a typhoon and missing a Formula One race as well.
Jolyon Palmer: For a rough time at Renault.
Kyle Larson: For his engine failure at Kansas and four bad races dropping him to eighth in the championship when he was really the third-best driver all season.
Chase Elliott: For five runner-up finishes and still looking for his first career Cup victory.
Nick Heidfeld: For going 18 years and counting since his most recent single-seater victory.

And the winner is... Nick Heidfeld
This is a lifetime achievement award... or more a lifetime of under achievement award. Let's get this straight. I like Nick Heidfeld and I want him to win a race in single-seaters before he calls it quits but it is astonishing how close he has been. This isn't a guy who has just hung around and never been close. He is the all-time leader for most podium finishes without a victory in both Formula One and Formula E! And if he wants to beat the piss out of Nicolas Prost no one would blame him.

His last single-seater victory was at what is now the Red Bull Ring in International Formula 3000 on July 24, 1999. He went on to win the championship that season. He has made 221 single-seater starts since his most recent single-seater victory. He did win the 2013 Petit Le Mans but that is his only victory in anything since that Austrian victory in the 20th century. Although, he technically won the two-car LMP1-L class at Le Mans in 2014 but come on man! It was a two-car class; it wasn't even a class. It was a subclass. I am getting off topic.

His next shot at victory in a single-seater will be in Formula E at Marrakech on January 13, 2018. It will have been 6,748 days since he won at Spielberg or 18 years, five months and 20 days. Soon he will be racing against drivers who were not even alive the last time he won in a single-seater.

On the other nominees:
Pierre Gasly was between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether to go for the Super Formula championship, which he trailed by a half point entering the final round, a doubleheader at Suzuka, or run the United States Grand Prix for Scuderia Toro Rosso. He chose (or Honda chose) the former and he was starting eighth, four positions behind title rival Hiroaki Ishiura in race one but he was going to start sixth, three positions ahead of Ishiura, in race two. We will never know if he could have won the championship on the track.

Say what you want about Jolyon Palmer but you don't win the GP2 championship on accident and Palmer had his share of bad luck in mechanical failures. Not to forget mentioning he had three 11th-place finishes in the first half of the season. He picked up a sixth-place finish at Singapore in a good showing in the wet. However, when Renault picked up Carlos Sainz, Jr., Palmer was soon out the door.

Had Larson's engine not gone sour at Kansas, he could have won the NASCAR Cup championship. He entered Kansas third in points and his race was over in the first stage. Even worse was the result was followed by three more retirements and because of the championship system he dropped to eighth in the final championship results despite scoring the fourth-most points all season.

Chase Elliott couldn't buy a victory and he is in a must-win situation. Besides his five runner-up finishes, he had near victories in the Daytona 500, the spring Phoenix race, the autumn Talladega race and the autumn Martinsville race. Now people are questioning his ability. He just turned 22 years old. He is fine but many worry that this son of a champion stud will end up like another son of a champion that just departed.

Past Winners
2012: Ben Spies
2013: Sam Hornish, Jr.
2014: Alexander Rossi
2015: McLaren
2016: Toyota

Comeback of the Year
Description: The Best Comeback in the 2017 season.
And the Nominees are:
Sébastien Bourdais: Returning to IndyCar after missing nine races due to injuries suffered in Indianapolis 500 qualifying.
Max Verstappen: From 16th to fourth at Austin.
Robert Kubica: Testing a Formula One car at Hungary
Johann Zarco: Running out of fuel and pushing bike to 15th place finish at Misano
Kelvin van der Linde: From third to first after a botched pit stop in the final 20 minutes of the 24 Hours Nürburgring

And the winner is... Kelvin van der Linde: From third to first after a botched pit stop in the final 20 minutes in the 24 Hours Nürburgring
It appeared all was lost for Land-Motorsport. The team didn't get the fuel cap closed on the final stop and they struggled to get the situation fixed. The race was over... but then it started raining and the team had the chance to put rain tires on. The team did and van der Linde went on a drive for the ages, picking off slower traffic stuck on slick tires in the wet and even using the grass when he needed to. He ran down the #98 ROWE Racing and the #9 WRT Audi and took the victory in an astonishing fashion.

On the other nominees:
There should almost be two lists because it is hard to compare what Sébastien Bourdais did to what van der Linde did. Bourdais was ruled out in the hours after his accident. His recovery was remarkable and he made it back probably two races earlier than expected and he returned at Gateway and finished tenth. He followed that up with a ninth place finish at Sonoma.

Verstappen had to start 16th after a grid penalty. The Dutchman went on a drive, picking through the field. He made a daring pass on Valtteri Bottas to get to fourth and he chased down for Kimi Räikkönen for third. He cut the course to get third and ultimately were handed a five-second penalty demote him to fourth but it was still an impressive drive.

Robert Kubica had been out of a Formula One car for almost seven years prior to his test with Williams at Hungary. He has been in the conversation for the Williams seat in 2018 but he likely will not get it. The fact he got back into a Formula One after all these years and did respectably well is an accomplishment in of itself.

It technically wasn't a comeback but Johann Zarco could have quit. He could have laid the bike down and conceded a point on the final lap but he rounded the final corner at Misano and give it his all pushing the bike. It was enough for 15th and one championship point. Zarco ended up finished ahead of Jorge Lorenzo in the championship by 37 points so he didn't need it but it was a great showing of not giving up despite a bad break.

Past Winners
2013: Michael Shank Racing at the 24 Hours of Daytona
2014: Juan Pablo Montoya to IndyCar
2015: Kyle Busch
2016: Max Verstappen from 15th to 3rd in the final 18 laps in the wet in the Brazilian Grand Prix

Most Improved
Description: Racer, Team or Manufacture Who Improved The Most from 2016 to 2017.
And the Nominees are:
DJR Team Penske: From three podium finishes and fifth in the Supercars Teams' Championship to 12 victories and first in the Teams' Championship.
Ott Tänak: From eighth on 88 points to third on 191 points with two victories and seventh podium finishes in the World Rally Championship.
Takuma Sato: From 17th to 8th in the IndyCar championship with a victory (in the Indianapolis 500 nonetheless), four top fives and two pole positions.
Dale Coyne Racing: From one podium finishes and six top ten finishes to a victory, three podium finishes and ten top ten finishes.
BMW Team RLL: From fifth in the GT Le Mans Championship and zero victories and three podium finishes to second in the GTLM Championship with four victories.

And the winner is... DJR Team Penske 
The joke was Team Penske was on its way to world domination and it nearly got Australia. In partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, this team made great strides with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard. No team won more races in Supercars in 2017 and the McLaughlin and Coulthard finished second and third in the Drivers' Championship. McLaughlin was one move away from being champion. Perhaps 2018 will be the year Penske takes over Australia and start its way up the Asia-Pacific.

On the other nominees:
Ott Tänak and the M-Sport World Rally Team made a great leap forward with Sébastien Ogier joining the team. The Estonian had a few good opportunities in 2016 but Ford was behind Volkswagen and Hyundai. This year it was best and Tänak gave his teammate a run for his money. He moves to Toyota in 2018 and he could be the favorite for the championship.

Takuma Sato had never finished in the top ten of the championship in his IndyCar career. He hadn't finished in the top ten of any championship since he finished eighth in the 2004 World Drivers' Championship. This was the first year Sato consistently brought the car home and had the speed to compete at the front. It was comforting to see him finally have one good year.

Dale Coyne Racing didn't put up massive numbers but when you consider the lead driver was taken out before the halfway point of the season and a rookie led the team from then on it was a really good year. Not to forget mentioning the team made a massive step forward on ovals. The team was quick at Indianapolis and got a third place finish with Ed Jones. It was the team's first top ten on an oval since Justin Wilson finished seventh at Pocono in 2013. It was the team's first top five finish on an oval since Wilson finished fifth at Indianapolis in 2013.

BMW Team RLL was lost in 2016 and it was a title contender in 2017. Alexander Sims was a stud and Bill Auberlen showed he still got it. Martin Tomczyk and John Edwards had a rough season but even they had their races and won at Laguna Seca. Now BMW brings in the M8 GTE to replace the M6 GTLM. Can it take the next step and beat Corvette?

Past Winners
2012: Esteban Guerrieri
2013: Marco Andretti
2014: Chaz Mostert
2015: Graham Rahal
2016: Simon Pagenaud

And there you have it. Congratulations to all the champions, race winners and all the competitors from around the globe. This is the sixth year of doing this and I plan on continuing for much longer than six more years. Thank you to all the readers and those who enjoy and share this with others. I look forward to more of it 2018. Keep an eye out for 2018 predictions coming in the final days of December.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

2017 End of Year IndyCar Silly Season Wrap Up

We have a little over two weeks left in the calendar year and we are still three months away from the 2018 IndyCar season opener from St. Petersburg. As has been the case for the last few offseasons, most of the IndyCar grid is set before Christmas and that is a good thing. Before we put up a new calendar, let's set where the IndyCar grid is and let's start with IndyCar's newest addition.

Carlin confirmed its long rumored entrance to IndyCar and unsurprisingly the team will field two cars for Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball and use Chevrolet engines. In other good news, Carlin will continue to field two cars in Indy Lights so the team's move to IndyCar isn't robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Besides the two Carlin Chevrolets, we know Team Penske has retained Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power with Hélio Castroneves scaling back to an Indianapolis 500 entry and possibly running other rounds of the championship. A.J. Foyt Racing will field an all-Brazilian line up with Tony Kanaan moving over from Chip Ganassi Racing and Matheus Leist moving up from Indy Lights, where he drove for Carlin. Ed Carpenter Racing will have Spencer Pigot as the team's full-time driver with Ed Carpenter still in #20 Chevrolet with a road/street course driver to be announced later.

Carlin won't be the only new Chevrolet team full-time in 2018. Harding Racing appears to be set for a full-time entry, especially after hiring Brian Barnhart to be team president. Gabby Chaves ran three races for the team last year and picking up two top ten finishes including a ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and a fifth at Texas. Chaves has not been confirmed for the Harding Racing seat but he seems to be the only driver in the discussion.

While Carlin and Harding will be new full-time entries, there is another possible new full-time Chevrolet entry but at worst it will be part-time. Kyle Kaiser will move up with Juncos Racing for at least four races, including the Indianapolis 500. The team has not ruled out a possible full-time program. Juncos Racing has not confirmed it will run Chevrolet entries but the team ran two Chevrolets when it made its IndyCar debut last season in the Indianapolis 500.

With the Carlin and Harding entries, Chevrolet's total of full-time cars will be around ten, two more than in 2017, with an 11th entry for a handful of races, whether it be Kaiser and Juncos or Castroneves in the fourth Penske entry.

On the Honda side of things, Andretti Autosport will field an all-American line up with four drivers. Ryan Hunter-Reay returns, Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti swap numbers and Zach Veach enters after running two races in 2017, including making his Indianapolis 500 debut.

While Andretti Autosport will run four cars, the rest of Honda's line up is made up of four two-car teams. Chip Ganassi Racing downsizes from four cars to two with Scott Dixon's new teammate being Ed Jones. Takuma Sato moves over from Andretti Autosport to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing where he will team with Graham Rahal. Robert Wickens enters the series to form an all-Canadian line up at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with James Hinchcliffe. Sébastien Bourdais will return at Dale Coyne Racing and the second seat at Coyne is the only open full-time Honda remaining.

There will be a part-time Honda entry for a portion of the 2017 season. Jack Harvey will drive the #60 Honda in a partnership between Michael Shank Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Harvey will attempt St. Petersburg, Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500 with at least three more unconfirmed races and a possibility of running as many as eight races in 2018.

Honda's full-time line up appears set at 12 entries, down one from last year but a 13th entry will be around for at least six races and possibly eight.

The IndyCar grid is looking good for full-time and regular competition. We are looking at 22 cars full-time with possibly 24 cars at other events. It is a small step in the right direction.

Since it is the Christmas season, let's look at the Indianapolis 500.

All 25 cars above, the 12 Chevrolets and 13 Hondas, are tentatively set to attempt the Indianapolis 500.

Let's go down the Honda's first. Stefan Wilson has a deal with Andretti Autosport. That's 26.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had a deal to run Tristan Gommendy in partnership with former Larrousse F1 team owner Didier Calmels, however that deal has fallen through. I would still count on SPM running an addition entry. That would be 27.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has fielded an additional car in recent years at the Indianapolis 500 but with a second car full-time an additional entry in May could be harder to pull off. However, I think the team will do it for the right person, say Oriol Servià. That's 28.

Dale Coyne Racing has field a third car the last few years and usually for Pippa Mann. I think the team will run an additional car once again and that would be 29 entries.

Let's move over to the Chevrolet side.

A.J. Foyt Racing always runs a third car, even when the team says it isn't going to run a third car. That's 30.

All signs point to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing returning for Indianapolis as they have as a one-off for the last few years. That would be 31.

Buddy Lazier has made ends meet the last few years and though all has been quiet for the little team that could, normally we don't hear anything from Lazier and company until April at the earliest. I will pencil him in and that would be 32.

Now is where it gets hard.

Team Penske ran five cars in 2017 but it appears unlikely the team will run more than four in 2018. Ed Carpenter Racing didn't run a third car last year. Juncos Racing ran two cars last year. If Juncos runs a second car again and Ed Carpenter Racing dusts off a third car that would be 34 Indianapolis 500 entries with 17 Chevrolet entries and 17 Honda entries, which would be a change from 2017 where Honda entries outnumbered Chevrolet 18-15.

Where could other entries come from? Andretti Autosport did have a hand in six entries last year. I am not sure Carlin or Harding Racing would want to take on an extra car in their first seasons as full-time teams but never say never. Team Penske isn't going to run a fifth and I don't think Chip Ganassi Racing would run a fourth. Maybe Dreyer & Reinbold could field a second car. There is a path to 33 and there could be more than 33 but it will probably take a lot of effort to make that happen.

As for drivers, where do we start? Full-timers from 2017 currently on the outside are Conor Daly, Carlos Muñoz, J.R. Hildebrand; 2017 regular Mikhail Aleshin is also available; Sebastián Saavedra, Esteban Gutiérrez, Zachary Claman DeMelo, RC Enerson and Sage Karam are other potential full-time options. Not only are the drivers listed above possible Indianapolis 500 entries but also they lead a list of potential one-offs that also includes Oriol Servià, James Davison, Tristan Vautier and maybe even Juan Pablo Montoya but that seems less likely due to his Team Penske connection.

Then there is Danica Patrick. She intends on contesting the Indianapolis 500 one final before entering retirement as well as the Daytona 500 in February. Where could she land? Patrick likely has a longer list of demands than most other Indianapolis 500 one-offs. She is going to need a high quality team and one with an established crew, not a piecemeal effort with a pit crew showing up for the first time on Carb Day.

Andretti Autosport has already been ruled out to running Patrick. Team Penske has ruled itself out. Dale Coyne Racing is too small. She would never consider A.J. Foyt Racing. Carlin, Harding and Juncos are too new.

I see four possibilities. The first is Chip Ganassi Racing. This makes the most sense because it would be the easiest option when it comes to running both Daytona and Indianapolis, plus it is an Indianapolis 500 winning team and it would give her a great shot at victory. Ganassi has not ruled himself out but he has suggested it is possible she will not be driving for his team.

Option number two is a returned to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. She joined the team in the Barber Dodge Pro Series and with the team she moved up the ladder to Atlantics and finally IndyCar. Her career would come full circle. However, Bobby Rahal has said he is not part of the plans but would do it if it worked out for the RLLR organization.

The third option is Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. It might be a team she doesn't have much connection to but it is a quality team. While the team has lacked the Indianapolis 500 results, the team has been regularly at the sharp end of the grid in qualifying for the race. The team's lack of results could prevent her from choosing SPM.

The final option is the only Chevrolet option and that is Ed Carpenter Racing. It might be one of the smaller IndyCar teams but it has been one of the top teams at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the start of the DW12-era. While the team hasn't won the race, it could be argued that ECR has been the third-best team at the Speedway in the DW12-era behind Andretti Autosport and Team Penske. Plus, the Chevrolet connection could solve her need for the Daytona 500 as well. I also think Tony George wouldn't pass up this opportunity if push comes to shove and she is having trouble securing a ride.

I think we have covered all the bases. There is a long way to go until St. Petersburg and an even longer way until the 102nd Indianapolis 500. All that is in the way is another Christmas, New Year's Day, Valentine's Day, Spring Equinox and Easter. The full-time IndyCar grid is near completion and the Indianapolis 500 is setting up nicely. There are probably a handful of other drivers off the radar who could sneak in but they will have to wait until 2018 to be noticed.