Monday, January 30, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Cutting Corners

Ricky Taylor spun Filipe Albuquerque and got away with it as the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac picked up the 24 Hours of Daytona victory, giving Max Angelelli his second victory in the event in his final race of his career while Ricky and his brother Jordan and Jeff Gordon all were first-time winners. Dirk Müller made a daring pass on James Calado on won in GTLM as Joey Hand and Sébastien Bourdais rounded out the winning #66 Ford GT. The #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche of Michael Christensen, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare, Michael de Quesada and Carlos de Quesada took the surprise victory in GTD. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of James French, José Gutiérrez, Kyle Masson and Nicholas Bouille were the last team standing in PC. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Cutting Corners
NASCAR is shaking things up again. It is a January tradition for the series. We will save championship talk and race format changes for later in the week (I think you are going to like what is in store) but other changes could be coming to series on the race track perspective. The difference is the series likely won't be returning to a forgotten track or heading to a track for the first time but remaining in the familiar confines of the usual venues.

A.J. Allmendinger tested the infield road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this month and the speculation has been swirling ever since that the course will soon be hosting a Cup race. Speculation ranges from the All-Star Race to the Chase race using the Charlotte rival configuration and it could happen as soon as this year.

This test opened the door to the possibility of not only Charlotte hosting a race on the roval but other tracks with a road course configuration following suit especially if the track hosts more than one Cup race. Tracks with multiple Cup races that also have operating road course configuration include Daytona, Kansas, Texas and Pocono.

The interest in running roval configurations surprises me but along with NASCAR's other batch of changes within the past week the series and tracks are desperate to increase television ratings and attendance and just like the shuffle of the championship format for the sixth time in 13 years the hope is the changes will finally pay off.

However, the one thing NASCAR and track officials are overlooking is a simple change to a road course isn't the answer. Sonoma and Watkins Glen have quickly become favorites on the NASCAR schedule as the races prove to less predictable and monotonous than the other 34 oval races on the schedule but both those courses are natural-terrain road courses built with undulating curves. Rovals lack the flow of natural-terrain road courses and normally narrower than a typical road course. The flat curves are confined within the inter-perimeter of an oval and prevent cars from building much speed making it more difficult to race on the road course itself.

The only roval that has legs is Daytona and I have been for the July NASCAR Grand National Series race to move from the oval to the infield road course and be a revival of the Paul Revere 250 while the Cup race remains a 400-mile oval race on the Saturday night of Independence Day weekend. However, outside of Daytona most rovals will likely provide dull on-track action. Most of the passing will still likely occur on the oval while the infield portion will be more a detour that doesn't little more than bunch the field up but ultimately leave people asking why waste the time of running the infield portion when all the action still occurs on the banking?

Running on rovals is a half-assed way to get more road course races on the NASCAR Cup schedule and a half-assed way to get a road course into the Chase as has been suggested by the Charlotte test but with NASCAR signing five-year deals with each track prior to the 2016 season adding more natural-terrain road courses to the schedule is impractical. Road America and/or Circuit of the Americas aren't going to buyout contracts from Kansas or Chicagoland to get a Cup race.

Before getting ahead of ourselves over what the future of the NASCAR schedule will look like, let's focus on this year and the possibility of Charlotte running a race on the roval. For the better part of a decade Charlotte has run all its races at night and a roval race would either force the track to add lights around the road course portion of the track, an expense that will probably cost at least million dollars, or a race moving from the night to the day time. The latter proposal seems realistic for the All-Star Race but not the Chase race. While the All-Star Race is the reason for the lore of "One Hot Night" and led to the rush to larger race tracks to install lights it wouldn't be the end of the world for it to occupy a Sunday on a cable sports network. The Chase race has a coveted Saturday night spot in autumn and avoids racing head-to-head with football on a Sunday and even if the race was on the roval I don't think that would make up for the loss of viewers on a Sunday afternoon.

The most likely thing that happens is nothing happens. As much as Allmendinger's outing in January could be an experiment that leads to at least another wrinkle in the All-Star Race or on the other end of the spectrum a monumental shift in the Cup series schedule it could also become a factoid that a shrinking fan base passes down to what will be an even smaller fan base decades down the road.

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

Marcus Armstrong, Enaam Ahmed and Thomas Randle split the Toyota Racing Series races at Hampton Downs.

Eli Tomac won his first race of the Supercross season in Glendale.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Bathurst 12 Hour
Supercross returns to California and specifically Oakland.
Toyota Racing Series runs its penultimate round at Bruce McLaren Motorsports Park in Taupo.

Friday, January 27, 2017

1000 Words: Race of Champions

It was only a week ago some of motorsports best gathered in a baseball stadium and drove around a makeshift course to decide who is the best in the world. Well, I guess figuratively decide who is the best in the world. I am not sure if that could ever literally be decided.

I love the Race of Champions but I am cautious to express my excitement for the event. It is an exhibition after all. Most people don't get excited for other all-star competitions. People look at you as if you are a child if you express any emotion above apathy for the Pro Bowl, MLB All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game and NBA All-Star Game. I think NASCAR's All-Star Race is now met with only disgust. Despite this, I still enjoy the event and look forward to it even if most go through life without even knowing it is taking place.

Race of Champions isn't a be-all-end-all referendum on the motorsports world. Most aren't watching it and will believe if drivers from a certain series struggle means that series is inferior to another. If Scott Speed had dominated the competition, it wouldn't have resurrected his career and leave his phone buzzing with phone calls from Formula One teams looking to give his career a second chance. No driver is going to make his career at this event but the level playing field of cars does allow some to shine above what is previously thought of them.

The history of the event is full of underdogs taking the title from the more prominent names. Heikki Kovalainen won the first ROC held in a stadium in 2004. He defeated local hero Sébastien Loeb in the final at Stade de France and on his way to the final the defending World Series by Nissan champion defeated McLaren driver David Coulthard, former Formula One and then-DTM driver Jean Alesi and defending World Drivers' Champion Michael Schumacher.

Mattias Ekström won back-to-back ROCs in 2006-07 where he defeated Loeb and Schumacher in the respective finals and he then defeated Schumacher again in 2009. In 2010, before becoming an Audi-factory driver Filipe Albuquerque was coming off second in the Italian GT Championship and won ROC after defeating Sebastian Vettel, fresh off his first World Drivers' Championship, in the group stage and the semifinals before knocking off Loeb in the final.

This year provided a surprise that wasn't necessarily a surprise. As someone who has followed NASCAR, IndyCar and American sports car racing for the last decade, it was no surprise Juan Pablo Montoya came out on top but if Montoya had vanished from your radar after he walked away from McLaren in the middle of 2006, it probably stunned you that the Colombian not only won the competition but beat Pascal Wehrlein and Felipe Massa in the process.

The United States hosted the competition for the first time and I was not surprised when Marlins Park looked more like a ghost town than other recent ROCs. It is not a great sight when about 2/3rds of the seat are empty but it is a tough sell and Miami isn't the greatest sports town in the United States let alone for motorsports. However, ROC promoter Fredrik Johnsson has said he wants to keep the event in the USA for three years and reportedly he met with other venues. Outside of Charlotte and Indianapolis, there aren't many markets that could host Race of Champions and draw a respectable crowd. Maybe Los Angeles but even that isn't a slam dunk. Plus, the afternoon time slot when this year's competition was held worked well for European viewers.

I would like to see ROC stay in the United States and I wouldn't mind if it stayed in Miami. Maybe ROC could work more with IndyCar and bring NASCAR in to increase promotion. After all, two months prior to ROC, NASCAR's season ended at Homestead-Miami Speedway and provided at least 65-75,000 spectators the event could have been promoted to. Should ROC decide to stay in the United States, it should announce the venue and date sooner rather than later.

One thing other series could learn from Race of Champions is how to provide non-stop action for spectators. While each heat may only feature two drivers and last just over 30 seconds, once one ends the next begins and it is like that for two and half hours. Outside of the occasional intermission for a stunt driver or rider to showcase their skills or to fix the barriers, the event always has your attention. You leave the room and you could miss an entire round. Go to use the restroom and all of a sudden you have no clue how Sebastian Vettel is in a must-win race to advance from the group stage or how Travis Pastrana made the semifinals.

An issue with the non-stop action as it currently stands is it doesn't allow any room at all for commercial breaks. Unless the total time of the event was extended to four hours, races would have to be missed or the broadcast would have to show the races after the fact but in the age of two-screen viewing, that is not friendly as people would likely find out the results on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or whatever social media device before seeing it on the television screen. Maybe it could become the first event to embrace the two-screen experience and encourage fans to log in online to see a race or two that will be taking place during the commercial break and then comeback to the coverage with the viewers still up to date as the races were available while the network was away.

Race of Champions has been racing in stadiums for just over a decade now and perhaps this one-off event could be the future of motorsports. Instead of heading to race tracks or closing city streets, setting up a course inside a stadium and have 16 to 24 drivers compete in a round robin followed by a knockout competition may be the direction we are heading. In 2009, ROC ran a provisional event in Porto, Portugal that was used as a qualifier for the actual event in China. I am surprise we haven't seen the event take off with a half-dozen events around the globe.

Maybe the day is coming where ROC finds a way to pay drivers and forms partnerships with four or five manufactures and a handful of TV partners and 20 drivers go around the world competing in a dozen events a year from Beijing to Berlin, Miami to Melbourne and Cape Town to Cardiff. It could be the next motorsports revolution and it has already existed for nearly 30 years.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

2017 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

This year's 24 Hours of Daytona not only marks the first round of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship but the first race of the DPi-era. Fifty-five cars are entered for the 55th 24 Hours of Daytona across four classes.

The Prototype class features a dozen entries, seven of which are DPis while five follow the new LMP2 regulations. 

Dane Cameron and Eric Curran are defending Prototype champions and will drive the #31 Cadillac DPi. Toyota factory driver Mike Conway and British GT Championship regular Seb Morris will join Cameron and Curran in Daytona. João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi returning in the #5 Cadillac DPi with Felipe Albuquerque being the #5 Cadillac's third driver. Ricky Taylor and Jordan Taylor finished third behind the two Action Express Racing in the championship last year. The Taylor brothers will drive the #10 Cadillac DPi with Max Angelelli and Jeff Gordon. This is Gordon's first 24 Hours of Daytona appearance since 2007 when he finished third with Wayne Taylor Racing. Angelelli will retire after this year's race. 

The top car in the Roar Before the 24 test earlier this month was the #81 DragonSpeed Oreca-Gibson of Henrik Hedman, Nicolas Lapierre, Ben Hanley and Loïc Duval. DragonSpeed competed in the European Le Mans Series and won at Spa-Franchorchmaps. Second in the test was the #55 Mazda RT24-P of Tristan Nunez, Jonathan Bomarito and Spencer Pigot. Driving the #70 Mazda RT24-P will be the Tom Long, Joel Miller and James Hinchcliffe. Also coming over from Europe will be Rebellion Racing as the team transitions from LMP1 to LMP2 competition. The Swiss team has entered the #13 Oreca-Gibson for Neel Jani, Sébastien Buemi, Nick Heidfeld and Stéphane Sarrazin. 

Extreme Speed Motorsports returns to IMSA after contesting the last two seasons in the FIA World Endurance Championship. In a partnership with Nissan, ESM will contest two Nissan Onroak DPis with Scott Sharp and Ryan Dalziel in the #2 and Johannes an Overbeek and Ed Brown in the #22. Pipo Derani, Bruno Senna and Porsche factory driver Brendon Hartley join ESM for Daytona with Derani in the #2, Senna in the #22 and Hartley listed for both. 

Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande will drive the #90 Multimatic/Riley-Gibson with two-time 24 Hours of Daytona class winner René Rast joining the Belgian and Dutchman for Daytona. PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports and JDC-Miller Motorsports both move up from the Prototype Challenge class to Prototypes in 2017. Tom Kimber-Smith and José Gutiérrez will be full-time in the #52 Ligier-Gibson for PR1/Mathiasen with Mike Guasch and RC Enerson joining the team for Daytona. Misha Goikhberg, Chris Miller, Stephen Simpson and Mathias Beche will drive the #85 Oreca-Gibson for JDC-Miller.

Prototype Challenge
While this year's race marks the beginning for the DPi-era, it marks the final time the Prototype Challenge class will compete in the 24 Hours of Daytona and five cars are entered. The #38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca of Pato O'Ward, James French, Kyle Masson and Nicolas Boulle was the fastest in class at the test. Starworks Motorsport has entered two cars. The #8 Oreca will be a Canadian-American line up featuring Robert Wickens, Chris Cumming, Ben Keating, Jon Falb and Remo Ruscitti with the #88 Oreca featuring Sean Rayhall, Scott Mayer, James Dayson, Conor Daly and Alex Popow. Daly is a late replacement for Sebastián Saavedra. BAR1 Motorsports has entered two cars as well. Buddy Rice returns to full-time competition in the #20 Oreca with Don Yount, Chapman Ducote, Mark Kvamme and Gustavo Yacamán. Despite announcing his retirement, Johnny Mowlem returns to Daytona in the #26 Oreca with Tom Papadopoulos, Adam Merzon, Trent Hindman and David Cheng. 

GT Le Mans
Eleven cars are entered in the GT Le Mans class and Ford led the way at the test. The #67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook and Scott Dixon led the way with the #69 Ford featuring Andy Priaulx, Harry Tincknell and Tony Kanaan was second. Dirk Müller and Joey Hand drive the other full-time IMSA Ford and Sébastien Bourdais reunites the Le Mans-winning trio in the #66 Ford for Daytona. Stefan Mücke, Olivier Pla and Billy Johnson will drive the #68 Ford. 

While Ford led the way in testing, Corvette has won the last two years at Daytona, including a 1-2 photo finish last year with the #4 of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Marcel Fässler nipping the #3 of Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Mike Rockenfeller. Gavin and Milner are defending GTLM drivers' champions after beating Briscoe and Westbrook by 17 points.

BMW trailed Ford in the test with the #24 BMW of John Edwards, Kuno Wittmer, Martin Tomczyk and Nicky Catsburg third fastest. Bill Auberlen will have a new co-driver this season as Alexander Smis replaces Dirk Werner, who has moved to Porsche, in the #19 BMW. DTM drivers Augusto Farfus and Bruno Spengler join the #19 BMW for Daytona. 

Werner moves to the #911 Porsche where he will be full-time with Patrick Pilet. Frédéric Makowiecki joins the #911 Porsche for Daytona. Laurens Vanthoor makes his Porsche debut at Daytona and he will run the full IMSA season in the #912 Porsche with Kevin Éstre. Richard Leitz completes the #912's driver line up for Daytona. 

The lone Ferrari entered in GTLM is the #62 Risi Competizione Ferrari for Toni Vilander, Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. This trio won at Petit Le Mans to close out the 2016 season. It was Risi's first victory in just over a season. 

GT Daytona
The largest class at Daytona will be the GT Daytona class, which features 27 cars from nine manufactures. 

Scuderia Corsa won the GTD title last year with Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan. Both return in the #63 Ferrari with AF Corse's Sam Bird and Matteo Cressoni. Nielsen and Balzan won at Sebring and Watkins Glen last year on their way to the title. Spirit of Race have entered the only other Ferrari in the GTD class with Peter Mann, Maurizio Mediani, 2014 24 Hours of Daytona GTD class winner Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon. 

Lamborghini is the most represented manufacture in the GTD class with eight cars. GRT Grasser Racing Team has entered two Lamborghini Huracán GT3s. Christian Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen are entered both in the #11 and #61 Lamborghinis. Ezequiel Pérez Companc and Mirko Bortolotti will drive the #11 Lamborghini with Roberto Pampanini, Christopher Lenz, Michele Beretta and Miloš Pavlović in the #61 Lamborghini. Konrad Motorsport is another Austrian team entering a Lamborghini with Marco Mapelli, Marco Basseng, Luca Stolz, Lance Willsey and Franz Konrad int he #21 Lamborghini. Defending FIA WEC GTE-Am champion Emmanuel Collard will be in the #46 Lamborghini with EBIMOTORS and co-drivers Fabio Babini and Emanuele Busnelli.

Change Racing has entered the #16 Lamborghini for Corey Dewis, Jeroen Mul, NASCAR Truck series driver Kaz Grala and Pirelli World Challenge GTS champion Brett Sandberg. DAC Motorsports' #18 Lamborghini features Lamborghini Super Trofeo regulars Emmanuel Anassis and Anthony Massari with Indy Lights driver Zach Claman DeMelo. Lawrence DeGeorge, Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, Paolo Ruberti, Luca Persiani and Raffaele Giammaria will drive the #27 Dream Racing Lamborghini. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow finished third in the GTD championship last year and both return in the #48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini. Bryce Miller, Andrea Caldarelli and Dion von Moltke round out the line up in the #48 Lamborghini.

Daytona marks the debut of both the Lexuc RCF GT3 and Acura NSX GT3. The Lexus arrives a year later than announced but 3GT Racing will have Scott Pruett and Sage Karam in the #14 Lexus with Jack Hawksworth and Robert Alon full-time in the #15 Lexus. Defending LMP2 driver champion Gustavo Menezes and Ian James join Pruett and Karam in the #14 Lexus with NASCAR Truck driver Austin Cindric and Dominik Farnbacher in the #15 Lexus. Michael Shank Racing moves from Prototypes to GTD as the factory-supported Acura team. Oswaldo Negri, Jr. remains with the team and will have Jeff Segal as his co-driver in the #86 Acura with Tom Dyer and Ryan Hunter-Reay joining the effort at Daytona. Andy Lally and Katherine Legge will drive the #93 Acura with Mark Wilkins and Graham Rahal as the extra drivers for Daytona.

Riley Motorsports finished second in the GTD championship last year with Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating. Both return but the team has switched from the Dodge Viper to the Mercedes AMG GT3. Bleekemolen and Keating, who will be doing double duty in the race as he is also entered in the PC class with the #8 Starworks Oreca, are joined by Mario Farnbacher and Adam Christodoulou in the #33 Mercedes. After an unceremonious and premature exit last year, Cooper MacNeil returns in the #50 Riley Motorsports - WeatherTech Racing Mercedes. Gunnar Jeannette will be MacNeil's full-time co-driver. Defending Supercars champion Shane Van Gisbergen and Thomas Jäger round out the #50 Mercedes at Daytona. The newly formed SunEnergy1 Racing entered the #75 Mercedes for Tristan Vautier, Boris Said, Kenny Habul, Paul Morris and Maro Engel.

Five Porsches are entered in the GTD class. CORE Autosport moves to GTD from PC with Colin Braun and Jon Bennett contesting the #54 Porsche full-time with Patrick Long and Nic Jönsson in the car for Daytona. Park Place Motorsports retain Patrick Lindsey and Jörg Bergmeister in the #73 Porsche with Matt McMurry as the third driver for Daytona. TRG returns to Porsche after a few seasons with Aston Martin. Wolf Henzler will be full-time in the #991 Porsche and will be joined at Daytona by Santiago Creel, Mike Hedlund, Jan Heylen and Timothy Pappas.

Carlos de Quesada leads the #28 Alegra Motorsports Porsche with Michael de Quesada, Daniel Morad, Jesse Lazare and Porsche factory driver Micahel Christensen in the car for Daytona. Manthey Racing has entered the #59 Porsche with defending Porsche Supercup champion Sven Müller, Reinhold Renger, Harald Proczyk, Matteo Cairoli and Steve Smith.

Three Audis are on the entry list. Alex Job Racing will contest the #23 Audi at Daytona and the other three North American Endurance Cup races for Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Frank Montecalvo with Pierre Kaffer joining the squad for Daytona. Montaplast by Land-Motorsport comes to Daytona fresh off winning the ADAC GT Masters championship with Christopher Mies and Connor De Phillippi. Mies and De Phillippi will be in the #29 Audi with Jules Gounon and Jeffery Schmidt rounding out the line up. Stevenson Motorsports returns with the #57 Audi for Robin Liddell, Andrew Davis, Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell.

Turner Motorsport has entered the #96 BMW for Daytona with DTM driver Maxime Martin leading the line-up with fellow BMW factory drivers Jens Klingmann and Jesse Krohn and NASCAR driver Justin Marks. Aston Martin Racing has entered the #98 Aston Martin for Daytona-only with its lead GTE-Am team of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda being joined by defending GTE-Pro champion Marco Sørensen rounding out the line up.

The 55th 24 Hours of Daytona will start at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday January 28th.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Going Green and Only Green

Juan Pablo Montoya is the best driver in the world. Sebastian Vettel would like to make an argument that he is at least second best. Pascal Wehrlein flipped a three-wheeler. Kurt Busch jumped a start and got away with it. Scott Speed rear-ended Hélio Castroneves. Jenson Button looks like he loves retirement. And that is just what happened in Miami at the Race of Champions. In other areas of motorsport, a Frenchman picked up where he left off despite driving for a privateer team, there was a surprise in Sepang, Scott Dixon went to the beach and a German broke an arm. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Going Green and Only Green
The winter months lead to a lot of thinking about racing because there frankly isn't much racing to watch. While waiting for the ground to thaw and cars to be shipped to the sands of Dubai and Daytona, we sit and wait and listen because podcasts that talk about racing exist.

Dinner with Racers has found a hole in the fabric of motorsports and has patched it with over two-dozen episodes interviewing an array of people from the motorsports industry in the United States. From the legends of Hurley Haywood to the anonymous NASCARCASM, Dinner with Racers brings together many different stories and ideas about what should be done in motorsports because everyone has the answer.

Some answers make sense. Others are scary. Another batch border on ridiculous but most deserve some time to deconstruct and see how they could work.

IndyCar technical manager Kevin Blanch was one of the guests on the latest season of Dinner with Racers. While IndyCar has shifted from the identity of the dirt of USAC to arguably a confusing and unclear identity of wanting to be ovals because the only race worth a damn in the series is an oval but realistically being a road course series that attracts young American and international kart drivers and runs a few oval races on the side. Blanch comes from a dirt track background and he sees the reality of motorsports: Fewer people are drawn to the race track.

In the episode, Blanch talks about simplifying a race weekend, making it a one-day show and providing constant on-track action for fans, similar to local short track events he attends. He suggestion he makes is having only green flag laps count. He said a race like the Indianapolis 500 could be left alone but for the rest of the schedule that is irrelevant to most, why not count only green flag laps. It is an interesting suggestion and one that bucks from what we are taught to believe. Motorsports stand out because a race never stops; it only slows down. While cautions are seen as stoppages in a race, they aren't. Cautions slow the racing and prevent people from deliberately overtaking but positions change hands through pit stops and teams try to conserve more fuel than the next to go a lap longer and hopefully open a gap. The only stoppages are red flags.

Maybe IndyCar should adopt the green flags laps only approach to racing but there are other things to consider and in the year 2017 the most important thing is television time. With the 2017 IndyCar TV schedule being released last week, we know most races get a 3-hour window with a few exceptions. The 500-mile races get four-hour windows while the IMS road course race and the Belle Isle races get two and a half hours and coincidentally those are ABC races.

One issue with green flag laps only is getting those races to fit into the TV window. They fit now because even if a caution period lasts 10-15 minutes laps are still clicking down. Now imagine cars circling for 10-15 minutes and doing nothing but wasting fuel and tires? Now imagine four caution periods at 12 minutes in length, 48 minutes total. Now add the laps that would have been completed under those caution periods to the elapsed time of the race.

Let's take Iowa as an example. Iowa took an hour and 52 minutes to complete in 2016. Of 300 laps, 42 were under caution, not many and considering how fast laps are at Iowa, 42 wouldn't take that long but 42 is the second-fewest caution laps at Iowa. The average amount of caution laps at Iowa is 56.9 laps with a median of 60.5 laps. Since the race increased to 300 laps in 2014, the average length in time is an hour and 58 minutes. Looking back to when Iowa ran heat races to set the grid in 2012 and 2013, the 2013 heat races were 50 laps in length and all took about 15 minutes.

That appears doable. An extra 15 minutes wouldn't be the end of the world. However, Texas this year, as crazy and confusing as it was, took just under two and a half hours of elapsed time with 53 caution laps. Let's say the average lap at Texas took 25 seconds to complete, it would take about 22 minutes to complete those 53 laps but that would leave little wiggle room at the end of the TV window for what fans would deem as sufficient post-race coverage.

What about road and street circuits? The road courses had low caution numbers in 2016. Barber had one caution lap, Sonoma had three, Road America had four, Watkins Glen had nine and the IMS road course and Mid-Ohio had ten. Running an extra lap or three or four would be doable. It would only be an extra 90 seconds to six minutes. Even nine or ten laps would only take about fifteen minutes. The natural-terrain road course races ranged from an hour and 39 (Road America) to two hours on the nose (Sonoma). Once again, that appears doable.

Street courses are similar. While St. Petersburg and Toronto both led the way with 16 laps. Long Beach was caution-free and was the fastest Grand Prix of Long Beach in event history. The Belle Isle races had eight and nine cautions respectively. The street course races ranged from 93 minutes (Long Beach) and two hours and 13 minutes (St. Petersburg) with the other three street course races falling between an hour and 40 minutes and an hour and 42 minutes. While St. Petersburg has always been a rather long race in elapsed time, the other races could run an extra 15-20 minutes.

It appears green flag laps only could be done not just at ovals but even road and street courses and the races could still fit within current TV windows but there are other issues. First would be increased risk. If only green flag laps count and laps are still run under caution that means more total laps run which means more chance of a mechanical failure or increased chance of contact with another car. Another issue is that caution periods will become absolutely pointless. What is the point of turning laps if the laps don't count? If that was the case, why not just red flag the race every time? However, that wouldn't be any better as then you could have 10-15 minutes of no action, something that most people whether in the stands or watching on TV would want.

Blanch's idea could work for IndyCar but how much would it change? Would it increase the television ratings by 125%? Probably not. Would it increase attendance by 125%? Probably not but I think it would help attendance more than television ratings. My worry would be a race would end up becoming like a basketball game where it takes 45 minutes to complete the final ten laps of action. NASCAR is already criticized for its green-white-checkered rule and I can't imagine IndyCar being praised by only counting green flag laps if races ended with three, four or five attempts just to complete the final lap.

While interesting, I am not sure counting only green flag laps would increase IndyCar's popularity by much and the series should keep the status quo.

Champions From the Weekend
By winning the 4 Hours of Sepang, the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Nissan won the Asian Le Mans Series LMP2 championship. Andrea Pizzitola, Andrea Roda and Aiden Read were the winning drivers in the race but Roda defeated Pizzitola by two points in the drivers' championship.

With its victory in LMP3, the #26 Tockwith Motorsport Ligier of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson took the LMP3 drivers' and teams' championship.

By finishing fifth, the #5 DH Racing Ferrari won the GT teams' championship with Michele Rugolo taking the GT drivers' championship. The #31 Team Audi Korea of Alex Yoong, Marchy Lee and You Kyong-Ook won the race at Sepang.

All three LMP3 champions receive automatic invitations to the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about what happened from Miami and Sepang but did you know...

Sébastien Ogier won Rallye Monte-Carlo on his debut with M-Sport Ford.

Ryan Dungey won the second Supercross race from Anaheim and gives him the championship lead over Ken Roczen. Roczen fell during the race and broke his left arm.

Richard Verschoor won the bookends of the Toyota Racing Series races from Teretonga Park with Pedro Piquet winning race two. Thomas Randle crossed the line first in race one but received a ten-second penalty for jumping the start and elevating Verschoor to first.

Coming Up This Weekend
The 24 Hours of Daytona.
Supercross heads east to Glendale, Arizona (even though they say it is Phoenix).
Toyota Racing Series heads north to Hampton Downs.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2017 Race of Champions Preview

The 28th Race of Champions takes place this weekend and for the first time the event comes the United States as Marlins Park in Miami, Florida hosts the two-day competition.

This year's race will see the individual, Champion of Champions competition take place on Saturday with the Nations' Cup to be contested on Sunday followed by a new Ryder Cup-style, America vs. the World event to close the competition on Sunday.

Seventeen drivers will compete in the Champion of Champions competition on Saturday across four groups.

Defending Champion of Champions champion Sebastian Vettel will defend his title and looks to join Stig Blomqvist, Didier Auriol and Mattias Ekström as repeat winners of the competition. Vettel headlines Group A. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castorneves makes his debut and will also be in Group A. Travis Pastrana returns to Race of Champions for the first time since 2011 and this will be Pastrana's eighth appearance in ROC. In Pastrana's three previous ROC appearances since the group stage format was introduced, he has won one of nine races. The final spot in Group A will be determined by a playoff between 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and defending two-time Global Rallycross champion Scott Speed, both making their ROC debuts. Speed was going to compete in 2006 competition after Jimmie Johnson withdrew due to injury but Speed himself had to withdraw due to illness.

Group B is led by 2003 World Rally Champion and two-time World Rallycross champion Petter Solberg. This will be Solberg's fourth ROC appearance. He best result in the Champion of Champions competition is the quarterfinals. Newly hired Sauber F1 driver Pascal Wehrlein returns for his third consecutive ROC appearance. He finished runner-up on debut in 2014 to David Coulthard in Barbados. Felipe Massa returns to ROC for the fourth time. Massa is a two-time quarterfinalist. IndyCar champion, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and seven-time Formula One grand prix winner Juan Pablo Montoya makes his ROC debut in Group B.

Jenson Button is the senior member of Group C as the 2009 World Drivers' Champion makes his sixth ROC appearance. Button's best result in the Champion of Champions competition was a semifinal appearance in 2009. Tony Kanaan returns to ROC for the first time since 2004. He was eliminated in the first round of Champion of Champions that year by eventual runner-up Sébastien Loeb. Debutants Kyle Busch and James Hinchcliffe round out Group C.

Group D will have four-time Champion of Champions runner-up Tom Kristensen make his 15th consecutive ROC appearance and he ties Stig Blomqvist for most ROC appearances. Kristensen will try to finally breakthrough to the top of bracket after finishing runner-up last year to Vettel. David Coulthard will make his tenth ROC appearance and try to reclaim the Champion of Champions title for the second time in the last three competitions. Ryan Hunter-Reay makes his fourth ROC appearance. The IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 failed to get out of the group round in 2012, was a quarterfinalist in 2014 and was eliminated in round one last year. Kurt Busch makes his second ROC appearance. He was a quarterfinalist in 2014.

The top two from each group will advance to the knockout competition. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be single-elimination with the final featuring a best-of-three format.

Sunday's Nations' Cup will see ten pairings of two drivers split between three groups.

Group A will feature all North American pairings. Hunter-Reay and Rossi will pair to form Team USA IndyCar with the Busch brothers forming Team USA NASCAR and Pastrana and Speed forming Team USA Rally X. Hinchcliffe leads Team ROC Factor Canada with former Indy Lights driver and Nissan Micra Cup driver Stefan Rzadzinski making his debut. Rzadzinki's spot in the competition was decided by a fan vote.

Group B features all European teams as Vettel and Wehrlein represent Germany, Button and Coulthard represent Great Britain and Kristensen and Solberg form Team Nordic. Last year, England 1 featuring BTCC driver Jason Plato and Ford factory driver Andy Priaulx upset the German pairing of Vettel and Nico Hülkenberg to win Nations' Cup. Vettel had won six consecutive Nations' Cup representing Germany from 2007-2012. No German team contested the next competition in 2014, where Kristensen and Solberg won the Nations' Cup as Team Nordic by defeating the British pairing of Coulthard and Susie Wolff.

Group C is an all-South America affair. Kanaan and Massa represent Brazil while Montoya will be joined by 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year and 2014 Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves. The final team in Group C will be Team ROC Factor Latin American with Hélio Castroneves pairing with Argentine Gabriel Glusman. Like Rzadzinski, Glusman's spot in the competition was decided by a fan vote.

For the Nations' Cup the top two in Group A will advance and meet in the first semifinal while only the group winners from Group B and Group C will advance and meet each other in the final. The semifinals and final will feature a best-of-three format with the winners of race one and two meeting in the third race.

The concluding event on Sunday will be the America vs. The World competition. The six American drivers will take on the top drivers from the rest of the world in a three-round, two-race competition. Round one will feature six races each worth one point for the winner. Round two will feature three races worth two points for the winner. Round three will feature one race worth three points for the winner. The first team to amass at least eight points will be winner of the America vs The World competition.

The track for this year's Race of Champions will feature two loops and a total length of 0.3809 miles (613 meters). Drivers will start side-by-side on the main straightaway and head in the same direction. One driver will make a left-hand turn and complete loop A while the other driver will make a right-hand turn and complete loop B. When drivers return to the main straightaway the driver will cross over and complete the other loop. The first driver to complete each loop will win the race.

Saturday's Champion of Champions competition will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET with Sunday's Nations' Cup scheduled for a noon ET start.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Auditing IndyCar Seats: January 2017

We are just under two months until the IndyCar season opener at St. Petersburg and testing has already resumed for the new season. Despite the large amount of time still remaining until the first race of the season, the IndyCar grid is pretty much a complete puzzle, although there was a minor  event on the Richter Scale Monday.

Chip Ganassi Racing returns to Honda and retains Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton from 2017.

Andretti Autosport marks another four-car team for Honda with Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti all returning with Takuma Sato moving to his fourth IndyCar team in what will be his eighth season in the series.

Dale Coyne Racing of all teams had its driver line-up set prior to Thanksgiving with Sébastien Bourdais returning to the fold to be accompanied by 2016 Indy Lights champion Ed Jones.

Graham Rahal returns with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and while a second full-time might happen, the team appears to have an extra Indianapolis 500 entry already lined up but more on that in a moment.

All signs pointed to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports retaining James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin for a second consecutive season but that now appears to be in doubt as Aleshin has hit an issue with sponsorship. We are in the 10th hour of the offseason, plenty of time for Aleshin to salvage the deal or SPM to find another driver for the #7 Honda. SPM was reportedly looking at the possibility of a third car earlier in the offseason. I wouldn't rule out the #7 Honda being on the grid even if Aleshin is not the driver.

Should SPM run two cars, it would be 13 Honda entries on the 2017 IndyCar grid. What about Chevrolet?

Simon Pagenaud leads the way for Team Penske after winning the Astor Cup in September at Sonoma. Will Power and Hélio Castroneves made it a clean sweep of the top three for Team Penske and both drivers return for 2017. The lone change is Josef Newgarden replacing Juan Pablo Montoya as a full-time driver with Montoya at least running the Indianapolis 500.

Ed Carpenter Racing has recruited J.R. Hildebrand to replace the exiting Newgarden. Ed Carpenter will run the six oval races in the #20 Chevrolet with Spencer Pigot returning as the road/street course driver in that car.

A.J. Foyt Racing spent the first five seasons of the DW12-era with Honda but with Ganassi moving to Honda, A.J. Foyt Racing will be moving to Chevrolet and the team confirmed the switch yesterday. The American manufacture will take on eight full-time rides. Along with a new manufacture, Foyt has two new drivers with Carlos Muñoz moving from Andretti and Conor Daly moving from Coyne.

The one M.I.A from 2016 is KV Racing. All has gone quiet from the 2012 Indianapolis 500 winning team. Over autumn, the team reportedly was moving its operation to Florida and was working to form a partnership with the defending Indy Lights teams' champions Carlin, which bases its U.S. operation out of Florida. There is still some time for KV to restart its program but the 11th hour is approaching. News has come out today that former Formula One driver Pastor Maldonado is talking to KV about running at least the road/street courses with the team and leaving the six oval races open for another driver. Should the team make it to the grid, we would be looking at 22 full-time teams with Honda holding the edge on entries with 13-9 but right now it appears it will more likely be 13 Hondas and 8 Chevrolets.

With us knowing that 21 or 22 cars will be full-time, let's get into Indianapolis 500 entries because what else do we have to do besides pull out our eyelashes over trying to figure out how 33 cars will enter the race come May?

We know about Montoya entering in a fifth Penske entry. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would like to enter Oriol Servià in a second full-time entry but even if that doesn't occur, the team appears highly likely to bring the Catalan driver back for the month of May and Servià could make his 200th IndyCar start in the 101st Indianapolis 500. He and Montoya bring the entry list up to at least 23 entries.

Just focusing on the Honda teams for a moment, Andretti frequently enters an extra car for the month of May. Coyne has entered Pippa Mann at Indianapolis the last four years and partnered with Jonathan Byrd's Racing to run Bryan Clauson last year. Like Coyne, SPM has entered an additional entry for the Indianapolis 500 the last four seasons. Ganassi did not run an extra car last year at Indianapolis as the team focused on the Ford GT program but the team does have the resources if it wished to run an extra car.

Let's say Ganassi does not enter an extra car but Andretti, Coyne and SPM all do, the entry list would be up to 26 entries.

ECR has entered three cars each of the last two years at Indianapolis and with Carpenter lined up to be the oval driver in the #20 Chevrolet, it would make sense for the team to run an extra for Spencer Pigot, who finished 25th last year driving for RLLR after running out of fuel on one stint. Counting on ECR to run a third car, that brings the entry list up to 27 entries.

This is where it gets a bit hairy. As it currently stands, the Indianapolis 500 entry list would feature 17 Hondas and 10 Chevrolets. Since IndyCar went back to two engine manufactures in 2013, only once has a manufacture entered 18 cars or more for the Indianapolis 500 and that was Honda entering 18 in 2014.

A.J. Foyt Racing has been known for running extra entries even when the team has said it won't be running additional entries and with all likelihood that team is Chevrolet, a third Foyt entries seems inevitable and that would be a 11 Chevrolets and 28 entries.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Lazier Burns Racing have been the two consistent Indianapolis-only teams the last few seasons and both have been Chevrolet entries every year. D&R likely will be there. Lazier's team is another story but he has been able to make the call every year. Both returning would bring the entry list up to 30 entries with three to go and Chevrolet up to 13 entries.

If KV can't get to the grid, the hope would be the team could at least be pumped up to field an Indianapolis 500 entry. The team field two cars last year, the second being a partnership with Pirtek Team Murray and Matthew Brabham. Two one-offs from KV are unlikely but one car, whether it be by itself of in a partnership with Carlin or another team can only benefit IndyCar and it would likely be a Chevrolet. Hopefully that would be 31 entries.

While Honda is already at 17 entries, perhaps an 18th isn't out of the realm of possibility. Michael Shank Racing has been trying and trying to attempt the Indianapolis 500 the last five years only. He has the Acura NSX program. He got to run Le Mans last year and check that off his wish list. He can't be anymore in bed with Honda and with the investment Honda has spent on IndyCar this year with bringing back Ganassi and bringing Bourdais to Coyne I think Honda makes sure Shank has a car entered this year. That would be 32 entries.

Where does the 33rd entry come from? Does Honda keep spending and try to get a 19th car entered and increase its power in numbers over Chevrolet? Does Dreyer & Reinbold Racing field a second one-off? Could ECR run another entry? Could an Indy Lights team, whether it is Juncos or Belardi, run a one-off? Could some team come out of nowhere and field a one-off?

We always end up with 33 cars but it just seems to be getting more and more difficult and it shouldn't be and in fact with the amount of interest there is from drivers in running the Indianapolis 500 there should be at least 36-38 entries each May and actual bumping. Bumping is a dramatic spectacle that provides the bittersweet sight of success coming at the expense of others but that is for another post and I am sure as we move closer to St. Petersburg the picture will become clearer for the month of May.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Don't Be the Super Bowl

Happy Birthday to A.J. Foyt, who turns 82 years old today. A hometown favorite won in his backyard. A Porsche driver is off to a historic start. A Brit made history. A Frenchman added another chapter to his illustrious career. A Kiwi was penalized as was a Brazilian and an Australian benefitted. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Don't Be the Super Bowl
Formula One is having a minor crisis. Formula One is too brash to have major crises but it is having a minor one. Tracks are no longer dazzled by the glittering spectacle of the largest circus in the motorsports' world. Even the gaudiest stages are having second thoughts. Singapore, the race that has been held up as the example of Formula One's new money versus the old money example of Monaco, could be on the verge of divorcing itself from the only series in the world that could close the streets of the Asia-Pacific metropolis and line the streets with ribbons of lighting.

Along with Singapore, its neighbor Malaysia is starting to no longer fancy Formula One and the dwindling crowd size supports that. Brazil is on the fence. Canada was on the fence. The United States is always on the fence. Let's not forget Germany's wishy-washy relationship with Formula One and what seems to be a quadrennial squabble with Italy.

However, the fluidity of the schedule doesn't concern Formula One or Bernie Ecclestone. One reason is probably because the schedule could stand to lose three or four races and the series would be fine. This upcoming 20-round season is one fewer than 2016 and there is still wiggle room for the series. Another reason is Ecclestone can probably find another two or three countries to fill the voids if the backbone of the series crumbles and needs replacements. I am sure oil-rich Qatar or Rio Haryanto's sugar daddy Indonesia could step up and fund a race and France is returning for 2018. However, what happens if seven or eight or nine races want to rinse their hands of Formula One after years of spending and crowds that don't replenish the coffers?

McLaren executive director Zak Brown believes the answer is turning each race into a Super Bowl with lots of fan engagement. Brown states that the Super Bowl takes over a city in the week leading up to the game and each grand prix should follow that mold of a week long celebration before the curtain raises on race day.

While I applaud Brown's idea, there is a problem with being the Super Bowl. First, all the fan engagement in the world the Monday-Thursday before a race will not make it more affordable for fans to show up at the race track Friday-Sunday. It takes a small fortune to attend a Formula One race and the ticket structure forces fans to buy 3-day tickets, which means only showing up for race day leaves you eating 2/3s of the ticket cost unless you get a hotel, another expenditure that won't be cheap.

The Super Bowl is a once-a-year event. People save for it. People mortgage their homes to go to it, especially if their team is going to the big game because the opportunity may never come again in their lifetime. Not to mention, the Super Bowl is the cash grabs of all cash grabs. How many of those events in the days leading up to the Super Bowl are free? Next to none. Fans pay to go to media day. Media day! Well, now media night but an event that is just players sitting around at podiums and being hawked by journalists and wannabe journalists just trying to be noticed and get fifteen minutes of fame by stealing the spotlight by asking ridiculous questions and wearing wedding dresses.

A grand prix is a once-a-year event but a grand prix relates differently to the fan base than the Super Bowl. A grand prix returns the next year and the next year and the year after that. It's not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It's not worth mortgaging the home over nor should the festivities leading up be another way to siphon every last dollar out of a fans pocket.

Brown's sentiment is in the right place but slightly misguided. Formula One doesn't need 21 Super Bowls. It needs races that the average person can afford to attend even if that means lowering the sanctioning fee so tracks can set prices at a more reasonable rate. Fan engagement on race weekends can be improved as well. There should be more face-to-face interaction between drivers and fans. There should be autograph sessions, even if sessions are held the Thursday before the race weekend but it needs to be done at a reasonable price. Just because drivers, chief mechanics and team executives are millionaires doesn't mean the fans have the same type of change to throw around.

The Super Bowl is the antithesis of what Formula One should want a grand prix to be. It is one thing to want to be compared to another haughty event but 21 Super Bowls isn't the solution for Formula One. The solution is be more like IMSA, WEC or IndyCar and interacting with the fans at a fair price.

Winners From the Weekend
The #911 Herbert Motorsports Porsche of Brendon Hartley, Robert Renauer, Albert Renauer, Daniel Allemann and Rolf Bohn won the Dubai 24 Hour. The #1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes of Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer and Christaan Frankenhout won in A6-Am.

Other class winners from the Dubai 24 Hour:
SPX: #87 GDL Racing Middle East Lamborghini of Franke Pelle, Rory Penttinen, Vic Rice and Pierre Ehret

991: #68 Black Falcon Team TMD Friction Porsche of Saud Al Faisal, Saeed Al Mouri, Anders Fjordbach and Alexander Toril.

SP2: #207 Bovi Motorsport Brokemat Silver Sting of Wolfgang Kaufmann, Kalman Bodis, Jaap van Lagen and Heino Bo Frederiksen.

SP3: #231 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta of Stewart Linn, Ade Barwick, Dan O'Brien and William Moore.

TCR: #108 Cadspeed Racing with Atech Audi of James Kaye, Julian Griffin, Erik Holstein and Finally Hutchison.

A3: #308 Team Altran Peugeot of Guillaume Roman, Thierry Blaise, Kim Holmgaard and Michael Carlsen.

CUP1: #151 Sorg Rennsport BMW of Stephan Epp, Christian Andreas Franz, Michael Hollerweger, Heiko Eichenberg and Oskar Sandberg.

A2: #171 Team Eva Solo/K-Rejser Peugeot of Jacob Kristensen, Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Jens Mølgaard and Henrik Sørensen.

Stéphane Peterhansel won the Dakar Rally, his seventh in the car class and 13th overall. Sam Sunderland became the first British person to win the Dakar Rally as he victorious in the bike class. Sergey Karyakin won in the quad class. Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck class for the second time. Leandro Torres won the inaugural running of the UTV class.

Oklahoman Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross race at San Diego, his second consecutive victory.

Marcus Armstrong, Thomas Randle and Jehan Daruvala split the Toyota Racing Series races at Ruapuna Park. Taylor Cockerton initially won race two but was handed a 10-second penalty for a false start. Originally second-place finisher Pedro Piquet was handed a 30-second penalty for an incident with Randle. These penalties elevated Randle to the top of the podium.

Coming Up This Weekend
Race of Champions comes to the United States and specifically, Miami.
Asian Le Mans Series closes its 2016–17 season at Sepang.
The World Rally Championship opens with Rally Monte-Carlo.
Supercross returns to Anaheim.
Toyota Racing Series heads to Teretonga Park.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

2017 Dubai 24 Hour Preview: Part II (Everybody Else)

Part one of the 2017 Dubai 24 Hour Preview featured the top class in the race, the A6 class, and part two will look at selected entries across the other eight classes that will be on the grid.

In the SPX class, four entries to keep an eye on are the #10 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, the #19 Eurotrac (by Bas Koeten) Dodge Viper, the #24 GPC Motorsport Vortex 1.0 and the #401 Schubert Motorsport BMW. Oliver Webb won overall in 2015 with Black Falcon and he will led the #10 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini effort with Jake Rattenbury, Jean-Charles Perrin and Harald Schlotter. Alexandre Colgny, Gino Forgone, Iradj Alexander and Tom Dyer won at the 24H Barcelona last September in the A6-Am class and will be driving the #24 Vortex 1.0. Eurotrac (by Bas Koesten) features an all-Dutch line-up as Daniel de Jong, Ivo Breuker, Bert de Heus and Leon Rijnbeek will drive the #19 Dodge Viper. BMW debuts its M4 GT4 this weekend with the #401 Schubert Motorsport BMW of Jens Klingmann, Jörg Müller and Ricky Collard. Klingmann raced last year with Turner Motorsports in the IMSA GT Daytona class while Müller contested in Super GT's GT300 class with Team Studie. Collard finished second in the 2016 BRDC Formula 3 Championship.

There are four entries in the 991 class to keep an eye on. Along with its two Mercedes in the A6 class, Black Falcon has entered two Porsches in this class. Anders Fjordbach and Saud Al Faisal won the 997 class in the 2015 race and they will lead the #68 Black Falcon Porsche with Saeed Al Mouri and Alexander Toril rounding out the line-up. Burkard Kaiser, Sören Spreng, Miguel Toril and Bandar Alesayi will drive the #69 Black Falcon Porsche.

Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster and Andy Pilgrim are all notable names in American sports car racing and the four drivers split the #85 PROsport Performance Porsche. Putman, Espenlaub and Foster won the 991 class at the 12H Mugello last year.

Memac Oglivy Duel Racing won the TCR class last year at Dubai and the team steps up to the 991 class with the #95 Porsche with last year's winning combination of Phil Quaife, Ramzi Moutran, Nail Moutran and Sami Moutran all returning.

In the SP2 class, the #247 Reiter Engineering KTM features a driver line-up that is very familiar for Pirelli World Challenge fans. Antony Mantella, Dore Chaponick, Jr, Brett Sandberg and Benjamin Mazatia share the KTM. Sandberg is coming off winning the PWC GTS championship in an ANSA Motorsports KTM after three victories. Mantella had one victory last year in GTS while Chaponick, Jr. had six top ten finishes in ten starts.

Next to A6, the largest class is the SP3-GT4 class, which features 18 entries. Jann Mardenborough leads the #123 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan effort with fellow Nissan GT Academy drivers Ricardo Sanchez, Romain Sarazin and Johnny Guindi rounding out the line-up. Manthey Racing has entered a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport with Heinz Schmersal, Friedhelm Mihm, Markus von Oeynhausen, Wolfgang Kemper and Sebastian Kemper as the drivers in the #242 Porsche. Reiter Engineering has a KTM X-BOW GT4 entered in this class with an all-female driver line-up. Caitlin Wood, Anna Rathe, Naomi Schiff and Marylin Niederhauser are entered in the #246 KTM.

NASCAR driver and 2015 Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America amateur champion Brandon Gdovic will drive the #178 CWS Ginetta with Colin White, Tom Hibbert and Mike Simpson. The #249 Newbridge Motorsport - OCC Lasik Racing Porsche has an all-American driver line-up with Derek Welch, Jeffrey Stammer and Mathew Keegan. The #250 Rotek Racing Porsche has two American drivers, James Maguire and John Schauerman as well as American sports car racing regulars Nico Rondet and Ian James as well as Argentine Roy Block.

Two TCR entries to keep an eye on are the #100 Team Bleekemolen SEAT and #216 Modena Motorsports SEAT. Michael Bleekemolen returns with his son Sebastian and fellow Dutch drivers Dennis de Borst and Aart-Jan Ringelberg. Rebellion Racing's Mathias Beche joins the #216 SEAT line-up with Canadians Wayne and John Shen and Dutchman Francis Tjia.

Team Altran Peugeot won five of seven times in the A3 class last year in the 24H Series including at Dubai and the team has entered two Peugeot 208 GTis. Thierry Blaise, Guillaume Roman and Kim Holmgaard look for their second consecutive Dubai class victory with Michael Carlsen joining them in the #308 Peugeot. Yusif Bassil, Thierry Boyer, Gonzalo Martin de Andres and Loïc Dupont will drive the #908 Peugeot.

In the CUP1 class, the Belgian #154 QSR BMW returns defending its class victory with Jimmy de Breaker and Mario Timmers returning alongside new co-drivers Rodrigue Gillion and Kevin Kenis making it an all-Belgian driver line-up.

Team Clio Cup France presents the top three from the 2016 Renault Clio Cup France championship with Eric Tremoulet, Jimmy Clairet and Teddy Clairet as well as Jeremy Sarhy and Pascal Arellano in the #165 Renault Clio Cup IV. There are two other Renault Clio Cup IVs entered in the A2 class, the #112 Stanco&Tanner Motorsport Renault for Stefan Tanner, Luigi Stanco, Ralf Henggeler, Andy Mollison and Nicklas Oscarsson and the #172 Team Cooksport Renault for Alex Sedgwick, Shane Deegan, Oliver Cook, Jonathan Maybin and Josh Cook.

The 2017 Dubai 24 Hours will start at 5:00 a.m. ET on Friday January 13th.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Dubai 24 Hour Preview: Part I (A6 Class)

This weekend marks the 12th running of the Dubai 24 Hour from the Dubai Autodrome. Ninety-eight cars are entered across nine classes. Part one of the 2017 Dubai 24 Hour preview will focus on the A6 class, which features 24 entries.

Belgian Audi Club WRT won last year's race and Stuart Leonard is the only returning of the four drivers that were apart of last year's victories team. Joining Leonard in the #4 Audi will be the defending Blancpain GT Sprint Series champion Enzo Ide, 2015 Blancpain GT Series champion and current Andretti Autosport Formula E driver Robin Frijns, defending ADAC GT Masters Series champion Christopher Mies and Ruben Maes. Last year's victory was the first for Audi in the Dubai 24 Hour. The team has also entered the #5 Audi for Marcel Fässler, Michael Vergers, Mohammed Bin Saud Al Saud and Mohammed Bin Faisal Al Saud.

Black Falcon has won three of the previous five Dubai 24 Hours. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Khaled Al Qubaisi won in consecutive years in 2012 and 2013 and will pilot the #2 Mercedes alongside Patrick Assenheimer and Manuel Metzger. Yelmer Buurman, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Hubert Haupt were all apart of the 2015 winning effort for Black Falcon and will drive the #3 Mercedes with Maro Engel and Michal Broniszewski.

Grasser Racing Team has entered two Lamborghinis and has four former Dubai 24 Hour winners in its stable. Christian Engelhart, Adrian Amstutz, Rolf Ineichen and Mark Ineichen all won the race in 2014 with Stadler Motorsports. Engelhart and the Ineichens are entered in the #963 Lamborghini while Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen are also entered in the #964 Lamborghini along side Amstutz and Ezequiel Companc. Mirko Bortolotti and Rik Breakers round out the #963 line-up.

Two-time Dubai 24 Hour winner Bernd Schneider returns in the #25 Mercedes for HTP Motorsport with 2009 winner Carsten Tilke, Wim de Pundert and Alexander Hrachowina rounding out the driver line-up. IMSA Performance won the 2010 edition of the Dubai 24 Hour and returns with the #76 Porsche. Raymond Narac is the only holdover from that 2010 victory with Thierry Cornac, Maxime Jousse and Mathieu Jaminet rounding out the all-French line-up.

Manthey Racing has entered the #12 Porsche for Sven Müller, Otto Klohs, Matteo Cairoli and Jochen Krumbach. Müller is the defending Porsche Supercup champion and defeated Cairoli by 12 points for the title. Müller won the 991 class in last year's Dubai 24 Hour. Porsche LMP1 driver Brendon Hartley will make his Dubai 24 Hour debut in the #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche with co-drivers Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer.

Hartley's former Formula Renault 3.5 rival Jean-Éric Vergne will also be making his Dubai 24 Hour debut as the former Toro Rosso and current Techeetah Formula E driver will be in the #28 GP Extreme Renault RS01 with defending Formula V8 3.5 vice-champion Louis Delétraz, former IndyCar driver Nicky Pastorelli and Jordan Grogor. Frédéric Fatien, Tiziano Carugati, Josh Webster and Stuart Hall make up the other line-up for GP Extreme's #27 Renault RS01.

Two other Lamborghinis are also entered by Austrian teams. The #7 HB Racing Lamborghini features Norbert Siedler, Sam Tordoff, Florian Spengler, Andrea Amici and Herbert Handlos. Konrad Motorsport has entered the #21 Lamborghini for Marc Basseng, Marco Mapelli, Jules Gounon, Luca Stolz and Franz Konrad.

Christopher Haase leads the driver line-up for the #14 Optimum Motorsport Audi. Joe Osbourne, Flick Haigh and Ryan Ratcliffe join the German in the car. SPS automotive-performance has entered the #16 Mercedes, which features Tom Onslow-Cole, Tim Müller, Lance-David Arnold and Valentin Pierburg.

Hofor-Racing won the 2016 24H Series A6 championship and in the #1 Mercedes for Dubai will be Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Roland Eggimann, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout. This exact line-up won last year's A6-Am class in the Dubai 24 Hour. Car Collection Motorsport finished third to Hofor-Racing in the 2016 championship and Gustav Edelhoff, Max Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler and Dr. Johannes Kirchhoff will drive the team's #34 Audi. Car Collection Motorsport has also entered the #33 Audi for Daniel Diaz Varela, Toni Forné, Dimitri Parhofer, Peter Schmidt and Issac Tutumlu. The #17 IDEC Sport Racing Mercedes is another full-time 24H Series front-runner and features Patrice Lafargue, Paul Lafargue, Nicolas Minassian and Alban Varutti behind the wheel.

Wolf Henzler joins the class-winning Forch Racing powered by Olimp in the #29 Porsche with Polish drivers Robert Lukas and Marcin Jedlinski and Mexican driver Santiago Creel. Former Formula One driver Robert Kubica announced that he would also be in the #29 Porsche at Dubai. V8 Racing returns with the #18 Corvette for the all-Dutch line-up of Loris Hezemans, Wolf Nathan and Rick Abresch.

Rounding out the A6 entries are the #22 Gravity Racing International Mercedes for Vincent Radermecker, Gerard Lopez, Christian Kelders and Jarek Janis and the #66 Attempto Racing Porsche for Jürgen Häring, Mike Hansch, Dieter Ulrich, Peter Terting and Philipp Wlazik.

The Dubai 24 Hour will start at 5:00 a.m. ET on Friday January 13th. Part two of the preview will be posted tomorrow and highlight some of the other notable entries.

Monday, January 9, 2017

American Brabec Wins Dakar Stage

After weather gave the competitors an extra rest day over the weekend in Bolivia's capital La Paz, the 2017 Dakar Rally resume with an altered marathon stage to the salt flats of Uyuni and it saw the only American in this year's race end up on the top step of the podium. Meanwhile, one category leader extended his overall lead, another overall lead change in the quad class and one overall leader hold serve.

American Ricky Brabec won stage seven in the bike class and became the first American to win a stage in the two-wheel category since Kurt Casalli won two stages in the 2013 edition. The California won by a minute and 44 seconds over fellow Honda rider Paulo Gonçalves. Overall leader Sam Sunderland finished third on the day, four minutes and 43 seconds behind Brabec but the British rider extended his overall lead. Joan Barreda finished fourth, six minutes and 51 seconds behind his fellow Honda rider and Xavier de Soultrait rounded out the top five on the day, seven minutes and ten seconds back. 

Sunderland still holds the overall lead and his gap has increased to 17 minutes and 45 seconds ahead of Husqvarna rider Pablo Quintanilla, who finished ninth on the day. Adrien Van Beveren remains third but finds himself 22 minutes and 16 seconds behind Sunderland. Gerard Farres Guell is fourth, 28 minutes and 36 seconds back with Matthias Walkner rounding out the top five, over 34 minutes behind Sunderland. De Soultrait is over 38 minutes back in sixth ahead of Pierre Alexander Renet, who is over an hour back but about three minutes ahead of Gonçalves. 

After his stage victory, Brabec is 14th, one hour, 44 minutes and 44 seconds behind Sunderland. 

Stéphane Peterhansel won his second stage of this year's race and extended his lead but Sébastien Loeb finished 48 seconds behind his fellow French and Peugeot driver. Toyota's Giniel de Villiers finished third on the day, three minutes and 33 seconds back of Peterhansel. Mikko Hirvonen finished five minutes and three seconds behind Peterhansel in fourth with Nani Roma rounding out the top five, 29 seconds behind his fellow Mini driver Hirvonen. 

Peterhansel holds a minute and 57-second lead over Loeb overall. Roma is 11 minutes and seven seconds behind Peterhansel in third. Cyril Despres finished seventh on the day and lost over nine minutes and finds himself 14 minutes and one second behind Peterhansel in fourth. Hirvonen rounds out the top five, 47 minutes and 24 seconds behind Peterhansel. De Villiers trails Peterhansel by nearly an hour and 12 seconds in sixth. 

Sergey Karyakin won his first stage of the Dakar Rally and has vaulted himself to the top of the quad classifications. The Russian won the day by two minutes and 59 seconds over Alex Dutrie. Ignacio Casale finished third, nine minutes and 36 seconds back with Nelson Sanabria finishing 13 minutes and 15 seconds back. Simon Vitse rounded out the top five on the day, finishing 15 seconds behind Sanabria. 

Karyakin leads Vitse by five minutes and 16 seconds overall through stage seven. No rider has held on to the overall lead in the quad class for consecutive stages. Karyakin did hold the overall lead after stage four but dropped to second after stage five behind Vitse. Dutrie is four seconds behind his fellow Frenchman Vitse in third. Casale trails by 15 minutes and 58 seconds in fourth. Daniel Mazzucco trails by an hour and 15 minutes in fifth. 

Dmitry Sotnikov won stage seven of the truck class by two minutes and 51 seconds over Ton Genugten. This is Sotnikov's first stage victory of the 2017 edition and Kamaz's second stage victory.  Federico Villargra finished third on the day, three minutes and 37 seconds behind Sotnikov. Truck overall leader Gerard de Rooy finished four minutes and 25 seconds behind Sotnikov with Siarhei Viazovich rounding out the top five on the day, five minutes and 22 seconds behind Sotnikov.

De Rooy maintains the overall lead in the truck class by two minutes and 11 seconds over Sotnikov. Eduard Nikolaev is third, five minutes and 57 seconds behind de Rooy after finishing seventh on stage seven nearly eight minutes behind Sotnikov. Ayrat Mardeev is fourth, 20 minutes and 12 seconds back after finishing eighth on stage seven. Villagra rounds out the top five, trailing de Rooy by almost 34 minutes.

Stage eight sees the race return to Argentina as the teams go from Uyuni, Bolivia to Salta, Argentina. 

Musings From the Weekend: Expect IndyCar Fans to be Disappointed

It was a White Orthodox Christmas. Teams tested for the 24 Hours of Daytona. Weather cancelled stage six of the Dakar Rally. Formula E drivers played a video game. There were actual races in Thailand and Anaheim. An IndyCar driver tried to get voted into Race of Champions and it appears he will lose to the driver who finished fourth in Nissan Micra Cup in 2016. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Expect IndyCar Fans to be Disappointed
While we are still two months away from the start of the 2017 IndyCar season, the most notable change of the 2018 is on the horizon. According to TrackSide Online, IndyCar will have a discussion on the philosophy of the universal aero kit at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, which takes place from January 8th-22nd.

If this is a public event, I know what will be said. There will be three or four or five people on stage and someone will start by talking about approving the aesthetic of an IndyCar to have it match the tremendous speeds the series loves to flaunt. The next person will probably say "hey days" and might even talk about what an IndyCar should look like. A third person might use buzzwords like "innovation" and "sexy." And then there will be the optimist saying it will lower costs for the teams and hopes to attract new teams and engine manufactures to the IndyCar grid in the near future.

Don't get me wrong those things aren't all bad. We all want another four to six teams on the grid and car count to be somewhere between 24 and 28 full-time entries and at least one if not two new engine manufactures in IndyCar. Those things can only help the series. I know how IndyCar fans are and change is rarely met with overwhelming positivity.

From the looks of it, the universal aero kit manufacture might not be a change at all. It likely will be a familiar but not necessarily favored name with IndyCar fans. One common belief is the universal aero kit manufacturer has to inspire people and of the four companies rumored to be bidding or interested, maybe one checks off that box.

Let's start with the first and most unlikely company, Automotive Research Center, which is based out of Indianapolis and run by Adrian Reynard, yes of that Reynard fame. You might be thinking, Reynard made inspiring cars in the past, why not have ARC be the universal aero kit manufacture? The reasoning I have is because Reynard has recently signed on to be a member of the Ginetta LMP1 project that is scheduled for the 2018 season. I can't see how he could take on both projects and the announcement of his participation in the Ginetta subtly suggests ARC is out of the running for the universal aero kit.

Dallara has also put its name in the ring but while being a staple on the IndyCar grid for nearly a decade and a half Dallara hasn't ever really grabbed the imagination of the IndyCar fan base. Most voiced displeasure with its IR03/05/07 chassis and the same could be said of the original DW12 aero kit used from 2012-14. I bet few hold any hope third time would be the charm if Dallara were to be announced the universal aero kit manufacture.

Wirth Research built the Honda aero kit and reportedly is bidding for the universal aero kit but just like Dallara, Wirth is not a name held in high regard by the IndyCar fan base. It is a name associated with failure. It is associated with being a half a second off the pace. Awarding Wirth Research the universal aero kit project will only have fans thinking in 2018 the car is about a half a second slower than it could be. That might be unfair but it is true.

However, the final company holds out some hope. It has Formula One roots and successful Formula One roots at that. It is based out of Milton Keynes. It employs an Indianapolis 500 winning designer and it is arguably one of the most known brand names in the world today. It is Red Bull Technology. Why wouldn't you want to hitch your dinghy to the Red Bull mega-yacht? First, there is that sect of pretentious IndyCar fans that believes the series is too good to be associated with Red Bull (it's not). A real concern would be what would Red Bull try and do with an IndyCar? Innovation is nice and through the video game world we have Adrian Newey design a fan car that produces speed that would rip off your face but could that actually be replicated in the real world and could the IndyCar grid afford to run those cars full-time? Could Newey and Red Bull be able to produce something that erects every hair on your neck and arms but at a reasonable price to have around two-dozen full-time entries as well as slightly north of 33 cars come the Indianapolis 500?

Then there is the chance of something coming out of left field. Some will be rooting for something out of left field.

One thing IndyCar fans want is fresh air in the series and while the likes of Jay Frye and C.J. O'Donnell have done great jobs over the last few years, the fans want fresh air when it comes to the race car itself. Fans don't necessarily want a replacement to the DW12 itself but I would be surprised whenever the universal aero kit manufacture is announced if the IndyCar fan base responds positively. Will all it take to win people over be a car without an air intake over the driver's head, the absence of rear-wheel guards and a simple front wing without cascades of carbon fiber? And if that is all it takes, what took the series so long to get there?

Winners From the Weekend
The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan of Gustavo Menezes, Ho-Pin Tung and Thomas Laurent won the Asian Le Mans 4 Hours of Buriram. The #4 ARC Bratislava Ginetta-Nissan of Miro Konopka, Mike Simpson and Darren Burke won in LMP3. The #3 DH Racing Ferrari of Olivier Beretta, Alex Ribera and Rino Mastronardi won in GT after the #5 DH Racing Ferrari was penalized for driving too slowly in the fast lane of the pit lane.

Ken Roczen won the Supercross season opener at Anaheim.

A Dakar Rally update:
Stage four winners were Cyril Despres (Cars), Matthias Walkner (Bikes), Walter Nosiglia (Quads) and Gerard de Rooy (Trucks).

Stage five winners were Sébastien Loeb (Cars), Sam Sunderland (Bikes), Kees Kolen (Quads) and Gerard de Rooy (Trucks).

Overall standings in each category heading into stage seven:
Cars: Stéphane Peterhansel leads Loeb by a minute and nine seconds with Despres in third, four minutes and 54 seconds back. Nani Roma trails by five minutes and 35 seconds in fourth. Mikko Hirvonen rounds out the top five, over 42 minutes back.

Bikes: Sunderland leads Pablo Quintanilla by 12 minutes. Adrien Van Beveren trails by 16 minutes and seven seconds. Gerard Farres Guell is 20 minutes and 57 seconds back with Walkner rounding out the top five, 29 minutes and one second behind Sunderland.

Quads: Simon Vitse leads by eight minutes and 14 seconds over Sergei Karyakin, Axel Dutrie trails by 10 minutes and 35 seconds with Ignacio Casale 14 minutes and 36 seconds back. Daniel Mazzucco trails by over 47 minutes in fifth.

Trucks: De Rooy holds a two-minute and 23-second lead over Eduard Nikolaev. In third is Dmitry Sotnikov, who trails by six minutes and 36 seconds. Ayrat Mardeev trails by 16 minutes and 32 seconds in fourth. Pascal de Baar is fifth, over 32 minutes behind de Rooy.

Coming Up This Weekend
The conclusion of the Dakar Rally.
The Dubai 24 Hour.
The Chili Bowl, where Rico Abreu looks for his third consecutive victory in the event.
Supercross from San Diego.
Toyota Racing Series opens at Ruapuna Park.

Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 4 Hours of Buriram Preview

The second Sunday of 2017 sees the third and penultimate round of the 2016-17 Asian Le Mans Series season take place from the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. Twenty-six cars are entered for the event.

Four LMP2 cars will be on the grid. The #35 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca-Nissan leads the championship with 43 points and Gustavo Menezes and Ho-Pin Tung lead the drivers' championship. Thomas Laurent joins the American-Chinese duo for the second consecutive race. Andrea Roda trails Menezes and Tung by nine points and the Italian will be in the #25 Algarve Pro Racing Ligier-Nissan with Matt McMurry and Andrea Pizzitola. The sister #24 Ligier-Judd sees Michael Munemann moving over to join Tacksung Kim with Mark Patterson returning for his second consecutive race. Despite winning the most recent round at Fuji, the #8 Race Performance Orcea-Judd of Giorgio Maggi, Struan Moore and Fabian Schiller is at the bottom of the LMP2 table after a retirement in the season opener at Zhuhai.

After winning at Fuji, the #26 Tockwith Motorsport Ligier-Nissan of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson leaped to the top of the LMP3 championship on 44 points, four clear of the #1 DC Racing Ligier-Nissan of David Cheng and James Winslow. Hiroki Yoshida returns to the #1 Ligier for the second consecutive race. The ARC Bratislava Ginetta-Juno LMP3s are third and fourth in the standings with the #4 of Miro Konopka, Darren Burke and Mike Simpson on 30 points, eight points ahead of the #7 of Neale Muston and Konstantins Calko.

The #85 G-Print by Triple 1 Racing Ligier of Hanss Lin, Shaun Thong and Ryuichirou Ohtsuka try to rebound and get back on the podium after retiring at Fuji. PRT Racing has Ate de Jong and Charlie Robertson entered in the #67 Ginetta-Juno. Australians Scott Andrews and Aidan Reed return for their second consecutive round in the #99 Wineurasia Ligier with William Lok. Zen Low, Weiron Tan and Riki Christodoulou return in the #69 Ginetta-Juno for Aylezo Ecotint Racing. The all-Italian line-up of Philippe Prete, Angelo Negro and Louis Prete returns in the #48 ADESS-03 for PS Racing.

Michele Rugolo leads the GT drivers' championship and the #5 DH Racing Ferrari leads the teams' championship on 37 points. Matthieu Xavivière and Stéphane Lémeret join Rugolo in the #5 Ferrari for the second consecutive race and looked to make it a second consecutive victory. Ten points behind the Ferrari is the #6 VS Racing Lamborghini of Kei Cozzolino, Corey Lewis and Yuhi Sekiguchi. On 26 points is the #38 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Rui Águas, Marco Cioci and Nasrat Muzayyin, who won the opening round at Zhuhai with the #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Mok Weng Sun on 24 points. Rounding out the top five is the #37 Team BBT Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu.

Team AAI has two BMWs entered with Jesse Krohn, Akira Iida and Tom Blomqvist in the #90 and Jun San Chen, Ollie Millroy and Philipp Eng in the #91. Olivier Beretta, Alex Riberas and Rino Mastronardi look to get on the podium in the #3 DH Racing Ferrari. Vitantonio Liuzzi joins the grid in the #10 FFF Racing by ACM Lamborghini alongside Matt Bell and Hiroshi Hamaguchi. Two Audis are entered in GT: the #31 Team Audi Korea for Alex Yoong, Marchy Lee and You Kyong-Ouk and the #51 KCMG for Go Max, Tetsuya Tanaka and Toru Tanaka. The lone McLaren on the grid belongs to OD Racing Best Leader Team with Fairuz Fauzy, Jono Lester and Liam Talbot in the #89 McLaren.

Last year, the #9 Jagonya Ayam with Eurasia Oreca-Nissan of Antonio Giovinazzi and Sean Gelael won the 4 Hours of Buriram in front of over 100,000 spectators. The #1 DC Racing Ligier-Nissan of David Cheng and Ho-Pin Tung took its third consecutive victory from pole position in LMP3. The #27 Nexus Infinity Ferrari of Dominic Ang and Joshua Hunt won in the GT class.

The 4 Hours of Buriram is scheduled to take place January 8th.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Peterhansel Takes Massive Jump With Stage Three Victory

Stage three of the 2017 Dakar Rally saw massive time gaps after two compacted stages to open this year's race and three of four classes have had a change in the overall standings.

Stéphane Peterhansel won stage three in the car class and led a Peugeot 1-2-3 with Carlos Sainz finishing a minute and 54 seconds behind Peterhansel and Sébastien Loeb in third, three minutes and eight seconds back. Peterhansel jumped to third in the overall standings with his stage victory. Loeb continues to lead overall and has a 42-second lead over Sainz with Peterhansel four minutes and 18 seconds back. Mikko Hirvonen finished fourth on the day and is fourth overall, trailing Loeb in the overall standings by nine minutes and 38 seconds. Toyota had a rough stage three with Nani Roma being the best finisher on the day in eighth and remaining fifth overall, 13 minutes and four seconds back.

Yazeed Al Rajhi finds himself 15 minutes and 17 seconds back in sixth with Cyril Despres eight seconds behind the Mini driver. Orlando Terranova is 21 and a half minutes back in eighth-place. Jakub Przgonski is ninth, over 27 minutes back with Giniel de Villiers rounding out the top ten over 35 minutes back and Romain Dumas just outside the top ten over two and a half minutes behind the South African driver.

Nasser Al-Attiyah had a massive delay on stage three to repair his Toyota and dropped to 25th, over two hours off the lead. Toyota has decided to withdraw Al-Attiyah prior to the start of stage four.

The bike class saw another smashing run and a new class leader. Joan Barreda won stage three by 12 minutes and 29 seconds over Sam Sunderland and the Honda rider now holds the overall lead by 10 minutes and 20 seconds over the British KTM rider. Paulo Gonçalves finds himself 13 minutes and 42 seconds back overall after finishing fifth on the day. Paulo Quintanilla is fourth overall, 14 minutes and 56 seconds back. Toby Price dropped to fifth, 16 minutes and 19 seconds back after finishing ninth on the day.

Sixth overall is a tie between French rider Adrien Van Beveren and Spanish rider Gerard Farres Guell, both 22 minutes behind Barreda. After finishing for third on stage three, Pierre Alexandre Renet is up to eighth in the overall classification, 23 minutes and seven seconds back. American Ricky Brabec has slipped to ninth, six seconds behind Renet after finishing tenth on the day. Stefan Svitko rounds out the top ten, nearly 26 minutes behind Barreda.

Gaston Gonzalez won stage three in the quad class by four minutes and 41 seconds over Ignacio Casale but Casale moved to the overall lead of the class, four minutes and 37 seconds over Gonzalez. Pablo Copetti dropped to third in class, 18 minutes and six seconds back after Copetti finished 14th on the day. Alex Dutrie slipped to fourth in class, 18 minutes and 18 seconds behind Casale with Simon Vitse rounding out the top five, 19 minutes and 38 seconds back.

Eduard Nikolaev won stage three in the truck class and now holds the overall lead by two minutes and 27 seconds over Martin Kolomy. Federico Villagra jumped up to third, four minutes and seven seconds behind the Russian driver with Belorussian Siarhei Viazovich a minute behind the Argentine driver in fourth. Peter Versluis rounds out the top five, just over ten minutes back.

Stage four takes the competitors from San Salvador de Jujuy, Argentina to Tupiza, Bolivia. This will be the first of five stages the race will spend in Bolivia.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Loeb Takes Dakar Lead With Stage Two Victory

Through two days of the 2017 Dakar Rally, a French legend is on top of the car class while the defending champion continues to lead the way in the bike class. A local Argentine leads in the quad class and the Dutch vs. Russian battle continues in the truck class.

Sébastien Loeb won stage two of the rally from Resistencia to San Miguel de Tucumán. The Peugeot driver won by a minute and 23 seconds over Toyota's Nasser Al-Attiyah and that was enough to leapfrog Loeb over Al-Attiyah to the top of the overall standings by 28 seconds. Carlos Sainz finished third on the day, two minutes and 18 seconds back and he is a minute and 56 seconds behind his fellow Peugeot driver in the overall standings. Giniel de Villiers finished fourth on the day and is fourth overall, two minutes and five seconds back of Loeb. Nani Roma made it three Toyota drivers in the top five on the day and overall as the Spaniard trails Loeb by two minutes and 56 seconds after two days. 

Yazeed Al-Rajhi is the top Mini driver in sixth overall, five minutes and 12 seconds behind Loeb. Defending Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel finds himself trailing his fellow countryman and Peugeot driver by seven minutes and 26 seconds, placing him seventh overall. Mini's Mikko Hirvonen trails his former World Rally Championship teammate by eight minutes and 49 seconds in eighth place. Toyota's Erik Van Loon and Peugeot's Romain Dumas round out the top ten overall, nine minutes and 36 seconds and nine minutes and 58 seconds back respectively. 

On two wheels, KTM's Toby Price jumped to the top of the overall standings with a stage victory by three minutes and 51 seconds over Honda's Paulo Gonçalves. The Australian's lead over the Portuguese rider in the overall standings is two minutes and 54 seconds. Third on the day was Yamaha's Xavier De Soultrait but he is overcoming a one-minute speeding penalty in the first stage that cost him the stage victory and is fourth overall, three minutes and 41 seconds behind Price. KTM's Sam Sunderland and Husqvarna's Pablo Quintanilla rounded out the top five on the day but after third and fifth overall, with Sunderland 18 seconds ahead of De Soultrait and Quintanilla trailing the French rider by 45 seconds. 

Ricky Brabec, the lone American in the 2017 Dakar Rally sits sixth overall after two days and is three seconds outside the top five. Brabec finished second on stage one for Honda. He is 16 seconds ahead of KTM's Stefan Svitko. Joan Barreda is five minutes and 32 seconds off Price in eighth-place. Stage one winner Juan Pedrero dropped to ninth overall after stage two and the Sherco TVS rider is six minutes and 46 seconds behind Price. Gerard Farres Guell bookends the top ten overall after two stages for KTM and he is three seconds behind Pedrero for ninth. 

Argentine rider Pablo Copetti won stage two in the quad class and like the other two classes, Copetti's stage win has lifted him to top of his class standings overall. The Yamaha rider leads by four minutes and 20 seconds over stage one winner Marcelos Medeiros, who finished fourth on the day. Frenchman Axel Dutrie finished second on the day and is third overall, five minutes and 41 seconds behind Copetti. Ignacio Casale, the 2014 Dakar Rally winner in the quad class, is fourth after two days, six minutes and 25 seconds back. Paraguayan Nelson Sanabria rounds out the top five trailing Copetti by six minutes and 54 seconds after receiving a five-minute penalty on stage two. 

Martin Van Den Brink won stage two in the truck class and the Renault Trucks driver leads Kamaz's Dmitry Sotnikov by three minutes and nine seconds. Stage one winner Martin Kolomy sits third after stage two with the Tatra driver 3 minutes and 11 seconds back. Defending truck class winner Gerard de Rooy trails his fellow countryman by three minutes and 20 seconds in an Iveco. MAN's Peter Versluis makes it five different manufactures represented in the top five after two stage and is three minutes and 29 seconds back. 

Stage three goes from San Miguel de Tucumán to San Sebastian de Jujuy.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: How Ed Carpenter Can Win the 2017 Championship

We have made out of the year from hell that was 2016 and we have entered what hopefully is a step-forward in the year of 2017. While we are only in the second day of the New Year, the motorsports season starts today and there are a few events waiting for us at the end of the week but until then, here is a run down of what got me thinking.

How Ed Carpenter Can Win the 2017 Championship
The second season of the Dinner with Racers podcast dropped at the start of December and the series takes you through the diverse scene that is the motorsports world. Before getting into the new season, I listened to a few from season one I hadn't gotten a chance to hear last year. The one thing I noticed from season one was the only IndyCar competitor to appear was Simon Pagenaud. Bryan Clauson had also appeared in season one but he only competed the Indianapolis 500.

Pagenaud was the only IndyCar regular on during season one and he ended up winning the championship. Which means only one thing: If you are an IndyCar competitor and appear on Dinner with Racers, you will win the championship the following season. It is obvious. While picking through the season two episodes one-by-one, I noticed one IndyCar regular that was featured and therefore I would like to be the first to congratulate the 2017 IndyCar champion... Ed Carpenter.

Ed Carpenter... yeah... he is going to be the one lifting the Astor Cup at Sonoma... maybe not. At least not if he continues running the partial schedule he has been running for the last four seasons.

How can Ed Carpenter win the 2017 IndyCar championship?

There are 17 races on the 2017 IndyCar schedule. For Carpenter to win the championship, he is going to have to return to being a full-time driver. That means no Spencer Pigot or RC Enerson or Zach Veach or Jack Hawksworth or Jack Harvey in the #20 Chevrolet on road and street circuits. It wouldn't be impossible but Carpenter would need to be near flawless.

Carpenter would need to systematically break the championship down by points. Should there be no changes to the points system, Indianapolis 500 and Sonoma remaining double points and Indianapolis 500 qualifying points remaining, the maximum possible points for the 2017 season would be 1,056 points. Since 1979, the average percentage of maximum points for a champion is 61.38% but since reunification the average percentage of maximum points for a champion is 62.47% meaning the 2017 IndyCar champion will likely need somewhere between 648-660 points.

However, since the start of the DW12-era in 2012, the average percentage of maximum points for a champion is 58.78% with Pagenaud's 2016 skewing the numbers as he scored 65.57% of the maximum points. The previous four champions in the DW12-era had all failed to score more than 58% of the maximum points. If you take the median percentage of maximum points for a champion in the DW12-era, that would bring the lower figure down to 57.73%, meaning the range would be anywhere from 609-660 points.

Of the 1,056 points available, 415 points are available from the six oval races. Ed Carpenter would need all of those 415 points. He would have to win all six races from pole position and leading the most laps along the way. While that seems like a good points haul, 415 points would have only put him 14th in the 2016 championship but in 2015, that would have put Carpenter tenth in the championship.

Let's just say Carpenter needs to get to the low end of that 609-600 range to be champion and he accomplishes the daunting task of scoring all 415 points from the oval races. He would need to score 194 points in the 11 road/street course races. That would be an average of 17.6 points per race. Twelfth-place pays 18 points and while that doesn't seem like much, 12th is asking a lot of Ed Carpenter on a road/street course.

Carpenter made 49 road/street course races from 2005 to 2013. In those 49 starts, he finished in the top 12 six times with his best finish being sixth. His average finish in road/street course races is 17.34. If Carpenter finished 17th in all 11 road/street course races, he would score 156 points. Add that to his 415 points from ovals and he is on 571 points. In 2016, 571 points would have gotten Carpenter second in the championship. In 2015, Carpenter would have won the championship with 571 points. However, 571 points is only 54.07% of the maximum points for the 2017 season and that would be the lowest percentage of maximum points since Gil de Ferran won the 2001 CART championship with 45.22% but in an entirely different points system.

However, what if Carpenter finished 15th in each road/street course race? Considering there might only be 21 cars on the grid for each road/street course race, he would just need to keep the car on the road, not have any mechanical failures and maybe have a strategist that rivals Dale Coyne to get him 15th but let's say he can get 15th in each road/street course race. That would be 180 points, add that to 415 points from the oval races and he would have 595 points. Once again, that would have been good enough to get him second in the 2016 championship and would have won him the 2015 title. While it doesn't reach the 609-point mark, 595 points is 56.3% of the maximum amount and it could be enough for the title especially when looking at the other champions in the DW12-era.

In all likelihood, Ed Carpenter will not lift the Astor Cup as a driver come Sonoma in September. He seems comfortable in his oval-only role but after everything that happened in 2016 you cannot say it won't happen and if it were to happen, how would people respond to a driver who was impeccable in six races but was mediocre for nearly two-thirds of the season? Would fans cry for change? Of course. Would the series react and change the points system? Maybe. If IndyCar was NASCAR, definitely. I can't help but feel it would be viewed as a black eye for the series, regardless of who won the championship.

Even though Carpenter won't likely do it in 2017, it is still possible. In fact, the type of scenario I have laid out is just the ripe scenario for Marco Andretti to become IndyCar champion and leave a swarm of fans angry and arguing that despite winning six races, including the Indianapolis 500, Andretti would still be a talentless driver who only has a ride because of his father. I kind of want to see that just to see the grandstand turn red.

Winners While We Were Away
Here are some notable results since the last time we met on a Monday:

On December 17th, the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Davide Rigon, Giacomo Piccini and Michael Broniszewski won the Gulf 12 Hours. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of Thomas Flohr, Francesco Castellacci and Andrea Rizzoli took the Pro-Am victory. The #77 Kessel Racing Ferrari of Jacques Duyver, Marco Zanuttini and David Perel won in the Gentleman class. The #5 Graff Ligier-Nissan of James Winslow, Gregory Taylor and Neale Muston won in the Prototype class. The #50 Scuderia Villorba Corse Maserati of Patrick Zamparini, Piotr Chodzen and Antoni Chosen won in the GX class.

Romain Grosjean won a Andros Trophy race at Alpe d'Huez on December 17th. Olivier Panis won the race the day before.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Dakar Rally begins today.
The AMA Supercross season starts in Anaheim.
Asian Le Mans Series runs it penultimate round of the 2016-17 season at Buriram.