Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

The best team not to win a race in 2016 was Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and it wasn't that one driver came close to winning a race but the entire team was close to winning a race. Both drivers had a pole position and a runner-up finish. Both drivers had multiple top fives finishes. Both drivers led over 100 laps during the season, something only eight drivers accomplished but neither finished in the top ten of the championship while the other six drivers did and five of them finished in the top six of the championship. It wasn't a bad year for SPM in 2016 but can the team get the results to justify its success in 2017?

2016 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Pocono, Texas)
Poles: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Pocono)
Final Championship Positions: 13th (James Hinchcliffe), 15th (Oriol Servià), 24th (Oriol Servià).

2017 Drivers:

James Hinchcliffe - #5 Arrows Electronics Honda
The Canadian returned to full-time competition after his near-fatal accident during Indianapolis 500 practice in 2015. Hinchcliffe had a slow start to the season but got the ball rolling at Long Beach where he finished eighth followed by sixth at Barber and third at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Then came his triumphant Indianapolis 500 pole position and a strong run in the race before settling for a seventh-place finish. He had five consecutive top ten finishes from Iowa to Texas, which included a third at his home race in Toronto, a notoriously poor race for him. While he finished second at Texas, he lost 25 points for his car being too low during post-race inspection and that dropped him significantly in the championship while running out of fuel on the final lap while in a podium position at Watkins Glen killed his chances of a career-best championship finish.

Numbers to Remember: 
3: Starts from last on the grid in 2016.

9: Hinchcliffe finished ahead of Mikhail Aleshin in nine of 16 races.

9: Hinchcliffe qualified ahead of Mikhail Aleshin in nine of 16 races.

11: Average starting position in 2016.

217: Laps led in 2016, the fourth-most.

I think Hinchcliffe will be aiming to get a career-best championship finish after being so close to it last year. Had he not lost those 25 points after Texas, Hinchcliffe would have at least matched his career-best of eighth. There isn't much to complain about Hinchcliffe's 2015 season but the one thing he needs to do is get a few more top five finishes and top ten finishes and qualify better on road and street circuits. I think Hinchcliffe will get a victory in 2017.

Mikhail Aleshin - #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
After missing 15 of 16 races in the 2015 season, Aleshin returned to full-time IndyCar competition in 2016. After getting a tenth-place finish in a cameo in the 2015 season finale at Sonoma, the Russian kicked off 2016 with a fifth-place finish at St. Petersburg. After that, Aleshin's season tapered off outside of a memorable qualifying run at Indianapolis where he saved the car entering turn one and ended up starting seventh but spun in the race. He wouldn't finish in the top ten again until Iowa, where he finished fifth and that was followed by a sixth at Toronto. Aleshin's highlight of the season was winning pole position at Pocono, leading 87 laps and finishing second.

Numbers to Remember: 
3.0625: Difference between Hinchcliffe's average finish and Aleshin's average finish in 2016 (10.8125 to 13.875).

4: Four of the seven times Aleshin finished ahead of Hinchcliffe were when neither driver finished in the top ten.

4.3125: Aleshin scored on average 4.3125 points fewer than Hinchcliffe at each race.

10.9375: Average starting position in 2016.

120: Laps led in 2016, the eighth-most.

While Aleshin only finished two positions behind his teammate in the championship, he finished 69 points off Hinchcliffe and had Hinchcliffe not lost those points after Texas it would have been a seven-place difference. A lot of people are high on Aleshin off his prowess on ovals but in nine races last year Aleshin finished outside the top fifteen and that is something he needs to correct otherwise people will realize he is a one-trick pony. I don't see Aleshin making that big of a step forward. Maybe he improves by a position or two in the championship but I think 2017 will be another year of two shining moments that blind many from seven races where he isn't even mentioned.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 27, 2017

It Wasn't That Bad: 2017 Daytona 500

Nearly 24 hours have past since the Daytona 500 finished with Kurt Busch beating Ryan Blaney and A.J. Allmendinger to the line and it is a race that has left me feeling nothing but not an emptiness.

I commented in the minutes after the race that the first 400 miles were crap but the final 100 miles were quite good. I stand by that latter part but it wasn't that the first 400 miles were crap, the first 300 miles were forgetful and the next 100 miles were crap and the final 100 miles were quite good. 

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick won the first two stages but I don't know if either of those conclusions left me with the memories NASCAR were hoping they would. It was lap 60 and lap 120 in a 500-mile, 200-lap race. The top ten drivers got points but awarding points doesn't give people a reason to remember. It's just adding points onto an already irrelevant total of points but that is another story based on the championship format that we can talk about in another post. 

The final 100 miles I remember because all the crap was behind us and you had 12 cars break away and fight for the victory with the only previous Daytona 500 winner in the group being Joey Logano and the soul-crushing thought of running out of fuel costing the other 11 drivers a shot of the most important victory of their careers create the tension that stages can't replicate. 

I wrote prior to the Daytona 500 that segments were just two guaranteed caution periods and that is all they are but are they needed? If NASCAR just wanted to award points for the top ten drivers at the lap 60 and lap 120 marks they could do it and do it with the race remaining green. It is quite simple. First 10 drivers to complete lap 60 and lap 120 get the points and we continue with no delay but the caution period is necessary for this 21st century creation. 

The caution period at the end of the stage is meant for commercials and the thought is losing five or six laps under caution is better than losing five or six laps of green flag action due to commercials. It is actually a noble thought and I believe NASCAR and the television partners are doing this with the fans in mind but maybe it is an unsolvable problem. 

Fans are always going to complain about commercial breaks and it doesn't matter what you do and it doesn't matter if you explain how necessary they are. As I once heard Seth Meyers put it, hating commercial breaks is like saying your least favorite part of grocery shopping is checking out. 

A race isn't built for commercials and fans don't want races built for commercials. You are going to miss green flag action. It is inevitable and networks do the best they can to get commercials in during caution periods but there aren't enough to make sure the only thing viewers see is green flag racing and cautions aren't as easy as a yellow flag coming out and straight to commercial. A yellow flag comes out then you need a shot of the cause and then replays upon replays of the cause, then lining the cars up and opening the pit lane for pit stops and then going to commercial after showing the replay of the race off the pit lane. 

I don't know what could be done. Maybe after pit stops during a caution period allow television to show three minutes worth of commercials and then return to the broadcast and go green once those three minutes are complete? But you need cautions to subsidize for that time and if a race is non-stop green then you are going to have to lose green flag time to commercials. The network could take a commercial break every 15 minutes but I am not sure that is the best solution either. I don't have the answer and as shocking as it may be, NASCAR and the networks are probably working for the best solution. 

Despite the negativity before the introduction of the stages, the overnight television ratings for this year's race was up to a 6.5 from a 6.1, a seven-percent increase, and last year's final rating was a 6.6. Zooming out for a second it is important to let you know that since Fox became the exclusive broadcaster of the Daytona 500 in 2007, the highest rating for the race was a 10.2 in 2008. Were the stages the cause for the increase in television rating? Probably not. Was the later start time the cause? That is probably a greater cause than the stages considering it is a later start for the west coast and it ended in the early part of prime time on the east coast. Also, consider that the 2008 race started at 3:30 p.m. ET. 

One thing that I haven't seen speculated as a cause for the bump is the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. His return could be dismissed as a potential reason because he was in last year's race. It's not like Jeff Gordon came back after a year away but Earnhardt, Jr. was gone for a prolonged portion of 2016 and some speculated he may never race again last summer and with even Earnhardt, Jr. himself not committing to racing long-term perhaps there was a segment of people who felt compelled to watch this year because of the possibility of it being Earnhardt, Jr.'s final time running the Daytona 500.

While the Daytona 500 is important, the key thing is making sure that seven-percent increase continues for Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fontana, through the rest of the Fox portion of the season and NBC's portion as well. If that seven-percent increase carries over the next 35 races then maybe NASCAR is on to something but we have a long way to go until we reach that point. 

Musings From the Weekend: Form is Fallacy

Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 and led just the final lap. Now he could join Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt as the only drivers to win the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. His boss Tony Stewart is already sponsoring a car with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports but let's just wait and see what happens. It was a mess of a race in Daytona. Actually, all three races in Daytona were a mess. Away from Daytona, there were three photo finishes in Australia, a farewell in Atlanta and Formula One teams unveiled there 2017 machines as testing begins today. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Form is Fallacy
Besides motorsports, I have a fond love for soccer and if you follow the game here in the United States you know who Alexi Lalas is. The Greek-American who represented the United States in two World Cups and now commentates on Fox Sports' soccer coverage is known to have strong opinions that ruffle the feathers of many fan bases. One of Lalas' frequent points that sticks with me is "form is fallacy."

A rough definition of "form is fallacy" is just because someone is playing well in one situation doesn't mean he or she will continue at the same level in another situation. The easiest example is let's say Player A is doing well at the club level and is scoring a lot of goals but that doesn't necessary mean Player A will continue that production should he or she get called up for a national team. Player A could go from someone who is benefitting from playing a certain formation at a club and could be forced into another formation on the national team and even if the national team uses the same formation as Player A's club if the pieces aren't providing the same support around Player A than Player A's production won't necessarily match that of Player A's production at the club level.

So what does this theory from a retired American soccer player have to do with motorsports?

In the last few days a few drivers have tested or been announced to be testing an IndyCar and while some have been met with praise, others have been met with scorn. Let's start with Ricky Taylor, who drove Simon Pagenaud's car at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Thursday. The recent 24 Hours of Daytona winner's day with Penske was met with a fair amount of excitement and Robin Miller even said on The Marshall Pruett Podcast that Taylor is a driver IndyCar needs.

A few days prior to Taylor's test, it became official that Pipo Derani, winner of the 2016 24 Hours of Daytona and 2016 12 Hours of Sebring would be testing a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at Sebring on March 1st and the news of his test wasn't met with the same fanfare. While some, including myself, were excited to see the Brazilian get a shot at an IndyCar, other unearthed Derani's past results in open-wheel cars and scrutinized his lack of success in a limited Pro Mazda season and how he finished eighth in the 2012 British F3 Championship, a season that only saw 11 drivers contest the full season.

It is easy to dismiss a driver on his or her past results but just because a driver is successful in one category doesn't mean he or she will be in the next and nor does a driver's lack of success mean he or she couldn't succeed in the next step up.

Take Simon Pagenaud. The defending IndyCar champion doesn't have fans dismissing he success because he finished 16th in the 2005 Formula Renault 3.5 Series while the likes of Adrián Vallés, Tristan Gommendy, Félix Porteiro and Andreas Zuber all finished in the top six of the championship that season or the fact that Pagenaud finished second in the 2004 Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup season to Scott Speed.

It would have been easy to dismiss Pagenaud come 2006 when he entered the Formula Atlantic championship and even after winning the title that season it would have been easy to dismiss him as he was driving for Walker Racing and had only won once that season while vice-champion Graham Rahal won five times. However, a decade later and after a respectable season in Champ Car, a Peugeot factory ride and a return to IndyCar five years ago, no one with common sense would try to argue that Vallés, Gommendy, Porteiro, Zuber and Speed are better than Pagenaud today and all those drivers finished ahead of him in support series. Scott Speed even had decent results in GP2 and made it to Formula One but even then no one would say Scott Speed is the better driver than the Frenchman.

Does this mean junior formula series results don't matter? No. There are plenty of drivers who won at every level of the ladder system and ended up becoming top drivers at the highest levels but if we see a driver with Sakon Yamamoto-like results getting a Formula One seat and hasn't scored points in a few years in multiple junior formula series, we probably have an idea of how that driver is going to do. However, in-between the protégés the likes of Lewis Hamilton and head scratchers the likes of Yamamoto, there are drivers who develop at different rates and just because those drivers aren't winning every championship from the age of six years old doesn't mean IndyCar or NASCAR or even Formula One should be out of reach.

We should still look at the results but we shouldn't cherry-pick the seasons when a driver is likely still a teenager and wasn't at the front of the pack as the clear evidence that a driver won't cut it at a certain level and therefore be deemed unworthy of an opportunity.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Kurt Busch but did you know....

Jonathan Rea swept the Superbike races from Phillip Island. Rea defeated Chaz Davies by 0.042 seconds in race one and 0.025 seconds in race two. Italian Roberto Rolfo won the World Supersport race by 0.001 seconds over Lucas Mahias.

Ryan Dungey won the final Supercross race from the Georgia Dome.

Ryan Reed won the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Daytona. Kaz Grala won the Truck race, his first career victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One continues testing this week from Barcelona.
NASCAR heads north to Atlanta.
The Supercars season begins in Adelaide.
Supercross crosses the border and will race under a roof in Toronto.
The Road to Indy series will be testing this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

For the second consecutive season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing carried the Honda flag in 2016 and finished as best of the rest in IndyCar and now the team looks to continue to be the Japanese manufacture's leader for a third consecutive season. The task hasn't got any easier as the team will have to contest with the returning Chip Ganassi Racing, a rebuilt Andretti Autosport, an unchanged Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and a Sébastien Bourdais-led Dale Coyne Racing for that honor.

2016 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Texas)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 5th (Sonoma).
Final Championship Positions: 5th (Graham Rahal).

2017 Drivers:

Graham Rahal - #15 United Rentals/Steak & Shake Honda
After a career year in 2015, where Rahal found himself in championship contention until the final race, the American had a more up-and-down 2016 season but still was a contender in many races and continued to carry the Honda flag. He challenged Simon Pagenaud at Barber in one of the more thrilling road course battles in recent memory only to have contact with a back marker force him to limp home in second-place. He had another great run at Road America and Mid-Ohio before taking a photo-finish victory at Texas and ended the season with another battle with Pagenaud at Sonoma and again coming home in second position.

Numbers to Remember: 
4.5: Average finish in the championship the last two seasons (Rahal is the first American to finish in the top five in the championship in consecutive seasons since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2006 and 2007).

14: Laps led in 2016, the fifth-fewest laps led by a race winner in a season since reunification (Dan Wheldon: 1 (2011), Danica Patrick: 4 (2008), Carlos Huertas: 7 (2014), Ed Carpenter: 11 (2011)).

4: Rahal has qualified in the top five four times in the DW12-era. (Texas 2012 (3rd), Houston 2 2014 (4th), Pocono 2015 (5th), Sonoma 2016 (5th). This does not include having his qualifying time disallowed at the 2016 Grand Prix of Indianapolis after qualifying third).

Rahal had eight top five finishes in 2016, tied for the second-most but those were his only top ten finishes in the season. If he can maintain that number of top five finishes and podiums (which he had four of), but add four or five top ten finishes, he is going to be a legitimate championship contender. He needs to improve on big ovals where the team has lacked speed the last few seasons. Qualifying, as a whole is something Rahal needs to improve on as the facts above show. He hasn't had multiple top five starts in a season since he had six in 2011. To be fair, he did make the Fast Six session on five occasions in 2016 out of ten races and that does not include losing his third-place starting position in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I don't think Rahal is going to be the top Honda driver in the championship but he will again finish solidly in the top ten of the championship and will get a win on a road course.

Oriol Servià - #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
After getting a surprise substitute role for Will Power at St. Petersburg, Servià was back at Indianapolis with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and made an impressive qualifying run and ended up starting tenth and had a solid race, running around the top ten all day and finished 12th. Servià has made 199 IndyCar starts and is confirmed for only the Indianapolis 500 but the team hopes to have the Catalan driver competing in more than one race in 2017.

Numbers to Remember: 
104: Starts since Servià's only IndyCar victory at Montreal in 2005.

4: Servià's last four IndyCar starts have been with four different teams (RLLR, Andretti, Penske, Schmidt Peterson).

11: Serviá has had a top ten finish with 11 of the 15 teams he has driven for (PPI Motorsports, Sigma Autosport, PWR Championship Racing, Patrick Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Newman-Haas Racing, PKV/KV Racing, Team Forsythe, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Panther Racing and RLLR).

I think the goal is to have Servià run more than one race but I don't think he runs majority of the schedule. Maybe RLLR can roll in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and/or the Belle Isle doubleheader into an Indianapolis 500 sponsorship deal as those races are on ABC and get better ratings than the rest of the schedule. As for how he will do at Indianapolis? If RLLR can find some speed opposed from the last few years, Servià should be able to qualify somewhere between row four and row seven and run a respectable race and finish on the lead lap.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Andretti Autosport

The fifth 2017 IndyCar Team Preview looks at the team that was probably the most frustrated from 2016 but not because nothing went the team's way but rather for how close many things were to going its way but didn't. Andretti Autosport's four entries might not have finished as well as expected but 2016 wasn't a disaster and there were plenty of bright spots for the team, including another Indianapolis 500 victory. The team has a new driver and has shuffle some of the pieces on the pit stands as it looks to find itself back in the fight at the top of IndyCar.

2016 Andretti Autosport Review:
Wins: 1 (Indianapolis 500)
Poles: 1 (Texas)
Final Championship Positions: 10th (Carlos Muñoz), 11th (Alexander Rossi), 12th (Ryan Hunter-Reay), 16th (Marco Andretti), 27th (Townsend Bell).

2017 Drivers:

Takuma Sato - #26 Andretti Autosport Honda
After three seasons at A.J. Foyt Racing, the Japanese driver will continue his IndyCar career by heading to his fourth team in what will be his eighth season. The 40-year-old driver is coming off matching his second-worst finish in the championship after finishing 17th. Despite the poor championship finish, Sato did have two top-five finishes, the fifth time he had multiple top five finishes in a season.

Numbers to Remember: 
66: Starts since Sato's most recent victory.

4.57: Average amount of top ten finishes a season in Sato's seven IndyCar seasons.

11: Lead lap finishes in 2016, the most in Sato's IndyCar career.

Expectations aren't high for Takuma Sato. After seven seasons, we know who he is and what he is capable off. There is no point in wondering if this will be the year Sato figures it out and turns his pace into results with an absence of accidents. However, he is coming off 11 lead lap finishes in 16 races last year and only retired from three races, two of which were accidents and both came in the 500-mile races. The goal should be not to finish last among the four Andretti drivers and match what he did last year.

Marco Andretti - #27 hhgregg Honda
The only way to describe Andretti's 2016 season would be consistent but mediocre. The American finished all 16 races and completed all but eight laps but he didn't get a top ten finish until Belle Isle and added just two more in the back half of the season with an eighth-place finish at Sonoma being his best finish of the season. Nine of Andretti's finishes in 2016 were between 11th and 14th position. Qualifying was not any better with 11th at Phoenix being his best grid position.

Numbers to Remember: 
92: Starts since his most recent victory (He went 77 starts between his first two career victories).

2,062: Laps completed in 2016, the second-most in 2016.

0: Laps led in 2016, the first time Andretti did not lead a lap in the season.

Andretti turns 30 years old the day after St. Petersburg. He has to be a bigger factor than he was in 2016. He needs at least two or three top five finishes and turn a lot of those near top ten finishes into top ten finishes. Eight top ten finishes isn't out of the discussion for Andretti. He is also going to have to improve his average starting position by at least three points from 17.5. Ultimately, while Sato's goal should be not to be the bottom of the four Andretti drivers, Andretti's goal should be to at least stay ahead of Sato in the championship.

Ryan Hunter-Reay - #28 DHL Honda
Despite having as many podiums, more top five finishes and more top ten finishes than his 2015 season, Hunter-Reay dropped six places in the championship from sixth to 12th, finishing behind two of his teammates and going winless for the first time since the 2009 season, where he didn't get a ride until the week before the season opener at St. Petersburg and then had to switch teams midseason from Vision Racing to A.J. Foyt Racing.

Numbers to Remember: 
17: Starts since his most recent victory (Longest drought since he went 18 starts between his Iowa victories in 2014-15).

3: Third-place finishes in 2016, the most third-place finishes in a season for Hunter-Reay.

48: Races since most recent pole position (Long Beach 2014).

I think the goal is to win and get back into the top ten of the championship and compete to be the top Honda in the championship, which has only gotten harder now that Ganassi has moved back to Honda and Sébastien Bourdais has joined Dale Coyne Racing. I think Hunter-Reay does get a victory possibly two and will find himself in the back half of the top ten of the championship but not the top Honda driver but maybe good enough to be the second-best Honda driver.

Alexander Rossi - #98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda
Coming off earning Rookie of the Year with a Indianapolis 500 victory as the cherry on top of that, Rossi looks to make more strides forward. While his Indianapolis 500 victory was a surprise but also came after Rossi had a strong month of May, success came slow to him. He didn't get a top ten start until ninth at Texas and didn't make it out of round one of knockout qualifying on road/street circuits until Mid-Ohio with his seventh-place start at Pocono being his best of the season. He closed out the season with back-to-back top ten finishes at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember: 
2: Of the previous rookie Indianapolis 500 winners won a race the following season (Frank Lockhart won four times in 1927 and Hélio Castroneves won twice in 2002).

22: Of Rossi's 23 laps led in 2016 were on ovals (Indianapolis: 14, Iowa: 4, Pocono: 4).

118: Rossi won the 2016 Rookie of the Year award by 118 points over Conor Daly.

I think Rossi has to make a step forward on road and street circuits and I think he will. I think he gets at least one podium on a road/street circuit and makes it to the Fast Six session at least once. I think Rossi can rival Hunter-Reay in terms of success and challenge him for being the top Andretti driver. Look for Rossi to have between four to five top five finishes and eight to ten top ten finishes and either finish just inside the top ten of the championship or finishing 11th for the second consecutive season.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Clash a-ha Savior of the Universe

KV Racing died. Formula E returned and will now be taking a six-week break after having the previous three months off. Supercross visited a new venue. NASCAR suffered its first rain delay on its first weekend of the season. Joey Logano won the Clash after Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski got together. Chase Elliott won the pole position for the Daytona 500 for the second consecutive year with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. qualifying second. Brendan Gaughan and Elliott Sadler have also qualified for the Daytona 500. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Clash a-ha Savior of the Universe
What is the point of the Clash? Or the Shootout... or the Unlimited? Or whatever you want to call the exhibition race that rings in the NASCAR season. The whole origins of the race don't make any sense. A race for the pole winners from the season before and to prove what? Who the best pole winner is? It is a knockoff All-Star Race.

Perhaps thirty years ago the race made sense, as it was an extra race to put on television and give fans a taste of something after a long, quiet winter before the 500-mile meal to fatten the fans to get through the final couple weeks of winter.

The Thursday night Daytona 500 qualifying races became redundant after the top 35 were locked into race and made even further redundant once charters were introduced. To solve that issue NASCAR decided to pay 10 points to each winner to justify the existence of the races. However, the Clash is another story. What is the point? Do the fans need to whet their appetites just three months after the nearly 40-week gorging ended? Maybe there was a time when people would stop and watch this exhibition but the world is more diluted than ever with options to take up our time and another race isn't going to take attention away from those interested in NBA All-Star Saturday Night full of a skills challenge, three-point contest and slam dunk contest. Fortunately or unfortunately the rain delay erased that conflict but it still doesn't solve the problem.

When thinking about the Clash and the NBA All-Star Game and all all-star games for that matter, the Clash is just another race but all-star games are special events each year. All-star games and all-star weekends might be equally as meaningless as the Clash but they do provide everlasting memories. From Magic Johnson's return in 1992 to Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant reuniting in 2009 and sharing the MVP award to Larry Bird calling the three-point contest with the final shot still in the air to dunk contests that featured Spud Webb, Michael Jordan taking off from the free throw line and Vince Carter declaring its over in Oakland, NBA All-Star weekend provides something.

Name a Clash/Shootout/Unlimited that stands out or a moment from those races. What? Ricky Rudd's barrel roll that forced him to duct tape his eyes open? That's it. A 75-lap race to fill a Saturday night on Fox Sports 1 (or late Sunday morning because of rain) needs to do something more than just be another race. One thing all-star games do is it brings players together that don't play together on a regular basis and maybe that is something NASCAR should take from other sports instead of segmenting races.

Keep the Clash at 75 laps with a draw for the starting order, a 25-lap first segment and a 50-lap final segment. However, after the first segment, pay the winner $100,000 dollars, have all the cars come to the pit lane and have the drivers get of the car. Have each driver that finished the segment lineup inverse from the segment one results and have the drivers draw a number out of a hat but instead of setting up the starting order, that is the car the driver is going to start the final segment in.

For example, Joey Logano won segment one ahead of Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. was the last car running in segment one after Kurt Busch's accident. Truex, Jr. would draw first and let's say he draws the number four. Truex, Jr. would get into Patrick's car for the second segment. This would continue until each car has a new driver. Of course, have a rule that would prevent a driver from drawing his or her own car.

Imagine having Chase Elliott in Kyle Larson's car and Larson in Matt Kenseth's car and Kenseth in Joey Logano's car and Logano in Kevin Harvick's car and Harvick back at Richard Childress Racing in place of Austin Dillon. Besides being in a different car, the driver would be in a whole new position for the restart. Truex, Jr. could go from 16th after the first segment to restarting in the #22 Ford in place of Joey Logano if he drew position one and vice versa.

Would it be confusing? At first for sure but who cares? It is a race that means nothing at the start of the season. It would at least be different and test the drivers, as they would have to get out of their comfort zones and get into a car with an unknown setup. It would be interesting to hear drivers compare how their initial car felt compared to the setup to the car for segment two. Teams may be conservative and play their cards to their chest not to reveal any secrets to a competitor and purposely sabotage the car's setup but it could end up biting them if they actually accidentally set the car up to the liking of the new driver without them even knowing it.

Pay $250,000 for the segment two winner with the team and driver splitting it 50-50. As for crew chiefs, I would allow crew chiefs to crossover that way we don't have to worry about changing helmets or radio frequency. It will be tough enough for a driver getting into an unknown car, no need to give them an unfamiliar voice as well.

A downside would be making sure the seats fit each driver. We have seen driver changes before but teams don't entirely change the seat for the substituting driver. I am sure as the draw is going on teams could install the proper seats into each car but I don't know how long and tedious it is to take a seat out and put it in and any longer than a 20-minute break could spell trouble for the broadcast.

Not only could getting each seat fitted and draw be an issue but inevitably we could be facing conflicts with drivers and their sponsors. Kyle Larson might throw a tantrum if he draws Jimmie Johnson's car because Larson is sponsored by Target and Johnson by Lowe's and there is probably some conflict there. Or what if Jimmy John's-sponsored Kevin Harvick draws Jamie McMurray's McDonald's car or vice versa? And let's not forget that Harvick has been a Ford driver his entire life since November 21, 2016. In my eyes, ignoring sponsor commitments for one night and just having the drivers be drivers and race regardless of the engine under the hood or whatever company is pissing away millions of dollars on the hood of the car is worth it. In the end, if the car wins the sponsor will quickly forget who is behind the wheel.

If seat swaps and the draw could be done in a timely manner and drivers won't be brain-dead brand loyalists, the Clash could evolve from being an otherwise meaningless race into a meaningless but intriguing race. Of all the things NASCAR has taken from other sports, this could be one that fans actually support.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Logano and Elliott but did you know...

Sébastien Buemi won the Buenos Aires ePrix, his third consecutive victory.

Eli Tomac won the Supercross race from Minneapolis, his third victory of the season.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Daytona 500.
World Superbikes and World Supersport begin their respective seasons at Phillip Island.
Supercross makes its final appearance at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 Speedweeks Preview

The 2017 NASCAR season is upon us and this weekend marks the unofficial start to the season with the renamed Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition race on Saturday night followed by Daytona 500 pole position qualifying on Sunday afternoon.

Seventeen cars are entered for the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Saturday night. Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner and defending Daytona 500 winner and could solely move into second-place all-time in Clash victories should he win his fourth. He would trail only Dale Earnhardt, who won the exhibition race six times. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth won the then-Sprint Unlimited in 2014 and Kyle Busch won the event in 2012. Joe Gibbs Racing has won three consecutive Clashes, four of the last five and has won six of the last eleven editions of the race and is tied with Richard Childress Racing for most Clash victories by a team with eight victories apiece.

Daniel Suárez make his Cup series debut in the #19 Toyota as NASCAR will allow him to race despite not meeting the criteria because the team had prepared the car for the event prior to Carl Edwards announcing his retirement. Martin Truex, Jr. is the only other Toyota in the field. He finished second in the 2015 edition to Matt Kenseth.

Jimmie Johnson returns as the defending series champion but has not won this race since 2005. Alex Bowman will race the #88 Chevrolet in place of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Earnhardt, Jr. was eligible for the race as a two-time winner of the event and as the 2011 Daytona 500 pole-sitter but will take the race off and Bowman was eligible after winning pole position at Phoenix last November. Earnhardt, Jr. will make his return to competition in the Daytona 500 after being sidelined since July due to a concussion. This is the first Clash not to feature Earnhardt, Jr. since 2000, which was won by Dale Jarrett. Chase Elliott makes his Clash debut after winning last year's Daytona 500 pole position. His father Bill won the Clash in 1987. Hendrick Motorsports has won the Clash six times with Ken Schrader, Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. responsible for the victories.

Both Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are entered and the team is going for its third Clash victory. Logano finished second last year to Hamlin and Keselowski finished second to Hamlin in 2014. Stewart-Haas Racing makes it debut with Ford. Kevin Harvick has won the event three times and Kurt Busch won the race in 2011. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of Harvick's lone Daytona 500 victory. Danica Patrick will make her fourth appearance in the race. Her best finish is tenth. Ford has not won the event since 2004 when Dale Jarrett won for Robert Yates Racing.

Austin Dillon is the only Richard Childress Racing driver in the Clash. The team hasn't won the race since 2013 and all the teams' victories came at the hands of Dale Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick. Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are in the race. Larson has finished in the top five the last two years in the race and McMurray's best finish was second in 2011. Chris Buescher makes his Clash debut with JTG Daugherty Racing. The Ganassi drivers and Buescher are eligible by qualifying for the Chase last year.

This year's Clash will be the first one not to feature a Roush owned car since 1988 but Roush Fenway Racing has two cars entered for the Daytona 500 with 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Clint Bowyer makes his debut for Stewart-Haas Racing in the #14 Ford replacing the retired Tony Stewart. Ryan Blaney returns for his third consecutive Daytona 500 in the famed #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

Matt DiBenedetto moves to Go Fas Racing from BK Racing to drive the #32 Ford. Landon Cassill remains at Front Row Motorsports but moves to the #34 Ford with David Ragan moving from BK Racing into the #38 Ford. Aric Almirola heads into his seventh Daytona 500 and for the sixth time with Richard Petty Racing. Cole Whitt joins TriStar Motorsports in the #72 Ford. Whitt failed to qualify for last year's Daytona 500 but his best career Cup finish came at Daytona last year in the July race with an 11th-place finish.

Kasey Kahne makes his 14th Daytona 500 appearance and he is still looking for his first top five finish in the famed race. He has started 13th in the last two Daytona 500s and finished 13th last year. Ty Dillon returns for his third Daytona 500 start but this year in the #13 Germain Racing Chevrolet. Paul Menard and 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman both return with Richard Childress Racing.

Jeffrey Earnhardt will make his Daytona 500 debut in the #33 Chevrolet for the newly merged Circle Sport - The Motorsports Group. The 27-year-old Earnhardt has made 25 Cup starts with his best finish being 27th at Richmond last September with Go Fas Racing. A.J. Allmendinger returns for his eighth Daytona 500 and fourth with JTG Daugherty Racing. Since finishing third in his Daytona 500 debut in 2009, Allmendinger's average finish in the other six starts is 24th. Michael McDowell returns in the #95 Leavine Family Racing and is coming off a tenth-place finish at last year's season finale at Homestead.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip will make his 784th and final start in what will be his 30th Daytona 500 start in the #15 Premium Motorsports Toyota. Waltrip will retire with the tenth most starts in NASCAR Cup Series history. He has also led at least one lap in 31 consecutive seasons. Joey Gase will make his Daytona 500 debut in the #23 BK Racing Toyota. In 13 Cup starts, Gase's best finish was 32nd at Phoenix last March. Along with Gase, Erik Jones will make his Daytona 500 debut in the #77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota.

The following six teams are the non-chartered teams and will have to make the race either on qualifying speed or through the Thursday night qualifying races. For the first time since 2012, Elliott Sadler will attempt to make the Daytona 500 in the #7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet. Sadler has six top ten finishes in 13 Daytona 500 starts. Timmy Hill will attempt to make his Daytona 500 debut in the #51 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet. Reed Sorenson missed last year's race and will again have to either qualify or race his way in but this time in the #55 Premium Motorsports Toyota. Brendan Gaughan will attempt to make his first Daytona 500 since 2004 in the #75 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet. Corey Lajoie will attempt to make his Daytona 500 debut in the #83 BK Racing Toyota. Lajoie has two Cup starts but both those came in 2014. Canadian D.J. Kennington will drive the #96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota. Kennington's lone Cup start came at Phoenix last November.

Heading into Daytona 500 pole position qualifying, three of the last four pole positions have been won by rookie drivers and the last two pole positions have been won by Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie Johnson is the only active driver with multiple Daytona 500 pole positions. No one has won the Daytona 500 from pole position since Dale Jarrett in 2000. Toyota has yet to win a Daytona 500 pole position.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is looking for his sixth Daytona 500 qualifying race victory and he could tie Cale Yarborough for second all-time in that department. Earnhardt, Jr. has won a qualifying race each of the last two years and should he win a qualifying race this year, he would join Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson and his father as the only drivers to win a qualifying race in three consecutive years. His father won a qualifying race for ten consecutive years from 1990 to 1999.

The Advance Auto Parts Clash will take place on Saturday February 18th at 8:00 p.m. ET. Daytona 500 Pole Position Qualifying will be Sunday February 19th at 3:00 p.m. ET. Thursday night's qualifying races are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET and 9:00 p.m. ET on February 23rd. The 59th Daytona 500 is scheduled for 2:31 p.m. ET on Sunday February 26th.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Ed Carpenter Racing

Our fourth 2017 IndyCar Team Preview features the team arguably going through the biggest transition heading into the season and that is with two teams changing manufactures. Ed Carpenter Racing has sold its golden goose and now it needs to see if it can make the most of two highly regarded drivers who are trying to become staples on the IndyCar grid. While going through many changes, Ed Carpenter Racing needs to see if it can maintain its position at the front end of the IndyCar grid.

2016 Ed Carpenter Racing Review:
Wins: 1 (Iowa)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 2nd (Indianapolis 500, Iowa, Pocono).
Final Championship Positions: 4th (Josef Newgarden), 21st (Spencer Pigot), 23rd (J.R. Hildebrand), 25th (Ed Carpenter).

2017 Drivers:

J.R. Hildebrand - #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet
After spending the better part of the last four seasons on the sidelines, J.R. Hildebrand is back in a full-time IndyCar seat. The Californian's occasional IndyCar outings since losing his ride with Panther Racing during the 2013 season have mostly been with Ed Carpenter Racing and they have been respectable cameos from Hildebrand. He has finished in the top ten in the last three Indianapolis 500s and has started in the top ten in two of those three races.

Numbers to Remember: 
7: IndyCar starts since Hildebrand was sacked by Panther Racing after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. 

1,407: Days between Hildebrand's most recent street course start (São Paulo 2013) and St. Petersburg.

2,758: Days between Hildebrand's most recent victory in any series (Sonoma 2009 in Indy Lights) and St. Petersburg.

Hildebrand has some big shoes to fill as he replaces Josef Newgarden. While most saw Newgarden's success as him overachieving with a small team, it also showed ECR has top equipment and that won't be an obstacle for Hildebrand to overcome. It shouldn't be expected for Hildebrand to pick up where Newgarden left off and be on the verge of being a title contender but he should be able to get three or four top five finishes and about eight top ten finishes while finishing in the back half of the top ten in the championship and after the Phoenix test, he clearly has the pace to contend for a victory or two on ovals.   

Spencer Pigot - #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
After not securing a full-time ride for the 2016 season, the 2015 Indy Lights champion pieced together a schedule that allowed Pigot to run majority of the IndyCar races including making his Indianapolis 500 debut. After three respectable finishes with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he joined ECR midseason and learned on the fly with the team and along the way scored two top ten finishes. 

Numbers to Remember: 
10: Starts in his rookie season (three for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and seven for ECR).

16.5: Points averaged per start in Pigot's rookie season.

14.034: Average finish of Carpenter's co-driver since he starts running only ovals in 2014.

After diving into the deep end with a team he had next to no relationship with in the middle of last year, Pigot now is familiar with the ECR crew and has IndyCar experience on nine of the 11 tracks he is scheduled to contest this season. I think Pigot's goal should be to have an average finish below 12.5 while picking up at least four top ten finishes and advancing to the second round of qualifying in at least four races.

Ed Carpenter - #20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet
Things have not been getting better for the two-time Indianapolis 500 pole position winner. Carpenter has not finished on the lead lap in his last six starts and over the last two seasons he has led two laps. In his last 11 starts, Carpenter has eight retirements, four because of accidents and four due to mechanical issues. While he failed to finish in the top fifteen once in 2016, Carpenter did start in the top ten on three occasions. 

Numbers to Remember: 
17: Starts since deciding to run oval ovals starting in 2014.

10: Starts since his most recent top-five finish.

16.11: Average finished since 2014.

1: Carpenter was running at the finish of one race last season.

Carpenter's race craft has eroded over the last two seasons. His win or bust psyche is going to leave Carpenter bust when it comes to buying spare parts. He needs to get the car to the end of the race even if it means being a lap or two down. You can still get a top ten finish on ovals while being a lap down as we have seen at Iowa and Texas in the last few seasons. Carpenter needs to finish at least four races in 2017 and have at least three top ten finishes with no retirements due to accidents. If he can't do that then maybe it will be time for Carpenter to consider cutting his schedule to just the Indianapolis 500. 

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Dale Coyne Racing

The first Honda team to preview for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Season will be the plucky Dale Coyne Racing. While not have the deep pool resources as a Penske, Ganassi or Andretti nor a Scrooge McDuck pool of Russian money like that of Schmidt Peterson, the team finds away to get decent finishes. This season will see another shuffle of the deck but unlike previous seasons, it appears Coyne will go wire-to-wire with the same two drivers instead of having a constant rotation of talent through one or both cars.

2016 Dale Coyne Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Belle Isle 1)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 7th (Toronto)
Final Championship Positions: 18th (Conor Daly), 22nd (Gabby Chaves), 26th (Luca Filippi), 28th (RC Enerson), 29th (Pippa Mann).

2017 Drivers:

Ed Jones - #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda
After finishing third in the 2015 Indy Lights championship, Jones returned to the series in 2016 and while he didn't have as impressive start to the season as he did when he won the first three races in 2015, Jones had two victories and two runner-up finishes through the first six races. After finishing second in the Freedom 100, the Emirati driver had three podiums and six top five finishes in the final ten races to take the title.

Numbers to Remember: 
5: Victories in two Indy Lights seasons but since coming to the United States Jones has not won a race after the month of May.

28.4667: Average amount of IndyCar starts for the 15 Indy Lights champions that preceded Jones.

31,333: Days between IndyCar starts for Middle-East-born drivers. Syrian-born George Howie made his only start in the 1931 Indianapolis 500. He did make a relief appearance in the 1933 Indianapolis 500.

With any rookie the goal is to complete laps, keep it out of the barriers and at the same time turn heads, something that is very difficult to do with limited testing and each session being another learning experience. The good news for Jones is he is the de facto Rookie of the Year and won't have to feel he is competing against anyone else in particular. Success for him will be keeping up with his veteran teammate. The previous four Rookies of the Year have averaged 4.25 top ten finishes ranging from Tristan Vautier's one to Carlos Muñoz's eight. Last year, Conor Daly had five top ten finishes including a second-place finish. I think that is achievable for Jones.

Sébastien Bourdais - #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda
After two seasons at KV Racing, the four-time IndyCar champion has moved back to the team he made his initial return to IndyCar with in 2011. While winning at Belle Isle, Bourdais lacked other races where he was in contention down the stretch but he did have six top ten finishes in the final seven races including ending the season with four consecutive top ten finishes, two of which were top five finishes, his only other top five finishes outside of his victory.

Numbers to Remember: 
9: Starts with Coyne in 2011, which saw him rack up five top ten finishes and three finishes outside the top 25.

11: Top ten finishes in 2016, the most for Bourdais in a season since 2007.

14: Bourdais finished 14th last year in championship, his worst championship finish in a full season contested.

While not replicating his dominance from the Newman-Haas years and realistically never being expected to do so, Bourdais has still been a competent and consistent driver in IndyCar with a deficiency in equipment appearing to be the one thing holding the Frenchman back. Coyne isn't necessarily a major leap forward from KV but with Honda firmly behind his return and Dale Coyne being the king strategist, results could fall in Bourdais' favor. Eleven top ten finishes will be tough to repeat but if he can get a podium or two, about four or five top five finishes and find himself knocking on the door for top ten in the champion, that would be a respectable season.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: This Might Not Be So Bad

IndyCar tested in Phoenix and some drivers are frustrated by the downforce levels. J.R. Hildebrand was fastest over the two-day test and broke the track record with a lap of 19.0401 seconds (193.234 MPH) but he did hit the wall at the end of the session. In actual races, an underdog beat a Red Bull junior driver, a Ferrari academy driver, a Force India junior driver and the son of a three-time world champion to take the first title of the junior formula season. Something happened in the World Rally Championship that hadn't happened since 1999. Something happened in Supercross that hadn't happened since 2002. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

This Might Not Be So Bad
We are less than two weeks away from the first race of the 2017 NASCAR season and many are dreading the impeding 60-60-80 segmentation of the Daytona 500 and that is without mentioning the dread for playoff points and championship points that will come from positioning at the end of those segments and forgetting to mention that the Thursday night qualifying races will now pay ten points to the winners and descending a point for the rest of the top ten in those races. However, let's take a step back to look at how the segments aren't going to change that much in a NASCAR race.

The easiest way to look at segments is two guaranteed caution periods in each race. While there is something inherently wrong about that because races in theory should start and run unto the finish without being disrupted, the truth is pretty much every NASCAR race has at least two caution periods. The last race to feature fewer than two cautions was nearly five years ago at Fontana and the only caution in that race was for the rain that eventually caused the race to be shortened after 129 of 200 laps. NASCAR races have always been segmented but for an undetermined amount of times and at previously undetermined lengths.

This change is compared to other sports because it is a carbon copy of what other leagues have been doing for years. Hockey fans are accustomed to knowing there will be three commercial breaks per period coming with under 14 minutes to play, ten minutes to play and six minutes to play.

Commercial breaks aren't the end of the world for hockey or any other sport but a key difference is there are many stoppages in a hockey game for offside calls, penalties, pucks going out of play and goals that three extended breaks hardly go noticed. This is a little different because unlike hockey where the commercial break comes once there is a natural stoppage in play (unless it is a goal or during a power play) the end of a segment will be a hard break. When lap 60 occurs at Daytona, the caution is coming out to end the segment. At the same time, I am not sure when a natural stoppage would be in a race so it has to be a hard break otherwise it would just be the way races have been conducted for the last 69 years, which is now no longer an acceptable way of doing things.

Another issue many have is that making lap 60 and lap 120 or lap 55 and lap 110 or lap 150 and lap 300 worth something doesn't mean the racing will be better nor does it make any sense to subjectively make these laps any more valuable than the next. Points may be on the line but there is still a bigger picture at play and that is winning a race still locks a driver into the Chase. While the playoff point for leading at the end of a segment is nice, winning a race pays five playoff points. If a team is struggling and approaching the end of a segment it still makes more sense to fight for another day than push in the moment especially with the new rules basically preventing damaged cars from returning to a race.

If a driver is in the top three and feels a tire going down four laps before the end of a segment that driver is going to pit and change the tire and live to fight for another day than go all out for a handful of points and one special points that floats around until Phoenix in November. After all, the championship is a basic experiment in common sense. It makes more sense to pit, sacrifice the segment points, go a lap down (which you will likely get back anyway because of wavearounds and lucky dogs) and at worst finish 15th and get 22 points than risk it, have the tire fail exiting turn two on the final lap of the segment and not be able to reenter the race and have to settle with at most two points for being classified in 35th.

The segments likely won't be that big of a deal. It is better than the caution clock but the biggest problem is the arbitrary nature of awarding points for being at the front 25-33% of the way through a race. This was the safest way NASCAR could split up the race without being too radical, although outside of the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500, I am sure most of us would have been ok if NASCAR jumped into the deep end and split the rest of the races on the schedule into two heats, an LCQ and a final that fit into the three or four-hour television window. After all those changes are more likely to draw viewers in than two caution periods that are always going to happen.

Champion From the Weekend
Australian Thomas Randle won the Toyota Racing Series by five points over Pedro Piquet after finishing fifth, fourth and third over the weekend at Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding, New Zealand. Red Bull junior driver Richard Vanschoor finished 12 points back in third with New Zealander and Ferrari Driver Academy's Marcus Armstrong finishing fourth, 63 points off Randle.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the IndyCar test and Thomas Randle's championship but did you know...

Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Sweden and it was Toyota's first win since Didier Auriol won Rally China in 1999.

Pedro Piquet, Richard Vanschoor and Force India junior driver Jehan Daruvala split the three Toyota Racing Series races from Circuit Chris Amon.

Marvin Musquin won the Supercross race from Arlington. It was Musquin's first Supercross victory and the first victory by a French rider in the series since David Vuillemin won at Indianapolis in 2002.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula E returns after over three months off in Buenos Aires for the final edition of the Buenos Aires ePrix on the current course.
NASCAR starts its season with a clash in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona.
Supercross makes its debut at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Friday, February 10, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: A.J. Foyt Racing

After covering the top team from the 2016 Verizon IndyCar season, now let's look at the team that occupied the bottom of the series. It was another difficult season for the legendary A.J. Foyt Racing. Neither of the Foyt's drivers finished in the top fifteen of the championship and the team has finally cleaned house. Foyt has two new drivers, a new manufacture, new crew members and a whole new set of expectations after a few seasons of nothing but disappointments.

2016 A.J. Foyt Racing Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 5th (Long Beach, Toronto)
Poles: 0
Best Start: 3rd (Pocono)
Final Championship Positions: 17th (Takuma Sato), 20th (Jack Hawksworth), 31st (Alex Tagliani).

2017 Drivers:

Conor Daly - #4 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
A rookie year that seemed to be five years in the making, the Irish-American finally got his first crack at full-time in IndyCar and he did it with Dale Coyne Racing. The struggle for pace was countered with slick strategy that saw him advance from the first round of qualifying on numerous occasions. Strategy put Daly in the lead at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis before ending up sixth. An aggressive strategy got him second in the first Belle Isle race and he ended that weekend with a sixth in race two. While he struggled for pace on the ovals, Daly's road course form was stout as he picked up another sixth-place finish at Mid-Ohio and he finished fourth at Watkins Glen.

Numbers to Remember: 
11: Years since A.J. Foyt Racing had an American start the season with the team.

1,365: Days between Daly's most recent victory and St. Petersburg (GP3 feature race at Valencia, June 16th, 2013).

4,292: Days between the last victory for car #4 in IndyCar and St. Petersburg (Tomas Scheckter, June 11, 2005 at Texas with Panther Racing).

6,854: Days between the last victory for A.J. Foyt Racing by an American driver and St. Petersburg (Billy Boat, June 6, 1998 at Texas).

Daly has to take a step forward in every category even though he had five top ten finishes as a rookie. He needs to improve average finish, average starting position, lead lap finishes, total finishes, you name it, Daly needs to do better in it. His lack of oval success wasn't just Daly's fault, Coyne doesn't have the greatest oval program but Daly can't have another season averaging a finish of 20.6 on ovals especially when his teammate is Carlos Muñoz. I think he needs to average a finish between 12-13 and improve his average start to somewhere in that range as well. On ovals, Daly has to shoot for at least lead lap finishes at the 500-mile races and finishing no worse than two laps down at the other ovals with at least one top ten finish on an oval.

Carlos Muñoz - #14 ABC Supply Co. Chevrolet
After three full seasons at Andretti Autosport and finishing as the top Andretti car in the championship in 2016 in tenth, the Colombian has switched to A.J. Foyt Racing and will take on the famed #14. After a rough start to the 2016 season, Muñoz found his footing at Indianapolis and finished second in the "500." He would pick up five top ten finishes in the final ten races, including a third at Mid-Ohio and winning his first career pole position at Texas. Muñoz was running at the finish of the final 14 races to close out the season and completed all but three laps in those 14 starts.

Numbers to Remember: 
1: Only once in the last two seasons did A.J. Foyt Racing have a double top ten finish (Belle Isle 2 2015. Sato finished second and Hawksworth seventh).

2001: The last season A.J. Foyt Racing had a driver finish in the top ten of the championship (Eliseo Salazar, fifth).

6,132: Days between the last double top five finish for A.J. Foyt Racing and St. Petersburg (2000 Indianapolis 500, Salazar finished third and Jeff Ward finished fourth).

I think Muñoz's goal should be top ten in the championship. He did it with an underperforming Honda at Andretti Autosport. He should definitely be able to contend for it even with an underperforming Chevrolet at A.J. Foyt Racing. I think he could win an oval. That could be a stretch but he should be able to get three or four top ten finishes on ovals. The other goal for Muñoz should be to beat his teammate. While Daly is highly regarded, Muñoz has been impressive in his first three seasons and is only 25 years old. He is arguably a better driver than his teammate in all aspects of driving. The only other thing to add is that Muñoz and Daly should be bringing the car home in one piece more often than Foyt's previous drivers.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Team Penske

A new season is upon us and it is time to look at what the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series grid will look like come St. Petersburg on March 12th. Team Penske dominated the 2016 season and swept the top three of the championship with a first-time champion crowned. All three of those drivers return while Penske has picked up the driver that finished fourth in the championship last year.

2016 Team Penske Review:
Wins: 10 (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Barber, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Belle Isle 2, Road America, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Pocono, Sonoma)
Poles: 11 (St. Petersburg, Phoenix, Long Beach, Barber, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Belle Isle 1, Belle Isle 2, Road America, Iowa, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma)
Final Championship Positions: 1st (Simon Pagenaud), 2nd (Will Power), 3rd (Hélio Castroneves), 8th (Juan Pablo Montoya).

2017 Drivers:

Simon Pagenaud - #1 Hewlett Packard Enterprise/PPG/Menards/DeVilbiss Chevrolet
After finishing as the bottom of four Penske drivers in 2015 and outside the top ten in the championship, Pagenaud rebounded to be the best driver in 2016. He took the lead of the championship after the second race at Phoenix and then won three consecutive races before taking a hefty lead into the month of May. While not being flashy, Pagenaud was consistent over the summer and held control of the champion with a victory at Mid-Ohio. He finished the season strong as his teammate Will Power made one final charge and Pagenaud capped over his championship season with a victory in the finale at Sonoma.

Numbers to Remember: 
9: Career victories.

0: Oval victories.

11: Record for most victories before first oval victory (Will Power).

Nobody expects Pagenaud to fall back down to earth. Will he finish within the top two in the first five races? Probably not. Will he lead the championship after all but one round? Probably not. Pagenaud is going to be a championship contender, you can argue all the Penske drivers will be championship contenders and he will probably win three or four races. I think he could win an oval race. Not that is a big deal but that is still something for Pagenaud to shoot for.

Josef Newgarden - #2 Team Penske Chevrolet
In his fifth season, Newgarden once again had another career year. Despite mechanical issues in the season opener, Newgarden ran toward the front at the start of the season and was a challenger at the Indianapolis 500 only to finish third in the finish flurry of pit stops after starting second on the grid. He suffered a broken collarbone and fractured wrist at Texas but didn't miss a race and finished eighth in the race at Road America and not only won at Iowa but thrashed the field leading 282 of 300 laps. Outside of a horrendous Toronto race, where a Penske driver was the reason for his troubled race, Newgarden was constantly in the top ten and finished fourth in the championship.

Numbers to Remember: 
16: Drivers have joined Team Penske since Rick Mears retired.

60.588: Average amount of IndyCar starts for those drivers before their first Penske start.

8: Of those 16 drivers won a race with Penske.

7.125: Average amount of starts it took for those eight drivers to get their first victory with Penske.

19: Most starts with Penske (of those eight drivers) until getting his first victory with Penske (Pagenaud).

12.5: Average Penske victories of the eight drivers.

The astonishing thing to me is Newgarden has improved on his championship position every year he has been in IndyCar. From 22nd to 14th to 13th to seventh to fourth and now he heads to the only team that beat him last year. Can he make another stride forward? Can he make up another three positions and win the championship in his debut season with Penske? Pagenaud struggled his first year at Penske but I think Newgarden will do better than that and it will help that he will have Tim Cindric as his strategist. He needs to improve on road/street circuits. He led 313 laps in 2016 and zero of those laps were on road/street circuits. I expect a win or two and Newgarden somewhere between third and seventh in the championship.

Hélio Castroneves - #3 Hitachi/Shell-Pennzoil/AAA/Automobile Club of Southern California Chevrolet
Despite not winning a race for the second consecutive season, Castroneves finished in the top five of the championship for the fifth consecutive season and eight of the last nine seasons. He had good chances at victories at Phoenix and Long Beach, both races where he started from pole position but a flat tire and poor pit strategy cost him. He scored a top five finish in altering races from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis to Mid-Ohio and ended the season with three consecutive top ten finishes, the first time he has done that since 2010.

Numbers to Remember: 
43: Starts since his most recent victory, the longest drought of Castroneves' career since he won his first career victory in his 46th career start.

7: Runner-up finishes since his most recent victory. Castroneves once had seven runner-up finishes between his victories at Indianapolis in 2002 and Gateway 2003.

8: Runner-up finishes between Castroneves' victories at St. Petersburg in 2007 and Sonoma 2008.

Castroneves is always strong but for the last few seasons he hasn't had the muscle to take control of a race and take a victory when it lies before him. With 2017 being his 20th season in IndyCar and a growing younger generation of drivers on the grid, I am not sure Castroneves can chase down that elusive championship. A race victory isn't out of the question but it won't come easy. I think Castroneves takes a step back and ends up on the same path Juan Pablo Montoya was on in 2016: Back half of the top ten and out of a full-time IndyCar seat when 2017 comes to an end.

Will Power - #12 Verizon Wireless Chevrolet
Power won the first pole position of the 2016 season but missed after suffering from concussion-like symptoms and an inner-ear problem. He returned with three consecutive top ten finishes and he was the best Penske car in the Indianapolis 500 where he started sixth and finished tenth. Power bloomed in the summer. Four victories in six races and finished second in the other two races and he found himself back in the title fight. However, an accident at Watkins Glen and a mechanical issue at Sonoma forced him to settle for second in the championship to Pagenaud.

Numbers to Remember: 
5: Power could become the fifth driver to win a race in at least 11 consecutive seasons.

20: Power finished 20th in the final two races of the 2016 season.

64: Starts since Power last finished outside the top fifteen in three consecutive races.

Power has finished in the top four of the championship the last seven years. There is no reason to see that changing. He is going to be fighting for the title. He is going to win three to five races. Power is as consistent as they get in IndyCar.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya entered 2016 coming off losing the championship on tiebreaker the year before. He rebounded immediately with a victory at St. Petersburg and entered the Indianapolis 500 third in the championship but a spin in the race meant he was the first retirement a year after winning the famed race for a second time. The summer saw Montoya have a stretch of hard luck with three 20th-place finishes in five races after the Indianapolis 500. He ended the season with three top ten finishes in the final five races.

Numbers to Remember: 
10: Montoya's average finish in four Indianapolis 500 starts.

3: Montoya's median finish in four Indianapolis 500 starts.

3: Top five finishes in four Indianapolis 500 starts.

I think Montoya will run more than the Indianapolis 500. Whether that includes the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and/or the Penske-promoted Belle Isle doubleheader remains to be seen but Montoya will have more than one start in 2017. As for the Indianapolis 500, Montoya just has to do what he does. He has been a 500-mile race master his entire career and he was unfortunate in 2016. However, he has qualified worse in each of his four Indianapolis 500 starts. After starting second as a rookie in 2000, he has started tenth, 15th and 17th respectively in his last three starts. He should aim to qualify on one of the first four rows and get another top ten finish.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: This is The Weekend

The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champions. Cameroon is African champions. Maro Engel lost his cool at Shane van Gisbergen as the defending Supercars champion lost his Mercedes-Benz while fighting for the lead in the final 15 minutes of the Bathurst 12 Hour. Van Gisbergen's accident allowed the #88 Maranello Motorsport Ferrari of Toni Vilander, Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup to cruise to victory. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

This is The Weekend
This is the weekend to start the IndyCar season. Not to hold a test at Phoenix or post videos of drivers doing things completely unrelated to driving a racecar (not that those videos aren't enjoyable). Since Mark Miles became in charge of IndyCar he has harped the season has to end before the NFL season begins. If that is the case then the season should start immediately after the NFL season ends to maximize the available space in the calendar.

For three years we have been waiting on an international series of races to come and fill the winter months before the traditional March date of St. Petersburg and yet has the IndyCar caravan packed up its goodies into a cargo plane and flown to an exotic location to thaw our toes even if we are watching on a television set during a blizzard. Dubai didn't happen. Brasilia didn't happen. The rest won't happen. Forget Australia, India, Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia and Thailand and any other possible location that could host IndyCar during the dead of winter. Three seasons have been completed and the only border crossed has been Canada's since the stated intention of an international series and 2017 marks a fourth consecutive season without said international series. Those races aren't happening but IndyCar can still start the season in February.

It may take some deal making and some pleading and a lot of hard work but the IndyCar season can start in February without leaving the United States. The dream place is Fontana. Media days could be held Tuesday and Wednesday in Los Angeles. Test days could be at the track on Thursday and Friday. The race weekend could begin on Saturday and a 500-mile season opener could be held Sunday afternoon, 3:00 p.m. ET because the Sunday after the Super Bowl is a dead day for sports in the United States.

Of course there are obstacles to every great idea. Fontana isn't interested in hosting a race before its NASCAR Cup race in March. That is understandable but if IndyCar wants to race in February and wants to have a season opener that grabs the attention of those lacking a purpose after football season than it is going to have to lay out something enticing. Offer the race being on ABC and get a large title sponsor. Promote heavily within Southern California. The final race at Fontana didn't look good because it felt like the face of the sun. The 2013 race had a great crowd by IndyCar standards and the weather in February is much milder. People will show up. More importantly IndyCar would need to tell Fontana how important a track it is to IndyCar. Outside of Indianapolis, no other track on the circuit can replicate the excitement of Fontana and while St. Petersburg is a respectable venue it doesn't provide the high that people will want to experience again the way Fontana does.

Fontana provides a race that will wake the masses. The last time IndyCar went to the two-mile oval there were 80 lead changes over 250 laps. There was passing and blocking and a dramatic finish. It had people's attention even if some were spooked but maybe the breathtaking racing Fontana is known for is what IndyCar needs to start the season. IndyCar needs Fontana. It needs races that raise the heart rates of those watching in the stands and at home. IndyCar needs to get everybody's adrenaline pumping because that addiction will bring people back for more.

Starting at Fontana in February creates other issues for the series but issues it should want and issues it knows it can overcome. The season can't start and then take a month off before St. Petersburg in March and that is without mentioning there is already three weeks between St. Petersburg and Long Beach in April but shrugging shoulders and raising hands to the sky isn't going to help IndyCar. Finding another two races to fill the gaps won't be easy but it is what has to be done if IndyCar wants to grow. Head to Austin or Homestead or maybe Puebla, Mexico. Laguna Seca is a headache but that is another option for a race early in the year. Eventually a time has to come for IndyCar to stop coming up with reasons why not to do something and set out and accomplish it at all costs.

If IndyCar can bridge the gap from February to St. Petersburg in March then ending in the middle of September makes sense. It would be roughly a four and a half month offseason but much shorter than what the current fan base has grown accustomed to. After all, the full-time IndyCar grid has been set for a few weeks and it appears to have been cemented last week with Mikhail Aleshin sorting out his deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. If we are all ready to go then this is the weekend to start the season.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the Super Bowl, Africa Cup of Nations and the Bathurst 12 Hour but did you know...

Other class winners in the Bathurst 12 Hour:
Class A - Pro/AM: #12 Competition Motorsports Porsche of Marc Lieb, Patrick Long, Matt Campbell and David Calvert-Jones.

Class A - AM: #912 Walkinshaw Racing Porsche of Liam Talbot, John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee.

Class B: #21 Steven Richards Motorsport Porsche of Dean Grant, Dylan O'Keefe, Xavier West and David Wall.

Class I: #91 MARC Cars Australia MARC Ford Focus of Will Brown, Keith Kassulke and Rod Salmon.

Class C: #19 PROsport Performance Porsche of Harrison Jones, Max Braams, Jörg Viebahn and Nicolaij Moller-Madsen.

Eli Tomas won the Supercross race from Oakland, his second victory of the season.

Brendon Leitch, Pedro Piquet and Marcus Armstrong split the Toyota Racing Series races from Taupo, New Zealand.

Coming Up This Weekend
The final round of the Toyota Racing Series season from Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding, New Zealand.
Rally Sweden marks the second round of the World Rally Championship season.
Supercross heads to Jerry World in Arlington, Texas.

Friday, February 3, 2017

NASCAR 2020: Getting You Ready Three Years in Advance

NASCAR announced changes to race format and championship structure last week starting at Daytona at the end of the month. While we have yet to see the new format at work, we mind as well look three years into the future when NASCAR will make even more changes to "enhance" the racing on track and the season as a whole.

After three years of successfully watching average TV ratings shrink below 2.0, NASCAR will go into the year 2020 with more ways to add more moments and drama and moments to every race in the season and make even more laps matter than ever before. The series will add another segment to its races. Each race will be split into four quarters with more points and bonus points offered to the drivers in hopes of increasing moments. On top of the extra quarter, NASCAR will re-introduce points for leading laps with each lap being worth one-point with each 10% of a race led being worth a bonus point. Lead 100 laps in the Daytona 500, that would be 100 bonus points and since that is 50% of the race another five points would be added to a drivers total.

With the increased incentive to lead as many laps as possible, NASCAR will know the next thing the series has to improve on is rivalries. Despite all the incentives NASCAR will believe the one thing holding the series back is the lack of hate. Hate between drivers, hate between owners and hate between t-shirt cladded spectators in the stands. NASCAR will look to pit one driver against another, even teammate against teammate in the hopes of lighting a fire under the fan base to have factions to come together in support of their driver of choice.

NASCAR will believe an overall points table is too large. The series will see it as too confusing to have drivers listed from one to 40. In order to simplify the structure of the championship, the charter system will be extended to 40 teams and the 40 teams will be split into eight divisions of five cars. Points will still be awarded in a race with winning a race worth more than ever. Winning a race will now be worth 2,000 points with second-place worth 1,000 points and each position from second-place decreasing by 100 points until 11th position where points will decrease by five with 11th getting 100 points, 12th getting 95 points and so on until 34th where points will start decreasing by one from five for 34th, four for 35th and so on with 38th, 39th and 40th all getting one point.

Making the playoffs will now not come down to winning races or being in the top sixteen in the championships standings but rather the top two from each division in points will make the playoff. The playoffs will also expand to accommodate more fan bases when the playoffs roll around in September. Along with the top two from each division, eight wild card spots will be available for the top eight drivers in points not in the top two of a division regardless of division with a grand total of 24 drivers making the playoffs.

Added entries will lead to an altered playoff format. Points will be reset at the start of the playoff and playoff points will remain. On top of the playoff points accumulated during the first 26 races, each division winner will get 25 bonus points with the driver with the most points being awarded another 50 bonus points. Second in each division will be awarded 15 bonus points with the eight wild cards getting no additional bonus points.

On top of the bonus points for winning a division, the five division winners will be locked into the second round with the other 19 drivers left to fight in the first round for 11 spots with each race winner in round one automatically qualifying for the next round. However, the first round will be shortened to two races.

The second round will also be shortened to two races with the division winners and 11 drivers from the first round competing for 12 spots over two races. Like the first two rounds, round three will be two races with the top eight advancing to the three-race semifinal round before the top four drivers compete for the championship in the final race.

To prevent an unfair balance across the divisions, NASCAR will make sure no team has multiple representatives in a division with at least one representative from each manufacture in each division and no more than two representatives from each manufacture.

Inspired by its long, extensive history, NASCAR will name each division after a key figure in the series.

In the Big Bill France Division you will have the #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, the #37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet of Chris Buescher, #10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Danica Patrick, the #22 Team Penske Ford of Ryan Blaney and the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Daniel Suárez.

The Bill France, Jr. Division is led by the #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Austin Dillon and the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick. Ryan Newman will still be on the grid but in the #33 Circle Sport - The Motorsports Group Chevrolet. Roush Fenway Racing is back up to three cars with the #99 Ford for Ryan Reed while Erik Jones has stepped into the #20 Gibbs Toyota for the retired Matt Kenseth.

Named after NASCAR's first Cup champion, the Red Byron Division features the unrelated William Byron in the #5 Hendrick Chevrolet. Joey Logano is now in the #12 Penske Ford. Martin Truex, Jr. is still in the #78 Furniture Row Toyota and A.J. Allmendinger is still in the #47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet. Joe Nemechek has partnered with Premium Motorsports to get John Hunter Nemechek on the grid in the #87 Toyota.

Jimmie Johnson is still racing but 2020 will be his final season as he is already an eight-time Cup champion. He is still in the #48 Chevrolet and leads the Junior Johnson Division. Kyle Larson has hung on with Chip Ganassi in the #42 Chevrolet and Brad Keselowski is still in Penske's #2 Ford. Landon Cassill still occupies the #34 Front Row Racing Ford and Clint Bowyer's career has sunk to the #23 BK Racing Toyota.

The Petty Family Division naturally features the #43 Petty Ford but with Kasey Kahne driving the famed car. Kyle Busch is the top dog in the division, still in the #18 Gibbs Toyota. Josef Newgarden has outgrown IndyCar and Penske has moved him to NASCAR in the #67 Ford. Noah Gragson makes it to Cup in the #13 Germain Racing Chevrolet with Michael McDowell still on the grid and still in the #95 Leavine Family Racing Chevrolet.

Like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is still racing but 2020 will be his final season and he highlights the Earnhardt Family Division in the #88 Hendrick Chevrolet. Cole Custer has used his bloodline to get him into the #14 Ford at Stewart-Haas Racing. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. still runs the #17 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. David Ragan's career remains on life support in the #55 Toyota for Premium Motorsports. Todd Gilliland moves up to Cup in the #77 Furniture Row Toyota.

Mike Helton gets a division named after him as he announces he will retire as NASCAR President after the 2020 season. Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard are still in the #1 Ganassi Chevrolet and #27 RCR Chevrolet respectively. Aric Almirola fills the #6 Ford at Roush Fenway. Kurt Busch is still in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Furniture Row Racing has expanded to three cars and Christopher Bell will drive the #79 Toyota.

The final division, named after David Pearson, features not only the #11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin but the #21 Wood Brothers Ford with Harrison Burton in the car. Ty Dillon now drives for his grandfather's team in the #31 Chevrolet. Daniel Hemic finds himself in Cup in the #38 Front Row Ford and his former Truck teammate Tyler Reddick drives the #83 BK Racing Toyota.

In each race, the top finisher from each division will get two playoff points. Each entry is locked into its respective division. If a driver changes team, the driver does not necessarily stay in the same division unless that driver is moving to another entry in that division.

NASCAR's goal is that each driver would have three or four constant rivals in each race and it would allow the broadcasters to highlight intra-divisional battles occurring on the race track even if the battle is for 25th. NASCAR hopes to segment the grandstand for each driver and seating each fan base across the aisle from other fan bases within the division with security guards lining the aisles separating fans from each other in case drivers from the same division clash and cause tempers to flare. Each broadcast will have three cameras devoted to fan interactions in the stands as drivers fight to win the division and the hope would be neutral fans would see the passion each fan base has and would be inspired to purchase tickets and join the fracas.

Some were caught off guard by NASCAR announcing championship and race format overhauls a month before the start of the season. It is unfortunate those changes had to come so late. The good news is the next enhancement in NASCAR is three years away and you already have a head start.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2017 Bathurst 12 Hour Preview

One week after the 55th running of the 24 Hours of Daytona, 9,459 miles away is the 15th Bathurst 12 Hour from the Mount Panorama Circuit. Fifty-five cars are entered for the famed Australian endurance race across six classes. The race is littered with sports cars finest partnering with the best from the Supercars series. This race also marks the first round of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge.

Class A - GT3 Pro
Tekno Autosports defends its 2016 victory with two McLaren 650s GT3s. Álvaro Parente is the lone holdover from last year's winning team and the Portuguese driver will be joined in the #58 McLaren with defending Blancpain Endurance Series champions Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar. In the #59 McLaren will be Ben Barnicoat, Jonny Kane and defending Bathurst 1000 winner Will Davison. Davison's co-driver in his Bathurst 1000 victory was Jonathon Webb, who became the first driver to win the 12 Hour and 1000 in the same year as Webb was co-drivers with Parente and Shane Van Gisbergern. Webb is not entered in this year's race.

Van Gisbergen moves from McLaren to the #22 STM/HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3 with Craig Baird and Maro Engel. Baird won the 2007 race, the first running of the race after a 12-year hiatus. Van Gisbergen and Baird could become the ninth and tenth drivers to win multiple Bathurst 12 Hours.

Nissan won the 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour and finished second last year. Katsumasa Chiyo leads the #23 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 with Alex Buncombe and Michael Caruso as his co-drivers while Florian Strauß takes lead of the #24 Nissan with co-drivers Todd Kelly and Jann Mardenborough. 

The lone Ferrari in the race is Maranello Motorsport's #88 Ferrari 488 GT3 for Toni Vilander and Red Bull Racing Australia teammates Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup. This team won the 2014 race with Lowndes as one of the drivers behind the wheel. This will be Whincup's 12 Hour debut as he looks to add a 12 Hour success to his résumé alongside his four Bathurst 1000 victories. 

Jamec Pem Racing fields two Audis as the manufacture looks for its first victory in the event since 2012. Christopher Mies won in 2011 and 2012 and he is one of five drivers to win the race in consecutive years. Christopher Haase and three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Garth Tander join Mies in the #74 Audi R8 LMS. Haase is coming off winning the final round of the 2016 Intercontinental GT Challenge at Sepang and one of his co-drivers from that race, Robin Frijns leads the #75 Audi with Markus Winkelhock and Frank Stippler. 

Laurens Vanthoor won the 2016 Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers' championship thanks to that victory at Sepang with Haase and Frijns but Vanthoor returns to Bathurst in the #911 Walkinshaw GT3 Porsche 911 GT3 R alongside Earl Bamber and Kevin Éstre. Porsche has never won the Bathurst 12 Hour. Bamber won last year in the Bathurst 12 Hour in Class B.

BMW has the most entries in Class A - GT3 Pro with BMW Team SRM responsible for two M6 GT3s. The #7 BMW features three drivers responsible for ten Bathurst 1000 victories and one Bathurst 12 Hour victory. Tony Longhurst won the 2009 Bathurst 12 Hour and he returns to the race with six-time Bathurst 1000 winner Mark Skaife and two-time 1000 winner Russell Ingall. Rounding out the #7 BMW will be DTM driver Timo Glock. In the team's #60 BMW will be four-time Bathurst 1000 winner Steve Richards and his co-driver in his 2015 victory Mark Winterbottom will join him along with two-time and defending DTM champion Marco Wittmann. Walkenhorst has entered the #99 BMW for Jörg Müller, Nico Menzel and Ricky Collard. 

Rounding out Class A - GT3 Pro is the two Bentley Team M-Sport entries. The #8 Bentley features Steven Kane, Guy Smith and the recently signed Oliver Jarvis. Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril are responsible for the #17 Bentley. 

Class A - GT3 Pro/AM
Six entries occupy the Pro/AM class. The most recent addition to the class was the #83 HTP Motorsport Mercedes with usual Aston Martin drivers Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda with 2013 Bathurst 12 Hour winner Bernd Schneider rounding out that lineup. The other Mercedes in the class is the #61 Hogs Mercedes driven by Mark Griffith, Dominic Storey and David Reynolds. 

Two Audis are in the Pro/AM category with the #3 Team ASR Pty Ltd Audi for Ash Samadi, Daniel Gaunt and Matt Halliday. Hallmarc returns with the #9 Audi for Marc Cini, Lee Holdsworth and Dean Fiore. Objective Racing has entered the #11 McLaren for Supercars regular Tim Slade, Supercars endurance specialist Warren Luff, Alex Davison and Tony Walls. Rounding out the class will by the #12 Competition Motorsports powered by Ice Break Porsche with defending World Endurance Drivers' Champion and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Marc Lieb alongside Patrick Long, David Calvert-Jones and defending Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion Matt Campbell. 

Class A - GT3 AM
Thirteen entries make up the AM category. Audi and Lamborghini each have entered a class-high three cars. 

Daniel Stuttard, James Bergmuller and Samuel Fillmore will drive the #2 DJS Racing Audi. Australian GT Championship regulars Nathan Antunes and Elliot Barbour are joined in the #5 GT Motorsport Pty Ltd Audi by Greg Taylor. Antunes and Taylor are defending Class A - GT3 AM winners. James Koundouris and Marcus Marshall will share the #44 Supabarn Audi with Theo Koundouris and Simon Evans. 

The #29 Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini features former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli, Dean Canto, Jim Manolis and Ryan Millier. Lago Racing has entered the #32 Lamborghini for Roger Lago, Steve Owen and David Russell. Glenn Smith, Kevin Bell, Nicholas Chester and John De Veth will drive the #47 Kiwi Racing Lamborghini. 

Defending Australian GT Champion Klark Quinn will pilot the #37 Keltic Racing McLaren with Anthony Quinn, Grant Denyer and Andrew Waiter. This team has retired from the last two Bathurst 12 Hours after finishing third and fourth overall the two years prior to that. 

Wall Racing has entered two Nissan GT-Rs. Daniel Bilski, Adrian Flack and Christ Pither will be in the #38 Nissan with Brett Hodges, Erik Davis and Fred Poordad in the #66 Nissan. 

AMCA Motorsport has entered the #51 Porsche for Andrew McPherson, Neale Muston and Time Mils. Walkinshaw GT3 has entered a second Porsche with Liam Talbot, John Martin and Duvashen Padayachee in the #912 Porsche. 

The lone Aston Martin in Class A belongs to Miedecke Stone Motorsport with George Miedecke, Ashley Walsh and Tony Bates in the #35 Aston Martin. MARC Cars Australia has entered the #90 BMW with 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner Chaz Mostert joined by Max Twigg and Morgan Haber, who won last year in Class I.

Class B - GT3 (Cup Cars)
Five cars comprise the secondary class in the Bathurst 12 Hour.

Grove Motorsport defends its class victory with Stephen Grove returning in the #4 Porsche with Benjamin Baker and Alexandre Imperatori. Wall Racing has entered the #6 Porsche for Richard Gartner, Aaron Zerefos, Indiran Padayachee and Ric Shaw.

Peter Major, Jordan Love and Nicholas McBride will drive the #14 IKAD Racing Porsche. The #21 Steve Richards Motorsports Porsche will be driven Dean Grant, Dylan Okeeffe and Xaiver West. Rounding out the class will be the #50 Synep Racing Porsche for Adam Cranston, Josh Cranston, Aaron Steer and Jamie Winslow.

Class C - GT4 & Class D - Invitational
PROSpeed Performance has entered two Porsche Cayman PRO 4s in Class C. The #18 Porsche will be an all-American lineup with Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster. Andy Pilgrim will lead the #19 Porsche with Max Braams, Jörg Viebahn and Nicolaij Moller-Madsen.

The lone KTM X-Bow GT4 on the grid belongs to M Motorsport. Tomáš Enge leads the #48 KTM with Justin McMillan, Glen Wood and Reinhold Kofler as his co-drivers.

RA Motorsports - Ginetta has two entries with Mike Simpson, Peter Paddon and Tim Berryman in the #55 Ginetta and Zen Low, Shinyo Sano and Jake Parsons in the #69 Ginetta.

Of the nine Class D entries, six belong to MARC Cars Australia. Adam Seaton and Jake Camilleri return as defending class winners but will be split between the #92 Focus V8 and #93 Mazda 3 V8 respectively. Seaton's co-drivers will be Michael Benton and Hadrian Morrall. Jack Smith and Rob Thomson partner with Camilleri. Defending Australian Formula Ford champion Leanne Tander will drive the #94 Mazda 3 V8 with Nicholas Rowe, Gerard McLeod and Tim Leahey.

Darren Turner is the most notable driver in Class D and he will drive the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT8 with Florian Kamelger and Markus Lungstrass.

The Bathurst 12 Hour will begin at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday February 4th.