Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Five: Laguna Seca, Hockenheim, Fuji, Motegi, Talladega

A champion will be crowned in Germany. A manufacture defends its turf in Japan and that isn't the only major motorsports event in Japan. Meanwhile, the United States hosts an inaugural endurance race at a familiar racetrack and NASCAR heads to the biggest racetrack on its schedule.

California 8 Hours
The inaugural California 8 Hour marks the penultimate round of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge and the 20-car field features teams from Pirelli World Challenge and other top teams from around the globe. There are eight GT3 Overall entries, two GT3 Pro-Am entries, one GT3-Am entry, seven GT4 entries and two invitational entries.

Christopher Haase leads the IGTC drivers' championship with 26 points thanks to victory in the 24 Hours of Spa and pole position for the Bathurst 12 Hour. Haase will drive the #29 Land-Motorsport Audi with Connor De Phillippi and Christopher Mies. De Phillippi and Mies won with Land-Motorsport last week in the GT Daytona class at Petit Le Mans. Mies has scored 11 points in the IGTC this year.

Audi leads the manufactures' championship with 44 points and three other Audis are entered for the California 8 Hours. PWC regular Magnus Racing will contest the #44 Audi for Pierre Kaffer, Kelvin van der Linde and Markus Winkelhock. Winkelhock was one of Haase's co-drivers for Spa. M1GT Racing is another PWC team and it has entered the #23 Audi for Jason Bell and Lars Viljoen, the lone GT3-Am entry. Blancpain Sprint Cup champions Robin Frijns and Stuart Leonard will share the #11 Audi for Audi Sport Team WRT with Jake Dennis.

Bentley is second in the manufactures' championship on 35 points but has not entered a car for the Laguna Seca round.

Porsche sits on 30 points and the German manufacture has four entries, all of which will be run by PWC teams. Patrick Long and Wright Motorsports are fresh off taking the overall PWC GT Championship and Long will run the #58 Porsche with Jörg Bergmeister and Romain Dumas. GMG Racing has entered two cars with the #17 Porsche for Alec Udell and Wolf Henzler in partnership with HGK Racing and the #77 Porsche for Preston Calvert, Andrew Davis and Michael James Lewis in partnership with Calvert Dynamics. Black Swan Racing has entered the #54 Porsche for Tim Pappas, Jeroen Bleekemolen and David Calvert-Jones.

RealTime Racing has entered two Acura NSX GT3s. Ryan Eversley, Tom Dyer and Dane Cameron makes it an all-American line-up in the #43 Acura. Jules Gounon, who won the 24 Hours of Spa with Haase and Winkelhock will be in the #93 Acura with Peter Kox and Marks Wilkins. The only McLaren entered is the #9 K-PAC Racing McLaren for Álvaro Parente, Bryan Sellers and Ben Barnicoat.

The GT4 class features three Aston Martins, three Porsches and one Ginetta. TRG has entered two Aston Martins with Craig Lyons, Kris Wilson and Thomas Merrill in the #3 Aston Martin and Greg Milzcik, Brandon Davis and Derek DeBoer in the #4 Aston Martin. Creventic 24H Series regulars Charlie Putman and Charles Espenlaub will drive the #99 Automatic Racing Aston Martin with Eric Lux.

GMG Racing has partnered with HGK Racing to enter the #8 Porsche for Carter Yeung and Andy Lee. Rearden Racing has entered the #26 Porsche for Jeff Kearl, Sean McAlister and Jeff Westphal and the #117 Porsche for Hutton McKenna, Vesko Kozrov and Daren Jorgensen. Ian Lacy will drive with Frank Gannett and Drew Staveley in the #12 Ginetta for his own team.

MARC CARS Australia has brought two Marc Mazda 3 V8s to the United States. Jake Camilleri and Nicholas Rowe are entered in the #193 Mazda and Keith Kassulke and Morgan Haber are entered in the #194 Mazda.

The California 8 Hours will begin at 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

DTM Finale at Hockenheimring
The 2017 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters season heads to the final round of the season with six drivers still eligible for the championship.

Audi driver Mattias Ekström leads the championship with 172 points and the Swede is looking for his third DTM championship and first since 2007. He is looking to tie Klaus Ludwig for second-most DTM championships. Ekström picked up his first victory of the season in the first race of the most recent round at Red Bull Ring. He has won four times at the Hockenheimring, including the 2014 season finale at the track.

Ekström holds a 21-point lead over fellow Audi driver René Rast, who picked up his third victory of the season in race two from Red Bull Ring. Prior to that victory, Rast had failed to score points in three of the previous four races. Jamie Green won two of the first four races but he has only stood on the podium once in the last 12 races. Green trails Ekström by 35 points. Green has finished in the top three of the championship the last two seasons.

Mike Rockenfeller and Marco Wittmann are tied on 134 points but Rockenfeller holds the tiebreaker with his victory at Zandvoort while the defending champion Wittmann has yet to win a race despite being on the podium in four of 16 races. Audi drivers make up the top four in the championship and Audi has not had a driver win the title since Rockenfeller in 2013. Rockenfeller is also the most recent DTM champion who failed to win a race while defending a championship. Lucas Auer is the only Mercedes-Benz driver eligible for the title. The Austrian trails Ekström by 41 points with 56 points left on the table.

The penultimate DTM race of the 2017 season will take place 7:28 a.m. ET on Saturday October 14th. The finale will be at 7:53 a.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

6 Hours of Fuji
The FIA World Endurance Championship has its first round in Asia for the 2017 season and Fuji Speedway hosts the series for a sixth consecutive year.

The #2 Porsche of Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber have won the last four races and they have a commanding championship lead with 159 points. The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima trail the #2 Porsche by 51 points. Toyota has won four of five 6 Hours of Fuji. Bamber and Bernhard were responsible for the lone non-Toyota as they and Mark Webber won at the track two years ago. Anthony Davidson returns to the #8 Toyota after missing Austin for personal reasons.

The #1 Porsche of Neel Jani, André Lotterer and Nick Tandy have finished second in the last three races and they trail the sister Porsche by 76 points, giving the Swiss-German-Anglo trio a slim shot at the championship. Mike Conway and Kaumi Kobayashi won last year's Fuji in the #7 Toyota and José María López joins those two in the car.

The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca leads the Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers with Ho-Pin Tung, Oliver Jarvis and Thomas Laurent having scored 130 points from the first six races. The #31 Vaillante Rebellion of Bruno Senna and Julien Canal trails by 20 points despite having finished on LMP2 podium five times this year, including a victory at Mexico City. American Gustavo Menezes is trying to defend his LMP2 title and he is 28 points behind the #38 Oreca. Menezes won at Austin in the most recent race with Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão in the #36 Signatech Alpine and that car has finished on the podium in the last three races. 

The #67 Ford of Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell lead the GT World Endurance Drivers Championship with 102 points. The British duo won the Silverstone season opener but their only other podium finish this season was second at Le Mans. Priaulx and Tincknell won at Fuji last year. Richard Leitz and Frédéric Makowiecki trail the #67 Ford by six points in the #91 Porsche despite having yet to win this year. AF Corse driver Davide Rigon is a half-point back of the #91 Porsche with teammates James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi sitting another half-point back. Calado and Pier Guidi have won two of the last three races, including Austin, in the #71 Ferrari. Rigon will drive the #51 Ferrari with Sam Bird. Bird sits on 95 points because he missed the Nürburgring round due to Formula E commitments.

Fourteen points cover the top three teams in GTE-Am. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda has 130 points after picking up their second victory of the season at Austin. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Christian Ried, Marvin Dienst and Matteo Cairoli trail the #98 Aston Martin by four points. The #61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok sit on 116 points. The #98 Aston Martin and #77 Porsche has each finished on the podium five times while the #61 Ferrari has four podium finishes. Dalla Lana, Lamy and Lauda won last year at Fuji.

The 6 Hours of Fuji will start at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday October 14th.

MotoGP's Japanese Grand Prix
Last year, Marc Márquez clinched the MotoGP championship with a victory at Twin Ring Motegi. This year, five riders enter with a shot at the tile and Márquez holds onto the championship lead.

The Honda rider has won the last two races and he has extended his championship lead to 224 points. Márquez has not won three consecutive races since he won ten consecutive races to start the 2014 season. He is 16 points clear of Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. Márquez's victory last year at Motegi was his first in MotoGP and his first at the track in four years. Dovizioso's lone Motegi victory came in the 125cc class in 2004. His best finish in MotoGP at Motegi was second last year and in 2010 when he started on pole position for Honda. An Italian rider has not won in MotoGP at Motegi since Valentino Rossi in 2008.

Maverick Viñales won three of the first five races but the Yamaha rider has not won in the last nine races. He finished third in last year's Japanese Grand Prix and he has stood on the podium in four of six starts at Motegi but he has yet to win at the track. Viñales sits on 196 points. Dani Pedrosa sits on 170 points in fourth and Valentino Rossi is two points behind Pedrosa. Pedrosa is tied with Loris Capirossi and Jorge Lorenzo for most MotoGP victories at Motegi with three. Rossi's 2008 victory is his only visit to the top step of the podium at the track.

The Japanese Grand Prix will take place at 1:00 a.m. ET on Sunday October 15th. 

There are six races remaining in the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and this week Talladega hosts the second race of the second round of the Chase.

Martin Truex, Jr. picked up his sixth victory of the 2017 season last week at Charlotte and he has clinched a spot in the semifinal round with that victory. On top of securing his spot in the next round, Truex, Jr. leads on points as well with 3,106 points.

Kyle Larson is second on 3,072 points and Larson is 29 points to the good to make it to the semifinal round. Truex, Jr. and Larson are the only two drivers to finish in the top ten for all four Chase races. Kevin Harvick is three points behind Larson with Chase Elliott a further ten points behind Harvick. Elliott has finished second in three of the last four races. Denny Hamlin rounds out the top five, 13 points to the good.

Kyle Busch is a point behind his teammate after a 29th-place finish at Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson has three top ten finishes from the last four races but he is only eight points above the drop zone. Jamie McMurray's fifth-place finish last week was his first top five finish since Michigan in June and he sits on 3,044 points, one point to the good.

Matt Kenseth is one point on the outside after an 11th-place finish at Charlotte. Brad Keselowski is a further point behind Kenseth and Ryan Blaney is five points behind McMurray. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished 13th last week at Charlotte, his best finish since his Daytona victory in June. Stenhouse, Jr. trails McMurray by ten points.

Stenhouse, Jr. won at Talladega in May and he is one of eight remaining Chase drivers to have won at Talladega. Truex, Jr., Larson, Elliott and Blaney are the four drivers yet to win at Talladega in the Cup series. Keselowski leads all Chase drivers with four Talladega victories but only one of those came in the autumn race. Team Penske has won the last three autumn Talladega races with Keselowski winning in 2014 and Joey Logano having won this race the last two years. Five times has a driver eliminated from championship contention won the autumn Talladega race and McMurray won two of those races.

Toyota's only victory in the autumn Talladega race was in 2008 with Tony Stewart. The last driver to sweep the Talladega races in a season was Jeff Gordon in 2007. The last driver to win the second Talladega race in a season and the championship was Dale Earnhardt in 1993 and that race was held in late July.

The NASCAR Cup race from Talladega will be held at 2:20 p.m. ET on Sunday October 15th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 320.5 laps completed in the California 8 Hours?
2. Over or Under: 129.5 points for Robert Wickens after the Hockenheim round?
3. Over or Under: 4.5 French drivers finishing in the top five in LMP2 at Fuji?
4. Over or Under: 6.5 being the top finishing non-Spaniard/Italian at Motegi?
5. Over or Under: 7.5 caution laps in stage two of the Cup race?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There was one Global LMP2 car on the overall Petit Le Mans podium.
2. Under: There was only one New Zealander on the Bathurst 1000 podium.
3. Under: Lewis Hamilton won the Japanese Grand Prix by 1.211 seconds.
4. Under: The average speed for the Cup race was 138.8 MPH
5. Under: Four GT300 cars are eligible for the championship heading into the season finale.

1. A third different manufacture wins the third IGTC round of the season.
2. Mattias Ekström wins the DTM championship but does not win a race at Hockenheimring.
3. There will be a first time winner this year in at least one of the classes at Fuji.
4. Valentino Rossi is not the top Yamaha finisher.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes ahead of at least two of his teammates.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Team Penske finishes on the podium (Correct!Team Penske finished third at Petit Le Mans).
2. Both winning drivers in the Bathurst 1000 are first-time Bathurst 1000 winners (Correct! David Reynolds and Luke Youlden both got their first Bathurst 1000 victories).
3. Fernando Alonso finishes ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and in the points (Correct and Wrong! Alonso finished ahead of Vandoorne but finished 11th).
4. At least four top ten finishes from the May Charlotte race don't finish in the top ten this weekend (Correct! Seven drivers that finished in the top ten at Charlotte in May did not finish in the top ten last week).
5. There will be repeat winners in both GT500 and GT300 this weekend (Correct! The #37 Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy won in GT500 and the #51 Lexus of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi won in GT300).
Last Week: 4.5/5 Overall: 9.5/15