Wednesday, November 29, 2017

2017 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

The Formula One season ended with another Persian fireworks show and now we look back at the predictions made for the 20-race 2017 schedule. Nineteen drivers scored points and 25 drivers took part in a race over the course of the season.

1. Lewis Hamilton Beats His Teammate in the Championship By At Least Three Spots
Wrong! Hamilton won the championship but he only beat Valtteri Bottas by two positions, not three. It is a combination of things. One, Bottas did really well in year one with Mercedes and two, Red Bull Racing did not have the reliability to get the results I thought the team would be able to get. Bottas held his own in year one teamed with Hamilton but he clearly has a long way to go to beat his teammate. The Finn did win three races this season, his first three career victories and he picked up four pole positions.

2. Nico Hülkenberg Finally Gets a Podium
Wrong! The German has appeared in 137 races and made 135 starts and he has yet to finish on the podium. It feels like if he hasn't done it yet then it is never going to happen. He has been nothing but consistent in his career with championship finishes of 14th, 11th, 10th, ninth, 10th, ninth and 10th. He isn't a slouch but how he has never had a breakthrough after seven full seasons is staggering.

3. There Will be at Least One Race Red Bull Bosses
Correct! Max Verstappen dominated Malaysia and Mexico. Perhaps Hamilton could have challenged him at Malaysia if Hamilton wasn't racing for the championship but Verstappen pulled away and even if Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel didn't get into each other at Mexico Verstappen probably would have still ran away with it.

4. Haas Has More Finishes in the Points But Do Not Finish Ahead of any of the Top Seven in the 2016 Constructors' Championship
Partially Correct? Haas did have more points scoring finishes than last year with 13 points finishes to five but Haas finished ahead of one team that finished in the top seven in 2016 and that was McLaren. The team scored 18 more points than it scored in 2016 and it matched its Constructors' Championship finish in eighth. However, McLaren took four steps back.

5. Lance Stroll has an Incident That Leads People Calling for His Head
Correct! Where to start? His handful of accidents at preseason testing? Making contact with Marcus Ericsson at Melbourne? Retiring from the first three races? Veering into Sebastian Vettel on the cool down lap at Sepang? His lack of attention during qualifying at Austin? Pick one.

To be fair, Stroll did really well this year and I bet few people had him finishing 12th in the championship and only three points behind his teammate Felipe Massa and three points outside of the top ten in the World Drivers' Championship. He also finished third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and started second on the grid for the Italian Grand Prix. He is 19 years old, he is going to be the third-best driver on his own 24 Hours of Daytona team between Felix Rosenqvist and Robin Frijns but he is going to be in Formula One probably for the rest of our lives. Get use to him.

6. McLaren Gets Podiums
Wrong! Very wrong! I am surprised how wrong it went. Even worse is 30 points is probably an overachievement considering where McLaren was at the start of the season. Fernando Alonso put on some monumental drives. He qualified sixth at Barcelona. The car kept breaking down on him. He finished sixth and ran fastest lap at Hungary. A podium was never going to happen. He ended the season with three consecutive finishes in the points... and now McLaren switches to Renault. The timing is either on the money or off again for Alonso and McLaren.

7. Max Verstappen is Alive for the Championship Entering Mexico
Wrong! Verstappen was eliminated from championship contention in his turn one accident at Singapore with the two Ferraris. He was probably going to be eliminated that weekend anyway because he entered 170 points behind Lewis Hamilton with 175 points left on the table. The bright side for Verstappen is he at least won at Malaysia and Mexico.

8. A Non-European Country Wins the Race Promoters' Trophy and It Is Not Mexico
To be decided! It hasn't been announced yet but it seems like the Mexican Grand Prix should be the favorite to win it again. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the region six weeks prior to the race but from the size and the enthusiasm of the crowd you would not have known such a devastating event had occurred.

9. At Least One Driver Loses a Race Seat Midseason Due to Financial Reasons
Correct... I guess? You could say the entire Carlos Sainz, Jr., move to Renault was financially related with out being financially related. Jolyon Palmer wasn't scoring points. Renault needed a driver that could score points. Renault got its driver. Renault jumped Scuderia Toro Rosso in the Constructors' Championship thanks in part to Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso scored one point in the final four races after the departure of Sainz, Jr. Renault made an extra few million dollars.

10. At Least Three Races Do Not Feature a Mercedes-Benz on the Front Row
Correct! There were five races where Mercedes-Benz was absent from the front row. Those races were Russia, Monaco, Hungary, Singapore and Mexico. Ironically, those were the only five races where Ferrari won a pole position. You would have thought there would have been one race where Sebastian Vettel won pole position and Lewis Hamilton started second but that didn't happen. That hasn't happened since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, the fourth and final Korean Grand Prix! I expect that to change in 2018.

11. We Will Not See a Standing Restart in 2017 and If We Do, Standing Restarts Will Be Removed From the Championship During the Season
Correct! We didn't see it. I wonder if we will forget about it come 2018.

12. Nico Rosberg Does the Podium Interview at Least Once in 2017
Wrong! At least I never saw him get up on the podium with a microphone in his hand. I thought we might have seen a little bit more of Rosberg's personality come out now that he is retired from competition. While he was at the racetrack a few times, he remained silent and out of the spotlight. The 2016 World Drivers' Champion remained mostly a stranger in 2017. I bet he liked it that way.

Five and a half out of 12 with a chance of breaking 0.500 when the Race Promoters' Trophy is announced at a later date. Whatever the result is it could have been better.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Going Permanent

Australia's Richard Petty kept Roger Penske from conquering Australia. Elsewhere in the world, Formula One ended its season at one of the biggest wastes of a billion dollars. Felipe Massa ended his Formula One career. Marcus Ericsson likely saw his Formula One career come to a close. McLaren and Honda are officially divorced. Thanksgiving leftovers are at a minimum. December is upon us. Motorsports is dwindling. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Going Permanent
We are less than a week from the season opener for the fourth Formula E season. There will be a full preview of the championship at the end of the week but this is set to be the longest season in the series short history with 14 races scheduled over 11 rounds.

This season sees four new locations on the schedule joining seven returning venues. Two South American countries will host the series for the first time with Santiago, Chile hosting the fourth race of the season on February 4th and São Paulo hosting the sixth race on March 17th. Italy hosts its first Formula E round on April 14th with a race taking place in Rome and major motorsports returns to Switzerland for the first time since 1955 with Zürich hosting the antepenultimate round of the season on June 10th.

Should everything go to plan, Formula E will have raced at 20 different venues in 18 different countries by the end of this season. While being a street course-only series, the series has had its good races with its bad. Fortunately, Formula E has not had any disasters of the level of A1GP's trip to Beijing. The series is set on bringing electric motorsports to the people instead of having people travel to a circuit. The concept makes sense but how long can Formula E ignore existing venues and how long can existing venues ignore Formula E? The series isn't setting the world on fire but it isn't going anywhere and the level of manufacture involvement keeps increasing and with the manufactures come top shelf quality drivers.

Mexico City is the lone permanent motorsports venue on the current Formula E schedule but even that is a makeshift course using Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez's oval and stadium section. Besides lacking permanent facilities, Formula E has not had a cornerstone round. Berlin is the only round on the schedule that has been on every Formula E calendar and that had a venue switch in year two because the Tempelhof Airport was being used for refugee housing. Monaco was on the original Formula E schedule but that race alternates between hosting Formula E and hosting the historic grand prix and is not on this year's calendar.

Formula E could benefit from going to existing racetracks and using courses that already exist. Permanent venues would allow the series a few places to grow fan bases instead of hopping around the globe and hoping to draw a crowd for two or three years before finding a new city to visit. Permanent venues could also provide for better on track action. Street courses are hit and miss and while Formula E has done a good job with most of its course going to permanent venues could alleviate headaches when it comes to going to a country for the first time.

What could a Formula E calendar with only permanent or existing venues look like? Let's take into consideration that the longest course Formula E has raced on was the Beijing Olympic Green Circuit, a 2.14-mile course. Let's set that as the limit for now. Eventually this series is going to have to tackle longer courses but baby steps. Let's also keep the winter into summer schedule. I think Formula E should run when the rest of major motorsports is off. Too often it has been lost in the shuffle of Formula One, FIA World Endurance Championship, IndyCar and more.

Where could the season start? The series has to be in China and the country has hosted the Formula E season opener before. China has had a racetrack boom over the last decade and there are some that fit what Formula E is looking for. My nomination would be the Chengdu Goldenport Circuit. This track was an unknown until A1GP went there in November 2008. It wasn't the greatest circuit in the world but something about its charming, Mario Kart-esque character makes me want some series to go back there. The circuit is 2.091 miles long. It is perfect for Formula E and it should host the season opener in late-October.

What could come next? How about Japan? I am partly surprised Japan has yet to Formula E but closing down the streets of Tokyo could be one thing that keeps the series from going there. The good news is Japan has a few options for Formula E. What would be a better place to host a Japanese round than Suzuka? The Suzuka East circuit, which famously hosted NASCAR 20 years ago, is only 1.394 miles in length. Japanese fans are some of the best in the world and they will pack the place with a race in mid-November.

Like Japan, I am surprised we have yet to see Australia host Formula E. The series has to go down under and while it is pushing winter in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia would be on the cusp of summer in December. I would choose Sandown Raceway. It is close to Melbourne, it is 1.928 miles long and it has a pair of long straightaways. It would be a great race prior to the Christmas period.

After Christmas, we have to stay in the Southern Hemisphere and Buenos Aires had the best atmosphere of all the Formula E venues to date. It is a shame the series won't return there for season four but Buenos Aires has a famous track in the city with a number of configurations. Autódromo Oscar y Juan Gálvez hosted 21 Argentine Grands Prix, 20 of which were on the Formula One schedule. The No. 9 configuration, a 2.07-mile course, was used three times. That would be a great way to kick off the New Year in January.

While we are in the Americas, the series mind as well head north and come to the United States but it should go somewhere it has never been before and probably never considered. Formula E should have an oval race and it should be at Phoenix International Raceway in early February. Formula E is an entirely new series. It is still an infant. Why should it shy away from ovals? Plus it would be a great test of speed for these cars. Let's get the most out of these cars and a one-mile oval should be the start for the series. There is nothing wrong with an oval or two in Formula E's future. Let's even make it a doubleheader.

After Phoenix, the series could head to Europe for the second half of the season. Formula E used Circuit Ricardo Tormo's perimeter circuit for preseason testing and the series should host a round there at the start of spring in March. The track is 1.92 miles long. After Valencia, the series could head to Italy in April and run a race before Formula One starts the European portion of its season. Adria International Raceway is not only 1.679 miles in length but it has a covered paddock, which I think would be great for the Formula E festivities.

Come May, Formula One will be back in Europe but between the Spanish Grand Prix and Monaco Grand Prix Formula E could fill the gap with a race on Dijon-Prenois short circuit, a 2.044-mile circuit. When Formula One heads to Canada, Formula E could head to England and to what is essentially its ancestral home, the 1.957-mile Donington Park National Circuit! It hosted the first test in the series history. The series should have already raced there.

There has to be one street circuit on the Formula E schedule but instead of going to a city and trying to build a new circuit, why not go to an existing street circuit in a country where a number of Formula E manufactures call home? The Norisring is famous for DTM and sports cars but a Formula E doubleheader on the 1.4-mile course would be an excellent close to the European portion of the schedule in late June.

Where should the Formula E season finale be held? Let's end the season in the United States in the middle of July but instead of racing around Brooklyn, let's run at the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park and have a doubleheader. There would be no worries about noise with Formula E in Connecticut. The locals wouldn't even know a race is taking place.

This calendar is far from happening but in five years, in ten years, Formula E might be looking for something a bit more permanent.

Champions From the Weekend

Jamie Whincup won his seventh Supercars championship with a victory in race two from Newcastle and race one winner Scott McLaughlin being handed a 15-second penalty in race two for a driving infringement and dropping him to 17th in the final results.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin but did you know...

Valtteri Bottas won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Artem Markelov and Charles Leclerc split the Formula Two races from Abu Dhabi. Niko Kari scored his first GP3 victory in race one and Dorian Boccolacci scored his first GP3 victory in race two.

Christopher Bell won the Turkey Night Grand Prix from Ventura Raceway. It is Bell's second Turkey Night Grand Prix victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula E season opener from Hong Kong.
25 Hours of Thunderhill.
The World Touring Car Championship concludes at Qatar on Friday.
The Asian Le Mans Series has its second round of the season at Fuji.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Four: Newcastle and Abu Dhabi

We have reached the final weekend of November and we have reached the final Friday preview of the year. Four seasons end this weekend but unfortunately three are dead rubbers and the champions have already had plenty of time to celebrate. The good news is there is one championship to be decided this weekend and five drivers could head home with an early Christmas present in some silverware.

Newcastle 500
The final round of the 2017 Supercars Championship is the inaugural Newcastle 500 on the Newcastle Street Circuit. The course is 1.647 miles with 14 turns and runs along the waterfront.

Jamie Whincup enters the final round as the championship leader. The six-time champion has amassed 2,850 points and the Red Bull Racing Australia Holden driver won the most recent race at Pukekohe Park Raceway. It was Whincup's third victory of the season. Whincup leads DJR Team Penske Ford driver Scott McLaughlin by 30 points. McLaughlin has seven victories this season, the most in Supercars and he has 15 podium finishes from 24 races, including in the last three races. The New Zealander has also won 14 pole positions this season.

McLaughlin's teammate and fellow countryman Fabian Coulthard is third in the championship, 176 points behind Whincup. Coulthard has one podium finish in the last five races and he has only three podium finishes in the last 12 races. Rod Nash Racing driver Chaz Mostert is the third Ford driver with a shot at the title. Mostert is 264 points back in fourth and he has three victories, his most recent being the first race at Surfers Paradise. Shane Van Gisbergen has a slim shot at successfully defending his title. Van Gisbergen trails his teammate Whincup by 276 points with 300 points left on the table. Van Gisbergen has five victories this season, including the first race at Symmons Plain Raceway, which did not award points due to the race being shortened to four laps due to rain and an accident.

Whincup could earn his record extending seventh championship while Van Gisbergen could join Jim Richards as the only New Zealanders to win multiple Supercars championship. McLaughlin, Coulthard and Mostert could all be the 25th different champion in Supercars history. McLaughlin or Coulthard could become the fourth New Zealander to win the championship joining Richards, Van Gisbergen and Robbie Francevic.

Both Red Bull Racing Australia and DJR Team Penske are going for their eighth championship. Red Bull Racing Australia has won seven of the last nine championships with DJR Team Penske's most recent title coming in 2010. Rod Nash Racing is going for its first championship.

Both Newcastle races will be 95 laps in length. Race one will be at 11:45 p.m. ET on Friday November 24th. The final race of the Supercars season will be at 11:40 p.m. ET on Saturday November 25th.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
The 20th and final round of the 2017 Formula One season is the ninth edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton won last year's race at Yas Marina, his third Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victory and he matched Sebastian Vettel for most Abu Dhabi Grand Prix victories. Hamilton has not finished on the podium in the last two races and Hamilton has not failed to finish on the podium in three consecutive races since he did not finish on the podium in the final eight races of the 2013 season and the 2014 season opener. Vettel picked up his fifth victory of the season at Interlagos. Vettel has not won consecutive races since he won nine consecutive races to close the 2013 season.

Vettel is 22 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas for second in the championship meaning the Finn needs to win and have Vettel finish ninth or worse for Mercedes to sweep the top two in the World Drivers' Championship. Bottas has finished in the top five in 17 of 19 races with the exceptions being sixth at China and a retirement at Barcelona. Daniel Ricciardo holds a seven-point edge over Kimi Räikkönen for fourth in the championships. Räikkönen is the only other Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner on the grid and he has finished third in the last three races. Max Verstappen will finish sixth in the championship regardless of what happens at Yas Marina.

Sergio Pérez increased his gap over Force India teammate Esteban Ocon to seven points as the Mexican driver finished ninth at Brazil and Ocon suffered his first retirement in his Formula One career and his first retirement in single-seater competition since the third race of the Formula 3 Euro Series weekend at the Nürburgring on August 17, 2014. Carlos Sainz, Jr., is 40 points behind Pérez on 54 points while Felipe Massa jumped back into the top ten with a seventh place finish at Brazil and Massa holds a two-point lead over his teammate Lance Stroll, who is 11th on 40 points.

The tight championship battle for sixth in the Constructors' Championship saw very little change at Brazil. Toro Rosso remained sixth on 53 points as neither Pierre Gasly nor Brandon Hartley scored any points. Renault moved to 49 points as Sainz, Jr., finished tenth at Interlagos. Haas also did not score any points at Brazil and the team remains on 47 points.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

Formula Two at Yas Marina Circuit
The 11th and final round of the Formula Two season joins Formula One bill and like Formula One, this championship has already been decided.

Monegasque driver Charles Leclerc locked up the title at Jerez with a victory and a seventh-place finish and he has six victories this season, five of which have been feature races. He has won eight pole positions from the first ten rounds. Leclerc did not score points in either of his two GP3 starts at the track last year.

Oliver Rowland holds second position in the championship with 189 points, 60 behind Leclerc. Rowland has ten podium finishes this season, two more than Leclerc. Rowland made three starts at Yas Marina in GP3 and did not score points in any of the three races. Artem Markelov won the sprint races and Jerez and he is 12 points behind Rowland. Markelov has four victories this season. The Russian's previous best championship finish in GP2/Formula Two was tenth. Markelov's teammate Luca Ghiotto is 13 points back and Canadian Nicholas Latifi rounds out the top five on 156 points. Ghiotto's only victory was the Monza sprint race while Latifi won the Silverstone sprint race.

American Santino Ferrucci will run his fifth round for Trident Racing. After finishing ninth in his first two feature races, the Nutmegger has not scored points in the last five races. Ferrucci is responsible for four of Trident's nine points this season with Sergio Canamasas scoring three points and Nabil Jeffri picking up two points in the Jerez feature race.

The feature race will be at 9:40 a.m. ET on Saturday November 25th and the sprint race will be at 5:10 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

GP3 Series at Yas Marina Circuit
Like Formula One and Formula Two, the GP3 championship has already been wrapped up.

Mercedes development driver George Russell clinched the championship with 190 points at Jerez. Russell has won four races this season, all feature races. The only races Russell did not score points in were both Hungary races after he did not start the first race and finished 11th in race two.

Behind Russell are his three ART Grand Prix teammates. Fellow Brit Jack Aitken is second, 50 points back. Aitken's only victory was the first race at Hungary and he has finished on the podium in five of seven of the first races of a race weekend this season. Japanese driver Nirei Fukuzumi is six points behind Aitken. Both of Fukuzumi's victories were first races in Spain as he won at Barcelona and Jerez. Russell, Aitken and Fukuzumi all have six podium finishes this season. Anthione Hubert sits on 117 points. He has yet to win a race this season and he has four podium finishes.

ART Grand Prix has swept the podium in five races this season and all five have been the first race of a weekend, including the last four consecutive rounds.

Giuliano Alesi rounds out the top five in the championship with 99 points. Alesi has won three races this season. Alessio Lorandi won the most recent race of the season at Jerez and he has 82 points and he is ten points ahead of Dorian Boccolacci, who finished second to Lorandi. American Ryan Tveter is eighth on 62 points. Tveter finished second at Hungary and third at Spa-Francorchamps.

Race one will be at 3:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 25th and race two will be at 3:50 a.m. ET on Sunday November 26th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 229.5 scored by Scott McLaughlin this weekend?
2. Over or Under: 999.5 total laps completed in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 3.5 points-paying finishes for Prema Powerteam? 
4. Over or Under: 8.5 championship place finish for Ryan Tveter?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: Martin Truex, Jr., led 78 laps at Homestead. 
2. Under: None of the four drivers fight for the Xfinity Series title led a lap at Homestead.
3. Under: Austin Cindric finished fifth in the Truck series race.
4. Over: 25 cars were classified in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.
5. Over: Hayden Paddon scored 15 points in Rally Australia.
6. Over: The top nine in the Macau Grand Prix were covered by ten seconds.
7. Under: There were zero flips in the FIA GT World Cup races.
8. Over: Two Non-European drivers finished on the podium in the two WTCC races.

1. There will be at least one change in the top five of the championship after Newcastle.
2. There will be fewer than two retirements for Renault-powered cars due to mechanical issues.
3. At least eight Formula Two teams score points this weekend. 
4. ART Grand Prix does not sweep a podium at Abu Dhabi.

Last Week's Predictions
1. The NASCAR Cup champion will not have exactly five victories this season (Correct! Martin Truex, Jr., ended with eight victories
2. Sam Hornish, Jr., finishes ahead of at least two of the four championship eligible drivers (Correct! Sam Hornish, Jr., finished second, ahead of all four championship drivers).
3. The winner of the Truck race does not lead the most laps (Wrong! Chase Briscoe won and led the most laps).
4. The #98 Aston Martin holds on and wins the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers (Correct! And the #98 Aston Martin won the finale to boot).
5. Sébastien Ogier gets his third rally victory of the season (Wrong! Ogier finished fourth).
6. Mick Schumacher retires from at least one of the two races (Wrong! He finished both races).
7. A past Macau Grand Prix winner does not win the FIA GT World Cup (Wrong! Edoardo Mortara won).
8. Rob Huff wins one of the two WTCC races (Correct! He won race two).
Last Week: 4/8 Overall: 27.5/50 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

2017 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

We have made it to the end of another NASCAR season and it is time to look back at the predictions made nearly a year go when Christmas trees started appearing on curbs and retail stores were full of people looking to make a return.

1. Toyota Does Not Repeat as Manufactures' Champions in Cup
Wrong! Toyota won 16 races for the second consecutive season while Ford and Chevrolet each won ten races and Toyota took the Manufactures' Championship for the second consecutive year with 1,292 points with Ford scoring 1,254 points and Chevrolet scoring 1,247 points. I didn't expect this. I thought Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing would remain competitive but I didn't expect Martin Truex, Jr., winning eight races. Chevrolet ended the season without a victory in the final ten races. Hendrick Motorsports took a step back and Jimmie Johnson still won three races. Chevrolet is introducing new bodywork in 2018. Can it bring the manufacture back in earshot of Toyota? We will have to wait and see.

2. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Makes it to the Semifinal Round of the Chase
Wrong! I had a feeling heading into this season that it would be Earnhardt, Jr.'s final year in NASCAR and I was hopeful that he would have one final chance to show he was leaving on a high note. Unfortunately, he struggled to get going. He finished fifth at Texas and that would be his only top five finish of the season. By the time the series reached Charlotte it became clear the only way he was going to make the Chase was by winning a race and it was clear by the time the series returned to Daytona that he was going to have one shot at it. For the man who had so many fairy tale results, this wasn't a story that would end with happily ever after.

3. Stewart-Haas Racing has Fewer Victories, Top Ten Finishes and Drivers in the Chase than 2016
Correct! Despite having Kevin Harvick finish third in the championship, Stewart-Haas Racing won three races, down from six, the team had 52 top ten finishes, down from 57 and only Harvick and Kurt Busch made the Chase, one year after those two and Tony Stewart made the Chase. It was a really good year for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team did win the Daytona 500 but this year was going to be down a bit with the manufacture switch.

4. Jimmie Johnson is Fourth All-Time in Cup Victories by the End of 2017
Wrong! Johnson won three races in a seven-race stretch from Texas in April to Dover in June. He got to 83 victories, tied for sixth all-time. Johnson had one top five finish the rest of the season! If he had won one more race he would have at least tied Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth all-time. It seemed certain he would win at least five races after he had three victories by early June. He led 29 laps in the final half of the season. It wasn't his year and yet you shouldn't write him off for an eighth championship in 2018.

5. Less Than Five of the Chase Drivers are Different From 2016
Correct! Only four drivers were different from the 2016 Chase. The new drivers were Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. The four drivers that did not make it back to the Chase this year were the retired Tony Stewart, the retired Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher.

6. AJ Allmendinger Makes The Chase
Wrong! Allmendinger had one top five finish (a third in the Daytona 500) and five top ten finishes in the first 26 races but that was not enough to get him into the Chase. He started fifth at Sonoma but contact with Kyle Larson took him out of contention for victory. He didn't have what it took to contend for victory at Watkins Glen and unfortunately those are Allmendinger's two bites at the apple. If he doesn't succeed at either of those two tracks than he is likely not going to make the Chase. He has been a competent NASCAR driver considering how lost he was a decade ago when he moved over from Champ Car but he still has the handful of tracks where he is expected to get results and others where he isn't given a chance.

7. Erik Jones' Average Starting Position is 3.5 Points Lower than His Average Finish
Wrong! Erik Jones average starting position was 14.6 while his average finish was 17.1 so the difference was 2.5, not 3.5. It was a good year for Erik Jones and now he moves to Joe Gibbs Racing. I expect he will do better in 2018 and maybe win a race. Although, he just left the championship winning team.

8. Championship Ineligible Drivers win more than 16 of the first 26 Grand National Series Race
Correct! Championship ineligible drivers won 17 of the first 26 races in NASCAR's second division this season. Kyle Busch won five of those 17 races, Kyle Larson won three of those, Erik Jones won two of those, Brad Keselowski won two of those, Denny Hamlin won two of those and Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola each won once.

Of the nine races won by championship eligible drivers, William Byron won three of those races while Justin Allgaier won twice. Ryan Reed won the season opener at Daytona, Jeremy Clements won at Road America, and part-time drivers Ryan Preece and Sam Hornish, Jr., each scored a victory.

9. All Four JR Motorsports Drivers Make the Chase
Correct! Not only did Elliott Sadler, William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Michael Annett all make the Chase in NASCAR's second division, the first three of those drivers swept the top three positions in the championship with Byron taking the championship ahead of Sadler. With neither Team Penske nor Joe Gibbs Racing fielded championship drivers, this is the premier team in the second division when it comes to the drivers' championship. If the Chase didn't exist, the team would have still swept the top three except with Sadler taking the title ahead of Byron. Next year the team sees Tyler Reddick enter for the departing William Byron but the team should still be the mightiest on the grid.

10. A Rookie is in the Top Four of the Truck Championship
Correct! Austin Cindric made the final four the Truck championship battle but he didn't make many friends along the way. His victory at Mosport came after an unpopular move to spin Kaz Grala on the final lap but it put him in the Chase. The Brad Keselowski Racing driver was consistent during the final seven races and he made the final four after his main rival for the final spot in the top four, Ben Rhodes, had his Phoenix race end after contact between the two drivers. Cindric finished fifth in the season finale at Homestead and that earned him third in the championship.

11. Someone Becomes the 28th Driver to Win in All Three National Touring Divisions
Correct! Not only did we get a 28th driver to accomplish the feat but we had a 29th driver as well. Austin Dillon's conservation run at Charlotte that led to his victory in the Coca-Cola 600 made him the 28th driver to win in the Cup, Grand National and Truck series. Two weeks later, Ryan Blaney became the 29th driver to join the club with his victory at Pocono.

12. There Will Not Be Any Fights In Any of NASCAR's Three National Touring Series
Wrong! These schmucks.

So down to six-for-12 after going eight-for-12 last year. It could have been worse.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Truex and The Format

"Death, taxes and Rob Huff winning at Macau" proved to be a true statement this weekend. There were two other memorable races at Macau but both came with a costly bill in crash damage. There were three new NASCAR champions crowned this weekend and two first-time winners. Porsche said goodbye to LMP1. A Senna, a Lauda and a Fittipaldi all won championships this weekend. And apparently the TCR International Series ended its season this weekend, a week earlier than announced and at a different track but in the same country as the original finale. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Truex and The Format
I missed Martin Truex, Jr.'s first career NASCAR Grand National Series at Bristol. Though it was 2004, I didn't find out he won the race until the next morning in the Sunday paper only five minutes before we had to be in the car for church. That doesn't seem possible in 2017 and thirteen years ago I had Internet but it was dial up and it would take 15-30 minutes on a good day. There was always the bottom ticker on ESPN, there was even SPEED with Speed News or The Speed Report or whatever the network called its wrap up show but for some reason it slipped through the cracks and I found out about the victory in ink.

Growing up in New Jersey, there weren't many big name race car drivers to follow and Truex, Jr., was the first (and so far only) local driver I got to follow on a major, national stage. I always felt New Jersey was too small for motorsports. I got into motorsports about ten years too late in Flemington, New Jersey. The semi-famous Flemington Speedway had been shut down for a handful of years by that time but even the sight of a broken down, overgrown grandstand would capture my attention anytime I was in the backseat and my parents were driving on Route 31. I never recall going to the track for a race. I never knew the Truck series went there until it was too late. Every time we drove by I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be there on a Saturday night.

While I stared into an abandoned facility and tried to connect with the past, in the present New Jersey had a rising star. Truex, Jr., would win the then-Busch Series and in somewhat convincing fashion. The following year he successfully defended his title and with a move to Cup set for 2006 the hope was he could be one of NASCAR's best. Unfortunately, that didn't happen right away.

He got to Dale Earnhardt, Inc. at the wrong time. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Teresa Earnhardt feuded and the team fell apart. Earnhardt, Jr., was soon out the door and on his way to Hendrick Motorsports. Truex, Jr., was stuck and had to make the best of a terrible situation. He picked up his first career victory on a Monday at Dover but it appeared that was going to be it. He got out when he first could and went to Michael Waltrip Racing, which was closer to the sharp end of the grid but still far away.

It took a while for it to click but over six years after he won at Dover, his second career victory came at Sonoma and he seemed set to make the Chase and possibly make a title run. Then came the infamous Richmond race where Clint Bowyer spun on purpose, which led to the whole team being punished. Both Bowyer and Truex, Jr., were docked points but while Bowyer got to fight for a title, Truex, Jr., had been knocked out. To add insult to injury, NAPA Auto Parts pulled its sponsorship of the team prior to the 2014 season and despite doing nothing wrong, Truex, Jr., was out of a ride.

Furniture Row Racing was a life preserver. The team was getting better when Truex, Jr., arrived there but he was back to square one. The team had finished tenth in the championship the year prior with Kurt Busch but that next step wasn't going to come easy. His first race with the team ended with a 43rd-place finish in the Daytona 500. He wouldn't get a top ten finish until the ninth race at Richmond. He wouldn't get a top five until the 30th race at Kansas. Truex, Jr., finished 24th in the championship, his worst position since becoming a full-time driver.

The last three years have been some kind of ascendance for Truex, Jr., and Furniture Row Racing. The team was consistent from out of the gate in 2015. He got a victory at Pocono and made the Chase and he was a surprise finalist for the championship at Homestead that year but he was the fourth best of the final four. Despite the team's championship run, it switched from Chevrolet to Toyota and while a decade earlier Truex, Jr., got to DEI at the wrong time, Furniture Row Racing's manufacture switch proved to be right on the money. He finished second in the Daytona 500 in a photo finish with Denny Hamlin and he continued his consistent ways. He dominated the Coca-Cola 600 and won the Southern 500 then won at Chicagoland and Dover. Unfortunately, his title hopes ended after an early engine failure at Talladega.

In 2017, no one deserved the Cup title more than Martin Truex, Jr. The man was head and shoulders above the competition and it is a shame the format nearly prevented this historic season from being rightly awarded. The man won eight races, most for a champion since Jimmie Johnson won ten races in 2007 and he had 19 top five finishes, the most for a champion since Johnson's 20 top five finishes in 2007. He had 26 top ten finishes, the most for a champion since Dale Jarrett's 29 in 1999. He ended the season with nine top five finishes in the final ten races. He should have clinched the championship at Texas and we should have a two-week coronation ceremony where he tried to win races with beer sweats.

In NASCAR's attempt to be other sports, it has allowed for great seasons to be devalued based on the results of one race. I understand the urgency to have the championship go to the wire but to decide the champion by separating it from the results of the first 35 races should not be the way to do it. NASCAR abuses the reset button. The Chase format makes sure everyone remains about equal the deeper we get into autumn, from the driver who has won a half-dozen races to the driver who hasn't won all season to the driver who won once and had four top ten finishes the rest of the season. It has given drivers second and third chances at a championship when they should have been eliminated weeks prior.

Truex, Jr.'s championship would have been as well received had he locked it up at Texas. The man and the entire Furniture Row Racing team became darlings of NASCAR by dominating races and fans respected what the team from Colorado had achieved. The results at Homestead were more a sigh of relief that the best driver got the championship and some fluke engine failure or spinning back marker didn't take it away from Truex, Jr.

I am puzzled where Truex, Jr., stands in NASCAR history. Maybe I am thinking about this too much because of the departure of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Four years ago, it was hard to see Truex, Jr., ever becoming a Cup series champion. When he joined Furniture Row Racing his best championship result was 11th. He had two victories in 297 Cup starts. He seemed more likely to fall in a group with the likes of Johnny Benson and Steve Park than be heralded in a group with the likes of the Labonte brothers and Matt Kenseth. How things can change in three years.

Truex, Jr., will likely not end his career with records that rival most of his contemporary champions but very few will come close to matching the level of joy Truex, Jr.'s title brought to everyone who follows.

Champions From the Weekend
You know about Martin Truex, Jr., but did you know...

Bruno Senna and Julien Canal clinched the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 drivers as they and #31 Vaillante Rebellion Racing Oreca co-driver Nicolas Prost took the class victory in the 6 Hours of Bahrain.

The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessanrdo Pier Guidi clinched the GT World Endurance Drivers' championship with a second-place finish at Bahrain.

The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda clinched the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am with a class victory at Bahrain.

William Byron won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with a third-place finish at Homestead.

Christopher Bell won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship with a second-place finish at Homestead.

Pietro Fittipaldi clinched the World Series Formula V8 3.5 championship with a pair of second-place finishes at Bahrain.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Martin Truex, Jr., and a handful of class victories from Bahrain but did you know...

The #8 Toyota of Sébastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson won the 6 Hours of Bahrain overall. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon and Sam Bird won in GTE-Pro.

Dan Ticktum won the Macau Grand Prix after Sérgio Sette Câmara and Ferdinand Habsburg both hit the barrier in the final corner on the last lap of the race.

Edoardo Mortara won the FIA GT World Cup in the #48 Mercedes-AMG for the Mercedes-AMG Team Driver Academy.

Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff split the WTCC races at Macau. It was Rob Huff's ninth victory at Macau and he has won driving for five different manufactures (Chevrolet, SEAT, Lada, Honda and Citroën).

Cole Custer won the NASCAR Grand National Series race at Homestead. Chase Briscoe won the Truck race.

Pepe Oriola and Stefano Comini split the TCR International Series races from Dubai.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One finale at Abu Dhabi.
Formula Two and the GP3 Series also conclude their respective 2017 seasons at Abu Dhabi.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Five: Five Finales and a Hat Trick of Street Races

We are less than a week away from Thanksgiving but the motorsports feast is this weekend with five season finales, six championships to be decided and a slew of races from a street course in Asian providing plenty to snack on over three days.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
The 36th and final race of he NASCAR Cup season takes place at Homestead-Miami Speedway and four drivers from four teams and two manufactures have a shot at the championship.

Martin Truex, Jr., has been the top driver all season. The New Jerseyan has won seven races this season, including six on 1.5-mile ovals. Truex has an average finish of 2.7 on 1.5-mile ovals this season with his worst finish being eighth. He has finished in the top five in eight of nine Chase races with the exception being 23rd at Talladega. His best finish at Homestead was second in 2006. While he has three top fives and seven top ten finishes in 12 Homestead starts, he has failed to finish in the top ten the last three years in the finale.

Kyle Busch won five races this season including three during the Chase. However, Busch's three victories are his only top five finishes during the Chase and he has not had a top five finish on a 1.5-mile oval since finishing fifth at Kentucky in July. Busch won the 2015 championship with a victory at Homestead. He has finished in the top ten in four of the last five Homestead races.

Kevin Harvick won the 2014 championship with a victory at Homestead and he won the most recent 1.5-mile race at Texas two weeks ago. Harvick has nine consecutive top ten finishes at Homestead and he has 14 top ten finishes in 16 Homestead starts. The California has never retired from a Cup race at Homestead and he has completed 4,277 of 4,278 possible laps.

Brad Keselowski suffered an accident in last year's Homestead race and it was his first retirement at the track after three consecutive top ten finishes including two third-place finishes. Keselowski clinched the 2012 championship with a 15th place finish after Jimmie Johnson retired from the race. He has the best average starting position at the track of the four championship contending driver at 11.6.

Since the introduction of this Chase format in 2014, each champion has won the Homestead race all three seasons and at least one championship contender has finished outside the top ten. Ford leads all manufactures with seven victories at Homestead but the manufacture has not won at the track since 2010 and all seven of Ford's victories have been by Roush-Fenway Racing. Both times Stewart-Haas Racing has won at Homestead the team has won the championship with Harvick in 2014 and Tony Stewart in 2011. Team Penske has never won at Homestead in Cup while Joe Gibbs Racing has six Homestead victories.

Five of the last six Cup champions have ended the season with five victories.

The season finale for the NASCAR Cup season will take place at 2:46 p.m. ET on Sunday November 19th.

NASCAR Xfinity Series
It is an all-Chevrolet affair for the championship in NASCAR's second division as three JR Motorsports drivers and one Richard Childress Racing driver will fight for the title.

William Byron won at Phoenix last week, his fourth of the season. Byron leads all championship-eligible drivers in victories this season. Byron won last year's Truck race at Homestead and he could become the second teenage to win the NASCAR Grand National Series championship. Chase Elliott is the youngest champion in series history at 18 years, 11 months and 18 days old. Elliott's championship is the only title for JR Motorsports.

Elliott Sadler dominated this season but the Virginian has not won a race this season and Sadler is coming off an 18th place finish at Phoenix. He had six consecutive top ten finishes prior to Phoenix. Only two of Sadler's 13 Grand National Series victories have come on a 1.5-mile racetrack, including his most recent victory in the series, which came last autumn at Kentucky. He finished third last year at Homestead and last year was the third time he has finished runner-up in the championship.

Justin Allgaier won twice this season, including at Chicagoland in September. Like Sadler, Allgaier has only won twice on 1.5-mile racetracks but both of those victories have occurred at Chicagoland for Allgaier. He has never finished in the top five at Homestead with last year being his best finish at the track when he finished sixth. He matched his career-best championship finish last year with a third place championship finish.

Daniel Hemric was the final driver to clinch a spot in the championship race with his fifth place finish at Phoenix. The rookie has yet to win this season. His best finish this season was second at Mid-Ohio and his best finish on a 1.5-mile oval was fourth at Chicagoland in September. Hermic is also winless in 49 Truck series starts. He made three Truck starts at Homestead and had finishes of 12th, eighth and fifth. Richard Childress Racing is bidding for its fifth Grand National Series championship. The team's most recent title was with Austin Dillon in 2013.

The NASCAR Grand National Series finale will be at 3:45 p.m. ET on Saturday November 18th.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
One driver is looking to become the second driver to win consecutive NASCAR Truck championship. Another is looking to become the third driver to win at least three Truck series championships and two drivers are going for their first title, including one rookie.

Johnny Sauter has won the last two races and the Wisconsinite is looking to successful defend his Truck championship. Sauter won last year's championship after a third place finish at Homestead and he entered that race off the back of two victories and a second place finish. Sauter has already matched the amount of top five finishes he had last year with 12.

Matt Crafton is looking for his third Truck championship in the last five seasons. He won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014. Crafton's only victory this season was at Eldora and his only top five finish on a mile-and-a-half racetrack was second at Atlanta in March. He won at Homestead in 2015 from pole position.

Christopher Bell has won the most races this season as the Oklahoman has five victories. Three of Bell's victories were on 1.5-mile racetracks. His most recent victory was the first race of the Chase at Loudon but Bell enters Homestead with seven consecutive top ten finishes. Bell finished eighth in last year's Homestead race.

Austin Cindric was the final driver to qualify for the final race and the rookie for Brad Keselowski Racing did it off the back of six consecutive top ten finishes, including a second place finish at Texas and a fourth place finish at Las Vegas. This will be Cindric's first start at Homestead. Cindric could become the first Ford driver to win the Truck championship since Greg Biffle in 2000.

The final race of the Truck season will be Friday November 17th at 8:49 p.m. ET.

6 Hours of Bahrain
The LMP1 championship has been decided in the FIA World Endurance Championship but the other three classes have yet to be decided.

Bruno Senna and Julien Canal took the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers championship lead with their victory at Shanghai with Nicolas Prost. They sit on 161 points and the #31 Vaillante Rebellion Oreca drivers lead the drivers of the #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca, Thomas Laurent, Oliver Jarvis and Ho-Pin Tung by four points entering the season finale. Both teams have won three races this season but the #31 Oreca has three runner-up finishes while the #38 Oreca has finished third twice and finished off the podium three times.

Gustavo Menezes has an outside shot of successfully defending the FIA Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers. The American trails by 23 points and would have to win the race and have the #31 Oreca retire from the race and the #38 Oreca finish eighth or worse in class. Menezes shares the #36 Signatech Alpine with Nicolas Lapierre and André Negrão. This team won at Austin in September. 

The GT World Endurance Drivers' Championship will come down to one of four possibilities. The #51 AF Corse of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi lead with 135 points but they are only two points ahead of the #91 Porsche of Richard Lietz and Frédéric Makowiecki. The #51 Ferrari has won three times and finished on the podium in six of eight races while the #91 Porsche has not won this season but has six podium finishes and the team's worst finish is sixth. Andy Priaulx and Harry Tincknell kept their title hopes alive with a victory at Shanghai. The #67 Ford GT drivers are 8.5 points back. Davide Rigon is the final driver with a shot at the title. The #71 AF Corse Ferrari driver trails his teammates by 22.5 points. Sam Bird joins Rigon in the #71 Ferrari. They won at Spa-Francorchamps in May.

The FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am drivers also has three teams battling for the title. The #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda enter with that elusive championship within the teams' grasp. The trio has scored 166 points and took the championship lead with their third victory of the season last time out at Shanghai. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Marvin Dienst, Christian Ried and Matteo Cairoli dropped to second in the championship, ten points back after finishing third at Shanghai. The #77 Porsche's worst finish this season was fourth at Austin. Clearwater Racing has an outside shot at the title as the #61 Ferrari of Matt Griffin, Weng Sun Mok and Keita Sawa trails by 19 points. The #61 Ferrari won the season opener at Silverstone and has five podium finishes this season.

Bahrain marks the final round for Porsche LMP1 program. Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Earl Bamber clinched the World Endurance Drivers' Championship at Shanghai and the #2 Porsche has won four races this season, as has the #8 Toyota of Sébasten Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson. The #1 Porsche of Neel Jani, Nick Tandy and André Lotterer has finished on the podium in five consecutive races but has not won this season. The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López has three podium finishes this season.

The 6 Hours of Bahrain will start at 8:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 18th. 

Rally Australia
The World Rally Championship is the fifth season finale this weekend.

Sébastien Ogier locked up his fifth consecutive title with a third place finish in Wales Rally GB but the Frenchman has not won since Rally de Portugal in May. This is the fewest rally victories for Ogier since he won twice in 2010. The Frenchman entered Rally Australia with 40 rally victories and 500 stage victories. 

Andreas Mikkelsen won last year's Rally Australia and he will be driving for Hyundai for the third consecutive round after contesting three races for Škoda in WRC-2 and three races for Citroën earlier this season. Mikkelsen's teammate Thierry Neuville sits second in the championship and he is 14 points ahead of M-Sport World Rally Team Ford driver Ott Tänak. Toyota driver Jari-Matti Latvala sits on 136 points in fourth and Wales Rally GB winner Elfyn Evans rounds out the top five on 118 points. Citroën drivers Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Stéphane Lefebvre look to give the French manufacture its third victory of the season. 

Ford could match Volkswagen for most Rally Australia victories at four. Ogier could tie Juha Kankkunen for most Rally Australia victories by a driver at four. 

Macau Grand Prix
The autonomous territory of Macau hosts three major motorsports events this weekend and the main event is the 64th running of the Macau Grand Prix. Twenty-two cars are entered for the famed Formula Three race.

Carlin has entered six cars including FIA European Formula 3 Champion and McLaren development driver Lando Norris. Norris won nine of 30 races and finished on the podium in 20 races. Norris is attempting to become the ninth different British driver to win the Macau Grand Prix since the race became a Formula Three event in 1983. Carlin is going for its second consecutive victory in the event and third overall. Carlin will also field cars for Jehan Daruvala and Ferdinand Habsburg, both race winners in Formula Three, Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 champion Sacha Fenestraz and Canadian Delvin DeFrancesco, who finished third in the Euroformula Open Championship. 

Joel Eriksson finished second to Norris in the Formula Three championship and he will be one of five Motopark with VEB entries. Prema Powerteam, in partnership with Theodore Racing, has entered four cars including two for Maximilian Günther and Callum Ilott, who finished third and fourth in Formula Three. Mick Schumacher is one of Prema's entries. His father Michael won the 1990 Macau Grand Prix and his uncle Ralf won the 1995 Macau Grand Prix and that is the most recent time a German won the Macau Grand Prix.

Pedro Piquet is another notable second-generation driver on the Macau Grand Prix entry list. He will drive for Van Amersfoot Racing with Estonian Ralf Aron.

Team TOM's has won the Macau Grand Prix five times most recently in 2008 and the team has entered two cars for Sho Tsuboi and Ritomo Miyata. Tsuboi finished second in the All-Japan Formula Three championship and he finished third in the Super GT GT300 championship this year. Álex Palou finished behind Tsuboi in the All-Japan Formula Three championship and he will be at Macau with ThreeBond Racing with Dorago Corse. Palou made his Formula Two debut at Jerez and had a pair of eighth place finishes.

The qualifying race will be at 9:20 p.m. ET on Friday November 17th. The 64th Macau Grand Prix is scheduled for 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday November 19th.

FIA GT World Cup
For the third consecutive year, Macau hosts the FIA GT World Cup. Twenty GT3 cars will be on the grid for this year's edition with seven manufactures represented.

The first two winners of the FIA GT World Cup are back with Maro Engel in the #999 Mercedes-AMG for Team GruppeM Racing and Laurens Vanthoor in the #911 Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche. Each driver will have a teammate with Raffaele Marciello in the #888 Mercedes-AMG and Darryl O'Young in the #991 Porsche. 

Mercedes-AMG Team Driver Academy has entered two cars for Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters-experienced drivers with Edoardo Mortara in the #48 Mercedes-AMG and Daniel Juncandella in the #50 Mercedes-AMG. Mortara won the Macau Grand Prix in 2009 and 2010 and Juncandella won the 2011 Macau Grand Prix. HubAuto Racing has entered two Porsches with Romain Dumas in the #7 Porsche and Super GT regular Hiroki Yoshimoto in the #77 Porsche. 

Audi won last year's event and the German manufacture will have five cars attempting to defend the title. Audi Sport Team WRT will have Blancpain Sprint Series co-champion Robin Frijns in the #1 Audi and DTM regular Nico Müller in the #2 Audi. Defending Formula E champion and 2005 Macau Grand Prix winner Lucas di Grassi will be in the #11 Audi for HCB-Rutronik-Racing with his teammate being one of two silver-rated drivers on the grid, Fabian Plentz in the #12 Audi. The other silver-rated there is Markus Pommer and the ADAC GT Masters driver will be in the #27 Aust Motorsport Audi. 

BMW has four cars entered. Augusto Farfus, who won two races at Macau in WTCC competition, will be in the #18 BMW Team Schnitzer BMW with fellow BMW DTM drivers Marco Wittmann and Tom Blomqvist also on the entry list. Wittmann will be in the #91 BMW for FIST Team AAI and Blomqvist will be in the #99 Rowe Racing BMW. Supercars driver Chaz Mostert will be Wittmann's teammate in the #90 BMW.

There are three manufactures with one entry. Defending Blancpain GT Series champion Mirko Bortolotti will be in the #5 FFF Racing Team by ACM Lamborghini. Two-time Macau Grand Prix winner Felix Rosenqvist will be in the #63 Ferrari for IMSA GT Daytona champions Scuderia Corsa. Renger van der Zande will drive the factory-backed #84 Honda NSX.

The FIA GT World Cup qualifying race will be at 11:25 p.m. ET on Friday November 17th. The FIA GT World Cup championship race will be at 11:10 p.m. ET on Saturday November 18th.

Guia Race of Macau
While not the season finale, Macau is the penultimate round for the 2017 World Touring Car Championship season. With 120 points left on the table, nine drivers have a shot at the championship. 

Volvo driver Thed Björk leads the championship with 228.5 points but the Swede has not won since the first race on the Nürburgrng Nordschleife in May. Honda driver Norbert Michelisz has won three races this season, more than any other driver but he trails Björk by 16.5 points. Björk's teammate Nicky Catsburg trails his teammate by 29 points and Catsburg's only victory this season was the second race at the Nordschleife.

Tiago Monteiro will miss his third consecutive round due to injuries suffered in a high-speed testing crash at Barcelona in September. The Portuguese Honda driver was leading the championship at the time of the accident with 200 points. 

Tom Chilton sits on 184.5 points, a half point ahead of his Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën teammate Mehdi Bennani. Esteban Guerrieri substitutes for Monteiro for the second consecutive race and the Argentine has 180 points. Rob Huff has 142 points and the seven-time Macau race winner is looking for his first win this season in a Citroën for Münnich Motorsport. Last year, Huff failed to win one of the two TCR International Series races at Macau and it was only the second time in nine years Huff did not win at Macau. Volvo driver Néstor Girolami is the final driver with a shot at the title. He sits on 110 points.

The first WTCC race will be at 1:10 a.m. ET on Saturday November 18th with race two at 9:40 p.m. ET later that day.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 100.5 laps led by Martin Truex, Jr.? 
2. Over or Under: 2.5 of the final four drivers leading a lap in the Xfinity Series race?
3. Over or Under: 14.5 finishing position for Austin Cindric?
4. Over or Under: 23.5 classified cars after the 6 Hours of Bahrain?
5. Over or Under: 11.5 points scored by Hayden Paddon at Rally Australia?
6. Over or Under: 6.5 cars covered by ten seconds in the Macau Grand Prix?
7. Over or Under: 0.5 flips in the FIA GT World Cup races?
8. Over or Under: 1.5 podium finishes for non-European drivers between the two WTCC races?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Over: There were eight retirements in the MotoGP race from Valencia.
2. Under: Brendon Hartley retired and would have been 17th after starting 18th.
3. Over: Mercedes-AMG and BMW were the only two manufactures on the GT300 podium.
4. Under: Matt Kenseth led 63 laps on his way to victory.
5. Over: The 24H COTA winning #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche completed 608 laps.

1. The NASCAR Cup champion will not have exactly five victories this season. 
2. Sam Hornish, Jr., finishes ahead of at least two of the four championship eligible drivers.
3. The winner of the Truck race does not lead the most laps.
4. The #98 Aston Martin holds on and wins the FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am Drivers.
5. Sébastien Ogier gets his third rally victory of the season.
6. Mick Schumacher retires from at least one of the two races.
7. A past Macau Grand Prix winner does not win the FIA GT World Cup.
8. Rob Huff wins one of the two WTCC races.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso each finish on the podium at Valencia (Partially Wrong. Márquez finished third and Dovizioso retired)
2. There will not be a red flag in qualifying or the race at Interlagos for rain (Correct! Although there was a red flag for Lewis Hamilton's accident but rain was not the cause)
3. Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy hold on to win the GT500 championship (Correct! Hirakawa and Cassidy won the title with 84 points).
4. There will be at least three cautions in the final stage at Phoenix (Correct! There were five cautions in the final stage).
5. The overall Hankook 24H COTA winner will not be Hofor-Racing or Herberth Motorsport (Wrong! Herberth Motorsport won).
Last Week: 3.5/5 Overall: 23.5/42

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

1000 Words: The 1967 USAC Championship Battle

IndyCar no longer races into autumn but this November marks the 50th anniversary of one greatest championship battles between the two of the greatest race car drivers to ever walk this Earth.

A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti ended up in a championship battle that went to the wire. The 1967 USAC National Championship season featured 21 races including one 500-mile race, the Pikes Peak International Climb, the shortest race circuit race in IndyCar history, four dirt ovals, two doubleheaders and a championship decider that will never be seen again.

Andretti found himself in a hole early in the season. He won the second race of the year at Trenton but practice accidents kept him from starting the season opener at Phoenix and the fourth round of the season at Milwaukee and his day in the Indianapolis 500 ended just after 50 laps. Foyt won the Indianapolis 500 after Parnelli Jones' famed turbine failed while dominating the race. However, neither driver would win another race before the Fourth of July. Foyt led the championship with 1,370 points, 215 points ahead of Al Unser and Andretti found himself tenth, 910 points behind Foyt.

Through the first eight races, Andretti had only scored points in three races while Foyt scored in five of the first eight races; one of the races he didn't score in was Pike Peak, which Foyt did not enter.

However, Andretti would go on a tear by winning four consecutive races, including sweeping the doubleheader at Mont-Tremblant. Foyt continued to lead the championship with 1,780 points and Al Unser remained second, 185 points back but Andretti had moved up to third and trailed by 220 points.

Foyt responded with a victory at Springfield but the next day Andretti won at Milwaukee but Milwaukee was 200 miles and paid 400 points for victory while Springfield was half the distance and 200 points were awarded to the winner. That difference brought Andretti within 60 points of Foyt heading into the final two races of the summer.

Foyt and Andretti traded victories again with Foyt winning at DuQuoin with Andretti in second and Andretti winning the Hooiser Hundred with Foyt finishing second. Foyt retook the championship lead with a victory at Trenton after Andretti had an accident with Lloyd Ruby and Foyt extended his championship lead to 500 points over Andretti with a victory at Sacramento and Andretti finishing second. After Foyt and Andretti combined to win ten consecutive races, Gordon Johncock won at Hanford while Foyt finished fourth and Andretti got caught up in another accident, this time with Al Unser.

Foyt could have clinched the championship at Phoenix but a suspension failure forced him to retire after nine consecutive finishes in the points. Andretti passed Bobby Unser with 20 laps to go and won the race, narrowing the gap to Foyt to 240 points with 600 points available at the season finale at Riverside. Johncock also had a slim shot at the title with him trailing Foyt by 580 points and needing to win at Riverside to have any shot at the title.

The season finale was a 300-mile affair at Riverside International Raceway held on November 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Dan Gurney returned for his first start since Indianapolis and he won pole position at what his home racetrack. Gurney pulled away from the start while Andretti ran in third ahead of Foyt.

The championship was thrown into disarray when Foyt hit the spinning Al Miller ending his race. Foyt ran back to the pits to get into Jim Hurtubise's car because USAC rules allowed relief drivers to score points based on the percentage of the race that relief driver completed. Unfortunately for Foyt, Hurtubise's car had to be retired because of an oil leak the lap prior to Foyt's accident.

Roger McCluskey took the lead from Gurney during the pit stop cycle but McCluskey was one of three possible cars Foyt could have taken over for because they were both Goodyear drivers. The other two options were Bobby Unser and Jerry Grant. Foyt returned to the pit lane after running from the scene of the accident and McCluskey was signaled into the pits for a driver swap. Foyt got in the car with 53 laps to go and he exited in fifth position and on the lead lap. However, he had to pit immediately after getting into the car because the fuel cap had not been closed on the initial pit stop.

Dan Gurney led and Andretti got ahead of Bobby Unser for second during the pit cycle. Just 12 laps after a caution for an accident by Joe Leonard, Gurney was forced to stop because of a right rear tire puncture. This allowed Andretti to take the lead and in turn provisionally putting him in position to win his third consecutive championship as Foyt remained in fifth and Foyt would only get a fraction of the 300 points awarded for a fifth place finish.

When it appeared the title had been lost for Foyt, another twist came as Andretti was forced to pit from the lead with six laps to go for fuel. Unser took the lead with Gurney closing on him. Andretti returned to the track in third but with Foyt a lap down in fifth Andretti would not win the championship after surrendering 180 points by dropping to third.

Gurney passed Unser on the inside of the final corner coming to the white flag and he would complete the comeback, taking the checkered flag the next time by comfortably ahead of Unser. Andretti rounded out the podium ahead of Lloyd Ruby and Foyt finishing fifth in his relief drive was enough to take the championship by 80 points over Andretti.

After the race, Foyt said McCluskey told him before the race that Foyt could use his car if Foyt needed it. McCluskey was commended for what Chris Economaki called a great sporting gesture and there was no ill will toward Foyt for what occurred.

If this were to happen today people would lose their minds. Team orders cause enough people to have their blood boil over into a state of rage but this wasn't team orders. This was sponsorship orders. Imagine if Sébastien Bourdais was told to get out of his car because he and Scott Dixon were both sponsored by the same wrist watch company and Dixon had a shot at the championship but his car broke down and Bourdais was in the top five. There is still a group of people that are upset Ed Jones won the Indy Lights championship in 2016 because he needed to make up one position on the racetrack and Carlin teammate Félix Serrallés moved out of the way. This makes what Serrallés did look tame.

It goes to show team orders have always been around and the golden era when sex was safe and racing was dangerous is no different from the modern era. Sponsorship talks and the one with the most backing get preferential treatment.

Of course, the series has changed. Points cannot be split. Heck, in race driver changes have been banned in the rulebook. This scenario will not play out in 2018 or any time in the near future.

I will have to say this is probably one of the most forgotten races in IndyCar history and it is a doozy of a race. You had three drivers enter with a shot at the championship. The championship leader, Foyt, was taken out prior to halfway but he got a second bite at the apple by getting into the car that belonged to a competitor. Then you had the race leader, Gurney, who clearly had the best car be forced to pit for a punctured tire and that gave the lead of the race and potentially the championship to the driver who entered second in the championship, Andretti. Just when everything appeared to be settled, Andretti had to pit for fuel with six laps to go and loses the lead and in turn the championship. Meanwhile, Gurney was in sight of Bobby Unser and he made a lunge up the inside of a hairpin to take the lead and ultimately the victory with a little over a lap to go. Sonoma could not produce a championship decider half as good as the one that occurred on November 26, 1967.

The 1967 season finale was not only a race that featured one of the quirkier championship finishes in IndyCar history but it featured a few notable differences from modern motorsports. The Formula One season had ended a month earlier in Mexico City and two Brits found themselves on the grid at Riverside.

The 1964 World Drivers' Champion John Surtees made his one and only IndyCar start. He started fourth and retired after 31 laps due to a mechanical failure. Surtees wasn't the only Formula One regular in the field. Jim Clark returned for his second start of the season after he made his fifth Indianapolis 500 start earlier that year. Clark started next to Gurney on the front row driving a year old car but a broken value ended his race after 25 laps, just after he took the lead from Gurney. It would be Clark's ninth and final IndyCar race and his final competitive race in the United States. He would lose his life in a fatal accident during a Formula Two race at Hockenheim over four months later.

This was IndyCar's first trip to Riverside and I have to say I am surprised IndyCar was not a regular visitor to the famed Southern California road course. While NASCAR went to the track for over 30 seasons with many years featuring two races, some as long as 500 miles, IndyCar would only return to the track five more times and there would be a 12-year hiatus between appearances in 1969 and 1981. While the 1968 and 1969 races were in December, the final three races held there from 1981 to 1983 all took place the final weekend of August.

It would be Foyt's fifth championship in eight seasons. In the three years he didn't win the championship he finished second, second and 15th. Andretti would go on his own stellar run of form. He would finished second to Bobby Unser in the championship the following year but he would take his third title in five years in 1969. It was the second and final time Foyt and Andretti finished first and second in the championship after Andretti beat Foyt for the title in 1965 despite Andretti only winning one race to Foyt's five victories that season.

As much as we talk about motorsports rivalries, very few are head-to-head year after year and few go to the wire. Foyt-Andretti was no different. The 1965 and 1967 seasons were the only two years they both finished in the top five of the championship and Andretti clinched the 1965 championship with two races to spare. The only time the two drivers finished in the top five in the same Indianapolis 500 was in 1989 when Andretti finished fourth and Foyt finished fifth and both drivers finished seven laps down.

Alain Prost-Ayrton Senna may have been the only head-to-head rivalry that lasted for an extended period. They each finished in the top five in the championship for seven consecutive seasons and in eight of nine seasons because of Prost's sabbatical in 1992. They were 1-2 in the champion for four out of five seasons in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have both been in Formula One for 11 seasons and despite both drivers having four world championships and 62 and 47 victories respectively this will be the first time they finished 1-2 in the championship. This is only the second time the two drivers have both finished in the top three of the championship.

The seasons where two all-time greats go head-to-head only come around so often. Fifty years have passed and IndyCar might not see another championship battle between the caliber of drivers of Foyt and Andretti in the next 50 years.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Musings From the Weekend: Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Tim Cindric is four days away from what could be the proudest day of his life. Unfortunately, his son has a target on his back as he competes with Johnny Sauter, Christopher Bell and Matt Crafton for the Truck series championship. Speaking of championships, three JR Motorsports drivers of William Byron, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier take on Daniel Hemric in NASCAR's second division while Brad Keselowski joined Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the final four for the Cup series. The MotoGP season ended with one man nearly throwing the title away and another man losing it in the gravel. There were no surprises in Motegi and there was a Formula One race but it will be remembered more for the muggings. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Here is a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., farewell piece that will get lost at the bottom of the pile of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., farewell pieces.

I grew up at a weird time in American motorsports. The CART-IRL split was in its infancy and the early stages of war had already soured my family. While my grandfather continued to watch the Indianapolis 500 on a yearly basis, he and my uncle had starting watching more and more NASCAR. Naturally, it was what was on most Sunday afternoons when I went over to visit. While the speed of IndyCars on ovals, in those final glory days of CART breaking 240 MPH and even the sublime speeds of 215 MPH of the IRL always hooked me in, I was one of millions who couldn't ignore NASCAR.

The series took the honor of top motorsports series in the United States and ran away with it. Numbers soared to unprecedented heights and there was something for everyone. The King abandoned his throne but for nearly a decade an old stalwart battled a boy from the West for the identity of the series. In-between the clash of champions there was a who's who of mustachioed veterans contending each week and a rise of racers from a path that had never led to the series before.

Then there was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Somewhere between the drivers who were entering from USAC because even with the IRL American open-wheel racing still had no place for them and the veterans who entered from the short track route in the 1980s, the son of one of the series most noted drivers came in and he stole the attention of the entire room and everybody looking in.

He was a guy coming from a less traveled path and he did it with much less help than most young drivers with rich fathers get today. Dale Earnhardt didn't continuously pump money into his son's career. He got him going and then he was on his own, working with mechanics and racers left behind on the short tracks in the Carolinas. He could have lived in a palace and but he spent his time with those from the salt of the Earth, following the footprints his father had left behind.

The short tracks of the Carolinas paid off and when the time was right his father gave him an opportunity in his team's Busch Grand National Series team. He won the championship in his first full season, repeated as champion in 1999 and was in the Cup series for the turn of the millennium. You know the rest of the race career.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., reminded me of my older brother and that is one reason I was drawn to him. When Earnhardt, Jr., made it to the Cup series my brother, who is a few years younger than him, was on his way to college and not long after that he would join the Air Force. I looked up to my brother and wanted to be just like him. Then he was gone and multiple tours of duty overseas kept us apart for the better part of six years. There were similarities between the two. Both were a product of an MTV Generation, confident 20-somethings who wore their baseball caps backward and wanted to have a good time.

His last name helped Earnhardt, Jr., but his demeanor, the good time guy promoted in Budweiser commercials, is what made him transcend NASCAR and become a national sports icon in the United States. He wasn't polished. He was regular. Watching him you didn't get a sense that he was a spokesperson trying to get you to buy a crappy beer. He was a guy you wished was hanging out with you and your friends on Saturday night.

There is something weird about the end of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s career. I can't find a place to put him on the spectrum of NASCAR drivers. He enters what will likely be his final Cup race tied for 29th all-time in victories with Fred Lorenzen. He wasn't a slouch but he isn't in the conversation with those drivers at the top and the problem is many will likely put him ahead of his contemporaries even though a few have him beat on paper.

Take his career-long rival Matt Kenseth. The Wisconsinite picked up his 39th victory at Phoenix yesterday, that is 13 more Cup victories than Earnhardt, Jr., and Kenseth won a Cup championship, something that eluded Earnhardt, Jr. Even when it came to the big races Kenseth holds an advantage. Each driver won two Daytona 500s, Kenseth won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2000 (his first career victory) and he won the Southern 500. Earnhardt, Jr., did not win any of the other crown jewel events. However, I feel Earnhardt, Jr., will be ranked ahead of Kenseth by many and mostly because of the name he carries and the following he had. But while he stood above everyone in terms of popularity it isn't worth a championship or a handful of victories.

Besides Kenseth, five other active drivers are ahead of Earnhardt, Jr., in Cup victories and four of those drivers have a championship. The only one of the four not to have a championship is Denny Hamlin, who has 31 career victories. Besides Hamlin, only four other drivers have more victories than Earnhardt, Jr., and did not win a championship. Those four are Junior Johnson, Mark Martin, Fireball Roberts and Carl Edwards.

Earnhardt, Jr.'s rear view mirror is clear as he heads into retirement. Brad Keselowski is two victories behind him and it is only a matter of time before the apprentice passes the master. Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman are tied on 18 victories. He likely won't have to worry about Kahne and Newman. Logano is only 27 years old and nine victories seems likely especially if he races until he is 40 years old.

After that, it isn't clear who will overtake Earnhardt, Jr. Martin Truex, Jr., sits on 14 victories but he is 37 years old and while he has bloomed late there is no guarantee he will continue this form into his 40s. After Truex, Jr., there are no other active drivers with double-digit Cup victories but the day will come when somebody either already in NASCAR or someone who has yet to race a go-kart will surpass Earnhardt, Jr.

It will take decades before we know Earnhardt, Jr.'s place in NASCAR history, who he is ahead and whom he is behind. He will remain in the limelight thanks to a move to the broadcast booth so it is likely a generation of fans will grow up with him even if they never saw him in a race car. The man will not be forgotten even if he isn't in NASCAR's pantheon.

Champions From the Weekend

Marc Márquez clinched his fourth MotoGP World Championship and sixth world championship overall with a third place finish at Valencia.

The #37 Lexus KeePer TOM's Lexus of Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy clinched the Super GT GT500 championship with a second place finish at Motegi. The #4 Goodsmile Racing & TeamUKYO Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka clinched the GT300 championship with a third place finish in class.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Matt Kenseth but did you know...

Sebastian Vettel won the Brazilian Grand Prix.

Dani Pedrosa won the Valencian Community Grand Prix. Miguel Olivera won in Moto2, his third consecutive victory to close out the season. Jorge Martin took his first career Moto3 victory in his 50th career start.

The #23 NISMO Nissan of Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli won the Super GT race from Motegi. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300.

William Byron won the NASCAR Grand National series race. Johnny Sauter won the Truck race, his second consecutive victory.

The #911 Herbert Motorsport Porsche of Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer won the 24H COTA.

Other winners at the 24H COTA:

A6-Am: #34 Car Collection Motorsport Audi of Johannes Dr. Kirchhoff, Gustav Edelhoff, Elmar Grimm, Ingo Vogler and Max Edelhoff.

991-class: #85 PROsport Performance Porsche of Charlie Putman, Charlie Espenlaub and Joe Foster.

SP2: #214 MARC Mazda V8 of Malcom Niall, Clint Harvey, Brett Niall and Robert Thompson.

TCR: #308 Team Altran Peugeot of Guillaume Roman, Gonzalo Martin de Andres, Thierry Blaise and Marc Guillot.

SP3: #41 Brookspeed International Motorsport Porsche of Freddie Hunt, David Pattison, Alan Metni and Joseph Toussaint.

CUP1: #158 Classic BMW of Mike Vess, Jason Hart, Matt Travis, John Capessto-Dubets and Max Fedler.

A2: #171 Team Eva Solo/Jönsson Consulting Peugeot of Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Henrik Sørensen, Claus Bertelsen and Søren Jønsson.

Coming Up This Weekend
All three NASCAR national touring divisions crown champions at Homestead.
Three championships will be decided in the FIA World Endurance Championship finale in Bahrain.
The World Rally Championship season ends in Australia.
Macau hosts the Macau Grand Prix, the World Touring Car Championship and the FIA GT World Cup.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Five: Valencia, Interlagos, Motegi, Phoenix, Austin

Three championships will be decided this weekend meanwhile two series head to the penultimate rounds of their 2017 seasons. There will be an inaugural event of a 24-hour endurance race in the United States and it will be held in Texas.

Valencian Community Grand Prix
The MotoGP season ends this weekend at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia and the championship will be decided this weekend.

Marc Márquez sits on 282 points and he has a 21-point lead over Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso. With only 25 points left on the table Dovizioso will have to win at Valencia to have any shot at the title and he will need Márquez to finish 12th or worse. Both riders enter with six victories this season meaning should Dovizioso and Márquez finish tied on points and Dovizioso were to win the race, Dovizioso would be the champion on tiebreaker.

Márquez has only won twice at Valencia and only one of those came in the MotoGP class (2014). Despite his lack of victories, Márquez has finished on the podium at Valencia the last five years including finishing on the podium in all four of his MotoGP starts at the track. Dovizioso has never won at Valencia with his best finish being second in the 2004 125cc race. His best MotoGP finish at the track was third in 2011 when he was with the factory Honda team.

Márquez is going for his fourth MotoGP championship and sixth world championship overall. Dovizioso's only world championship came in the 125cc class back in 2004.

Spaniards have won the last five years at Valencia with Jorge Lorenzo and Yamaha winning three of the last four years. Ducati's most recent victory at Valencia was with Casey Stoner in 2008 and the most recent MotoGP victory for an Italian rider at Valencia was Marco Melandri in 2005.

Maverick Viñales has locked up third in the championship on 226 points. His Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi sits in fourth on 197 points. Rossi won at Valencia in 2003 and 2004 but he only has four podium finishes in the last 12 races at the track. Dani Pedrosa trails Rossi by 12 points but Pedrosa will finish no worse than fifth in the championship.

Johann Zarco is 6th, 17 points ahead of Jorge Lorenzo. Both riders finished on the podium in Sepang with Lorenzo picking up his best finish of the season with a second place finish. Pramac Racing Ducati's Danilo Petrucci will likely get a career-best championship finish. The Italian is 8th on 121 points and he is 17 points clear of Team LCR Honda's Cal Crutchlow. Jonas Folger will miss his fourth consecutive race due to illness that has been diagnosed Gilbert's syndrome but the German will likely finish tenth in the championship. He has 84 points and is nine points clear of Álvaro Bautista and 11 points clear of Jack Miller.

The Valencian Community Grand Prix will take place on Sunday November 12th at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Brazilian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton returns to Brazil after having clinched his fourth World Drivers' Championship in Mexico City despite picking up his worst finish this season in ninth. Last year, Hamilton picked up his first career victory at Interlagos where he led all 71 laps and won by over 11 seconds to Max Verstappen in a torrential downpour. It was Mercedes third consecutive Brazilian Grand Prix victory.

No manufacture has won the Brazilian Grand Prix four consecutive years. Ferrari won the race three consecutive years from 1976 to 1978 with Niki Lauda and Carlos Reutemann, who won two of the three. Ferrari would match the achievement from 2006 to 2008 with Felipe Massa's two victories sandwiching Kimi Räikkönen's 2007 championship-clinching victory. Red Bull followed Ferrari by winning from 2009 to 2011 with Mark Webber having victories sandwich Sebastian Vettel's 2010 victory.

Massa, Vettel and Hamilton are the only active drivers with victories in Brazil. Only Alain Prost, Reutemann and Michael Schumacher have more than two Brazilian Grand Prix victories.

Vettel sits second in the championship on 277 points, 15 points ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Daniel Ricciardo has retired from the last two races and Räikkönen has finished third in the last two races, narrowing the gap to the Australian for fourth to 14 points. Max Verstappen has won two of the last four races with finishes of second and fourth in the other two results. He is 30 points behind Räikkönen.

Sergio Pérez's gap to his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon has shrunk to nine points with the Mexican on 92 points to the Frenchman's 83 points. Ocon has finished ahead of Pérez in the last three races. Carlos Sainz, Jr. remained ninth on 54 points but Lance Stroll cracked the top ten with a sixth place finish at Mexico giving him 40 points, four more than his teammate Massa and six more than Renault's Nico Hülkenberg.

Massa returns to his home race off the back of another retirement announcement. His retirement from last year's race was the first time Massa failed to finish in his home race since his first Brazilian Grand Prix in 2002. He has scored points in nine of 13 Brazilian Grand Prix starts with two victories and six podium finishes. Massa's 11th and most recent grand prix victory came in that famous 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. This year's race will occur 3,297 days after that 2008 race.

While Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Force India and Williams pretty much have the top five in the World Constructors' Championship locked up, the fight for sixth will likely come down to the final race.

Scuderia Toro Rosso sits in sixth on 53 points, five points ahead of Renault and six points ahead of Haas. Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley are both looking for their first career points. Since the end of the European portion of the season, Renault has scored 14 points while Toro Rossi has scored 13 points, 12 of which came with Sainz, Jr.'s fourth place finish at Singapore, and Haas has scored 12 points but has four points finishes in the last six races, including a double points finish at Suzuka. Toro Rosso and Renault has each only had two points finishes in the last six races. Toro Rosso has not had both cars finish in the points since Barcelona while Renault has not had both cars finish in the points since the French manufacture returned as a full works team last season.

The Brazilian Grand Prix will take place at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Motegi GT Grand Final
Two championships will be decided at Twin Ring Motegi as the Super GT season comes to a close.

In GT500, the #37 Lexus Team KeePer TOM's Lexus LC 500 of Nick Cassidy and Ryō Hirakawa lead the championship with 69 points. The duo is fresh off its second victory of the season at Buriram. Six points back is the #6 Lexus Team LeMans Wako's Lexus of Andrea Caldarelli and Kazuya Oshima. The #6 Lexus has not won a race this season but it has three runner-up finishes this season, including finishing runner-up in both the #37 Lexus' two victories this season. Caldarelli has finished second in the GT500 championship two of the last three years and Caldarelli and Hirakawa won the Motegi season finale two years ago.

Tsugio Matsuda and Ronnie Quintarelli are attempting to pick up their third championship in the last four seasons. The drivers of the #23 NISMO Nissan GT-R are seven points back and like the #6 Lexus it has not won a race this season but it has finished second in two of the last three races. James Rossiter sits on 53 points. His only victory this season was at Autopolis with Kazuki Nakajima in the #36 Lexus Team au Tom's Lexus. Nakajima missed the Fuji round in May due to FIA World Endurance Championship commitments. The #38 Lexus Team ZENT Cerumo Lexus of Yuji Tachikawa and Hiroaki Ishiura won that Fuji race and the drivers trail the #37 Lexus by 18 points with 21 points left on the table.

In GT300, the #4 Goodsmile Racing Mercedes-AMG of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka lead the championship with 65 points despite not winning since the season opener at Okayama. The #4 Mercedes-AMG has finished second in two of the last three races. Taniguchi and Kataoka won the 2014 GT300 championship and both drivers are going for their third GT300 title.

The #51 LM corsa Lexus RCF GT3 of Yuichi Nakayama and Sho Tsuboi became the first and so far only repeat winner in GT300 this season with their victory at Buriram. However, the #51 Lexus trails by nine points entering the finale. The #65 LEON Racing Mercedes-AMG of Naoya Gamou and Haruki Kurosawa won in GT300 at the Suzuka 1000km and they are 13 points back in the championship. The 55 ARTA BMW of Sean Walkinshaw and Shinchi Takagi are 19 points back in fourth position.

The 53-lap Motegi GT Grand Final will start at 11:30 p.m. ET on Saturday November 11th.

Can-Am 500
The penultimate round of the NASCAR Cup season is upon us and there is one spot remaining for the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick clinched their positions with victories at Martinsville and Texas respectively. Martin Truex, Jr. has secured his position on points. Truex, Jr. leads the championship with 4,168 points, 50 points ahead of Busch and 56 points clear of Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski is the first driver on the outside. He has 4,111 points and he is 19 points ahead of Denny Hamlin. Ryan Blaney trails Keselowski by 22 points with Chase Elliott 49 points back and Jimmie Johnson in eighth, trailing Keselowski by 51 points. If any of these five drivers win at Phoenix they will earn that final spot in the championship race. If either of Truex, Jr., Busch, Harvick or a non-Chase driver wins then the final spot will go to the next driver in points.

Harvick has the most victories at Phoenix all-time with eight and the remaining seven Chase drivers combine for seven Phoenix victories, four of which belong to Johnson. Busch's lone Phoenix victory came in his second start at the track in November 2005. Hamlin won the March 2012 race. Keselowski has five top five finishes and eight top ten finishes in 16 Phoenix starts. Blaney and Elliott each have two top ten finishes in three Phoenix starts with each their best finish at the track being eighth. Phoenix has not been a great track for Truex, Jr. He has one top five finish and seven top ten finishes in 23 starts and he has finished outside the top ten in nine of the 12 Phoenix races since the track was reconfigured prior to the autumn race in 2011.

Chevrolet has won eight of the last ten Phoenix races. Toyota's only two victories at Phoenix were the first two races after the reconfiguration with Kasey Kahne winning with Red Bull Racing in November 2011 and Hamlin taking the March 2012 race.

The Can-Am 500 will take place at 2:37 p.m. ET on Sunday November 12th.

Hankook 24H COTA
The Creventic 24H Series makes its debut in the United States with a non-championship round at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Forty-two cars are entered across eight classes.

Despite not winning a race overall, the #1 Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG took the A6 championship as the amateur entry won the A6-Am class on four of six occasions. Michael Kroll, Chantal Kroll, Kenneth Heyer and Christiaan Frankenhout return to the #1 Mercedes-AMG with Jörg Viebahn joining the team this weekend. Herberth Motorsport won three of six races this season including the season opener Dubhai 24 Hours. Daniel Allemann, Ralf Bohn, Robert Renauer and Alfred Renauer will be in the #991 Porsche.

The lone American in the A6-Pro class will be Ben Keating as he will drive the #3 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG with Jeroen Bleekemolen, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Luca Stolz. Nicolas Minassian will be in the #8 Mercedes-AMG for ROFGO Racing with the 2013 FIA Endurance Trophy for GTE-Am champions Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall and Roald Goethe. Pirelli World Challenge regular Jorge De La Torre has entered the #20 Aston Martin for himself, Mark Kvamme, Ross Gunn and Tack Sun Kim.

The American trio Charles Putnam, Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster won the 991-class championship and they will be in the #85 Porsche.

Black Falcon has entered two Mercedes in the SP2 class. American Russell Ward will be in the #84 Mercedes with Maximilian Götz, Damien Faulkner and Indy Dontje. The #2 Mercedes will be driven by Thomas Jäger, Ryan Ratcliffe, Saud Al Faisal, Gabriele Piana and Mustafa Mehmet Kaya.

The SP3 class sees PWC GTS race winner Ian James in the #40 Brookspeed Porsche with James McGuire, Pierre Kleinburg and John Schauerman. Four Americans are entered in the #71 Cor Euser Racing BMW alongside Cor Euser. Those Americans are Chapman Ducote, David Ducote, Wayne Ducote and Jim Briody. Radio Le Mans lead commentator John Hindhaugh will be in the #232 Aston Martin with Andy Palmer, Peter Cate and Paul Hollywood.

In the A2 class, PWC race winner Ryan Eversley will be in the #183 THRW Honda Racing Honda with Douglas Chen, Jeremy Lucas and Scott Nicol. THRW Honda Racing has entered the #184 Honda for Calvin Tam, Michael Tsay, Lawrence Hwang and Derek Ferretti. The A2 champions Team Eva Solo/Jönnsso Consulting have come over from Denmark. The all-Danish driver line up of Jan Engelbrecht, Thomas Sørensen, Henrik Sørensen, Claus Bertelse and Søren Jønsson will drive the #171 Peugeot.

The Hankook 24H COTA will start at 10:00 a.m. ET on Saturday November 11th and the race will continue until 12:00 a.m. ET before an intermission will take place. The final ten hours of the race will resume at 9:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 12th with the race finishing at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 4.5 retirements at Valencia?
2. Over or Under: 7.5 positions improve by Brendon Hartley from his starting position in Brazil?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 non-Japanese manufactures on the GT300 podium?
4. Over or Under: 110.5 laps led for the Phoenix winner?
5. Over or Under: 600.5 laps completed in the 24H COTA?

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: There was one lead change between the two World Superbike races from Qatar.
2. Under: Lucas Mahias won the World Supersport race by 0.023 seconds over Jules Cluzel. 
3. Under: Ford drivers led 16 laps at Pukekohe.
4. Over: Two classes were won by non-European teams, the Japanese Toyota Gazoo Racing in LMP1 and the American Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK in GTE-Pro.
5. Under: David Starr completed 237 laps.

1. Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso each finish on the podium at Valencia. 
2. There will not be a red flag in qualifying or the race at Interlagos for rain. 
3. Ryō Hirakawa and Nick Cassidy hold on to win the GT500 championship.
4. There will be at least three cautions in the final stage at Phoenix.
5. The overall Hankook 24H COTA winner will not be Hofor-Racing or Herberth Motorsport.

Last Week's Predictions
1. Kawasaki wins a race at Qatar but does not sweep the weekend (Wrong! Kawasaki swept the weekend).
2. There is a first time winner this season in World Supersport (Wrong! Lucas Mahias picked up his second victory of the season).
3. One of the winners from Pukekoke starts outside the top four (Correct! Shane Van Gisbergen won race one from sixth).
4. At least two Shanghai class winners are victorious from pole position (Wrong! None of the class winners started on pole position)
5. There will at least be one incident of contact between active Chase drivers (Correct! Kyle Busch got into Brad Keselowski at the start, forcing both cars to pit on lap one).
Last Week: 2/5 Overall: 20/37