Friday, November 30, 2018

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: November 2018

We have reached the final day of November and it is time to look back at the headlines of the month. What was being said in the final days of the Formula One and NASCAR season? What about MotoGP? Formula E always has something to say. The year is ending and we are getting more reflective while also focusing on the season next to come.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

Lewis Hamilton says 'decisions outside the cockpit' cost Fernando Alonso more F1 titles
Hamilton is spot on about this. I am not sure anyone is more to blame for Alonso's lack of titles than Alonso himself. He scorched the earth with his first stint at McLaren. It was pretty toxic between him and Hamilton. He had to return to Renault the following season and he spent two years in a bit of Formula One purgatory before he could head to Ferrari.

Pit strategy in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix cost him the title that year. That is as outside the cockpit of a decision you can get. For the better part of four years Alonso was fighting uphill with Ferrari and getting respectable results and he nearly won the title in 2012, which seems more staggering the further we get away from it.

The one thing that appears consistent in Alonso's career is he made the wrong move at the wrong time. He went to McLaren when he should have gone to Ferrari the first time around. He stuck with Ferrari maybe two years too long and simultaneously left Ferrari at the wrong time to return to a sinking ship in McLaren. It is a perplexing career. Not Jacques Villeneuve level of perplexing but ten years from now we will still be trying to understand how Alonso was as successful as he was and still not more successful.

Jackie Stewart says 4-time F1 champ Sebastian Vettel is past his prime
Ok... I did not see this coming. The one thing to take away from this season is Vettel was matching blows with Hamilton and it all went wrong when Vettel went off the road in a light rain shower while leading in Germany. He won one race from that point on and he finished ahead of Hamilton in two of the final ten races.

I don't know if Vettel is past his prime but he is 31 years old and he has already won four consecutive championships. I am not sure he is going to have a better record in his next 11 seasons than he did in his first 11 full seasons.

Russell made "PowerPoint presentation" in Williams 2018 bid
And now he will be in Formula One. So kids, if you want to make it to Formula One, sharpen up your PowerPoint skills... and win the Formula Two championship.

Silverstone "the only place" that can host the British GP
It is not the only place that can host the British Grand Prix but it is the one venue suitable for the British Grand Prix.

On paper, the British Grand Prix could return to Brands Hatch, we can figure out paddock spaces and noise restrictions later but Brands Hatch could host the race. Donington Park could host the race. It nearly did about eight years ago.

And that is about it when it comes to venues that could host the British Grand Prix. I don't want to see Silverstone lose the race. I don't want to see some street course in London take over hosting the British Grand Prix but Silverstone isn't the only permanent facility that could host the British Grand Prix.

Kubica's return proves he'd have been F1 world champion
No, no it doesn't. I get what the author is getting at and Robert Kubica's return to Formula One is a great story of dedication and perseverance but it doesn't prove he would have been world champion.

I have written before about the great talent that Kubica showed in his short time in Formula One and what he was possibly capable of but looking at where he was in terms of Renault when he suffered his injuries and looking at how everything played out with the rise of Red Bull and the five-year Mercedes stranglehold we are currently living in, where was Kubica going to win a title?

Red Bull was set with Vettel and Mark Webber. Mercedes has been set with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Where was Kubica going to fit in? Would Ferrari have given him a shot? Possibly but how was he going to win a world championship? I am not sure he would have been able to do what Alonso fell one position short of in 2012.

I struggle anytime anyone says a certain driver or rider would have been world champion, especially when a career is cut short because of injury or death. There are too many variables at play and while I understand the sentiment behind the comments and they are meant to compliment the ability of that competitor I do feel it can be an overstatement. We have no clue what would of happened and sometimes it feels like people say it because in motorsports there is nothing nicer to say about a person than they had the capability to be the best in their category.

Looking back, I did say Kubica could have been world champion but there is a big difference between "could have" and "proves he'd have been." He was a talented driver and one of the best during his first stint in Formula One but to say his comeback proves he would have been world champion negates the many other factors that decide who wins the title outside of talent and determination.

On to MotoGP!

How Marquez is usurping Rossi's 'GOAT' status
By winning races and world championships. It is as simple as that.

Morbidelli: First Yamaha experience "like riding on butter"
I don't... I am... is that a good things? That sounds awfully messy. I wouldn't want to ride butter. How would one ride butter? How much butter would you need? Think about the size of the average human being and now thing about how much butter you would need to constitute a human riding butter. That has to be at least 20-25 pounds worth of butter. And you would ruin whatever pants you had on if you decided to position yourself on it like you were on a motorcycle.

How would Franco Morbidelli know what its like to ride butter? Never mind, I don't want to know.

That's it... I have decided this is not a good thing.

What did Formula E have to say?

Buemi: Software now the FE equivalent of F1 aero
And that is a good thing?

People hate the Formula One aero regulations. People can barely stand Formula E. Is Sébastien Buemi trying to make Formula E even less likable? Granted this seems like a rare Formula E story of substance and not some garbage about how polar bears are grateful for the series or it is the friendliest series to those ages nine and under and how every capital city in every country is lining up to host a race.

Next is one driver with an honest and accurate assessment of his season...

Green says 2018 DTM season the "worst" of his career
This is a factual statement.

Jamie Green finished 18th in the championship and his previous worst championship finish was 11th. He scored 27 points, which matches his previously lowest points total but he scored 27 points in 2009 with the prior points system and that got him seventh in the championship. He also did not have a podium finish this season and he had at least one podium finish in every one of his prior 13 seasons in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters.

The good news for Green is he can only go up from here.

Moving to NASCAR...

Cindric not rushing a move to Cup
Take your time kid; no one thinks you are ready anyway. Besides, you are with Team Penske. Roger Penske doesn't just throw guys into the Cup series and you could make a career out of racing in NASCAR's second division if you keep it clean and occasionally win. The longer you can stay with Penske even if it isn't in a top series the better.

'I was rooting for' Kurt Busch - Hamlin
And you still got into at Phoenix. This is also setting aside the conflict of interest in rooting for one driver who is not on your team meanwhile your teammate is in a situation where it would be very beneficial to win the race and guarantee his spot in the final race. It was a very sappy thing to say.

CRANDALL: Well, we got that wrong...
Yeah we did. And now we have to live with Joey Logano being a NASCAR Cup Series champion.

NASCAR Roundtable: Will the Mustang slow Ford down in 2019?
No but the new aero regulations and tapered space will.

NASCAR: Harvick infraction "as black and white as it gets"
Hence why it wasn't noticed until the Tuesday after a race. It was so black and white that it wasn't found at the track in post-race inspection and we went two full days believing everything was rosy.

We are going to something a bit different next month with December but do not worry. We will be back and I am sure there will be plenty to say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2018 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

Formula One season is over and we can look back on the predictions made nearly a year ago. What was on the mind when Lewis Hamilton was just a four-time world champion, Williams did not have its driver line-up set and we had yet to have a race with the halo?

1. The record for youngest pole-sitter is broken
Wrong! Max Verstappen was the favorite to take this record but the closest he got was in Mexico and it seemed through three practice sessions and two rounds of qualifying that Verstappen would get his maiden pole position. Of course, he lost too much time on his final hot lap and had to start second next to Daniel Ricciardo. Mexico was one of two front row starts for Verstappen, he started second to Lewis Hamilton in Singapore but Mexico was the one that slipped through his fingers.

This will be one record Verstappen will not hold. No big deal. Life will move on and so will his career. The more important thing for Verstappen is he finished fourth in the world championship and he did it with five consecutive podium finishes to close out the season and seven podium finishes from the nine races after the summer break. To put it other terms, Verstappen scored the second most points in the final nine races with 144 points, 13 more than Sebastian Vettel, 29 more than Valterri Bottas, 39 more than Kimi Räikkönen and 92 more than his teammate Ricciardo. He was still 51 points off Hamilton but Verstappen ended 2018 in a good position.

Pole positions will come for Verstappen but he is trending in the right direction heading into 2019.

2. Fernando Alonso gets a podium before his 301st start
Wrong! This was way too ambitious of a prediction and the switch to Renault engines did not do wonders for McLaren. The team was better but still not great.

3. Ferrari does not win the French Grand Prix
Correct! It was Mercedes-Benz taking the victory with Lewis Hamilton leading all 53 laps from pole position. Sebastian Vettel would get into Valtteri Bottas at the start, damaging both race cars and taking each out of contention for the victory. Kimi Räikkönen was never a threat and finished third.

4. Brendon Hartley ends the 2018 season with the fourth-most points for a New Zealand driver
Wrong! Hartley finished the 2018 season with four points and that is fifth-most for a New Zealander in Formula One. He fell two points short of fourth-most. I didn't think Hartley was going to light the world on fire but I thought Toro Rosso would have a few races where both cars were hooked up and both would get points. The biggest missed opportunity was Japan where Hartley started sixth but dropped and finished 13th.

I don't know where Hartley goes from here. Toro Rosso distanced itself from him during the season it felt like. Hartley chose Toro Rosso over the Ganassi IndyCar program and Ganassi might have kicked Hartley to the curb anyway after 2018 once Felix Rosenqvist became available but there is no vacancy in IndyCar. The only LMP1 seats worth a damn are Toyota and with the super-season, we are in the middle of the season and not the offseason and I am not sure how many seats will be changing but nothing points to Toyota shaking up its driver line-ups.

Hartley is kind of hitting restart on his career. He might have to go back to LMP2 rides and that sucks when you consider the big step back he took going from Red Bull development driver to Daytona Prototypes with Scott Mayer as his co-driver. I hope he finds something but I am having trouble locating a suitable landing spot. 

5. Williams has its worst finish in the Constructors' Championship with Mercedes engines
Correct! Williams finished dead fucking last in the Constructors' Championship with seven points and 26 points off Toro Rosso. It was always going to be a difficult year and I am not sure it would have mattered if the team had two veterans opposed to pubescent Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin. 

6. Mercedes becomes the fifth manufacture to win 100 pole positions
Correct! Mercedes scored its 100th pole position in Brazil and for safe measure it picked up its 101st pole position at Abu Dhabi. This is a bit more impressive when you take into consideration the team had only won two of the first seven pole positions to start the season meaning it had to go ten for 14 to reach before the season was out. Mercedes needs seven pole positions to surpass Lotus for fourth all-time amongst constructors. 

7. Haas F1 moves to sixth all-time in most race starts without a podium finish
Correct! Haas F1 did not finish on the podium in 2018 and it has started 62 races in its short history in Formula One. The only constructors with more grand prix started and not finished on the podium are Minardi, Ostella, Ensign, ATS and Marussia. Marussia could be overtaken in 2019, as the team did not score a podium finish in 73 races. 

8. Force India reaches 1,000 points before winning a race
Correct! Force India surpassed 1,000 points with Sergio Pérez finishing third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and it had not stood on the top step of the podium before that race. 

9. Every team scores at least ten points
Wrong! Williams fell three points short. 

10. Stoffel Vandoorne is the top championship finisher out of the last three GP2/Formula Two champions
Wrong! Vandoorne was the worst of the three drivers with Charles Leclerc scoring 39 points, Pierre Gasly scoring 29 points and Vandoorne on 12 points.

McLaren needed more than Renault to pick up the results and Vandoorne's team seemed to be the most lost on the entire grid. I am not sure there was greater discrepancy between teammates this year than Alonso and Vandoorne. Alonso wasn't great but he was competitive and in those same races Vandoorne was swimming with a 25-pound weight around his neck.

I kind of hate Formula One because in four years Vandoorne has gone from stud who cannot be passed up and scoring on his Formula One debut to a driver that most people think is trash. Need I remind everybody that Vandoorne won the GP2 Series championship by 160 points over Alexander Rossi and anyone who follows IndyCar knows Rossi is a supreme talent. Vandoorne hasn't completely lost it nor were his Formula Reanult 3.5 Series and GP2 results flukes. The man got in to Formula One with the wrong team at the wrong time and now he is off to Formula E. I hope he likes Kool-Aid. 

11. Both Alfa Romeo Sauber drivers have at least two finishes of ninth or better
Correcet! Not only did Charles Leclerc score 39 points as a rookie but his first points finish was sixth in Azerbaijan and he closed out the season by finishing in seventh position in four of the final six races. Marcus Ericsson got a bit of his mojo back. He finished second in Bahrain and he would get two more ninth-place finishes in Germany and Mexico.

Ericsson's results were not stellar but he doubled his career points total this season and he is heading to IndyCar with positive momentum. Ericsson was encouraging and he gave off the right vibe the last few races. It sounds crazy but losing his Formula One ride might have been the best confidence boost for him and I think he will do well in IndyCar. I am not sure if he is going to match what Robert Wickens did and I am not sure he will win rookie of the year but I expect a few weekends where it clicks for Ericsson and he qualifies in the top ten and runs in the top ten and might break into the top five in what was a competitive outing that involved a handful of overtakes. 

12. Antonio Giovinazzi makes more starts in sports cars than in Formula One
Correct! Sports car starts: One; Formula One starts: Zero. Scoreboard. I have to admit it was a lot closer than I thought it was going to be. Next year, the result will be different. Giovinazzi will team with Kimi Räikkönen at Sauber. 

Final Words
Is there any reason not to expect Lewis Hamilton winning his sixth World Drivers' Championship and another ten races in 2019?

Who is going to beat him?

Ferrari might have had the best car in 2018 but Sebastian Vettel found ways to lose races and in turn hand the championship to Hamilton. Can Vettel correct his mistakes? Vettel is a four-time champion. Yeah, he should be able to improve Mercedes found something in the second half of the season and Vettel may improve but it might not be enough to challenge Hamilton.

Hamilton had one retirement, 17 podium finishes and 20 top five finishes this season. Vettel had one retirement, 12 podium finishes and 17 top five finishes. Hamilton's worst finish when starting on pole position was third. Vettel had two victories, a fourth, an eighth and a retirement from his five pole positions. There is a big gulf Vettel has to overcome and I do not see Mercedes or Hamilton falling back to Vettel and Ferrari. Marginal gains will not be enough.

Outside of Hamilton and Vettel, I think Valtteri Bottas will win a race. He had too many slip away from him in 2018 and I think he will have his day but he will still be fighting for third in the world championship.

Vettel has a new teammate in Charles Leclerc and the 21-year-old's rookie season was encouraging. Can Leclerc be to Ferrari what Daniel Ricciardo was to Red Bull in 2014 and stun everyone and top Vettel in year one? I think that is a lot to ask but Ferrari would not have moved Leclerc up from Sauber just to have him settle in the role of wingman. If that is what the Scuderia wanted it would have kept Kimi Räikkönen for another season. I think Leclerc will be competitive and I think a race victory might be asking a lot from the Monegasque driver but he is young enough not to know better and could put himself in a position to get a victory.

If there is one driver that can challenge Hamilton and Vettel, it is Max Verstappen. We already covered how he finished 2018 and if Red Bull gets off to a good start not only do I think Verstappen will finish third but he could make a push for second. Pierre Gasly falls in a similar boat as Leclerc but Gasly does not have the promising results to fall back on.

The one concern with Red Bull is the switch to Honda. Toro Rosso went from seventh in the constructors' championship and 53 points to ninth and 33 points after switching from Renault to Honda. McLaren went from ninth on 30 points to sixth on 62 points after dropping Honda for Renault. I would feel better about the switch had Toro Rosso not lost ground in 2018 from its 2017 results. The Honda experiment has yet to breakthrough and yield the desired results and nothing points to Honda having it figured out in 2019. This could be a wasted few seasons for Max Verstappen. If Honda causes Red Bull to fall further behind Mercedes and Ferrari and bring the team down to the level of Renault, Haas and Force India, this will inevitably lead to Verstappen's exit from the team.

Outside of the top three teams, I worry we will lose Daniel Ricciardo's best seasons to Renault. In the same way we should expect Hamilton to win another championship, why should we expect Renault or any other manufacture to leap into the fight with the top three teams? Outside of Williams in 2014 and 2015, we have not had another manufacture mixing it up at the front. Ricciardo is a talented driver but all the talent in the world isn't going to take Renault much further up the grid.

There is no reason to be confident that McLaren is going to turn it around, Haas will get a podium finish, Sauber will climb to new heights with Räikkönen or that any of the four Honda-powered Red Bull-owned cars will be competitive. With Red Bull switching to Honda I think it is more likely that Formula One goes from three power teams to two and third in the constructors' championship will be even further off than Red Bull was after 2018.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all broke 400 points this year and Red Bull was still over 200 behind Mercedes and over 100 behind Ferrari. Renault was fourth on 122 points. We might see a new team finish third in the constructors' championship but if that happens it is more likely that third, fourth, fifth and possibly sixth all score over 100 points but none break 250 points and Mercedes and Ferrari are both clear of third by over 200 points.

I do not expect much to change in 2019 for Formula One, at least not at the very top. Where the fight might get tighter is for fifth and sixth and that is not where the increased tension is needed.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: The Captain vs. Il Commendatore

November closed with a handful of season finales and one season opener. One championship had a post-race penalty play a significant role. In Abu Dhabi, Lewis Hamilton had a false flag in an engine issue. Daniel Ricciardo said goodbye to Red Bull. Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and Marcus Ericsson said goodbye to Formula One. Esteban Ocon is taking a sabbatical but not of his choosing. Robert Kubica is back! Meanwhile, there was a dirt race on Thanksgiving and another endurance race in China. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Captain vs. Il Commendatore
This year might have been the year of Roger Penske. What year hasn't been the year of Roger Penske in the last three decades? The man has created a motorsports empire and this year the man we call The Captain has reached new heights.

Where do we begin? The month of May. It is really the only place we can start for Roger Penske. Plenty of Penske's milestone moments have occurred at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but this was not the 500-mile race. Penske's 200 IndyCar victory came in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with Will Power. Power started on pole position but had a battle with Robert Wickens after the two went separate ways on tire strategy. Wickens had a stronger second stint but Power reclaimed the advantage on the third stint and pulled away.

Two weeks later, Power was back in victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after the Indianapolis 500. It was Penske's 17th victory in the event and Power was the 12th driver to win the event for The Captain. It was a dominant day for Power. He did not lead the most laps but he led 59 laps, the second-most in the race.

Once the team reached 200 IndyCar victories and picked up its 17th Indianapolis 500 victory, the focus turned to 500 victories as an organization and it was a full court press from around the world. From IndyCar to NASCAR, Supercars to IMSA, the team was gunning for 500. It was the modern-day legends such as Hélio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Brad Keselowski fighting for the esteemed responsibility of the 500th victory along with the still budding careers of Josef Newgarden, Austin Cindric and Scott McLaughlin.

It was not a matter of if but when the 500th victory would come and some weekends the team has as many as six cracks at victories. The team never swept a weekend but someone seemed to always find a way to the top step. Summer was coming to a close and the 500th victory was a bit elusive. Keselowski won the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400, Penske's second and first victories in those respective events.

The pivotal weekend was the final Sunday of summer: NASCAR was in Las Vegas, IndyCar had its finale in Sonoma and Supercars had its first endurance race of the season in the Sundown 500. There was also the possibility the 500th victory could come in NASCAR's second division. That didn't happen and the Supercars team would have the first crack on Sunday. Triple Race Engineering swept the podium and Scott McLaughlin finished fourth with co-driver Alexandre Prémat.

Come Sunday afternoon, the NASCAR Cup race started and a handful of cautions had Keselowski in front with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney each in the top ten. Keselowski fended off the field for four restarts and handed Penske its 500th victory with Logano in fourth and Blaney in fifth. The Captain celebrated on a pit stand in Sonoma with the IndyCar race coming to the green flag.

Autumn saw more monumental moments for the Penske organization. Blaney won the Charlotte roval race. Logano won at Martinsville and won the NASCAR Cup championship at Homestead, his first title and Penske's second Cup title. Two weeks after taking the Cup crown, Team Penske earned its first drivers' championship with the Supercars operation as Scott McLaughlin won the first race from Newcastle and finished second in the finale to seal the title.

McLaughlin has 17 victories in two years with the team, ninth all-time within the organization. Logano's two victories took him passed Rick Mears for sixth all-time on 31 victories. Keselowski's victory at Las Vegas tied him with Mark Donohue for most in Team Penske history with 59 victories.

Penske earned its 33rd and 34th championships this year and it ends with 505 victories. More will come in 2019. The team could win another 50 races and another five championships in 2019 and none of us would be surprised.

Where does this team stand? Where does Roger Penske stand?

This team has won a lot. Not everything but enough. The 17 Indianapolis 500s are one thing but add to it 15 IndyCar championships, two Daytona 500 victories, two Can-Am championships, two United States Road Racing Championships, two Trans-Am championships, three American Le Mans Series championships, an overall victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona, an overall in the 12 Hours of Sebring and a victory in the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix.

There are plenty events the Penske organization has not won but he has won enough to know he stands on his own and not many can hold a candle to The Captain's accomplishments.

No other active person in motorsports has as an accomplished and as a diverse résumé as Penske. The only man I can truly think of in the history of motorsports that rivals Penske is Enzo Ferrari.

Ferrari is synonymous with Formula One but while the Prancing Horse is arguably bigger than Formula One, the manufacture has roots that go beyond the single-seater series. On top of Ferrari's 15 World Drivers' Championship and 16 World Constructors' Championships, Ferrari won the 24 Hours of Le Mans nine times and the 24 Hours of Daytona five times. In recent years, Ferrari has found success in the GT ranks of sports car racing with seven championships with AF Corse.

Ferrari's success has extended three decades after the passing of its founder and the legacy of the manufacture extends far beyond the racetrack. It is the dream car of millions around the world, from Italy to the United States, China to the United Arab Emirates, Australia to Austria and so on.

Penske is a worldwide name. Penske has his fingerprints around the globe but the Penske name does not adore the walls of 12-year-old boys in Sweden. Penske does not sell a commodity that is as cherished as Ferrari. In turn, few dream of driving for Penske even though if you end up driving for Team Penske not only are you great but you are bound to take ascend to another level in motorsports lore.

The two names are at another level. They will be talked about for the next 100 years. They will be held in high-esteem for generations. Many will be chasing the legacy of these two men. Only time will tell if anyone joins them in the pantheon of motorsports greatness.

Champions From the Weekend

Scott McLaughlin clinched the Supercars championship with a victory and a second place finish to David Reynolds at Newcastle.

Anthonie Hubert clinched the GP3 Series championship with a third place finish in the first race from from Abu Dhabi.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott McLaughlin and David Reynolds but did you know...

Lewis Hamilton won the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his 11th victory of the season.

George Russell and Antonio Fuoco split the Formula Two races from Abu Dhabi. Leonardo Pulcini and Nikita Mazepin split the GP3 Series races.

The #8 Spirit of Race Ligier-Nissan of Pipo Derani, Côme Ledogar and Alexander West won the 4 Hours of Shanghai. The #13 Inter Europol Competition Ligier-Nissan of Jakub Smiechowski and Martin Hippe won in LMP3. The #13 CarGuy Racing Ferrari of James Calado, Kei Cozzolino and Takeshi Kimura won in GT.

Christopher Bell won the Turkey Night Grand Prix for the third time and the second consecutive year.

Coming Up This Weekend
Uh... not much...
It is pretty much an off weekend.
Go Christmas shopping.
Go get a Christmas tree.
Or go see a movie.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday Five: Newcastle, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai

Thanksgiving is behind us and a handful of season finales are in front of us this weekend. Two championships are still to be decided and two have already been claimed. Meanwhile, one series is about to get started.

Newcastle 500
This weekend marks the final round of the Supercars season and it is a two-horse, all-New Zealander battle between DJR Team Penske's Scott McLaughlin and Triple Eight Race Engineering's Shane Van Gisbergen.

McLaughlin enters with a 14-point lead over Van Gisbergen. The drivers split the most recent round at Pukekohe and each driver had a second-place finish in their home country. McLaughlin has eight victories to Van Gisbergen's seven and McLaughlin holds the advantage in podium finishes with 19 to Van Gisbergen's 17.

This is the second Newcastle round. In last year's inaugural race, McLaughlin took the race victory and championship lead from Jamie Whincup after Whincup finished 13 laps down in 21st. In the second race, McLaughlin would be handed three penalties and finish 18th while Whincup won the race and the victory vaulted him back to the top and Whincup's final margin in the championship being 21 points. Van Gisbergen finished 16th in the first race last year from Newcastle but he bounced back in race two and was runner-up to Whincup.

McLaughlin is attempt to get DJR Team Penske its eighth drivers' championship and its first since 2010 with James Courtney and it would only be the second drivers' title to a Ford driver since 2010. He would also be the 25th different champion in series history and he could be the fourth New Zealander champion. Van Gisbergen could become the 13th driver with multiple Supercars championships and he could join Jim Richards as the only New Zealanders with multiple championships. It would be Triple Eight Race Engineering's ninth drivers' title and all coming since 2008.

Whincup is back and he is third in the championship and 58 points ahead of teammate Craig Lowndes. This will be Lowndes' final round as a full-time driver. The 44-year-old driver won three championships while he has made 650 starts, with 107 victories. David Reynolds rounds out the top five of the championship ahead of Chaz Mostert and Fabian Coulthard.

The 30th race of the Supercars season will be held at 11:45 p.m. ET on Friday November 23rd and the finale is scheduled for 11:0 p.m. ET on Saturday November 24th.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton will look to close his world championship season with his 11th victory of the season. He and 2018 vice-champion Sebastian Vettel are the only drivers with multiple victories at Abu Dhabi with each having won three of the previous nine editions of this race. Hamilton is one podium finish away from matching his single season high of 17. Vettel is looking for his sixth victory of the season. The only other times Vettel has won more than five races in a season was when he won 11 races in 2011 and 13 races in 2013.

Kimi Räikkönen's three consecutive podium finishes have him third in the championship on 251 points and 14 points ahead of Valterri Bottas. Bottas has finished fifth in three consecutive races. Bottas is the defending Abu Dhabi race winner. He won from pole position and scored fastest lap while leading 52 of 55 laps.

Max Verstappen's fourth consecutive podium finishes has him three points behind Bottas for fourth in the world championship. If he finishes fourth in the world championship it would be Verstappen's best championship result. Regardless of what happens Sunday, Daniel Ricciardo will finish sixth in the championship. This will be Ricciardo's 100th and final grand prix with Red Bull Racing.

Nico Hülkenberg sits on 69 points, 11 points ahead of Sergio Pérez and 14 points ahead of Kevin Magnussen. Fernando Alonso rounds on the top ten on 50 points with Esteban Ocon one point outside the top ten. Carlos Sainz, Jr. is on 45 points, ten ahead of Romain Grosjean and 12 ahead of Charles Leclerc. Pierre Gasly is 15th on 29 points.

Stoffel Vandoorne and Marcus Ericsson enter their final grand prix with 12 points and nine points respectively. Lance Stroll is on four points, Brendon Hartley on two points and Sergey Sirotkin will enter his final grand prix on one point.

Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull will finish first, second and third in the World Constructors' Championship. Renault has 114 points and a 24-point cushion over Haas. McLaren is on 62 points. Force India sits on 48 points and has a six-point gap over Sauber. Toro Rosso sits on 33 points with Williams on seven points.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will take place at 8:05 a.m. ET on Sunday November 25th.

Formula Two at Yas Marina
This is the final round of the Formula Two season takes place this weekend.

Future Williams F1 driver George Russell has clinched the championship and he has won six races this season. The ART Grand Prix driver has won six races this year. DAMS driver Alexander Albon is second in the championship and he has a 14-point gap over Carlin and future McLaren driver Lando Norris. Albon has won four races but Norris has not won since the first race of the season. Albania has been linked to Toro Rosso for 2019.

Nyck De Vries is fourth on 184 points and he is 18 points ahead of Artem Markelov and Sérgio Sette Câmara is two points behind Markelov. Antonio Fuoco is on 120 points with Luca Ghiotto on 94 points and Nicholas Latifi on 91 points. Jake Aitken and Louis Delétraz are tied on 62 points.

In the Teams' Championship, the Carlin duo of Norris and Câmara are on top with 361 points with ART Grand Prix's Russell and Aitken on 310 points and DAMS drivers Albon and Latifi have combined for 302 points.

The first race will take place at 9:40 a.m. ET on Saturday November 24th and the final race of the season will be at 4:35 a.m. ET on Sunday November 25th.

GP3 Series at Yas Marina
The GP3 Series championship is still up for grabs but it is in the hands of ART Grand Prix's Anthoine Hubert.

The Frenchman has scored 199 points and he has a 32-point lead over teammate Nikita Mazepin with 48 points left on the table. Hubert has won twice and he has ten podium finishes while Mazepin has three victories and seven podium finishes. Callum Ilott makes it three Carlin drivers in the top three with 147 points. Ilott has won twice but has not scored points in the last three races. Leonardo Pulcini is fourth on 131 points and David Beckmann rounds out the top five on 119 points.

Pedro Piquet sits on 106 points with Giuliano Alesi on 92 points. Jakes Hughes has scored 67 points and American Ryan Tveter is ninth on 61 points.

The GP3 races will take place at 3:30 a.m. ET on Saturday November 24th and 3:10 a.m. ET on Sunday November 25th.

4 Hours of Shanghai
While four series are closing out, one is starting this weekend with the Asian Le Mans Series back in business for the first of four rounds this season. Eight cars are entered in LMP2 with ten LMP3 entries and nine GT entries.

Harrison Newey is back to defend his championship in LMP2 but he has moved to Algarve Pro Racing and he will drive a Ligier-Judd with Ate de Jong and Andrea Pizzitola. Algarve Pro Racing will have a Ligier-Nissan entered for Mark Patterson, Anders Fjordbach and Chris McMurry. Jackie Chan Racing x Jota is back as the defending championship winning team and it will run its all-Malaysian World Endurance Championship lineup of Jazeman Jaafar, Nabil Jeffri and Weiron Tan in a Oreca-Nissan.

United Autosports has two Ligier-Nissans entered with one drive lineup featuring Patrick Byrne, Guy Cosmo and Salih Yoluç and the other will be an all-British lineup with Phil Hanson and Paul di Resta.

Pipo Derani leads an effort for Spirit of Race in a Ligier-Nissan with Côme Ledogar and Alexander West.

United Autosports has two Ligiers entered in LMP3. Matt Bell, Jim McGuire and Kay Van Berlo will be in one car with Garett Grist, Wayne Boyd and Chris Buncombe in the other. Jackie Chan DC Racing x Jota has one LMP3 entry with Hugo de Sadeleer, Josh Burdon and Neric Wei. Ecurie Ecosse/Nielsen Racing has two entries. Colin Noble and Anthony Wells will be in one car and Nick Adcok will share the second car with Christian Stubbe Olsen. Inter Europol will have Jakub Smiechowski and Martin Hippe in its entry.

Spirit of Race will have a Ferrari for Alessandro Pier Guidi, Oswaldo Negri and Francesco Piovanetti and James Calado will drive a Ferrari for CarGuy Racing with Kei Cozzolino and Takeshi Kimura. Two Audis have been entered with Dries Vanthoor leading one effort with Chinese drivers Chen David Weian and Dennis Zhang and Rob Huff will lead the other with Max Wiser and Xu Wei. TF Sport have entered an Aston Martin with Johnny Mowlem and Bonamy Grimes.

The race will start at midnight on Sunday November 25th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 6.5 average finish for Craig Lowndes at Newcastle?
2. Over or Under: 49.5 laps led by the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
3. Over or Under: 1.5 podium finishes for non-European drivers in Formula Two?
4. Over or Under: 3.5 drivers ending the season with more than 150 points?
5. Over or Under: 2.5 British drivers winning a class at Shanghai?

Last Thursday's Over/Unders
1. Over or Under: 4.5 average finish at the end of the stages for champion? (Under: Logano's average finish after the stages was 2.667).
2. Over or Under: 301 miles completed at the time of the checkered flag? (Under: 300 miles were completed).
3. Over or Under: 144.5 combined age of the top five finishers? (Under: The combined age was 135).

Last Week's Over/Unders 
1. Over or Under: 188.5 laps completed by the 6 Hours of Shanghai overall winner? (Under: 113 laps were completed).
2. Over or Under: 3.5 riders in the top ten of the championship improving their championship position after Sunday's race? (Under: Only Jorge Lorenzo improved a championship position).
3. Over or Under: 15.5 points for Brad Binder this weekend?  (Under: Binder retired).
4. Over or Under: 3.5 seconds covering the top five of the Moto3 race? (Over: 14.375 seconds covered the top five finishers).
5. Over or Under: 0.5 Australians scoring points in Rally Australia? (Over: Steve Glenney finished ninth).
6. Over or Under: 2.5 total championships between WTCC/TCR for this year's World Touring Car Cup champion after Sunday? (Under: This was Gabriele Tarquini's second WTCC/WTCR/TCR title).
7. Over or Under: 1.5 teams on the podium of the Macau Grand Prix? (Over: Motopark and Carlin had podium finishers).
8. Over or Under: 1.5 manufactures on the podium of the FIA GT World Cup? (Over: BMW and Mercedes-AMG had podium finishers).
Last Week: 7 Unders; 4 Overs. Overall: Unders 33; Overs 25

1. At least one of the championship contenders finishes behind a teammate in one of the two Newcastle races.
2. Lewis Hamilton finishes at least four positions better than his starting position.
3. No driver has two podium finishes this weekend in Formula Two.
4. There is a first time winner this weekend in GP3.
5. Three different teams finish on the overall podium at Shanghai.

Last Thursday's Predictions
1. There is one caution that involves one of the championship-eligible drivers (Wrong! There were no such cautions).
2. Cole Custer does not win the championship and leads fewer than 75 laps (Half-Correct! Custer was not champion but led over 75 laps).
3. The champion wins the Truck race (Correct! Brett Moffitt won the race and championship).

Last Week's Predictions
1. Nothing controversial, such as a disqualification from a session, happens to a Toyota entry (Correct! The Toyotas had a 1-2 finish).
2. Jorge Lorenzo gains at least one position in the championship (Correct! Jorge Lorenzo moved up to ninth in the championship).
3. A ride that is not heading to MotoGP in 2019 wins the Moto2 race (Wrong! Miguel Oliveira won the Moto2 race).
4. An Italian wins the Moto3 race (Wrong! Turkish rider Can Oncu won the race).
5. The WRC champion does not win Rally Australia (Correct! Jari-Matti Latvala won the race and Sébastien Ogier won the championship).
6. Rob Huff wins a race but only one race from Macau (Wrong! Huff did not win a race).
7. Dan Ticktum does not repeat in the Macau Grand Prix but he finishes in the top five (Wrong! Ticktum did repeat).
8. A new manufacture wins the FIA GT World Cup (Correct! BMW's Augusto Farfus won there race).
Last Week: 5.5/11. Overall: 30/53

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

IndyCar Wrap-Up: Chip Ganassi Racing's 2018 Season

We have done it! We have reached the final IndyCar Wrap-Up and it is the champions! It is Chip Ganassi Racing. The team shrunk to two cars after seven years running a four-car operation and it worked. A familiar face was responsible for bringing the hardware back to Chip Ganassi Racing for the team's 12th IndyCar championship.

The picture says it all
Scott Dixon
It was another year in which Scott Dixon ended as champion. It was a difficult fight but Dixon never seemed to lose his grip once he took the championship lead for the entirety of the second half of the season. Along the way, Dixon moved his name up the record book in multiple categories and he continues to cement himself as one of the all-time greats in motorsports let alone IndyCar.

What objectively was his best race?
Dixon added another three victories to his decorated IndyCar career and in doing so he has moved to third all-time with 44 victories behind only A.J. Foyt's 67 and Mario Andretti's 52. The first victory came at the first Belle Isle race. He ran on the back of Marco Andretti for the first stint and ran better in and out laps to get the lead. The first caution erased the challenge of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was on a three-stop strategy, and Dixon had control from there on out.

The following week, Dixon ran strong at Texas and he was going all-out on a four-stop strategy while some tired to stretch it on three stops. Timely cautions killed any reason to conserve fuel and Dixon had put a fair amount of the field a lap down and had clean air to work with on the restart. He pulled away again while Alexander Rossi battled Simon Pagenaud and took the championship lead with this victory.

At Toronto, Dixon was running second and Josef Newgarden brushed the barrier on coming to a restart allowing Dixon through. From there, Dixon took another convincing victory and on that day it became clear Dixon was likely going to win the championship. He had a 62-point lead with five races to go and Toronto was a race where his four biggest championship challengers all had issues. Rossi got into Will Power. Hunter-Reay got into the barrier all on his own when he locked up the brakes in turn three. Power had a second accident. Newgarden brushed the barrier while leading. Every other driver showed their flaws and it was clear they were not going to have enough to defeat Dixon.

What subjectively was his best race?
Portland! It is the race where he finished fifth after coming out of a cloud of dust without any damaged and four wounded racecars, two to his left and two to his right. Dixon made mistakes during that race. The first lap accident wasn't one of them but even being at the wrong place at the wrong time didn't get him. Dixon had everything go against him in that race and he shot himself in the foot with a pit lane speeding penalty but timing was in his favor. A caution occurred after Dixon's pit stops and Alexander Rossi was caught out. Rossi shuffled to the back, Dixon slid up to the front and what was going to be a 72-points swing in the American's favor turned out to be a day where Dixon added some insurance heading into the finale. Portland was the day when it became clear the title was going to be Dixon's.

What objectively was his worst race?
His worst race was 12th at Iowa. It was his one bad day. He started sixth and fell back to 12th. His only other result outside the top ten was 11th at Long Beach, where he was in contention for a podium finish but a caution caught him out. He made it to pit road but not before the caution and he had to serve a penalty. Despite the set back, he fought back to finish 11th.

What subjectively was his worst race?
When you win a championship, is there really a worst race? Unlike every other driver that can look back at points lost over the course of a season, the champion didn't lose points. Dixon can look back and think he could have finished fourth at Portland but it would have been another three points to his championship total.

He could look back at Gateway and say he should have won that race after starting on pole position and leading 145 of 248 laps but finished third. It doesn't matter. Enough was done. You can always want more but Dixon did what Dixon does. He ended the season with six consecutive top five finishes and 12 top five finishes in the final 13 races. He did what was needed to get his fifth championship.

Scott Dixon's 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 1st (678 points)
Wins: 3
Podiums: 9
Top Fives: 13
Top Tens: 15
Laps Led: 357
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 4
Fast Twelves: 8
Average Start: 8.0
Average Finish: 4.235

There were a lot of pluses and minuses for Ed Jones in 2018
Ed Jones
The sophomore season for Ed Jones saw him move from Dale Coyne Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing. Jones improved in the championship but the results were not good enough. His best days could not cover up his shortcomings and his tenure with the team lasted one season.

What objectively was his best race?
Jones had two podium finishes; both third place finishes at Long Beach and the second Belle Isle race. Long Beach was a race where he benefited from a caution that took him from the back half of the top ten to the podium but it was not a cakewalk. Zach Veach put up a challenge for third and Jones held on.

What subjectively was his best race?
The second Belle Isle race was the only race Jones started in the top ten and finished in the top ten and better yet, he started in the top five and finished in the top five. Jones started fourth and finished third and he held off Dixon for that final podium position.

What objectively was his worst race?
Because there are 33 cars at the Indianapolis it makes it more likely a driver's worst finish will occur in that race and sure enough, Jones' worst result was 31st in the Indianapolis 500 after an accident exiting turn two after 57 laps.

What subjectively was his worst race?
Jones was going to finish on the podium at Phoenix but he had an accident and instead of finishing second, the marbles caught him out and ended what could have been a remarkable result in his second start with Chip Ganassi Racing. Instead, he pretty much ended his Ganassi career before it even got started. It didn't help that Jones was always the third choice for the team and when he could have won the team over and maybe saved any hope of a second season at Ganassi he only set the dominos in motion to justify his removal after 2018 and sure enough he is gone.

Ed Jones' 2018 Statistics
Championship Position: 13th (343 points)
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Top Fives: 2
Top Tens: 8
Laps Led: 1
Poles: 0
Fast Sixes: 0
Fast Twelves: 4
Average Start: 13.1875
Average Finish: 13.294

An Early Look Ahead
Ed Jones is out and Felix Rosenqvist is in and it is one of the most anticipated rookie of the year campaigns in IndyCar in recent memory. Though Rubens Barrichello was not classified as a rookie, I think this addition to the grid matches the level of interest when Barrichello came in but in two different respects.

With Barrichello, we wondered how the most experienced driver in Formula One history not only would do in IndyCar but how would he adapt to the differences and Barrichello seemed to fit right in. He didn't dominate but he had respectable results and he seemed to fit in. For Rosenqivst, he has been a highly touted prospect for over six years and he seems to fit the quintessential European driver that has the talent but not the budget to move up to Formula One and no Formula One snagged the kid while they could.

Rosenqvist beat many on the current Formula One grid whilst in Formula Three. In 2012, he beat teammate Pascal Wehrlein and Carlos Sainz, Jr. while finishing third in in the championship. The following year he topped Alex Lynn, Harry Tincknell and Jordan King and was vice-champion. He dropped to tenth in 2014 but was the 2015 European Formula Three champion ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll and George Russell and all four of those drivers will be in Formula One next year.

The Swede has found success everywhere he has gone. After Formula Three, he won three Indy Lights races in ten starts. He was competitive in Formula E from the drop of the hat. He had three podium finishes in Super Formula and he finished on the podium last year in Super GT while scoring points in six of seven starts.

I am not worried about off the track for Rosenqvist. He ran Indy Lights, he understands the American scene a bit and after watching him in Indy Lights and Formula E he seems like a flexible guy and I don't think he will suffer a culture shock in the paddock. I look at Rosenqvist and after the season Robert Wickens had I think that is not an unrealistic bar for Rosenqvist. He has some experience when it comes to the tracks but plenty will be new to him and the car is different. He will not necessarily be Juan Pablo Montoya but I do not expect him to be lost every weekend. He is the early favorite for rookie of the year.

It would be easy to say Scott Dixon has nothing to work on because every year he seems to do the same old thing and at worst he finishes fourth in the championship. Dixon has pretty much had a championship-caliber every year since 2006 it is just some years another driver was slightly better. But this level of consistency has not been matched by anybody and that is how Dixon has won five championships.

Dixon has never gone more than five seasons without a championship. He won titles in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018. We can pencil him in for another title by at least 2023 at this rate and it would not surprise anybody if he would three titles in the next five years.

Dixon finished the year with 678 of a possible 1,026 points, 66.0818% of the maximum and this is the third consecutive seasons the champion has scored over 60% of the maximum points total after four consecutive years scoring below 60%. This is the second-highest percentage of the maximum points Dixon has scored in his five championships. In 2008, he scored 646 of 901 points, 71.698%, the last time a champion has scored over 70% of the maximum points.

This was the second consecutive season the champion had nine podium finishes but Dixon's 13 top five finishes and 15 top ten finishes gave him in the highest percentage in each category since Dario Franchitti achieved both totals in 2011. Dixon had top five finishes in 76.47% of the races and top ten finishes in 88.235% of the races.

Where could Dixon improve? Qualifying? I guess he could have a Will Power-esque qualifying record but he has been pretty damn successful without qualifying on the front row in 14 races.

Dixon is going to be at the top of championship and I think Rosenqvist will be better than Jones. How much better? I think he will be in the top ten and we will see where he goes from there. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

2018 NASCAR Predictions: Revisited

NASCAR season is over and we are now going to look back at the predictions made nearly a year ago. What things went as thought and how wrong was I last December? This is where we find out.

1. Martin Truex, Jr., finishes outside the top ten in at least two races at 1.5-mile tracks
Wrong! Truex, Jr. had one finish outside the top ten at a 1.5-mile oval and that was 37th in the first Texas race after an accident. That is quite impressive especially when you look at it over the two-year span.

2. Aric Almirola sets a career-high in top ten finishes in a season
Correct! Not only did Almirola set a career-high with 17 top ten finishes but he had a career-high four top five finishes. And with his results, Almirola finished fifth in the championship. And that doesn't feel right.

NASCAR's championship format has many problems but from a historical standpoint I think there will be drivers we look back on, see the championship finish but are misled a bit because of the reset and then the reset once eliminated. If a driver makes the round of eight but not the final four, there is a chance that driver could finish 16th in the championship. All these drivers get points for advancing each round but once eliminated they lose the bump from advancing to the prior round. It is really odd.

Almirola finished four points ahead of Chase Elliott despite Elliott having won three times the number of races and double the number of Chase races. Elliott had nearly three the number of top five finishes with 11 and he had 21 top ten finishes. Brad Keselowski had three the number of victories, three times the number of top five finishes and 20 top ten finishes.

Without the Chase, Elliott, Keselowski and Almirola would have been eighth, sixth and 12th respectively.

I know people make the argument "a guy with one victory had finished ahead of drivers with three or four or nine victories prior" and I understand this defense but it doesn't mean it is right or means NASCAR's decision to lump the eliminated drivers together is the right thing to do.

I will say it. I fucking hate this system. Because we have no idea what it means to be good. Remember when NASCAR wanted to make winning races worth more? NASCAR has failed to do that with each re-iteration of the Chase. But even worse it has devalued top five finishes. Almirola had a career year but it never felt like he was the fifth-best driver in NASCAR and you can argue that he is because that is where he finished but deep down you have to know at no point was anyone saying Almirola's name in the same conversation as Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

3. Hendrick Motorsports wins more than three races
Wrong! Hendrick Motorsports won exactly three races and all were at the hands of Chase Elliott. The Georgian broke through at Watkins Glen, adding his second victory at Dover and then won at Kansas two weeks later but that was it for Hendrick Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson was shut out for the first time in his career. Alex Bowman had a few good days but was never a contender for a race victory. William Byron was getting his feet wet.

4. Ford does not win more than two restrictor plate races
Correct! Ford won twice at plate tracks with Joey Logano in the spring Talladega race and Aric Almirola winning the autumn race at Talladega but Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and Erik Jones won the July Daytona race.

5. Team Penske does not win the autumn race at Talladega
Correct! See above. Almirola won in what was a dominant day for Stewart-Haas Racing.

6. Darrell Wallace, Jr., is the top rookie finisher in at least 12 races
Correct! He was the top rookie in 14 races and this was a terrible prediction. One, there were only two rookies with Wallace and William Byron. Two, 14 out of 36 races is only 38.888%. That isn't good. Wallace was basically a 6-10 team in the NFL. No one ever celebrates going 6-10. Not even Cleveland Browns fans would feel good about celebrating 6-10.

Richard Petty Motorsports is a bad team and I think the longer Wallace stays the more it hurts his career. Who has gone to Richard Petty Motorsports and left with their career in better shape? Who? And yes, I realize we just talked about Aric Almirola but look at other recent drivers for this team: Brian Scott, Sam Hornish, Jr., Marcos Ambrose, Elliott Sadler, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson, A.J. Allmendinger, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Green.

Which of those drivers had a significantly better career after driving for Petty's team? The answer is none. Wallace, get out while you still can!

7. A change is made to the Charlotte roval event before the race occurs
Correct! The layout was changed and the infield section bypassed a left and a right hand turn that would have created a hairpin back onto the oval and a chicane was added on the backstretch.

8. At least five drives make the Grand National Series Chase by victory
Wrong! And I am a bit disappointed. Only four drivers clinched a spot with a victory: Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Ross Chastain. Six championship-eligible drivers did win a race before the start of the Chase but Ryan Preece was not full-time and Spencer Gallagher failed a drug test and could not qualify based on that victory.

Daniel Hemric didn't win a race all season. Elliott Sadler did not win a race all season. Cole Custer did not win until the autumn Texas race. Matt Tifft didn't win a race. Austin Cindric had a few road course races get away from him. John Hunter Nemechek won a race but it was not until Kansas in October and he wasn't full-time. Chase Briscoe won a race but it was not until Charlotte in September.

I thought Sadler would break through and Custer would get a victory and possibly even Hemric. This season the Grand National Series underperformed. But what makes it worse is the final eight races when there were no full-time Cup drivers racing were really good races and fun to watch and there were six different winners in the final six races and there were seven different winners in the final eight.

Imagine if most of the season had no Cup drivers. I am not for banning Cup drivers entirely but there is a night and day difference between the start of the season and the end. Thirteen of the first 26 races were won by Cup drivers and four races were Dash 4 Cash races (Bristol, Richmond, Talladega, Dover) where Cup drivers are banned, another four races are standalone races (Iowa twice, Mid-Ohio and Road America) and Cup drivers were barred from the Las Vegas race, the final race of the regular season.

That leaves four "unregulated" races won by championship-eligible drivers and those races were Daytona, Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis. Daytona was a plate race and Indianapolis has the alternate aero package.

I don't want too much more to be done. I think enough has been done to begin with and I think the decision to barred cars with Cup drivers scoring points toward the owners' championship will cause a seismic shift and is the most disadvantageous move made yet. I think we are more likely to have at least five or six championship-eligible drivers get a victory in the first 26 races of 2019.

9. Brendan Gaughan competes in at least three of four August Grand National Series races
Wrong! Gaughan competed in only two of the four races, Mid-Ohio and Road America.

10. The Eldora truck race has a sixth different winner in as many years
Correct! Chase Briscoe won in a photo finish over Grant Enfinger and either driver would have been the sixth different winner at Eldora.

11. Ryan Truex wins a truck race
Wrong! This one stings. At the time, it wasn't clear where Truex would be and I thought he would return to Hattori Racing Enterprises. However, he moved up to the second division with Kaulig Racing and he nearly won the season opener at Daytona but outside of that he had a pretty average year and made the Chase but Hattori Racing Enterprises won the Truck championship with Brett Moffitt. Oof. I am not going to say Truex would have done just as well or better than Moffitt but I think he would have won at least one race.

12. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., runs one track he has never raced at before
Wrong! Earnhardt, Jr. made one start and it was at Richmond and Earnhardt, Jr. had run plenty of times at Richmond before. I am not surprised he didn't run more but I thought he would have run three or four races and spread them out over the summer. I thought he would have given Iowa a go and I thought he was going to run Homestead because he spoke so highly of the track last November and it sounded like he really wanted to run it.

I would have liked to see him run a few more times. I get why he didn't and he is still young but if Richmond is the only time he runs every year from now until he is 64 then I think we will all live.

Final Words
I got to admit this season ends with a bit of an underwhelming feeling and I think it is because for the first time I think NASCAR has produced not just one champion but two champions that were never the best driver at any point in the season. With prior iterations of the Chase, the guy on top at the end had a better argument for being on top. When Johnson won five consecutive titles he had to put together ten strong races, same for Kurt Busch in 2004 and Tony Stewart in 2005 and 2011 and Brad Keselowski in 2012. Even in the Chase-era, the only questionable title was Stewart's 2011 because he didn't win in the first 26 races but he did win five of ten to close out the year and that provides a great defense for Stewart's title.

With this format something as simple as a pit lane speeding penalty can cost you a title. If Logano speeds on that final stop, he is not champion and you could twist an argument that speeding could have cost a driver prior but the difference is that driver either had nine other results or 35 other results to look back on where points could have been made up and that driver could have not been in position where a pit lane speeding penalty could cost a driver a title. With this format, it is one race that decides the champion. The other races decide who gets there but have no bearing on the final result and that is terrible.

I am not a moron. I am not one of those people who say Joey Logano or Tyler Reddick are not real champions and I am not going to be delusional and say another driver is champion. First off, those people are full of shit. What sane person goes through their life preaching results are different then the record book and not just one event but possibly every year? Those people are full of shit and full of themselves.

But something doesn't feel right. It feels more like Logano and Reddick did what was necessary to be good in one race and that is how the game is currently played but we must decide whether one race should have so much bearing in deciding who is best over an entire season and how we will look at who are the best drivers in the history of these series.

Six of 12, 50%. Not good. Not bad. Plenty of room for improvement.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: Picking the Americans for Race of Champions

Team Penske got another championship and it has a chance at another next week. NASCAR's fairy tale fell short. The FIA World Endurance Championship and MotoGP both had red flags due to rain but half a world apart. There was an unfathomable winner in Moto3! Rob Huff did not win in Macau. Prayers go out to Sophia Flörsch after her terrible accident. The World Rally Championship's three-way title fight was anti-climatic. Thanksgiving is upon us. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Picking the Americans for Race of Champions
We are at the end of the motorsports season. There are a few championships still going and a few starting but for the most part we are at the end and looking for some time off. With the end of the season comes traditional offseason events and one of those is the Race of Champions.

The Race of Champions has not taken over the world and arguably it has lost some luster over the last ten to 15 years. For starters, we have less of an offseason. It wasn't long ago that at this point of the year the Formula One season had been over for a month and we were still four months until the opening round of the following season. The IndyCar season would be over. NASCAR would be the one major series wrapping up. There was no world championship for sports cars and the fragmented sports car series of the world had all be finished for a month.

There was a time when the Race of Champions fell at the right point in the offseason. It was early December. We had a break and the time had come for a hit of motorsports action. What better bump to get then a gathering of the best drivers from around the world from a handful of different disciplines? It was an early Christmas present.

The world has changed. There is no break. Formula One keeps going. NASCAR is oversaturated. The FIA World Endurance Championship has changed its calendar to run over the winter months. IndyCar has been over but that is really it when it comes to the top series. Drivers don't have as much time to recharge the batteries and have enough energy for this all-star competition. The big names do not come out like they once did.

Race of Champions has tried to adapt with the times. The event moved from the start of December to the middle of January. It is still a part of the year where we are starved of motorsports and it gives Formula One drivers a break before competing but it still trying to fit in to a growing clutter on the calendar.

It is still here and I continue to look forward to it and the upcoming edition of Race of Champions will be held in Mexico, at Foro Sol, the baseball stadium inside Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Mexico has already announced four competitors. Benito Guerra, the 2012 Production World Rally Championship champion returns for the first time since 2012. Four-time Grand-Am champion and three-time overall 24 Hours of Daytona winner Memo Rojas will be back for his second consecutive Race of Champions. The Mexican drivers making their Race of Champions debut will be the reigning Indy Lights champion and IndyCar rookie Patricio O'Ward and the 2016 NASCAR Grand National Series champion and still free agent Daniel Suárez.

Joining the four Mexican drivers will be the defending Champion of Champions winner David Coulthard and the 2015 Champion of Champions and the seven-time Nations' Cup winner, the most successful driver in the history of Race of Champions, Sebastian Vettel.

There will be plenty of other world-class drivers announced in the coming days and months to join those six competitors but I want to focus on the United States.

The United States has won the Nations' Cup once, in 2002, when Colin Edwards went undefeated and carried the United States to victory with Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Travis Pastrana almost single-handily won the Nations' Cup in 2006 but lost to Heikki Kovalainen twice in the final as Kovalainen and Marcus Grönholm won it for Finland. Pastrana and Tanner Foust got the United States to the semifinals in 2009 but lost to the German team of Vettel and Michael Schumacher. In 2017, on home soil, the United States had power-in-numbers and was guaranteed to compete in the finals when the NASCAR duo of Kyle and Kurt Busch took on IndyCar's Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay in a semifinal. The Busch brothers advanced but lost to Vettel, who single-handily won it for Germany after Pascal Wehrlein was injured the day before.

While the United States has had moderate Nations' Cup success, no American driver has ever won the Champion of Champions competition. Only once has an American made it to the semifinals and that was Carl Edwards in 2008.

There are a lot of great drivers in the world but with the quantity of American drivers there is no reason why the United States has yet to produce a Champion of Champions winner.

Frankly, many United States teams at the Race of Champions have been duds. The first American team in 2000 had Danny Sullivan, who had been retired for five years, and off-road racer Rod Millen alongside Colin Edwards. One year after winning the Nations' Cup, the United States had Boris Said, Casey Mears and Pastrana defend the title. In 2004, Mears was a late substitute for an ill Jeff Gordon. In 2006, Pastrana had to compete on his own because Jimmie Johnson broke his arm fooling around on a golf cart and Scott Speed hurt himself doing who knows what.

Tanner Foust represented the United States three times and worst of all Foust and Brian Deegan were the representatives in 2011. Twice has the United States not even had a team but fielded one participant in an Americas team. Ryan Hunter-Reay did it in 2012 with Guerra and Hunter-Reay did it in 2015 with José María López. There was an Americas team in 2014 with López and Robby Gordon but there was also a United States team in that competition made up of Hunter-Reay and Kurt Busch.

With 2019 approaching there is no reason why the United States should not only have its own team but a team that should be competing for the Nations' Cup and have two competitors capable of winning Champion of Champions.

Time is up when it comes to sitting idle and letting a D-Team represented the United States. It is time somebody stepped up and made sure the best two American drivers are at Race of Champions... and that is where I come in, the self-appointed general manager for the United States Race of Champions team.

No one else is stepping up to do it. What is more American than taking on a task nobody has thought needed a leader?

The last two editions of Race of Champions have been promising. On home soil, the United States got the necessary bump. Sure, it had three of four teams in a group in the Nations' Cup and the top two advance and those two teams met in a semifinal but beyond that Pastrana won his Champions of Champions group after defeating Hélio Castroneves, Vettel and Alexander Rossi. Kyle Busch advanced from his group over Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe. Unfortunately, Pastrana and Busch were both eliminated in the quarterfinals without winning a race in the best-of-three format.

Last year, Hunter-Reay returned for his fifth consecutive Race of Champions appearance and Josef Newgarden joined him in Saudi Arabia. Things did not go well in the Nations Cup. The United States could not get out of the group ahead of Germany's René Rast and Timo Bernhard and the Latin America team of Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves. Hunter-Reay went 0-3 while Newgarden went 2-1 with victories over Castroneves and Rojas.

In the Champion of Champions competition, Hunter-Reay got out of his group with victories over Castroneves and Rojas while Newgarden defeated both Saudi Arabian drivers on their home soil. The quarterfinals were not so kind. Coulthard handily knocked out Hunter-Reay while Newgarden ended up in the barrier after two corners in his race against World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson.

The United States is progressing in the right direction in the Race of Champions but we have to keep it going in this direction.

A bar has to be set high. The difficult thing is picking out only two drivers to represent a country that has plenty of top drivers across NASCAR, IndyCar and sports cars. The United States has plenty of drivers that the country could probably field 15 teams of two and each one appear better than the one before it. How do we decide who should go?

It is not as simple as picking a champion or a race winner. The Race of Champions is a multi-discipline event. A driver needs to be able to drive the nimble ROC car, which is a buggy, a KTM X-Bow, something as heavy and clunky as the knockoff Euro version of a stock car. A driver has got to be flexible and has to be able to drive a bad car with little preparation.

That sounds like a sports car driver but there is a trend in Race of Champions and that is the Champion of Champions competition has ruled by single-seater drivers. Since the Race of Champions has moved to the confined crossover/stadium course in 2004, there have been 13 competitions. While the combination of Mattias Ekström and Sébastien Loeb won five of six Champion of Champions from 2004-09, six of the last seven winners were drivers from single-seater series.

The lone exception is Sébastien Ogier in 2011. Since 2010, Filipe Albuquerque took a shock victory in 2010 in Düsseldorf and at that time the Portuguese driver was starting his transition to sports cars and was running the Italian GT Championship but at that time he was fresh off success in Formula Renault 3.5 and A1GP. The last five Champion of Champions winners have been Romain Grosjean, David Coulthard, Sebastian Vettel, Juan Pablo Montoya and Coulthard.

With that said, tin-top experience is duly noted. The dominance of Ekström and Loeb was not that long ago and since 2010, the losing finalists have been Loeb, Tom Kristensen, Kristensen, Pascal Wehrlein, Kristensen, Kristensen and Petter Solberg.

The team preferably should be balanced. There should be one driver from a single-seater series and one driver from a tin-top series. So we haven't narrowed it down at all but we should look at what the United States has done in recent years that has achieved its moderate success.

Newgarden went 4-3 last year in Race of Champions, which isn't a great record and slightly misleading when you take into consideration two of those victories were local Saudi Arabian drivers whom he should have defeated. I said after last year's Nations' Cup that if I was GM of the United States team I would bring Hunter-Reay into my office, shake his hand and thank him for his service.

Hunter-Reay has not been great in Race of Champions. Here are his records over the five competitions: 2-4, 5-2, 3-3, 2-5 and 2-5. I think we know who Hunter-Reay is and he put in five tours of duty. It is time for someone else to carry the flag.

Alexander Rossi's 2017 Race of Champions is a bit wishy-washy. Rossi went 0-3 in his Champion of Champions group with losses to Pastrana, Castroneves and Vettel. However, he went 3-2 in the Nations' Cup. His Nations' Cup group is a bit misleading because that was the group with three American teams and a Canadian team and Rossi lost to Stefan Rzadzinski. His second loss was to Kurt Busch when it was pretty clear Busch jumped the start and Busch was not penalized for it. So, who has Rossi beat? He falls in the same boat as Newgarden.

Kyle Busch did well in 2017 but his brother Kurt might have been slightly better. Kyle went 2-1 in his Champion of Champions group but unfortunately lost 2-0 to Coulthard in the quarterfinals. Kurt didn't get out of his group and went 1-2 but Kurt went 2-1 in the Nations' Cup group and won both races to get to the final before a losing to Vettel in the final. Kurt also ran in 2014 but that was opposite to 2017. Kurt struggled in the Nations' Cup going for 1-2 and the United States did not advance but he went 3-0 in his Champion of Champions group but in a group that featured Petter Solberg, Susie Wolff and Barbadian driver Rhett Watson and he lost to Jamie Whincup in the quarterfinals.

Using recent results, there isn't a standout, no doubt selection. There are a few drivers that would be encouraging selections but none are surefire picks.

What about outside the bubble? We looked at five drivers, what about the hundred-plus American drivers? There is one unexplored territory when it comes to the United States in the Race of Champions is sports cars. There hasn't really been a top American sports car driver to run Race of Champions and when you go back to the array of cars that one has to drive in Race of Champions and lack of preparation, why isn't a sports car driver representing the United States? Sports car drivers have to jump into crazy situations and sometimes into a car that has been on track for six hours and is entirely different then when that driver was last behind the wheel.

Sports cars in general is a diverse discipline. You have prototypes, GTE, GT3 and even touring cars have sports car-based drivers competing. Those are at least three different disciplines that we throw under one category and the United States have drivers that have succeeded in all of them.

Patrick Long won in the Porsche RS Spyder and has been consistently winning in Porsche's GT program. On top of that, Long has won a few stock car races.

Joey Hand has won the 24 Hours of Daytona overall and in the top GT category and he won the GTE-Pro category at Le Mans. Hand spent three years in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters and while he didn't win a race Hand did well after a change of scenery.

Colin Braun has won races in Grand-Am while a teenager in a Daytona Prototype. Braun won the Prototype Challenge championship twice. This year, Braun and Jon Bennett put up a strong fight in a disadvantaged LMP2 car against the DPi stronghold of Cadillac in IMSA's Prototype class and they were runner-ups in the championship. Oh, and not only has Braun done that but he was the youngest driver to stand on a class podium at Le Mans when he finished second in GT2 in 2007 with Tracy Krohn and Nic Jönsson when 18 years old and he won in NASCAR's Truck series and he ran well in NASCAR's second division while also having some rallycross experience. And Braun has been linked to an IndyCar ride over the last six months.

Through all this I have not mentioned Jordan Taylor, who is a IMSA Prototype champion, had won a championship in Daytona Prototype prior to that, won in GTE-Pro at Le Mans with Corvette and he did well in Grand-Am's GT championship with Bill Lester. I have also not mentioned Andy Lally, who has won many times in GT competition but was also the NASCAR Cup rookie of the year in 2011 and he has shown in recent years he can take a team that is in the back half of the grid in NASCAR's second division and turn it into a top ten finisher and even top five contender on a road course.

I kind of want to give a sports car guy a shot and if there is one that fits right now it is Colin Braun. He has found success in pretty much every style of racecar he has driven. He might be the secret weapon for the United States. When it comes to single-seater options, it basically comes down to whether you think Newgarden's track record of beating two Saudi Arabian drivers, Castroneves and Rojas is more impressive than Rossi's track record of being swept in a group and losing to a driver who never made it higher than Indy Lights but got in position to advance to the final of Nations' Cup and lost a semifinal race where his opponent clearly jumped the start. If we were to use this year as a tiebreaker then Rossi is the choice.

There is one other name I will throw out there and it has to do with a notable trend in Race of Champions. In recent years, the top drivers in the competition have been older and quasi-retired. I cannot explain it.

The last six Races of Champions have had at least one Champion of Champions finalist be over the age of 40. The last two years have had both Champion of Champions finalists be over the age of 40 and in both editions three of the four semifinalists have been over 40 and it is spreading over to the Nations' Cup. Montoya and Castroneves made the finals last year. Both drivers are over 40. Two editions prior to that the English team of 48-year-old Jason Plato and 41-year-old Andy Priaulx won the Nations' Cup and in 2014 the 47-year-old Tom Kristensen and 40-year-old Petter Solberg won the Nations' Cup as Team Nordic over the United Kingdom pairing of Susie Wolff and 43-year-old David Coulthard.

Not only are these driver older and somewhat retired but some had unfulfilled careers. Coulthard had 13 grand prix victories but he never really challenged for the world championship. Coulthard's only real championship was the 1989 Formula Ford 1600 title. Castroneves might have won 30 IndyCar races, including three Indianapolis 500s but he never won a championship. He was more known for losing championships. Solberg is living off the World Rally Championship he won in 2003. Yes, he has won the World Rallycross title twice... but that is rallycross.

Coulthard, Castroneves and Solberg all had respectable careers but they are definitely frustrating careers when you think about them.

So... who is the American equivalent? What 40-plus, somewhat retired American driver that had a respectable career, won a fair amount and won big races but never won the big championship but won other small championships early in a career is out there and fits these qualifications?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Think about it! Earnhardt, Jr. won 26 Cup races, not a small total, more than champions Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte and Benny Parsons, and he won the Daytona 500 twice. However, Earnhardt, Jr. didn't really meet the expectations and I am not talking about those of the manically fans who expected him to be his father but of the reasonable fan who saw him win back-to-back Grand National Series titles and thought, "Yeah, he could win a Cup title." Earnhardt, Jr. only came close to a championship once or twice.

In 2003, he finished third in the Cup championship but Matt Kenseth dominated that year and Earnhardt, Jr. spent most of the year in second only to lose a lot of ground late and have Jimmie Johnson surpass him in the final race. In 2004, Earnhardt, Jr. had a slim shot at the title in the finale but he needed a lot of events to go in his favor. That was it for his Cup title challenges. For the final 13 years of his career he was never in the discussion for a title.

Earnhardt, Jr. might just win the Race of Champions. There are plenty of people still buzzed off his cameo appearance in NASCAR's second division at Richmond in September where he finished fourth after not doing any racing for ten months. There is probably a sizable crowd that thinks he still has it and is bound to announce a comeback to full-time driving at any moment. That isn't happening but a one-off in an exhibition event? It isn't that crazy.

I don't think Earnhardt, Jr.'s lack of racing would hurt him. Do you think Coulthard does any serious racing between Race of Champions? No! And why couldn't Dale Earnhardt, Jr. just step into a KTM X-Bow and win the damn thing? Coulthard can do it and he is on television just as much as Earnhardt, Jr.

It would be a massive coup for Race of Champions it got Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Race of Champions is not going to get Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I don't think he would be even a slight bit interested if the organizers called him.

With the dream pick not even interested, let's focus on putting the best two drivers out there and I think Colin Braun and Alexander Rossi are the two drivers for the job. If this were reality we would see how those two would do and then re-group and look toward the next competition. We can't do that and we are at the mercy of some anonymous driver picker to represent the United States.

Champions From the Weekend

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup Series championship with his victory at Homestead.

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Grand National Series championship after winning the finale at Homestead, his second victory of the season.

Brett Moffitt won the NASCAR Truck Series championship after winning the finale at Homestead, his sixth victory of the season.

Sébastien Ogier won his sixth consecutive World Rally Championship Drivers' championship after finishing sixth in Rally Australia.

Gabriele Tarquini won the World Touring Car Cup championship after finishes of fourth, a retirement and tenth at Macau.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick and Brett Moffitt but did you know...

Andrea Dovizioso won MotoGP's Valencian Community Grand Prix, his fourth victory of the season. Miguel Oliveira won the Moto2 race, his third victory of the season. Can Öncu won the Moto3 race on his Moto3 debut! The 15-year-old Turkish rider was the 2018 Red bull MotoGP Rookies Cup champion.

The #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López won the 6 Hours of Shanghai. The #38 Jackie Chan DC Racing Oreca of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi won in LMP2, their third victory of the season. The #95 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen won in GTE-Pro. The #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauder won in GTE-Am, their third victory of the season.

Jari-Matti Latvala won Rally Australia

Dan Ticktum won the Macau Grand Prix for the second consecutive year.

Jean-Karl Vernay, Frédéric Vervisch and Esteban Guerrieri won the World Touring Car Cup races from Macau.

BMW's Augusto Farfus won the FIA GT World Cup from Macau.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Formula One finale from Abu Dhabi.
Supercars finale from Newcastle.
The Asian Le Mans Series season opener from Shanghai.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Five: Shanghai, Valencia, Australia, Macau

We are into part two of this weekend's preview and it is mostly in the Asia-Pacific region. We have an endurance race and a sprint race, a grand prix and a rally and a few titles to decide. A few drivers look to retain their crowns, others are looking to ascend to the throne. Meanwhile, some motorcycles will race in Spain.

6 Hours of Shanghai
The fifth round of the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season and the final round of the calendar year 2018 takes place at Shanghai with the sixth editions of the 6 Hours of Shanghai. It is the final time the race will be six hours in duration. Next season's visit to Shanghai will be a four-hour race.

The #8 Toyota of Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima lead the World Endurance Drivers' Championship with 84 points and has a 13-point lead over the sister #7 Toyota of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and José María López after the #7 Toyota won at Fuji last month. The #1 Rebellion Racing Rebellion of Thomas Laurent Gustavo Menezes and Mathias Beche trail the #8 Toyota by 21 points with André Lotterer and Neel Jani 33 points back in the #3 Rebellion.

One point covers the top three LMP2 teams heading into Shanghai. The #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Pierre Thiriet and André Negrão lead the championship with 87 points with the two Jackie Chan DC Racing entries tied on 86 points. The #37 Oreca of Jazeman Jaafar, Weiron Tan and Nabil Jefri won the most recent round at Fuji while the #38 Oreca of Ho-Pin Tung, Gabriel Aubry and Stéphane Richelmi has two victories this season, both victories coming at tracks that start with the letter "S" in Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone.

Michael Christensen and Kévin Éstre have control of the World Endurance GTE Drivers' Championship. The #92 Porsche has won two of four races this season and sits on 96 points. The #92 Porsche has finished on the podium in every race this season. The #66 Ford GT of Stefan Mücke and Olivier Pla trail by 31 points after a pair of sixth-place finishes in the last two races after winning at Spa-Francorchamps and finishing third at Le Mans. The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi won at Silverstone and despite that being the duo's only podium finish of the season, it has them third in the championship on 55.5 points.

Porsche has won three consecutive races in GTE-Am. The #80 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche of Matt Campbell, Christian Ried and Julien Andlauer lead the championship with 80 points after victories at Le Mans and Silverstone. The #56 Team Project 1 Porsche of Jörg Bergmeister, Patrick Lindsey and Egidio Perfetti won the most recent race at Fuji and are second in the championship on 66 points. The #90 TF Sport Aston Martin of Salih Yoluç and Charlie Eastwood have finished second in three of four races this year and are on 54 points, two ahead of the factory #98 Aston Martin of Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy and Mathias Lauda. Jonathan Adam will be in the #90 Aston Martin for the third consecutive race.

Corvette Racing has entered a Corvette for this round. It is the first time Corvette has entered a car in a WEC event that was not Le Mans or in the United States. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will split the #64 Corvette. Gavin and Milner finished third in the IMSA GTLM championship this year and they won at Long Beach.

The 6 Hours of Shanghai will begin at 10:00 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th.

Marc Márquez clinched the MotoGP title three races ago in Japan but the Spaniard could end the 2018 season with ten victories.

It would be only the second time Márquez has won ten races in a MotoGP season, he won 13 races in 2014. He also had ten victories in the 2010 125cc season and he won the title that year as well. If Márquez is to break into double figures in the win column, he will have to do it at one of his most elusive tracks. He has only won twice at Valencia with a Moto2 victory in 2012 and a MotoGP victory in 2014. He does have six consecutive podium finishes at Valencia across all series.

Andrea Dovizioso will finish second in the championship regardless of what happens on Sunday. Dovizioso has never won at Valencia and an Italian has not won in MotoGP at the track since Marco Melandri in 2005. The last Italian to win at Valencia in any category was Michele Pirro in 2011 while in Moto2. Dovizioso's only podium finishes at the track were a second in 125cc in 2004 and a third in MotoGP in 2011.

The battle is for third between the Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales. Rossi has 195 points and a two-point lead over his Spanish teammate. Rossi is looking to avoid his first winless season since 2012, his final year with Ducati. Rossi has never had a winless season with Yamaha. Rossi and Viñales each have two victories at Valencia. Rossi won the 2003 and 2004 MotoGP races while Viñales won in the 125cc class in 2011 and in Moto3 in 2013.

Álex Rins and Johann Zarco are tied for fifth in the championship on 149 points. Rins and Zarco finished second and third in the most recent round from Sepang. Rins currently holds the tiebreaker as  both riders each have two runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes. Rins has finished fourth twice while Zarco's next best finish is fifth. Zarco finished second in last year's race from Valencia and he won the Moto2 race in 2016. Rins has yet to win at the track.

Cal Crutchlow is a point behind Rins and Zarco in seventh with Danilo Petrucci five points behind the battle in eighth. Andrea Iannone is ninth on 133 points and Jorge Lorenzo will look to return to competition after missing the last four races due to injury. Lorenzo sits in tenth on 130 points.

The MotoGP race is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

The Moto2 championship has been wrapped up and MotoGP-bound Francesco Bagnaia will look to close out his career in the series with his ninth victory of the season.

Bagnaia has seven podium finishes in the last eight races and he has never finished on the podium at Valencia with his best finish being fourth last year. Bagnaia will move up to ride for Pramac Racing Ducati next year in MotoGP. Miguel Oliveira will also be moving up to MotoGP in 2019 and he will finish second in the championship regardless of what happens on Sunday. Oliveira has two victories and 11 podium finishes but has not won since Brno in August. Oliveira will ride a Tech3 KTM next season.

Brad Binder will stay in Moto2 next season and he is looking for his fourth victory of 2018. Binder's three victories this year are his only podium finishes in 2018.

Fifteen points cover fourth to seventh in the championship. Lorenzo Baldassarri has 162 points and has a five-point gap over Álex Márquez. Joan Mír is two points behind Márquez and Sepang winner Luca Marini is seventh on 147 points.

Oliveira has won twice at Valencia, in 2015 in Moto3 and last year in Moto2. Binder won the 2016 Moto3 race from the track.

The Moto2 finale will take place at 6:20 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

Jorge Martín will move up to be Brad Binder's teammate next year in Moto2 but the 2018 Moto3 champion will look to close the season with his eighth victory of the year and his second consecutive Moto3 victory at Valencia. Martín won the most recent race at Sepang and he has started on pole position in the last two races.

Marco Bezzecchi is second in the championship on 214 points and he holds a nine-point advantage over Fabio Di Giannantonio. Bezzecchi has won three times this year while Di Giannantonio has won twice. Enea Bastianini is fourth on 166 points with Lorenzo Dalla Porta rounding out the top five on 151 points. Bastianini's only victory this season was at Barcelona in June. Dalla Porta won at Misano in September. Dalle Porta has been the runner-up finisher in three of the last four races.

There have been six different winners in the last six Moto3 races from Valencia and those six winners represented five different countries. An Italian has not won the 125cc/Moto3 race at Valencia since Simone Corsi in 2008.

The Moto3 race will take place at 5:00 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th.

Rally Australia
The World Rally Championship will decided at the finale and three drivers could take home the top prize in Australia. This is the first time the WRC title will be decided in the final round of the season since 2011.

M-Sport Ford driver Sébastien Ogier seeks his sixth consecutive championship and the Frenchman re-took the championship lead in the last round from Catalunya. Ogier has 204 points and a three-point lead over Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville. Toyota's Ott Tänak has an outside at the title with the Estonian 23 points behind Ogier.

Ogier and Tänak each have four victories this year while Neuville has won three times. All three drivers have six podium finishes this season.

Three different drivers have won the last three editions of Rally Australia with Neuville entering as the defending championship. Ogier won in 2015 and Andreas Mikkelsen won in 2016. Ogier's 2015 victory was his third Rally Australia victory. Toyota's two Rally Australia victories were with Juha Kankkunen in 1989 and 1993.

The last time a driver overcame a deficit to win the World Rally Championship in the final round was Sébastien Loeb in 2009, who trailed Mikko Hirvonen by one point entering the finale. Loeb won Wales Rally GB while Hirvonen finished second and Loeb took the title by one point.

Guia Race of Macau
Seven drivers are alive for the World Touring Car Cup championship entering the final round form Macau.

Gabriele Tarquini won the most recent race from Suzuka and the Hyundai driver extended his championship total to 291 points. Fellow Hyundai driver Yvan Muller trails Tarquini by 39 points with Muller's M Racing-YMR teammate Thed Björk rounding out an all-Hyundai top three and 53 points behind Tarquini.

Pepe Oriola is the first non-Hyundai driver in the championship and the SEAT driver sits on 227 points with Audi driver Jean-Karl Vernay on 216 points. Honda driver Esteban Guerrieri has 213 points and Tarquini's teammate Norbert Michelisz is the final driver mathematically alive for the title on 212 points.

Tarquini and Björk are tied for the most victories this season with four apiece. Muller and Vernay each have three victories while Oriola, Guerrieri and Michelisz all enter the finale with just one victory.

It is Macau and Rob Huff is entered. Huff has won nine Macau races and he has had at least one victory in eight of the last ten years at Macau. Huff is ninth in the championship and he has victories at the Hungaroring and Suzuka this season.

Tarquini was the 2009 World Touring Car Championship while Muller won the WTCC title four times. Björk won the WTCC title last year while Vernay won the TCR International Series championship in 2017. Oriola, Guerrieri and Michelisz are all going for their first championship.

The first WTCC race will be at 1:25 a.m. ET on Saturday November 17th. The final two races of the season will be at 7:20 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th and at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday November 17th.

Macau Grand Prix
This weekend marks the 65th Macau Grand Prix and 28 cars are entered for the event.

Dan Ticktum won last year's race and he will defend his victory. Ticktum will drive for Motopark and he is coming off a runner-up finish in the European Formula Three championship to Mick Schumacher. Schumacher will be at Macau driving for Theodore Racing by Prema. Schumacher defeated Ticktum by 57 points for the title.

Ticktum will have Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters race winner Joel Eriksson as a teammate as well as Ferdinand Habsburg. Habsburg led last year's Macau Grand Prix into the final corner of the race but hit the barrier on exit and slid to a third place finish. Eriksson was the fastest qualifier last year at Macau and he started second for the main race before retiring after two laps.

Callum Ilott started on pole position last year at Macau and he is back as one of four Carlin entries alongside Jehan Daruvala, Sacha Fenestraz and Yoshiaki Katayama. Ilott is currently third in the GP3 Series with one round to go next week from Abu Dhabi.

Team TOM's has entered the All-Japan Formula Three champion Sho Tsuboi and vice-champion Ritomo Miyata. Tsuboi won 17 of 19 races including ten consecutive victories to close out the season. Miyata won the other two races with Tsuboi finishing second in each.

B-Max Racing Team will have Super Formula race winner Yuhi Sekiguchi in car alongside Álex Palou. Sekiguchi finished fourth in this year's championship and his lone victory was in the rain-shortened race from Okayama.

Jake Hughes leads the F3 Asian Championship with a round to go and he will drive for Hitech GP. Hughes has won all nine races he has entered this season. He missed the second round of the season from Ningbo and the season closes next week from Sepang.

Ticktum could become the seventh driver to win the Macau Grand Prix in consecutive years joining John MacDonald, Arsenio Laurel, Vern Schuppan, Riccardo Patrese, Geoff Lees, Edoardo Mortara and Felix Rosenqvist. Schumacher's father Michael won the race in 1990 and his uncle Ralf won it in 1995.

The qualifying race will take place at 8:00 a.m. ET on Friday November 16th with the Macau Grand Prix scheduled for 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday November 18th

FIA GT World Cup
This year marks the fourth FIA GT World Cup from Macau. Fifteen drivers from five manufactures are entered in this year's race.

Edoardo Mortara is the defending champion and he is back in the #1 Mercedes for Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing. His teammates will be the 2015 FIA GT World Cup winner Maro Engel in the #888 Mercedes and this year's Blancpain GT Series champion Raffaele Marciello in the #999 Mercedes.

Audi won this race in 2016 and it looks to reclaim the title with four drivers entered. Christopher Haase is coming off a runner-up finish in the Intercontinental GT Challenge and he will be in the #28 Audi for Audi Sport Team Rutronik. Robin Frijns had two runner-up finishes in the DTM season this year and he will be in the #66 Audi for Audi Sport Team WRT with Dries Vanthoor as his teammate in the #88 Audi. Frijns was the runner-up finisher last year to Mortara. Adderly Fong will drive the #77 Audi for Zun Motorsport Crew.

Laurens Vanthoor won the 2016 race for Audi but the Belgian looks to get Porsche its first victory in the FIA GT World Cup. Vanthoor will drive the #911 Porsche for Manthey Racing with Le Mans winner and World Endurance Drivers' Champion Earl Bamber as his teammate in the #912 Porsche. Craft-Bamboo Racing will have Darryl O'Young and Mathieu Jaminet in the #55 Porsche and #991 Porsche respectively.

The only non-German manufacture entered for the FIA GT World Cup is Nissan and Nissan has three entries. Tsugio Matsuda leads the charge. The two-time Super GT GT500 champion will drive the #23 Nissan with Oliver Jarvis in the #35 Nissan and Alexandre Imperatori in the #18 Nissan.

BMW has one bullet in the chamber and it is DTM race winner Augusto Farfus. The Brazilian will drive the #42 BMW for Team Schnitzer.

The FIA GT World Cup will take place at 11:25 p.m. ET on Saturday November 17th.

Over or Under?
1. Over or Under: 188.5 laps completed by the 6 Hours of Shanghai overall winner?
2. Over or Under: 3.5 riders in the top ten of the championship improving their championship position after Sunday's race?
3. Over or Under: 15.5 points for Brad Binder this weekend?
4. Over or Under: 3.5 seconds covering the top five of the Moto3 race?
5. Over or Under: 0.5 Australians scoring points in Rally Australia?
6. Over or Under: 2.5 total championships between WTCC/TCR for this year's World Touring Car Cup champion after Sunday?
7. Over or Under: 1.5 teams on the podium of the Macau Grand Prix?
8. Over or Under: 1.5 manufactures on the podium of the FIA GT World Cup?

Last Week's Over/Unders 
1. Over or Under: 91.5 minutes elapsed time for the Motegi race? (Under: The race took 91 minutes and nine seconds).
2. Over or Under: 0.5 retirements on lap one? (Under: There were no retirements of lap one).
3. Over or Under: 14.5 stage points for Chase Elliott? (Under: Elliott had 14 stage points).
4. Over or Under: 20.5 being the worst finishing position for a championship eligible driver? (Over: Justin Allgaier finished 24th).
5. Over or Under: 3.5 starting position for the race winner? (Over: Brett Moffitt won from fifth).
Last Week: 3 Unders; 2 Overs. Overall: Unders 26; Overs 21

1. Nothing controversial, such as a disqualification from a session, happens to a Toyota entry.
2. Jorge Lorenzo gains at least one position in the championship.
3. A ride that is not heading to MotoGP in 2019 wins the Moto2 race.
4. An Italian wins the Moto3 race.
5. The WRC champion does not win Rally Australia.
6. Rob Huff wins a race but only one race from Macau.
7. Dan Ticktum does not repeat in the Macau Grand Prix but he finishes in the top five.
8. A new manufacture wins the FIA GT World Cup.

Last Week's Predictions
1. There will be at least one European race winner this weekend (Wrong! All winning drivers were Japanese).
2. The race lap record is broken by at least a half-second (Correct! Valtteri Bottas broke it by 0.504 seconds).
3. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. all remain championship eligible after Phoenix (Correct! All three are still alive).
4. The top three finishers combine to lead at least 170 laps (Wrong! The top three led a combined 95 laps).
5. There will be fewer than six cautions (Correct! There were five).
Last Week: 4/7. Overall: 24.5/42