Thursday, January 31, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: January 2019

We have made it through the first month of 2019 and what has happened? A pair of endurance races, a few driver announcements and a whole lot of nothing in some cases. Honestly, it has been a lot of talk but what else can you expect when NASCAR season is a month away and there is no longer preseason testing from Daytona, Formula One is just under two months but it is not like how it was a decade ago when teams would unveil cars in January and hit the track testing nonstop at the end of the month and IndyCar continues its marathon offseason.

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.

We start in Formula One because that is where it is nosiest.

There are at least five things I could list here and I am not sure which to put down first...

1. Teams being priced out at an alarming rate that only Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Renault will compete.

2. Escalating costs forcing too many drivers out of rides and lack of engine manufactures turn the series into DTM-plus where each engine manufacture has one star driver that the rest have to fall in line behind.

3. Television viewers dropping to a point where the series can no longer demand the high rights fees and leaves the series in a terrible position where teams will not get paid but also has killed off the fan base to a point that no one longer watching.

4. Fifteen races rebelling over the high price for sanctioning fees and turning Formula One into a farce of a series that fans around the world can no longer take seriously because it has to fill a 12-race schedule with races on makeshift street courses in authoritarian countries with no passion behind them.

5. The series cannot figure out the technical regulations and cannot get away from the high downforce levels, leaving races stuck as the processional affairs for many more seasons. 

None of those would be good things and they all could be closer to reality than we hope.

Good luck with that. It may never happen again in Formula One that a true blue privateer ends up competing for one championship let alone ends up becoming one of the greatest teams in Formula One history. Williams won many championships and hasn't been regularly competitive in 15 years. McLaren won many championships and has been lost. Racing Point doesn't have a prayer unless it partners up with a manufacture and that takes them to another level. 

Step one: Do not create a new F1 legends series. 

Step two: Look up the Fast Masters series to see why not to create it.

We tried this over 25 years ago, albeit with Jaguars on a makeshift road course on the oval at Indianapolis Raceway Park but we also tried this a little over a decade ago with single-seater cars in a series called Grand Prix Masters. GPM sanctioned three races over a two year period and folded.

No one wanted to see Eddie Cheever, Alan Jones, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Jan Lammers, René Arnoux and Riccardo Patrese competing then and I doubt anyone wants to see them run now. Hell, all of those guys have aged out of this series. We would be getting Ralf Schumacher, Jean Alesi, Norberto Fontana, Jarno Trulli, Olivier Panis, Jos Verstappen, Giancarlo Fisichella, David Coulthard, and Jacques Villeneuve of all people in a series and I doubt anyone wants to see that.

The last thing we need is a senior series. Motorsports doesn't need to be golf with a senior tour. If anything that is a misuse of resources when young drivers are struggling to find funding to keep going up the ladder and Formula One has become unobtainable for even the best young drivers without a fair chunk of cash. 

This is reassuring and depressing simultaneously. We are all a bit scared of change every now and then. It isn't bad to be scared. Sometimes we are afraid of losing something good that we have. That is reasonable.

We shouldn't always be afraid of change. Some change is good. Some change can make things better.

I don't know what Racer's Chris Medland wrote about because this all based on the headlines but maybe he is writing about a significant change in the Formula One schedule and the series moving on from Silverstone, Monza and other popular venues. I would disagree with that. Every series needs its tried and true venues. Imagine Wimbledon no longer hosting tennis or the Rose Bowl closing down and game disbanding or the Green Bay Packers moving to Boise.

There are things that should be held onto but there should also be things we are open if changes are proposed. It is all about finding a happy medium and knowing what is truly worth it. 

We need a quick break from Formula One...

Because American motorcycle racing was killed over ten years ago when Daytona Motorsports Group purchased the AMA Superbike series and ran the series into the ground while the recession followed, making it inconceivable for any manufacture to participate in the series and on top of that reduced television coverage because the series became a shell of its former self making it unappealing for all manufactures that led to a fractured series and the breakaway MotoAmerica series in hopes of resurrecting motorcycle racing in this country but the series and its riders have fallen drastically behind the European system as MotoGP manufactures focus more on finding the next best thing through Moto3 and Moto2, where riders from Spain and Italy flourish, while those competing in the United States are miles off.

Does that cover it for you? 

We know... you kept Verstappen and let Ricciardo walk. There was no need to come out and say that. We got the message from the actions last summer. 

As Mark Miles once said, purity is for the puritans. It is easy to cast oneself as a puritan but no one knows what that means.

There are people who would say Formula One isn't pure because of all the money it takes to be competitive and the high downforce levels that are dismissed as not being challenging enough for a driver.

There are people who would say IndyCar isn't pure because all the teams use one chassis manufacture and there are two engine manufactures that are forced to build engines to the same specifications.

There are people who would say NASCAR isn't pure because... well, its NASCAR, pick one of the 890 reasons why.

There are people who would say any sports car series that uses balance of performance isn't pure because it punishes manufactures who build the best cars and all those who did not build as good of a car to be competitive.

We can stay in this rabbit hole all day if we liked but it is foolish to think anyone is the standard of purity when it does not exist. Formula E is flawed. There are plenty of things that go against what we are accustomed to in motorsports but for anyone to think it is beneath them because isn't pure is ridiculous and soon enough Formula E will reach a level where those drivers, teams, crews and spectators believe it is the pure and above the rest. 

Speaking of electric...

This is a rationale view. The world is changing. The automobile industry is changing. Motorsports will have to change with the automobile industry. It might be down the road but a time is coming soon when automobile manufactures will on the verge of selling only electric cars and at that time it will have to decide whether or it can continue in motorsports and series will have to adjust with the manufactures.

Not every manufacture is going to go to Formula E and existing series are going to evolve in attempts to survive. Any series that completely dismisses the input of manufactures is bound to die and Atherton realizes that. He is not saying it is going to come up in 2020 or 2021 or 2022 but come 2030 we may be having a serious conversation about hybrid systems or all-electric automobiles entering the series.

The series you love the most should not hold its ground if manufactures start talking about adding electric compounds to the series. Adjusting to the times may decide whether that series survives or dies. If a series doesn't adapt quick enough then all the manufactures may be gone, all the money will be gone and it could be over in a few years.

We need to have an open mind as we go into the future and these philosophical questions about the identity of every series will have to be addressed, some sooner than you think.

Staying in the United States...

I don't think NASCAR drivers know whom the true them are.

We kind of have a problem in the United States when developing young talent in motorsports. We tell these kids from when they are nine years old that they have to be professional and learn to sell themselves and attract sponsors and they do that for their teenage days and then become adults, start entering the development series and it is ratcheted up even more. These drivers have to be salesmen and represent companies and they have to wear the shirt and talk the talk and when every driver in the series has been doing this since before puberty they all become robotic and one could be replaced for the other and we would never notice.

Other sports in the United States have a varied arrangement of personalities. Look at the NFL, for every Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson and Jalen Ramsey you have a Joe Thomas, Eric Berry and Larry Fitzgerald. You have the most vivacious people in the same boat as the more reserved individuals. In the NBA, you can have screwball players like Nick Young and J.R. Smith as well as the more complex types such as Victor Oladipo and JJ Redick. The NBA has a political dissident in Enes Kanter in the league. Do you think we would ever see one of those in NASCAR or IndyCar?

These drivers need to relax and the atmosphere around them has to change as well. Drivers need to become more rounded. How many drivers read? How many drivers have a hobby beyond video games? How many drivers are invested in world issues and feel comfortable speaking up for an oppressed group? We don't hear about those drivers.

Aaron Telitz may be the most original guy in American motorsports. How many drivers paint in their free time and not only paint but paint well enough to sell their work for money? That is only one item but it is more than most have.

And we also can't forget that fans only want to see the "true you" if they agree with it. At least that has always been the perception in American motorsports. I am not sure that will be changing anytime soon.

What tradition?

Think about the #24 car in NASCAR. The only driver to win in that car is Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon is the only driver to have won a championship in that car. That isn't a tradition. That is Jeff Gordon.

That car has no tradition. For almost 50 years the number was nothing in NASCAR. Then Gordon came along, won four championships and 93 races and all of a sudden the number has a tradition?

I think tradition is the most overused word in motorsports, whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One and so on. It is all bullshit people disguise as a gospel and it kind of goes back to what Jeff Gordon said above.

Byron should want to be himself! Fuck tradition! Be you. Don't worry about trying to live up to some unreasonable expectation that whoever is in the #24 car to do what Jeff Gordon did. Do what you can and be happy with whatever you accomplish. Don't let some number dictate whether or not your career was a success.

Get in line. Also, what if Schmidt Peterson Motorsports came knocking? Does it have to be Ganassi or are you open to other suitors?

And more importantly, Abreu isn't ready for Indianapolis. He might be a stud in a midget car and a sprint car but if he wants to attempt the Indianapolis 500 his next step shouldn't be into a cockpit on the first qualifying day. He should run at least the Freedom 100 and maybe a few other Indy Lights races on ovals. He has to get acclimated. Nobody just threw Abreu into the NASCAR Cup Series. He did a year in trucks.

I know IndyCar was talking about establishing a license system in an attempt to prioritize IndyCar-ambitious drivers to head to the Road to Indy series and preventing drivers from hoping into an IndyCar straight out of GP3 or any other junior series abroad. This system would likely prevent Abreu going from Chili Bowl to the Indianapolis 500 and that should be the case.

Abreu is a good driver and it is a shame he didn't get a second year in the NASCAR Truck Series but smarter heads must prevail and if IndyCar is serious about this license system it must be enforced accordingly even if we do not like its implementation. 

One month down, 11 months to go. Next month brings up Bathurst, Daytona and hopefully some warmer temperatures.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Does IMSA Need to Change Its Points System?

Rain significantly hampered the 24 Hours of Daytona but in the green flag action we saw, Fernando Alonso was tremendous, Kamui Kobayashi was no slouch and those two along with Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande won overall in the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac. Sebastián Saavedra had an accident while leading the LMP2 class but the subsequent red flag and the four-lap lead he had earned the #18 DragonSpeed Oreca-Gibson of Saavedra, Pastor Maldonado, Roberto González and Ryan Cullen the class victory. Richard Westbrook had to make a pit stop in the #67 Ford GT from the GTLM lead and a minute later the red flag came out. The green never returned and the #25 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing BMW of Connor De Phillippi, Augusto Farfus, Philipp Eng and Colton Herta won in GTLM. The #11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rik Breukers and Rolf Ineichen won in GTD for the second consecutive year.

Elsewhere in the world, Formula E was overshadowed in Chile. The World Rally Championship began its season in Monaco and a manufacture reached the century mark in an important statistical category. Jason Anderson got hurt in training during the week and will be out for a significant portion of the Supercross season. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Does IMSA Need to Change Its Points System?
The 24 Hours of Daytona is in the book. The race may stand above everything else that happens in the IMSA season it is a part of a championship and, while the winners might not be thinking about the championship lead they possess, those who left Daytona with a sour taste in their mouths see a mountain to climb with six weeks until they can begin clawing back the deficit in Sebring.

Not everyone is going to have a swell 24 hours. Somebody has to finish last. Somebody is going to lose a piston or have a suspension piece break. It can be a terrible start to a season but in some cases the start can be worse than it has to be.

In past seasons, the 24 Hours of Daytona has attracted many one-offs and those cars are awarded points in the championship. While a full-time car could have an early exit or severely fall behind the eight ball in Daytona, the blow to championship hopes could be significantly harsher if a full-time team comes out on top, which is very likely. In this case, the uphill battle may be insurmountable from the first race.

The best example off the top of my head is the 2007 Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype championship. Scott Pruett won the race in the #01 Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus while the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac of Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty finished 22nd. Gurney and Fogarty won seven of 14 races. Pruett won twice. Gurney and Fogarty won the title over Pruett by two points.

It isn't that Gurney and Fogarty's results in the other eight races were terrible. They ended the season with eight consecutive podium finishes. They finished ahead of Pruett in ten of 14 races but the one lingering thing in the championship was the Daytona result.

In 2015, Wayne Taylor Racing was disqualified from Daytona after a drive-time infringement and instead of finishing third, they finished 16th. That decision took 15 points away from Ricky and Jordan Taylor. The Taylor brothers won twice and had three runner-up finishes but despite this they finished fifth in the championship, 17 points off the champions João Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi.

This year's race saw the Mazdas finish ninth and 11th in class and now they are at the back of the championship having to fight uphill. Mazda isn't the first manufacture to have this happen. Someone has to be at the back after race one but the IMSA system puts a team like Mazda further behind than other systems.

The IMSA points system is slightly flawed. While the winner gets 35 points, second gets 32 points, third gets 30 points with fourth and fifth getting 28 points and 26 points respectively with sixth getting 25 points and it descends by a point from there. Every driver gets an additional point for participating in a race.

My biggest gripe with some points systems is not that it gives too few points to a race winner but it gives too many points to second place, third place and so on (looking at you NASCAR). If you want to make winning worth more the simplest solution is making finishing second worth less.

IMSA has had some close championship battles in recent years but the system plays into the hand of the championship leader. Last year, Colin Braun and Jon Bennett entered the finale trailing Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr by four points. A victory for Braun and Bennett would have won the championship on tiebreaker but second with Curran and Nasr in third would not have won Braun and Bennett that title.

In GT Daytona last year, Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow won the title from Katherine Legge by four points with Legge finishing second, one position ahead of the two in the race. Legge finished ahead of those two in seven of 11 races. She didn't have a disastrous race but her worst result was eighth at Sebring with a seventh at Road America.

What if IMSA had a different points system and one that awarded second place less?

My system of choice has always been the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system that Formula One used for three decades.

In that case, Bennett and Braun win the Prototype championship with 41 points, 11 ahead of Jordan Taylor and Renger van der Zande and 12 points ahead of Curran, Nasr and Filipe Albuquerque, who all finished tied with the tiebreaker going to Albuquerque. Dane Cameron and Juan Pablo Montoya would be fifth on 23 points with João Barbosa on 22 points and Pipo Derani/Johannes van Overbeek and Hélio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor tied on 20 points with tiebreaker to Derani/van Overbeek.

There would have been a tie in GTLM with Antonio García/Jan Magnussen and Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook tied on 43 points but the title would have gone to Briscoe and Westbrook on tiebreaker with the Ford duo having won three times while the Corvette pairing never stood on the top step. Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner would have been third on 37 points, one ahead of Joey Hand/Dirk Müller. Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor would have been tied on 34 points with Connor De Phillippi and Alexander Sims with the tiebreaker to De Phillippi/Sims with their two victories.

Like Prototypes, GTD would have finished in a tie. Sellers/Snow and Legge would all have 51 points.  The tiebreaker would have gone to Legge, who had four runner-up finishes to Sellers/Snow's one. Álvaro Parente would have been third on 38 points, as he ran most of the season with Legge. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating would have been fourth on 30 points with Cooper MacNeil on 28 points.

A major series hasn't used the 9-6-4-3-2-1 system in close to three decades now. I know that. Something a little more modern would be a more likely option and the FIA points system of 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 would make the most sense. Most series use it. WEC, ELMS and ALMS use it. It is common. People know it. It works. How would the system have changed IMSA at least for 2018?

Bennett and Braun still win the Prototype title with 120 points but only two points over Curran/Nasr and Taylor/van der Zande with the tiebreaker to Curran/Nasr. Albuquerque would be fourth on 109 points with Cameron/Montoya on 87 points, Castroneves/Taylor on 83 points and Goikhberg/Simpson on 80 points.

Briscoe and Westbrook would have won the GTLM title but not needed a tiebreaker, as the Ford drivers would have 155 points, three more than García/Magnussen, 15 points ahead of Gavin/Milner and 18 points ahead of Hand/Müller and Bamber/Vanthoor with the tiebreaker to Hand/Müller. De Phillippi/Sims would be sixth on 130 points.

The GTD title would have gone to Sellers/Snow with 175 points, six more than Legge. Parente would be third on 129 points with Bleekemolen/Keating on 123 points and MacNeil rounding out the top five on 114 points.

While the players would have remained the same in 2018, in a few cases the results would have been different. I think IMSA could do a better job of making sure winning a race was worth more and in this case it comes to diminishing finishing second. This change to the championship system would not diminish the series at all. The one thing it appears it would do is make getting a victory even more imperative to a championship push. Corvette would be looking back at 2018 quite differently with either of proposed systems above.

IMSA has a lot of things going for it and the racing is great. I am not sure a change is needed but one would not necessarily make things worse.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about the results of the 24 Hours of Daytona but did you know...

Sam Bird won the Santiago ePrix.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross race from Oakland, his second consecutive victory.

Marcus Armstrong won two of four Toyota Racing Series races from Hampton Downs. Artem Petrov won a make-up race after the rain-abbreviated Teretonga Park round. Liam Lawson won the third race of the weekend.

Sébastien Ogier won Rallye Monte-Carlo, Citroën's 100th World Rally Championship victory.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg and Olivier Panis split the Andros Trophy races from Lans-en-Vercors.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Bathurst 12 Hour rounds out 60 hours of endurance racing in four weeks.
Toyota Racing Series will be in Taupo.
Supercross returns to Southern California and San Diego.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

2019 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

Another January has brought us to the 24 Hours of the Daytona and while this will be the 58th edition of this race, this year's event marks the season opener to the 50th anniversary of IMSA.

This year's race will have four classes. The GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes return but the Prototype class has been split into the Daytona Prototype international class and the LMP2 class. This year's race has 47 entries, 11 in DPi, four LMP2 cars, nine GTLM and 23 in GTD.

The 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will have 12 rounds with Daytona opening the season and the 12 Hours of Sebring following on March 16. The third round will be at Long Beach on April 13th and will only feature the DPi and GTLM class. All four classes will be at Mid-Ohio on May 5th. On June 1st, DPi and GTD will run at Belle Isle. The third Endurance Cup race will be on June 30th at Watkins Glen and mark the halfway point of the season.

One week after Watkins Glen will be Mosport on July 7th. The GTLM and GTD classes will be on display on July 20th from Lime Rock Park. Road America is scheduled for August 4th. The second GT-only event will be August 25th at Virginia International Raceway. Laguna Seca will be the penultimate round on September 15th with Petit Le Mans closing the season on October 12th.

Another slight change is the introduction of the WeatherTech Sprint Cup for the GTD class. It is a separate championship that does not include the four endurance races for the GTD class. The Belle Isle round will only count toward the Sprint Cup and not the entire championship.

This preview will go through all 47 entries, why that entry could win at Daytona, why that entry will not win at Daytona and end with a brief full season prediction.

Daytona Prototype international
#5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
Drivers: Filipe Albuquerque, João Barbosa, Christian Fittipaldi, Mike Conway
Why this car could win: It is a Cadillac, this team won last year, has three-time Daytona winners Barbosa and Fittipaldi, it is Fittipaldi's final race and the team has the ever capable Conway rounding out the lineup.
Why this car will not win: Repeating is hard to do and there are five other Cadillacs in this race. If it slips up a bit it will be tough to come from behind.
What to expect for the full season: Another championship push! That is what the Action Express Racing cars do. Despite winning twice last season, Albuquerque and Barbosa had a rough 2018. The duo did not stand on the podium in any races outside of their victories. I expect that not to be the case in 2019.

#6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud
Why this car could win: It is Penske and has a strong lineup.
Why this car will not win: The pace was just off at the Roar before the 24 test and it may have to rely on force majeure to get to the front.
What to expect for the full season: Cameron and Montoya did not win a race last year despite being the better of the two Acuras last season. I think this pair remains the top Penske entry and gets at least one victory.

#7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Hélio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi
Why this car could win: Taylor has won this race before, Castroneves is a competent driver and Rossi does not take long to adapt to a new vehicle.
Why this car will not win: Its sister car might be a tad better and Rossi is going to be in his first outing with this machine.
What to expect for the full season: For a race winner, last year was a bit of a disappointment and the team had four results of tenth or worse. I think this team does better and I think it can get back to the top step of the podium.

#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Jordan Taylor, Renger van der Zande, Fernando Alonso, Kamui Kobayashi
Why this car could win: It is coming off a victory at Petit Le Mans, won two years ago and added Alonso and Kobayashi. How does it get better than that?
Why this car will not win: There is a Cadillac better or something goes wrong in the night.
What to expect for the full season: It took until the final round of the season for Wayne Taylor Racing to get a victory and I don't think that will be the case in 2019. I think this team wins multiple times and will be a title contender.

#31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Eric Curran
Why this car could win: The defending champions added Derani, one of the unheralded prototype talent who has won this race before and Sebring twice.
Why this car will not win: One of the other Cadillacs or this three-drive lineup will not be able to keep up with a fresher four-driver lineup.
What to expect for the full season: It is tough to repeat but this entry got better swapping Derani and Curran. I think we will have another season with the #31 Cadillac winning multiple races and in the title hunt.

#50 Juncos Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Will Owen, René Binder, Agustín Canapino, Kyle Kaiser
Why this car could win: It is a Cadillac and the team did not take long to get up to pace.
Why this car will not win: Outside of Owen, it is an inexperienced lineup when it comes to endurance racing.
What to expect for the full season: Owen is the only driver confirmed for the full season. It will come down to who the team gets to pair with him for the full year. I am not sure any of the other three drivers are capable of completing a pairing that could contend for the title in year one. This team may have good days but it will experience growing pains as well.

#54 CORE Autosport Nissan Onroak DPi
Drivers: Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, Romain Dumas, Loïc Duval
Why this car could win: It nearly won last year with an Oreca. Now it has factory Nissan backing.
Why this car will not win: For all of Extreme Speed Motorsports struggles the last few seasons, sometimes the car let them down. I am worried that Nissan could bite this team.
What to expect for the full season: On paper, this team should be fighting for the title again. It only got stronger by switching to Nissan. I think this team can win a race but takes a step back in the championship.

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, Olivier Pla
Why this car could win: Mazda was sneaky fast in the Roar and was the one manufacture to consistently keep pace with the Cadillacs. Pla is a great addition to the lineup.
Why this car will not win: It is Mazda. It may be quick but can it keep up the pace for 24 hours?
What to expect for the full season: I have already said this has to be the year it clicks for Mazda and Team Joest has pulled out all the stops to get the two Mazdas to the front. I think Bomarito and Tincknell move noticeable up the championship.

#77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Timo Bernhard, René Rast
Why this car could win: Jarvis set the fastest lap during the Roar and the team brought in Bernhard and Rast to round out the lineup. It is hard to believe it has been 16 years since Bernhard won this race overall with The Racer's Group. This is a tough quad to beat.
Why this car will not win: It goes back to it being a Mazda and this being a 24-hour race.
What to expect for the full season: I think this entry is closer to a race victory than the #55 Mazda. Jarvis can carry the weight and I think a lot of pressure will be on Nunez to performance. For a few seasons the lack of reliable from the Mazda has covered any driver deficiencies. If the team has everything squared away the performance of the drivers will be more pronounced.

#84 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Stephan Simpson, Simon Trummer, Juan Piedrahita, Chris Miller
Why this car could win: This team had a surprise victory last year with an Oreca at the 6 Hours of the Glen. Now it is a Cadillac. That is a big step up.
Why this car will not win: There are stronger entries out there and not just from other Cadillac teams.
What to expect for the full season: Simpson did well last year and Trummer will be his co-driver for the full season. I think this car takes a step back, however. This class is only getting stronger.

#85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Tristan Vautier, Misha Goikhberg, Devlin DeFrancesco, Rubens Barrichello
Why this car could win: Vautier has been underrated, Goikhberg is coming off fourth in the championship, Barrichello is getting a big opportunity and DeFrancesco is a young talent.
Why this car will not win: Vautier will carry the weight. Goikhberg is good but not great. Barrichello will be in his first outing with a DPi and has spent the better part of the last six seasons only driving Stock Car Brasil and DeFrancesco is an unproven talent.
What to expect for the full season: It would not surprise me if Vautier had a race or two where his performance alone got this car on the podium. I do not see it contending for race victories and with Mazda appearing to get stronger and Acura Team Penske likely going to take a step forward, JDC-Miller Motorsports is likely to fall back a bit. It will be interesting to see how this team compares to Juncos Racing.

#18 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Cullen, Roberto González, Pastor Maldonado, Sebastián Saavedra
Why this car could win: González took the LMP2 title in the WEC a few years ago. Maldonado is quick despite his erratic nature. Saavedra has some prototype experience.
Why this car will not win: You never know with Maldonado.
What to expect for the full season: This entry not to be there. It is only running Daytona.

#38 Perfomance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Kris Wright, Kyle Masson, Robert Masson, Cameron Cassels
Why this car could win: It is on the grid.
Why this car will not win: It is the true amateur of amateur entries and it is against tough opposition.
What to expect for the full season: This team potentially leaving IMSA to run in the European Le Mans Series due to lack of LMP2 entries in IMSA.

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Gabriel Aubry, Matt McMurry, Mark Kvamme, Enzo Guibbert
Why this car could win: McMurry has been a veteran since he was 18 years old. Aubry has done well in LMP2 competition with three victories this WEC season and he did it while balancing a GP3 season.
Why this car will not win: DragonSpeed has two better entries.
What to expect for the full season: Who knows because if it is the only full-time LMP2 entry I am not sure IMSA will continue the class.

#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Nicolas Lapierre, James Allen
Why this car could win: Hanley and Lapierre are experienced prototype drivers and Lapierre is good enough for a DPi entry. Hedman and Allen are respectable drivers.
Why this car will not win: This is the class favorite.
What to expect for the full season: Like its sister car, not to be here.

GT Le Mans
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Antonio García, Jan Magnussen, Mike Rockenfeller
Why this car could win: It is Corvette. García, Magnussen and Rockenfeller have seen it all and done it all. This team didn't win a race last season and still won the championship. It is due for a victory and Daytona is the kind of race to get off the snide with.
Why this car will not win: This class is too unpredictable and the most prone to sandbagging.
What to expect for the full season: Corvette always has a car in the title hunt and I think the #3 Corvette gets a victory or two. Another title is asking a lot.

#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fässler
Why this car could win: This team won the class three years ago. It is an experienced trio.
Why this car will not win: The #3 Corvette is hungrier for the victory.
What to expect for the full season: Gavin and Milner have been respectable but I am not sure this pair will be able to dominate. I don't think they will be in the title hunt.

Drivers: John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert, Alex Zanardi
Why this car could win: BMW is getting quicker. Edwards and Krohn will have a second season together and only can go up after a tough 2018. Mostert has grown into a GT driver from his Supercars roots. And this car has Alex Zanardi. This car could win on the story alone.
Why this car will not win: BMW might not be there yet. It will be interesting to see how they balance this lineup with Mostert and Zanardi each making debuts.
What to expect for the full season: I think BMW gets better results and with Krohn and Edwards together for a second season they could make massive strides.

Drivers: Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta, Augusto Farfus
Why this car could win: De Phillippi had a lot of success with Alexander Sims last season, but like Edwards a year ago, De Phillippi is now the lead driver. Eng has been a respectable driver and Herta is a thrilling young driver. Farfus has been in this race before and is familiar with the team.
Why this car will not win: A lot of turnover and the team being shaken after Tom Blomqvist, its slated full-time driver to pair with De Phillippi being denied a visa and not going to make it to Daytona. On top of that two drivers are making their 24 Hours of Daytona debut. There could be some kinks to work out.
What to expect for the full season: I think this team gets better as the year goes on. Blomqvist could be the breakout star of the season in the GTLM class.

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: James Calado, Miguel Molina, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon
Why this car could win: Calado and Pier Guidi are world champions. Molina has been quick in the Ferrari program. Rigon is a winner on the global stage.
Why this car will not win: It is a one-off and Risi Competizione has slid back from what it was in the days of the American Le Mans Series.
What to expect for the full season: It will not be full-time but hopefully it does all the North American Endurance Championship races.

#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
Drivers: Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Sébastien Bourdais
Why this car could win: It won the class two years ago, it won twice last season and it was second overall in a Ford 1-2 last year at Daytona.
Why this car will not win: Its teammate is strong. That could be the one thing keeping this car from the top step.
What to expect for the full season: This car will be a challenger. It should win at least once. Hand and Müller have a lot of history together. They won a championship together before. It would not be a surprise if they did it again.

#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT
Drivers: Ryan Briscoe, Richard Westbrook, Scott Dixon
Why this car could win: It won last year. Briscoe and Westbrook have been a great duo and adding Dixon only takes the car to another level. On top of that, it was the fastest GTLM entry at the Roar.
Why this car will not win: Repeating is hard to do and it might be the #66 Ford's year. Of course, you can never rule out something going wrong. It is a long race.
What to expect for the full season: This has to be the year Ford takes the championship and I think this car is the favorite of the two to get it. Briscoe and Westbrook has consistently been the best Ford entry.

#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Nick Tandy, Patrick Pilet, Frédéric Makowiecki
Why this car could win: This car was quick at the test. Tandy and Pilet won this race five years ago. All the Porsche drivers see to click. It is a well-run organization.
Why this car will not win: Ford is on its A-game.
What to expect for the full season: This car won at Sebring and Petit Le Mans and only finished ahead of the #24 BMW in the championship. This car should get better results in the non-endurance races.

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Mathieu Jaminet
Why this car could win: Bamber is great, Vanthoor is equal and Porsche would not put Jaminet in this position if it did not believe he was ready for this situation.
Why this car will not win: Jaminet might be caught out in his first big endurance race in the top class.
What to expect for the full season: Bamber and Vanthoor is a championship-caliber pairing on paper. They only had one victory last year and were good but good isn't enough. Part of me thinks this is the year it clicks and another part thinks this pair will just match what it did last year.

GT Daytona
#8 Starworks Motorsports Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Parker Chase, Ryan Dalziel, Christopher Haase, Ezequiel Pérez Companc
Why this car could win: This is a really good lineup. Dalziel and Haase bring the experience. Chase is quick for a young driver.
Why this car will not win: It is the team's first race with this car and there are experienced programs out there.
What to expect for the full season: Chase is an impressive young driver and Dalziel is phenomenal. It should not be a surprised if this car is in the title hunt in year one.

#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Scott Hargrove, Zach Robichon, Lars Kern, Dennis Olsen
Why this car could win: Hargrove proved everyone last year in Pirelli World Challenge and Olsen has a lot of experience with Porsche.
Why this car will not win: I am not sure this team has the talent yet to compete for the victory. There is a lot of talent at the top but it isn't there for all four drivers.
What to expect for the full season: Hargrove took a surprise title last year in Pirelli World Challenge. This is another step up. I think Hargrove will have some good days but Robichon will be learning.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart, Rolf Ineichen, Rik Breukers
Why this car could win: It won last year and it is an experienced team.
Why this car will not win: It is coming off a tough Dubai 24 Hour and repeating is hard to do especially for a one-off team that runs primarily in Europe.
What to expect for the full season: This car will not be full-time.

#12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo, Jeff Segal, Aaron Telitz
Why this car could win: Bell has won this race before, as has Segal. Montecalvo has been a good driver and this is a big break. Telitz makes his firs sports car appearance and he has been reliable and a quick learner in the Road to Indy.
Why this car will not win: This is a new team running the operation. There could be a few things this team has to learn before it can win a race.
What to expect for the full season: Bell has had a lot of success in GT competition including winning the 2015 GTD title. Montecalvo has had success in Pirelli World Challenge and he has finally caught a break. This should be the best Lexus entry but with a new team running the program there could be a few learning experiences.

#13 Via Italia Racing Ferrari 488 GT3
Drivers: Andrea Bertolini, Victor Franzoni, Marcos Gomes, Chico Longo
Why this car could win: It is on the grid.
Why this car will not win: Too much inexperience in this lineup.
What to expect for the full season: It does not appear this car will be full-time.

#14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Richard Heistand, Austin Cindric, Nick Cassidy
Why this car could win: Hawksworth is the one holdover from the 3GT Racing Lexus program. Cindric has some GT experience and Cassidy is a stud in Japan.
Why this car will not win: These are four drivers coming together without much chemistry.
What to expect for the full season: Hawksworth has a new co-driver and I think there will be some tough days but things will improve over the course of the season.

#19 Moorespeed Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Will Hardeman, Alex Riberas, Andrew Davis, Markus Winkelhock
Why this car could win: There is plenty of Daytona experience in this team.
Why this car will not win: New team making the step up to GT Daytona.
What to expect for the full season: This is a new team and while Riberas is a good driver there will be a lot of days fighting from behind.

#29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Christopher Mies, Daniel Morad, Dries Vanthoor
Why this car could win: It should have won last year if it weren't for a massive penalty for a pit lane violation regarding re-fueling the car.
Why this car will not win: It gets beat on the track or has another violation like last year.
What to expect for the full season: This car will not be full-time.

#33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga, Luca Stolz
Why this car could win: Bleekemolen and Keating are consistent winners. Stolz has spent a lot time in this entry and in Mercedes-AMG GT3 entries around the globe.
Why this car will not win: It just seems like Team Riley always has one bad race and it always comes in a big race.
What to expect for the full season: I think this is one of the championship favorites. This team can win anywhere.

#44 Magnus Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Andy Lally, John Potter, Marco Mapelli, Spencer Pumpelly
Why this car could win: This team has won this race multiple times. Lally, Potter and Pumpelly are American sports car veterans.
Why this car will not win: This is Magnus Racing's first race with Lamborghini. The team might still be getting used to the car.
What to expect for the full season: Lally and Potter are in new machinery but I do not think it will take long for those two to get up to speed. This team could make a title push.

#46 Ebimotors Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Emanuele Busnelli, Fabio Babini, Giacomo Altoè, Taylor Proto
Why this car could win: A Lamborghini won this race last year and Lamborghini won the GTD title last year.
Why this car will not win: It is a one-off with a few Daytona rookies.
What to expect for the full season: Nothing. It will only be at Daytona.

#47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Linus Lundqvist, Miloš Pavlovič, Don Yount, Steve Dunn
Why this car could win: Like the entry above, it is a Lamborghini and Lamborghini did well last year.
Why this car will not win: There are better lineups in this class and I am not sure it could put up a top ten result in class.
What to expect for the full season: This car intends on being full-time but has yet to announce a full-time lineup. Keep your expectations low for this entry.

#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Ryan Hardwick, Corey Lewis, Andrea Caldarelli
Why this car could win: Defending champions, Sellers and Lewis are back together and Caladrelli has been around the block.
Why this car will not win: Gone is Madison Snow and the team is going to be figuring out the slight change in the lineup.
What to expect for the full season: I don't think this car repeats. Sellers has a new co-driver and there will be a feeling out process. It will have competitive days but not like in 2018.

#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Daniel Serra
Why this car could win: It is Aston Martin's famed GTE-Am lineup plus Serra. These drivers know each other.
Why this car will not win: It is a one off entry and it is not an Aston Martin. It might be an unfamiliar setting.
What to expect for the full season: Daytona and only Daytona.

#57 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: Katherine Legge, Simona de Silvestro, Christina Nielsen, Bia Figueiredo
Why this car could win: This car is one of the top five favorites. Legge nearly won the GTD title last year. Nielsen is a two-time GTD champion. De Silvestro should be in IndyCar. Figueiredo is the artist formerly known as Ana Beatriz and this entry was respectable at the test.
Why this car will not win: It gets beat on the racetrack. The other downside is de Silvestra and Figueiredo do not have a lot of endurance race experience.
What to expect for the full season: Legge will have Jackie Heinricher as her co-driver. Heinricher is missing the opening round due to injury. I don't think Legge will be in the title fight and I am not sure it breaks the top ten in the championship.

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, Dominik Farnbacher, Jeff Westphal
Why this car could win: Vilander is a champion, Farnbacher should be full-time somewhere and MacNeil has plenty of success.
Why this car will not win: MacNeil has also had his down periods.
What to expect for the full season: MacNeil had a few tough seasons before last year and with Vilander as his co-driver he should be taken that next step forward. This car should be in the championship conversation.

#71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Dominik Baumann, Maximilian Buhk, JC Perez, Fabian Schiller
Why this car could win: Buhk has won a Blancpain Endurance Series championship.
Why this car will not win: It is an unfamiliar team and not many can come in and contend for this race victory.
What to expect for the full season: I am not sure. It might be full-time. It might be NAEC only. This might be its only race.

#73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Patrick Long, Patrick Lindsey, Matt Campbell, Nick Boulle
Why this car could win: Long is an underrated driver. Lindsey is doing very well in the WEC GTE-Am class, as is Campbell, who is a future Porsche star.
Why this car will not win: I want to say Lindsey or Campbell could be tired from WEC duties but they have been off since November so they should be well rested. This is one of the top five favorites in class.
What to expect for the full season: Long and Lindsey is a great pairing but with Lindsey having the final rounds of the WEC season on his plate during the early portion of the season it would not be a surprise if this team is fighting from behind after the first four rounds.

#86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: Mario Farnbacher, Trent Hindman, A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Marks
Why this car could win: Like his brother, Mario Farnbacher is a driver that should be full-time. Hindman is ready for this move up to full-time GTD driver. Marks has plenty of road course experience and Allmendinger is Allmendinger.
Why this car will not win: Its sister car might be stronger and with Marks and Allmendinger reducing their racing in 2019 I just wonder how prepared they are mentally and physically knowing they will not have the same grind once this race is over.
What to expect for the full season: Hindman is an emerging driver in GT racing and Farnbacher is a reliable driver. If one Acura will be fighting for the GTD title late in the season it is this one.

#88 Audi Sport Team WRT Speedstar Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Roman de Angelis, Ian James, Kelvin van der Linde, Frédéric Vervisch
Why this car could win: Vervisch is coming off a victory in the Dubai 24 Hour. Van der Linde has his been successful in endurance races around the world. James is a Pirelli World Challenge race winner and he is not new to Daytona.
Why this car will not win: It is a one-off and it is not the best lineup WRT could have brought to this race.
What to expect for the full season: It is a Daytona-only entry.

#96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Bill Auberlen, Robby Foley, Dillon Machavern, Jens Klingmann
Why this car could win: A lot of experience with Auberlen and Klingmann in this lineup and Machavern won in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, now the Michelin Pilot Challenge series.
Why this car will not win: I am not sure the BMW will have what it takes.
What to expect for the full season: Auberlen is back in full-time competition and he seems to make a car better. This team won at Watkins Glen last year but I think Auberlen and Foley might not a few races to get things figured out.

#99 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Klaus Bachler, Sven Müller, Steffen Görig, Jürgen Häring, Alfred Renauer
Why this car could win: This team has won the Dubai 24 Hour and Müller brings a lot of talent to the this team.
Why this car will not win: This race is a lot tougher than the Dubai 24 Hour and I am not sure Müller will be enough.
What to expect for the full season: This car will not be full-time.

#540 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Tim Pappas, Matteo Cairoli, Marco Seefried, Dirk Werner
Why this car could win: This is a really good lineup. Cairoli falls into a similar boat as Campbell. Seefried won this race with Magnus Racing not that long ago. Werner has plenty of Daytona experience.
Why this car will not win: There are a lot of good entries in this field and this team is running a daunting schedule with a race in Bathurst next week. It is asking a lot to balance 36 hours of racing a week apart and between the United States and Australia.
What to expect for the full season: This car will be at all the NAEC rounds while running the Intercontinental GT Challenge.

The 24 Hours of Daytona will begin at 2:35 p.m. ET on Saturday January 26th. NBCSN will broadcast from 2:00 p.m. ET to 5:00 p.m. ET before streaming coverage on the NBC Sports app will pick up coverage from 5:00 p.m. ET to 9:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will be back on the air from 9:00 p.m. ET to 3:00 a.m. ET.

From 3:00 a.m. ET to 6:00 a.m. ET on Sunday January 27th, the NBC Sports app will have coverage. NBCSN will pick up coverage at 6:00 a.m. ET and will show through the finish with a half-hour post-race concluding at 3:00 p.m. ET.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: When Could IndyCar Return to Japan?

Benito Guerra is the best driver in the world after winning the Champion of Champions competition at Race of Champions. Think about that: The best driver in the world is someone who has scored 14 points over a 13-year career in the World Rally Championship. How about that? Tom Kristensen and Johan Kristoffersson defeated the dominant Germans of Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher to win the Nations' Cup for Team Nordic. A driver who should be in the NASCAR Cup Series this year won the Chili Bowl. New Zealanders keep defending their home turf even if they needed an assist from Mother Nature. The Dakar Rally concluded. There was a first time winner in Supercross. IndyCar announced a new title sponsors and that is where we start. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

When Could IndyCar Return to Japan?
Relief fell upon the IndyCar community when a title sponsor was announced last week. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, otherwise known as NTT, took over from Verizon after the American held the reins for five years.

With relief comes excitement. IndyCar is not wading into the future without a co-pilot. The Japanese company will be there and can help IndyCar when it comes to developing an app, at track experiences and I am sure the teams will benefit from the companies abilities when it comes to data as well.

This isn't a consumer company. Do not expect commercials during the Super Bowl, Saturday Night Live or on a random Tuesday afternoon on TBS. People aren't going to follow NTT to IndyCar. Most people likely never heard of NTT. It isn't Coca-Cola, Apple, Amazon or Snickers. We need to keep that in mind during the season. We should remember this company is not going to expose IndyCar to millions of people who did not come in contact with IndyCar prior to 2019.

But the excitement was not just because IndyCar has a new title sponsor or the possibilities that NTT bring to the series or this announcement added on top of the new broadcast partnership with NBC but the excitement stems from an international company tossing its weight behind IndyCar and a company from a location IndyCar is familiar with.

It should come to no surprise that a wave of optimism of IndyCar returning to Japan followed in the aftershock of NTT's announcement. IndyCar went to Twin Ring Motegi from 1998 to 2011 with the first 13 trips being on the oval and the final trip flipped to the road course after the oval suffered damage from the Tōhoku earthquake.

It is kind of fascinating that Japan and Twin Ring Motegi in particular have become such beloved places for IndyCar fans. I am trying to figure out why that is the case and what I can come up with is a trip Japan is a big step for IndyCar. It is a flyaway race to another world power. It shows that IndyCar is more than just a North American series. IndyCar goes from a regional series to an international series with that trip.

On top of that, IndyCar is in need of ovals and at a time when oval races in the United States struggle to stick, Twin Ring Motegi might be the one venue that could work. While oval racing is not native to Japan, the one saving grace for a race at Twin Ring Motegi is it would be IndyCar's only trip to the country, the one chance for fans to see these teams and drivers. If there are IndyCar fans in Japan, this is their race to attend regardless of the type of course it is on. It is better to get 30,000 people at Motegi and make that work than get 10,000 at any one of six ovals in the United States.

Japan becomes a bit of a solution for one of IndyCar's lingering issues but it also must be noted that Japan has left an imprint on the modern IndyCar landscape.

As much as we associate Canadians, Brazilians, Australians and British drivers with IndyCar, Japan has been just as represented in the series in the last three decades. Consider that a Japanese driver has made at least one IndyCar start in every year since 1990. The last time there was not a Japanese driver in a IRL/IndyCar Series race (excluding the 2008 Long Beach race) was Kentucky 2002. That is a span of 269 consecutive races with at least one Japanese driver on the grid.

The increase in Japanese participation coincided with the arrival of Honda and Toyota to CART and then the IRL but Honda has become a beloved partner. For a while I felt Honda was viewed as a bad guy because of the spec-era when it was the only engine in town in a Dallara, the only chassis in town. However, we have come to adore Honda for all that it has done for IndyCar. The narrative has shifted. Honda was not the bad guy but stuck with IndyCar through one of the lowest points. Better yet, Honda hasn't cut back since Chevrolet re-joined the series in 2012. It doesn't have to field the entire grid but Honda continues to include IndyCar in television commercials, has kept up the two-seater promotion and has sponsored multiple races on the calendar.

It only feels right to have a race in Japan. The country, its companies and its drivers, have become a part of the IndyCar fabric. A trip across the Pacific seems necessary.

There is no intention for IndyCar to return to Japan and a return was not a part of the deal. While it would be nice there is a good chance IndyCar goes through the entirety of this deal with NTT and never turns a lap at a track in the Land of the Rising Sun. The race has to make economic sense and the teams have to get something out of it. Honda footed the bill all those years IndyCar went to Motegi. Honda isn't going to do that this time around and I doubt NTT's investment in the series should be used to send everyone to Japan. The money would be better used if spread around the series than focused on one race. If teams and their sponsors are not interested or do not see the value, and if the sanctioning fee isn't there to cover the expenses then it will not happen.

But let's say it is on the radar for NTT. When could IndyCar return? And I am not talking about 2020 or 2021 or 2022 but when in terms of month?

The IndyCar schedule is clustered and it was always difficult to squeeze Motegi into the schedule during the CART and IRL years. CART's first trips were in late-March and early-April and cooler temperatures were in play. It was much warmer when IndyCar visited in the middle of September in the final few seasons but a September race would not fit now with the end of the season and the series is not going to end the year at Motegi now that Laguna Seca is back on the schedule.

A trip to Japan poses a logistical challenge. The best case would be to have the week before and the week after off. It would allow the teams a week to get everything across the Pacific and used to the time change and then have enough time to pack and get back on American time. But with the number of races and how tightly packed the schedule is that is not easy to grant.

During the final years when Motegi was held in April it was run on consecutive weeks with Kansas. April has two IndyCar races now but with the movement of Easter it is always a different schedule. This year, Barber and Long Beach will be on consecutive weeks before three weeks off. That seems like an opening but Easter is April 21st. You would think the race could take place on April 28th but Easter is April 12th in 2020 meaning Long Beach will likely be the week prior and Barber will have to move after the holiday. Then there is the month of May and the last thing the teams want before three consecutive weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway followed by a doubleheader at Belle Isle and a race at Texas the week after that is a trip to Japan.

The room isn't there in March or April. The month of May is off limits. June is not happening as it already has three races. July has three races. The one opening is at the beginning of August but it is two open weekends between Mid-Ohio and Pocono. That means the teams would either have to go from Mid-Ohio to Japan in back-to-back weeks or have a week off and then run four consecutive weeks from Japan to Pocono to Gateway to Portland. Neither is happening in that case.

That brings us back to September and we already said it doesn't fit and it doesn't make sense for it to be a non-championship event after the season in either October or November. The last thing the teams need is a trip across the Pacific for a race that doesn't matter. The cost needs to be justified and an exhibition does not do that.

The IndyCar calendar is just starting to settle down. The last thing it needs is a massive upheaval to try and make one race in Japan fit. The constant shifting of races to accommodate other venues is what got IndyCar in trouble in the early days of reunification and it should not be repeated in this new and brighter era of IndyCar.

I would love IndyCar to return to Motegi and run that oval but the race has to make sense for both the series and the country. There is no point in doing a race that only suits one of the parties involved. A race will only be successful if prosperity for both is kept in mind.

Right now, it doesn't make sense nor is the money there for a return to Japan but things change. IndyCar has returned to Road America and Portland, will be returning to Laguna Seca and Surfers Paradise is the latest tease. If these venues can all return after a decade away, let's not rule out the same being the case for Motegi down the road.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Benito Guerra, Tom Kristensen and Johan Kristoffersson but did you know...

Christopher Bell won the Chili Bowl for the third consecutive year.

Marcus Armstrong won the only Toyota Racing Series race from Teretonga Park. The second and third races of the weekend were cancelled due to high wind conditions.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross Triple Crown event from Anaheim, his first career victory. Webb won two of the three races and finished in third in the final race behind Eli Tomac and Marvin Musquin.

Nasser Al-Attiyah won the Dakar Rally for the third time in the car class. It was Toyota's first Dakar victory.

Toby Price won the Dakar Rally for the second time in the bike class and it was KTM's 18th consecutive Dakar victory.

Eduard Nikolaev won in the truck class for the third consecutive Dakar Rally and it was his fourth class victory.

Nicolas Cavigliasso won the quad class in the Dakar Rally, his first career victory.

Francesco "Chaleco" López won in the UTV class, his first Dakar Rally victory.

Jean-Baptiste Dubourg and Franck Lagorce split the Andros Trophy races from Serre Chevalier.

Coming Up This Weekend
24 Hours of Daytona
The World Rally Championship opens the 2019 season with Rallye Monte-Carlo.
Formula E heads to a new course in Santiago.
Supercross goes to Northern California and Oakland specifically.
Toyota Racing Series hopes to race more than once at Hampton Downs.

Friday, January 18, 2019

2019 Race of Champions Preview

The 30th Race of Champions takes place this weekend in Mexico City with Foro Sol, the stadium located inside Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, hosting the event. At least nine different countries will be represented in this competition with 20 different drivers set to participate. Two past Champion of Champions winners are in this competition, both of which have also won the Nations' Cup before with two additional Nations' Cup winners also in the field. At least eight drivers will be making their Race of Champions debut this year with two spots still to be decided.

An eight-driver competition will take place on Saturday to decide the winner of ROC Mexico and the winner will get to compete in the Nations' Cup and in the play-in round of the Champion of Champions competition. There will also be the eROC competition for sim racers with the winner also getting to compete in the Nations' Cup and play-in round of the Champion of Champions.

This year's Nations' Cup is split into three groups. Group A features four teams while Group B and Group C each have three teams. The top two from Group A advance to the knockout round while only the group winners of Group B and Group C will advance. The winners of Group A and Group B will meet in one semifinal and the Group C winner will face the Group A runner-up in the other. Each round of the knockout stage will be a best-of-three races.

The Nations' Cup will be held on Saturday January 19th.

The Champion of Champions competition will have four groups of four drivers but the final spot in each group will be decided in a play-in, head-to-head race. The top two finishers from each group will advance to the knockout round. The top of the draw will have the Group A winner face the Group B runner-up and the Group B winner face the Group A runner-up in the quarterfinals. The bottom of the bracket has Group C winner facing the Group D runner-up and the Group D winner facing the Group C runner-up. The Grand Final will be a best-of-three races.

The Champion of Champions will be held on Sunday January 20th.

Nations' Cup
Group A
Best Result: 1st (2007-12, 2017-18)
Sebastian Vettel: 2018 Formula One vice-champion with five victories
Mick Schumacher: 2018 FIA European Formula 3 Championship champion

Best Result: Group Stage (2018)
Esteban Gutiérrez: Mercedes-AMG Simulator driver
Patricio O'Ward: 2018 Indy Lights Series champion

Infinitum Mexico
Memo Rojas: Fourth in the European Le Mans Series LMP2 Drivers' champion
Benito Guerra: Made four starts in the World Rally Championship.

Best Result: 1st (2000, 2004)
Pierre Gasly: 15th in the Formula One World Drivers' Championship
Loïc Duval: 17th in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters championship and he finished third overall in the 2018 24 Hours of Daytona

Group Breakdown: This group seems to lean toward Germany and France. Vettel is remarkable in this competition and he has won seven Nations' Cups, including all by himself when he last competed in 2017. Schumacher is a rookie but junior formula drivers have done well before in Race of Champions. Both Mexican teams have a shout. O'Ward is coming off a fantastic year with a Indy Lights title and successful IndyCar debut but Gutiérrez was on the sidelines for all of 2018. Last year, Rojas went 0-6 in the Race of Champions between both competitions and Guerra went 2-1 when he ran the Nations' Cup in 2012 but he went 0-3 in the Champion of Champions. On paper, it seems Gasly and Duval will advance but I think the Gutiérrez/O'Ward is their biggest worry.

Group B
Best Result: Semifinals (2004)
Hélio Castroneves: 7th in the IMSA Prototype championship with one victory
Lucas di Grassi: 2017-18 Formula E vice-champion

Daniel Suárez: 21st in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship
*ROC Mexico Winner

Sim Racing All-Stars
Best Result: Group Stage (2018)
Enzo Bonito: 2018 Sim Racing All-Stars representative
eROC winner*

Group Breakdown: This group leans toward Brazil. Castroneves has been here before and di Grassi is a rookie but experienced driver. Two of the teams still have undecided spots and we have not seen the late addition drivers fair well. Rudy van Buren represented the sim racers in the Champion of Champions and went 1-2. Bonito went 0-3 in the Nations' Cup and lost to van Buren in the play-in round for the Champion of Champions group stage.

ROC Mexico is a decent field. Last year's representative for Mexico, Abraham Calderón is in this competition with Pirelli World Challenge champion Martín Fuentes, NASCAR Mexico Series champion Rubén García, Jr., rally driver Ricardo Triviño, Nissan GT Academy's Ricarco Sánchez, rally driver Pancho Name, NASCAR Mexico Series driver Rubén Rovelo and rally driver Ricardo Cordero.

I think it is either Brazil or TELCEL Mexico but I think it easily goes to Brazil.

Group C
Team Nordic
Best Result: 1st (2005, 2014)
Tom Kristensen: 2018 Champion of Champions semifinalist
Johan Kristoffersson: 2018 World Rallycross Championship champion

Great Britain
Best Result: 2nd (2009, 2010, 2014)*
David Coulthard: 2018 Champion of Champions winner
Andy Priaulx: Currently eighth in the FIA World Endurance Championship World Endurance GT Drivers' Championship
* - England won in 2015 with Jason Plato and Andy Priaulx.

United States of America
Best Result: 1st (2002)
Josef Newgarden: 5th in the IndyCar Series championship with three victories
Ryan Hunter-Reay: 4th in the IndyCar Series championship with two victories

Group Breakdown: This is the toughest group to pick. Kristensen and Priaulx have each won the Nations' Cup before. Coulthard is the defending Champion of Champions winner. Kristoffersson had an impressive debut last year making the semifinals in the Champion of Champions competition and he missed out on the semifinals in the Nations' Cup on tiebreaker to Kristensen and Petter Solberg, who represented Team Nordic. Hunter-Reay has been shaky in this competition and he has advanced from the group stage of Nations' Cup in only one of his prior five appearances. History says this group goes to the Nordic team.

Knockout Round Breakdown: This sets up a Germany-Brazil semifinal and Team Nordic and France in the other semifinal.

The first semifinal goes to Germany. Vettel is not going to lose. Even if Schumacher loses his race it sets up for Vettel to run the rubber match and he will win it.

This France team is similar to last year's Germany team of Timo Bernhard and René Rast. Neither driver was the best for their country but they are damn good when compared to the rest of the field. I think this semifinal will need all three races and I give the edge to France.

Germany vs. France in the final and a rematch of the Group A matchup. Germany swept France in the 2012 Nations' Cup final with Vettel and Michael Schumacher knocking off Romain Grosjean and Sébastien Ogier respectively. I don't think that will be the case. I think this one goes all three races. Vettel gets a victory and as does the French driver that faces Schumacher.

I guess the question should be, who can beat Vettel? In the Nations' Cup, Vettel went 8-0 in 2017 in Miami, 5-0 in 2012, 5-1 in 2011, 2-3 in 2010, 5-1 in 2009, 2-1 in 2008 and 3-1 in 2007. His record in the Nations' Cup is 30-7! In chronological order, his losses have been to Travis Pastrana, Mattias Ekström, Andy Priaulx, Pastrana again, Tanner Foust and Priaulx again.

It is an odd bunch of drivers to lose to. Pastrana and Foust are far from the greatest in the world. Although Pastrana has Vettel's number. Pastrana beat Vettel in the group stage of the 2017 Champion of Champions. Ekström historically was great at Race of Champions and Priaulx is respectable.

This will be the second time Germany and France will have met in this competition. I am not sure Gasly can be the guy. Can Duval be the guy? Can Duval be the sports car guy to finally knock off Vettel?


Vettel isn't going to be stopped. Germany gets its ninth title.

The Champion of Champions
Group A
David Coulthard
Best Result: 1st (2014, 2018)

Tom Kristensen
Best Result: Runner-up (2005, 2011-12, 2015, 2017)

Patricio O'Ward
Best Result: This is his debut.

Round 1A:
ROC Mexico winner

Andy Priaulx
Best Result: Semifinalist (2007-08, 2011)

Group Breakdown:  This is a bit of experience against a bit of youth. I think Kristensen edges out Coulthard and O'Ward gets the other spot. I have Priaulx getting out of the Round 1A. It is kind of forgotten how much success Priaulx has in this competition. It should not be a surprise if he makes a run to the semifinals or beyond. The ROC Mexico competitors that could do the most damage are García, Jr., Sánchez and Fuentes. Regardless who wins the round 1A matchup I think this group will be very competitive.

Group B
Johan Kristoffersson
Best Result: Semifinalist (2018)

Lucas di Grassi 
Best Result: This is his debut.

Josef Newgarden
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2018)

Round 1B:
Loïc Duval
Best Result: This is his debut.

Hélio Castroneves
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2017)

Group Breakdown: This is a tight group and I think Kristoffersson wins it. He won his group last year. It will be a tough fight for second. Newgarden advanced to the knockout round last year and lost to Kristoffersson in the quarterfinals after he collided with the barriers after three turns. Newgarden did advance from a weaker group that featured two Saudi drivers and those were the two drivers he beat. Newgarden could benefit from having two debut drivers in his group but neither are slouches. I think Duval wins Round 1B and I think Duval would be the second best driver in this group if he gets out. Give me the Frenchman advancing.

Group C
Sebastian Vettel
Best Result: 1st (2017)

Daniel Suárez
Best Result: This is his debut.

Benito Guerra
Best Result: Group Stage (2012)

Round 1C:
Memo Rojas
Best Result: Group Stage (2018)

Mick Schumacher
Best Result: This is a debut.

Group Breakdown: We will pencil Vettel into the next round. This could be an interesting group if Rojas advances from Round 1C. I don't think that is the case however and I think this group will only have Germans advancing to the knockout round.

Group D
Pierre Gasly
Best Result: This is his debut.

Esteban Gutiérrez
Best Result: This is his debut.

Ryan Hunter-Reay
Best Result: Quarterfinals (2014)

Round 1D:
Enzo Bonito
Best Result: Play-In Round (2018).

eROC Winner

Group Breakdown: This is a hard group to call. Not one competitor stands above the others. What benefits Hunter-Reay is experience and he has advanced twice out of his five previous appearances. In 2014, he went 3-0 with victories over Kristensen, Pascal Wehrlein and Jolyon Palmer and last year, Hunter-Reay went 2-1 with victories over Castroneves and Rojas but lost to Juan Pablo Montoya. I think Gasly advances as well. Gutiérrez has been inactive for a year and the sim racers are too much of an unknown. You likely have to win twice to advance and last year van Buren won once. I am not sure lightning can strike twice.

Knockout Round Breakdown: Here is what the bracket would look like:

Kristensen vs. Duval
Kristofferson vs. O'Ward
Vettel vs. Gasly
Hunter-Reay vs. Schumacher

These are all crapshoots. They are all best-of-one race competitions. One spin of the wheels at the starting line, one bobble in a corner, one brush of the barrier and you are done. Your opponent is not going to make a mistake. Newgarden learned last year that cold tires can catch you out and if that happens you are out. There is no mulligan. There is no do-over.

On gut, I think Kristensen, Kristoffersson, Vettel and Hunter-Reay all advance. All the group winners. How likely is that to happen?

It happened in 2009. In 2010 and 2011, three of four group winners advanced. Only one group winner advanced in 2012 and 2014. There was no competition in 2013 and 2015 was only a knockout competition. Two of the four group winners advanced in 2017 and last year had three of four group winners advance. It has happened once out of seven possible competitions. That means 17 out of 28 semifinalists were group winners.

What about finalists? How many finalists won a group?

Obvious both in 2009, but both were group winners in 2010, one made the final in 2011, Coulthard was the only group winner to advance in 2014 and won the entire competition, both were group winers in 2017 and both were group winners last year. Ten out of a possible 14 finalists won a group.

Sébastien Ogier and Romain Grosjean are the only Champion of Champions winners not to win a group when the drivers won in 2011 and 2012 respectively and 2012 is the only year when no group winners made the final. Grosjean defeated Kristensen that year.

Give me Kristensen and Vettel to make the finals and Kristensen finally gets his Champion of Champions victory over Vettel 2-1.

The Nations' Cup will be held at 2:00 p.m. ET on Saturday January 19th with the Champion of Champions competition beginning at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday January 20th.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2019 IndyCar Silly Season Catch-Up

We are in the middle of the first month of the year. The reviews and previews are behind us. A few races have come and gone but we have yet to really get into the season. Most are still bunkered down under blankets waiting for warmer days trackside to return.

It has been awhile since we took a look at IndyCar heading into the new season and now is the best time to assess where we are at two months out from the season opener.

The IndyCar offseason starts with a mad dash for seats, a long holiday lull and ends with an even paced game of musical chairs from preseason testing to the season opener at St. Petersburg. The game has become more calculated with at most a pair of full-time openings available and a dozen opponents continuing to circle the water. Others see the writing on the wall and know while they might not be well positioned in this game they start to lean out of one fight and prepare to dart to the security of an Indianapolis 500 one-off. If you can't run full-time at least make sure you will be at Indianapolis.

The truth is most of you already know the lay of the land. You know the Penske drivers, the Andretti drivers, what Coyne is doing; who is staying put and who is moving on.

It is best to break it down like this:

Where Are the Open Seats of Substance?

That's it for the most part. The team has been awfully quiet about its sophomore season. Neither Max Chilton nor Charlie Kimball have been confirmed as returning but neither have been dismissed from the team.

The only thing swirling around this team are rumors.

Some think Chilton will run a reduced scheduled, something similar to Ed Jones with all the road course races. Kimball isn't out of the discussion but when the season ended it seemed word on the street was Kimball's sponsorship would not be enough for a full season in 2019 but it would take care of a good chunk of the season.

The only other name linked to the team is RC Enerson, who tested with the team last year at Circuit of the Americas and the team was not vocal about that at all. Enerson has spent the better part of the last two seasons on the sidelines. The Floridian made three IndyCar starts in 2016 for Dale Coyne Racing with his best result being ninth at Watkins Glen. Enerson ran in U.S. F2000 in 2013 and 2014 with him taking vice-champion honors in the second season. He was fourth in the 2015 Indy Lights championship with a victory at Mid-Ohio and his 2016 Indy Lights season ended prematurely after eight races to focus his attention and save his money for an IndyCar opportunity.

So That's Pretty Much It For Full-Time Seats?
Yeah, pretty much. Every other full-time seat is accounted for two months before the season opener.

On the Honda side, Chip Ganassi Racing retains Scott Dixon and partners him with Felix Rosenqvist.

No changes to the Andretti Autosport lineup with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach returning and the same is true for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with both Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato staying put.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Dale Coyne Racing each see one change. At SPM, Marcus Ericsson joins the team alongside James Hinchcliffe. Coyne keeps Bourdais and has added Santino Ferrucci.

Honda has added a new team with Harding Steinbrenner Racing switching over from Chevrolet. Patricio O'Ward and Colton Herta will be the team's two drivers.

Team Penske will continue to lead Chevrolet with Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. A.J. Foyt Racing continues at the rear and it has kept Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan onboard. Ed Carpenter Racing keeps Spencer Pigot full-time while Carpenter will share the #20 Chevrolet with Ed Jones this season. And then there are the two unannounced Carlin entries and that is it when it comes to full-time entries.

We are looking at 14 Honda entries and nine Chevrolet entries, just shy of two-dozen with 23 full-time entries on the books.

What About Part-Time Teams? Are Any Of Those Expanding?

Meyer Shank Racing will be back with Jack Harvey and it appears the team is set to run more in 2019. Last year, MSR ran six races, St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio, Portland and Sonoma. Ten races has been the stated goal for the 2019 season but those races have not been announced yet.

Juncos Racing made 12 appearances in 2018 with three different drivers and the team has yet to announce anything for 2019. The team has expanded its operations into IMSA's DPi class with a Cadillac entry. Marshall Pruett said on his podcast last week that the team plans on running two cars for the Indianapolis 500.

There will be a new team on the grid in 2019. DragonSpeed will run five races with Ben Hanley. Hanley has driven for the team the last few seasons in the European Le Mans Series and FIA World Endurance Championship with DragonSpeed. The team will contest at St. Petersburg, Barber, Indianapolis, Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team will use Chevrolet engines.

And then there is McLaren, which will field a Chevrolet-powered car for Fernando Alonso in the Indianapolis 500.

Should We Be Worried About Juncos Racing?

Growth is not a straight line. It is not as easy as going from one race to 12 races to all the races. There are peaks and valleys and it takes time.

If the team is having more success putting together a sports car entry then that is fine. It is how the world works. There is demand for drivers looking for sports car opportunities and Juncos is meeting that demand. Good for Ricardo Juncos and his team.

And if the team never blossoms into a full-time IndyCar entry, do not panic, do not think there is something wrong with the system or IndyCar has to do more to drive down costs. For some teams it will work and for others it will not.

You are going to win some and you are going to lose some. I would love for Juncos Racing to field full-time entries in each IMSA and IndyCar but I would be just as happy if Juncos kept its doors open, kept up its successful Road to Indy program and was in a series that made financial sense for the team.

Indianapolis 500 Entries: Where Are We Now?
In a good spot.

We listed 23 full-time entries. Add Shank, Juncos' possible two, DragonSpeed, McLaren, Ed Jones running a third Ed Carpenter Racing entry in partnership with Scuderia Corsa, Jordan King has been confirmed in a third Rahal Letterman Lanigan entry and Hélio Castroneves will be back in the #3 Chevrolet for Team Penske and we are at 31 entries and two away from the promised land.

Andretti Autosport always runs at least one additional car. A.J. Foyt Racing runs an additional car even in years when Foyt himself says the team isn't running an additional car. Coyne has run an additional car frequently. Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will likely field a car and last year the team fielded two. I wouldn't count out D&R doing the same in 2019. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has a history running an additional entry.

If all the entries in the paragraph above materialize, we are looking at 37 entries; two more than last year and that seems a tad high.

Some have speculated that we could see 38-40 entries with thoughts that McLaren could run two cars, Ganassi fielding an extra entry for someone of the likes of Kurt Busch and another team, such as Carlin, fielding an additional entry for Indianapolis.

I think we are going to see bumping this year and I think we are going to see more cars bumped than in 2018 but I have a hard time thinking Honda and Chevrolet are going to pony up enough engine leases to get over three-dozen entries.

Consider that of the 31 entries will have on paper the split is currently 16 to Honda and 15 to Chevrolet. If we are talking about 40 entries then in all likelihood it will have to be a 20-20 split and while that seems within touching distance at the current moment, those four and five extra entries are difficult to get to.

Last year, Honda topped Chevrolet in terms of entries at 19-16. If we take the proposed 37 entries from a few paragraphs above the split would be 19 Honda entries and 17 Chevrolet entries. Honda is maxed out. Pretty much every Honda team runs an additional entry. The only place to expand is with a third Ganassi entry and I am not sure that happens. Chevrolet is where there is room for expansion but event that is limited. Every full-time Chevrolet team but Carlin has plans to field an extra car then you have three more Chevrolet teams coming in for Indianapolis, two of which could run two entries. It is hard to see any more than 36-37 entries.

The crazy thing is we are hemming and hawing over the possible 37th, 38th, 39th and 40th entries for the Indianapolis 500 and it was not that long ago we were stretching just hoping to get to 34. Forget a good spot, the Indianapolis 500 is in a great position in January!

What Should We Expect?
In these final two months we should expect testing and possibly another few names entering the fold and those could be names that many in IndyCar circles are not familiar with.

Jordan King was announced as the road/street course driver for the #20 Chevrolet on January 4th last year. René Binder was confirmed for four races, which eventually expanded to six, with Juncos Racing the next day. Pietro Fittipaldi's part-time schedule with Dale Coyne Racing wasn't announced until February 6th. None of those three were really on the radar when the 2017 season ended.

We aren't entirely sure what the Carlin lineup will look like, whether Chilton will be full-time and the second car will be split or whether both cars will be split amongst four or five drivers but let's expect a few drivers to be slipping in out of seats in the coming tests, whether those be at Sebring, Laguna Seca or Austin.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Dream Race of Champions

BMW ruined the bed in Morocco and it allowed Jérôme d'Ambrosio to get his first victory on track in his Formula E career and his first victory on track since the 2010 Monaco sprint race in GP2. There was a staggered restart and a first time winner in Supercross. German manufactures remain unbeaten in the Dubai 24 Hours. New Zealanders defended their house. Daniel Suárez got a new ride. IndyCar released its television schedule. The Dakar Rally continues on although one competitor was tossed after running over a spectator. The spectator has a broken femur but is still alive. That is a grim note to end on. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Dream Race of Champions
Coming up this weekend is one of my favorite events of the motorsports year. It is the Race of Champions. I still haven't figured out why I like it so much or why I take it as seriously as I do but it is what it is and it is that time of year again.

Mexico hosts this year's event and as with most Race of Champions we are less than a week away and we still do not have a full entry list announced. We will be getting driver announcements on a daily basis likely from now until the start of the competition on Saturday. It is disappointingly unprofessional. It is bad enough that we don't find out the location of the next Race of Champions until two months before the event.

Race of Champions could be a bigger event if people knew the date and location at least nine to ten months in advance and the lineup should be known at least a month or two out. The entire schedule should be known. We know the matches for a World Cup six months in advance. We should be going into Race of Champions knowing who is meeting whom in the group stages and knowing what the knockout round match ups could be.

The Race of Champions needs to take it to the next level and start taking itself seriously.

How great could this event be?

It should feature 32 countries, 32 pairs of drivers. It should be a three-day event. The first day should be just the group stage of the Nations Cup with two sessions, one in the day and one at night. Day two should be the knockout stage of the Nations Cup and day three should be a 64-driver single-elimination tournament to decide the Champion of Champions.

This is what it should look like (P.S. It is a lot harder to come up with 32 countries and driver pairings that I first thought it would be but I made it work):

Group A (The Alps Group)
Germany: Sebastian Vettel and René Rast
Why These Two Drivers: Vettel is one of the best drivers in this tournament and until someone regularly beats him Vettel should always represent Germany. Mick Schumacher has already been announced for Germany this year but Rast is an underrated driver. He won the Nations Cup last year with Timo Bernhard, a DTM title in 2017 and he ended 2018 with six consecutive victories and fell short in the championship. Plus, Rast is a strong sports car driver in prototypes and GT cars.
Notable Snubs: Bernhard, Nico Hülkenberg, André Lotterer

Austria: Richard Lietz and Lucas Auer
Why These Two Drivers: Lietz has been one of Porsche's best drivers with a world championship and three class victories at Le Mans to show for it. Austria doesn't have a deep lineup but Auer did well in DTM and he moves on to Super Formula.
Notable Snub: Philipp Eng

Switzerland: Sébastien Buemi and Neel Jani
Why These Two Drivers: Switzerland has never run at the Race of Champions and it should field a team. Buemi and Jani are World Endurance Drivers' Champions, both are Le Mans winners and both have been successful in single-seaters.
Notable Snubs: Marcel Fässler, Simona de Silvestro

France: Sébastien Ogier and Jean-Éric Vergne
Why These Two Drivers: Ogier has won the Champion of Champions competition before and he has won six consecutive World Rally titles. Vergne won the Formula E title and he has had plenty of success in LMP2 competition. They got championships to their names and that is why certain Formula One drivers are not in France's lineup.
Notable Snubs: Sébastien Bourdais, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Loïc Duval, Simon Pagenaud

Group B (The North Sea Group)
England: Lewis Hamilton and Sam Bird
Why These Two Drivers: One is a five-time World Drivers' Champion and the other is regular winner in Formula E and GT competition. Also, England is lacking exciting young drivers. Norris and Russell aren't there yet.
Notable Snubs: Jenson Button, James Calado, Mike Conway, Lando Norris, George Russell

Scotland: David Coulthard and Paul di Resta
Why These Two Drivers: Coulthard is a two-time Champion of Champions winner and di Resta was vice-champion in DTM while having successful LMP2 outings with United Autosports. In a similar vain to England, not a lot of exciting young Scottish drivers coming up the pipe and it is more concerning that England.

Netherlands: Max Verstappen and Jeroen Bleekemolen
Why These Two Drivers: Verstappen won twice last year in Formula One. Bleekemolen is one of the best GT drivers in the world not with a factory program. Someone has to wake up and get him a sweet gig although it doesn't seem to matter where he goes. He is victorious everywhere.
Notable Snubs: Robin Frijns, Renger van der Zande

Belgium: Laurens Vanthoor and Thierry Neuville
Why These Two Drivers: Vanthoor has won a lot and he is a Porsche factory driver. Neuville let the World Rally Championship slip through his fingers but he is the next best Belgian driver and you want a diverse pairing. Rally drivers do well in this competition.
Notable Snubs: Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Dries Vanthoor, Bertrand Baguette

Group C (The Americas)
United States: Alexander Rossi and Colin Braun
Why These Two Drivers: Read This...
Notable Snubs: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Kyle Busch, Patrick Long, Ricky Taylor, Jordan Taylor, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick

Canada: James Hinchcliffe and Bruno Spengler
Why These Two Drivers: Because Canada's most exciting driver is not able to compete. You know Robert Wickens would be the number one driver for Canada. Hinchcliffe is good, Spengler is a DTM champion and Lance Stroll isn't good enough.
Notable Snubs: Nicholas Latifi, Zachary Claman De Melo

Mexico: Sergio Pérez and Patricio O'Ward
Why These Two Drivers: I nearly had Daniel Suárez and O'Ward because Pérez slipped my mind but Pérez is the best Mexican driver in the world. Why O'Ward over Suárez? He is 20 years old, has won in Prototype Challenge, Indy Lights and was bad fast in his first IndyCar outing.
Notable Snubs: Suárez, Memo Rojas, Esteban Gutiérrez

Brazil: Hélio Castroneves and Lucas di Grassi
Why These Two Drivers: I stuck with the actually lineup for Brazil because Castroneves is sneaky good and di Grassi probably should be in Formula One. Brazil is in a place though where it could have three or four teams, however.
Notable Snubs: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Tony Kanaan, Augusto Farfus, Pietro Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Jr.

Group D (Scandinavia)
Sweden: Felix Rosenqvist and Johan Kristoffersson
Why These Two Drivers: Because Rosenqvist should be in Formula One and has succeeded in everything he has every gotten behind the wheel of and Kristoffersson did well last year in the Race of Champions and he just won the World Rallycross title after winning 11 of 12 races. By the way, Scandinavia is too deep to just be Team Nordic. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway should all have their own teams.
Notable Snub: Marcus Ericsson

Denmark: Tom Kristensen and Kevin Magnussen
Why These Two Drivers: Because Kristensen has been knocking on the door of winning Champion of Champions for year and he has won the Nations Cup. I nearly had both Magnussens as a team but Kevin is coming off his best season in Formula One.
Notable Snubs: Jan Magnussen, Nicki Thiim, Michael Christensen, Christian Nielsen, Marco Sœrensen

Finland: Toni Vilander and Valtteri Bottas
Why These Two Drivers: Because Kimi Räikkönen would never do it. Vilander is a Pirelli World Challenge champion and he has plenty of victories in GT competition. Bottas drive for Mercedes-Benz in Formula One. By the way, Finland hasn't had a participant in Race of Champions since Juho Hänninen in 2011!
Notable Snubs: Räikkönen, Jari-Matti Latvala, Esapekka Lappi.

Norway: Andreas Mikkelsen and Petter Solberg
Why These Two Drivers: Because Norway does not have much else to choose from. But Solberg has won the Nations Cup and does well in this event and Mikkelsen is the best Norway has got but shout out to Porsche driver Dennis Olsen. Maybe next year bud.

Group E (The Mediterranean Group)
Italy: Raffaele Marciello and Alessandro Pier Guidi
Why These Two Drivers: Because Antonio Giovinazzi isn't match fit, Marciello won a bunch last year in Blancpain GT Series and Pier Guidi is the defending World Endurance GT Drivers' champion.
Notable Snubs: Giovinazzi, Gianmaria Bruni, Mirko Bortolotti, Davide Rigon

Spain: Fernando Alonso and Antonio García
Why These Two Drivers: It is Alonso and García won the IMSA GT Le Mans title.
Notable Snubs: Miguel Molina

Portugal: Filipe Albuquerque and António Félix da Costa
Why These Two Drivers: Albuquerque has won Champion of Champions in 2010 and since then he has become a great sports car driver. Da Costa never got a shot at Formula One and he has become BMW's hidden gem and has won in Formula E and maybe should have two victories.

Monaco: Charles Leclerc and Stéphane Richelmi
Why These Two Drivers: Because I could form a pairing of Monegasque drivers and every pairing I could get was getting added to the competition but in all seriousness, Leclerc is at Ferrari and Richelmi has had a good career in sports cars after decent success in junior formula series.

Group F (The Rugby Championship)
South Africa: Kelvin van der Linde and Sheldon van der Linde
Why These Two Drivers: They were the only two South African drivers I could think of that are a decent age and moderately successful. Kelvin could be following the footsteps of Laurens Vanthoor.

Australia: Daniel Ricciardo and Will Power
Why These Two Drivers: Why not these two drivers? Australia has a lot of great drivers. These two are head and shoulders above the rest.
Notable Snubs: Jamie Whincup, Matt Campbell, Craig Lowndes

New Zealand: Scott Dixon and Nick Cassidy
Why These Two Drivers: One is Scott Dixon and Cassidy was vice-champion in Super GT and Super Formula. Cassidy is diverse and young and the best kept secret in Japan.
Notable Snubs: Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen, Brendon Hartley, Mitch Evans

Argentina: José María López and Esteban Guerrieri
Why These Two Drivers: López turned touring car success into a Toyota LMP1 ride and Guerrieri is good in touring cars. Outside of that the pool is not deep for Argentina.

Group G (The Yeesh Group or the "I have built the table and have four extra parts" Group)
Colombia: Juan Pablo Montoya and Carlos Muñoz
Why These Two Drivers: Montoya is the best of our generation and a Champion of Champions winner. Muñoz is underrated and someone in IndyCar should give him a full-time ride.

Venezuela: Pastor Maldonado and EJ Viso
Why These Two Drivers: Because I was able to find two Venezuelan drivers and was stretching for 32 pairs. Plus, deep down you want to see what Maldonado could do in this competition and you know he could end up in the final eight or not win a race and lose each time in a different spectacular fashion.

Russia: Romain Rusinov and Mikhail Aleshin
Why These Two Drivers: Rusinov is the best driver who doesn't want to leave LMP2 competition and Aleshin is a fearless driver. Plus, I can't take Daniil Kvyat seriously.

Estonia: Ott Tänak and Ralf Aron
Why These Two Drivers: Tänak nearly won the World Rally title last year and he has developed nicely over the last few seasons. Aron has been respectable in Formula Three but it feels like he is going to end up like Tio Ellinas, Facu Regalia and Luca Ghiotto who are really good in Formula Three/GP3 and then stall out.

Group H (The Asia Group)
Japan: Naoki Yamamoto and Kazuki Nakajima
Why These Two Drivers: Yamamoto won both Super Formula and Super GT GT500 championships in 2018 and Nakajima is coming off a win at Le Mans and leads the World Endurances Drivers' Championship. Nakajima has had a great career for himself in Japan as well.
Notable Snubs: Takuma Sato, Kamui Kobayashi, Ryō Hirakawa

China: Ho-Pin Tung and Ye Yifei
Why These Two Drivers: Tung has done well in LMP2 competition. Yifei won the French F4 Championship a few years ago and he was third in Formula Renault Eurocup in 2018.

United Arab Emirates: Ed Jones and Khaled Al Qubaisi
Why These Two Drivers: Jones has shown promise in IndyCar and Al Qubaisi was in this competition last year.

Thailand: Alexander Albon and Sandy Stuvik
Why These Two Drivers: Albon is getting a Formula One drive and even if he wasn't he was set to be in Nissan's Formula E program. Albon was third in the Formula Two championship last year behind George Russell and Lando Norris. Stuvik won the Euroformula Open Championship in 2014, had two rough years in GP3 and then moved to GT3 competition where he has been slightly better.

The bracket for the knockout round held on day two would look like this:

It could set up a Germany-England meeting in the round of 16. The Americas would face Scandinavia in the first knockout round. The best of the Mediterranean would face the best of the Southern Hemisphere and a China vs. Russia match could happen in the round of 16. One other change I would make is every round would be a best-of-three with the final being best-of-five.

As for the Champion of Champions competition, how do you seed a 64-driver field?

The best thing I could come up with is super license points but even that is a bit tricky. Those with a super license do not have points and there are some drivers that participate in series that do not receive super license points, most notably the World Rally Championship. Then there are competitors that are not active or have not been active and have zero points but are clearly better than that, most notably Tom Kristensen and David Coulthard. Also, the most updated super license points I could find was prior to the 2018 season and I wasn't going to do the math and deduct the 2015 points and add in the 2018 totals so the 2017 numbers is what I use. Deal with it.

Here is what I did:

I gave all drivers with a super license 200 points, which means they are all top seeds.

I gave Sébastien Ogier 100 points, Kristensen 100 points, Coulthard 40 points and Thierry Neville, Petter Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen all got five points.

The best way to explain this is to go seed-by-seed.

One Seeds: Lewis Hamilton, Sebastien Vettel, Max Verstappen, Lucas di Grassi
Why: The top three were no brainers and I included di Grassi, one, to make it different and reward a driver successful in something other than Formula One who still has a super license and, two, because the seeding really doesn't matter. One seeds and two seeds are about the same.

Two Seeds: Charles Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso
Why: They all good. You put Leclerc in the same quarter as Hamilton, Bottas with Vettel, Ricciardo with Verstappen and Alonso with di Grassi. One seeds and two seeds are about the same.

Three Seeds: Sergio Pérez, Kevin Magnussen, Sébastien Buemi, Sébastien Ogier
Why: You get the super license drivers out of the way, Buemi has the most points amongst non-super licensed drivers and Ogier has won six consecutive World Rally titles.

Four Seeds: Tom Kristensen, Neel Jani, Scott Dixon, Kazuki Nakajima
Why: All these guys feel like four seeds. Kristensen and Ogier were tied on 100 points but I gave Ogier the advantage and the better seeding since he is active.

Five Seeds: Felix Rosenquvst, Sam Bird, Will Power, Nick Cassidy
Why: Like the four seeds, these all seem about right.

Six Seeds: David Coulthard, Laurens Vanthoor, Alexander Rossi, Hélio Castroneves
Why: Coulthard, Vanthoor and Cassidy were all tied and Cassidy's diversity got him in the better seed. It makes sense that Castroneves is a six-seed.

Seven Seeds: José María López, Romain Rusinov, Filipe Albuquerque, Juan Pablo Montoya
Why: Rusinov seems a bit high because he has only been an LMP2 driver and Montoya probably would have been higher if he remained active in IndyCar.

Eight Seeds: Alexander Albon, Raffaele Marciello, Ho-Pin Tung, René Rast
Why: Albon is this high from his Formula Two success and Marciello is living off his GP2 success. Tung is like Rusinov with a boost from LMP2 competition. Rast could be a bit higher.

Nine Seeds: Antonio García, Naoki Yamamoto, Stéphane Richelmi, Ralf Aron
Why: GT success is not worth that much but you would have to think Yamamoto's 2018 season would leap him up a few seeds. Aron is a bit high. When there are 64 drivers, somebody has to be in the back half and when you lay all the names out on paper you face that reality.

Ten Seeds: Richard Lietz, Jean-Éric Vergne, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Paul di Resta
Why: GT racing is not heavily weighed and Vergne slipped a bit but his Formula E title would likely have boosted him up into at least a six-seed if we had the most updated super license points. It at least sets up a high seed to make a run in the tournament.

Eleven Seeds: Thierry Neuville, Petter Solberg, Andreas Mikkelsen, Bruno Spengler
Why: Those five points gets these three rally drivers off the bottom. Spengler has been good but not as great as he once was in DTM.

Twelve Seeds: Ed Jones, António Félix da Costa, Lucas Auer, Mikhail Aleshin
Why: Because if we have learned anything from the NCAA tournament 12 seeds are dangerous and all four of these drivers could win a race.

Thirteen Seeds: Toni Vilander, Carlos Muñoz, Colin Braun, Pastor Maldonado
Why: Because Vilander and Muñoz were the final two drivers with points. Braun doesn't have any points and Maldonado has been out of Formula One for three years. No points for you.

Fourteen Seeds: Jeroen Bleekemolen, James Hinchcliffe, Patricio O'Ward, Johan Kristoffersson
Why: They all have no points but are better than the remaining drivers.

Fifteen Seeds: EJ Viso, Esteban Guerrieri, Ott Tänak, Kelvin van der Linde
Why: Tänak could be higher. The only reason I didn't give him five points was because his WRC success has not been as spread out as the other three. He is that sneaky 15-seed though and that is not a bad thing. The other three, Viso has been driving Stadium Super Trucks as his most recent gig, Guerrieri is only in touring cars and van der Linde is young.

Sixteen Seeds: Sheldon van der Linde, Ye Yifei, Khaled al Qubaisi, Sandy Stuvik
Why: These drivers are either silver-rated or only won in junior formula series. They are the sacrificial lambs for the top four.

Here is what the top half of the bracket looks like:

And the bottom half:

It seems pretty even. There isn't one quarter that is more stacked than another. But this is what Race of Champions should be. Fans should be looking ahead and seeing what the match ups could be and drivers should be thinking about this. There should be the nerves of a bracket and a top seed being caught out.

You have Verstappen and Ricciardo set up as a possible quarterfinal but Ricciardo has Tänak in the first round. If Tänak takes out Ricciardo early it opens up the bottom of that quarter. Verstappen isn't a lock for the quarterfinals. Power would be a possible round of 16 opponent and Power has a good road. He is in a trick 5v12 match but if he defeats da Costa, I think he knocks out either Jani or Braun in round two and then he has Verstappen. That is more of a toss up than most would think.

In the di Grassi quarter, you have Alonso, Montoya, Ogier and Rossi set to be chalk out of round one in the bottom of the quarter. How do you choose one of those four to make the quarterfinals? Cassidy/Jones is a 5v12 match and that could go either way but Kristensen would be waiting for either of those two and it could set up for a meeting of former Audi teammates in the round of 16 with di Grassi and Kristensen.

If there is one weak area it is the bottom of the Vettel quarter. While Vettel and Dixon could be a round of 16 match up with Yamamoto and Bird being sleepers, the bottom seems to line up perfectly for Bottas. Bottas has Guerrieri and then would face the winner of Rusinov/Pier Guidi. He seems a lock for the round of 16. As for his potential opponent, Vanthoor/Solberg is interesting but neither seems like a threat and then there is Magnussen/O'Ward, not something to be scared of either.

The Hamilton quarter is really tight. Hamilton could have to face Nakajima or Rosenqvist in the round of 16 and then could have Leclerc, Pérez or Castroneves in the quarterfinals. Hamilton could have a difficult pair of match ups between Rosenqvist and Leclerc in consecutive rounds and it would shape up to be a changing of the guard type of meeting each time. Pérez wouldn't be safe in round one. Kristoffersson could knock him off and if Kristoffersson did I think he could beat either Castroneves or Neuville.

There are many things that stand in the way of this happening: Scheduling logistics, driver contracts, time, interest, fitness but one other reason is organization. Race of Champions is relaxed in terms of promotion but it could be much bigger. The event is only as big as the level of effort the organizers put into it. The organizers are playing small ball when they have two outs in the bottom of the ninth with no one on and down a run. It is time to start swinging for the fences.

Until that changes this elaborate competition with over five-dozen of the best drivers in the world will have to remain in the pillows.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Jérôme d'Ambrosio but did you know...

The #88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi of Christopher Haase, Frédéric Vervisch, Dimitri Parhofer and Rik Breukers won the Dubai 24 Hours.

Here are the Dakar Rally class leaders with four stages to go:

Bikes: Pablo Quintanilla leads American Ricky Brabec by four minutes and 38 seconds.
Quads: Nicolas Cavigliasso has over an hour lead.
Cars: Nasser Al-Attiyah has a 37-minute lead over Sébastien Loeb and a 41-minute lead over Stéphane Peterhansel.
Trucks: Eduard Nikolaev leads Dmitry Sotnikov by ten minutes.
SxS: Gerard Farres Guell leads Sergei Kariakin by 13 minutes.

The #22 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Paul di Resta and Phil Hanson won the 4 Hours of Buriram. The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan of Wayne Boyd, Chris Buncombe and Garett Grist won in LMP3. The #11 CarGuy Racing Ferrari of James Calado, Kei Cozzolino and Takeshi Kimura won in GT for the third consecutive race.

Liam Lawson won the bookends of the Toyota Racing Series races from Highlands Motorsports Park with Brendon Leitch winning the second race of the weekend.

Blake Baggett won the Supercross race from Glendale, his first career victory.

Olivier Panis and Andréa Dubourg split the Andros Trophy races from Isola 2000.

Coming Up This Weekend
You know about Race of Champions.
The Chili Bowl is an all-week affair.
Supercross returns to Anaheim.
Toyota Racing Series will be at Teretonga Park.