Friday, January 31, 2020

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: January 2020

We are one month into 2020 and we are starting to get into the swing of things. Cars have been on track at Daytona, cars are on track at Bathurst, motorcycles play in the dirt every weekend, announcements are being made, cars are being built and tests are right around the corner.

With all of that comes some news and it has been your typical offseason type of fodder, a whole lot of talk about the future.

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 have eight stories this month and we will start with IndyCar-related news.

Yamamoto rules out representing Honda in "dangerous" IndyCar
What if the offer was $6 million a year?

The one thing we hear when it comes to IndyCar is it is not worth the risk insinuating the risk is worth it but the benefits do not outweigh the consequences.

If it was $6 million a year, which would be a good chunk of change even in Formula One, is that enough?

I respect Yamamoto if he decides he doesn't want to run IndyCar. He has a good life in Japan and a family and if he is coming over to make the same amount of money but take on more risks than it is understandable if he says no.

I still believe Yamamoto would be a competitive driver in IndyCar because 12 of 17 races are on road and street courses and, if we are being honest, the number of races that are really a cause of concern in terms of fatality or serious injury is two, Indianapolis and Texas. Iowa, Gateway and Richmond are quick and you can get hurt or worse in any race but the massive accidents that we know will alter a life when we see them happen at the bigger and/or high-banked tracks and right now all we have are Indianapolis and Texas.

Down the line I hope we get to see Yamamoto in IndyCar and if he changes his mind than great but if he doesn't than more power to him.

McLaren boss Brown owns up to "stupid" Indy mistakes
And it only took eight months for Zak Brown to do so.

In all seriousness, Brown has never put the blame on anyone, other than McLaren really suggesting Carlin was at fault when everything blew up but that wasn't that vocal. It would have been the easy thing to do for Brown to throw Bob Fernley, who was leading McLaren's IndyCar effort, under the bus and it would have been easy to throw whoever was in the paint shop under the bus and maybe even throw Fernando Alonso under the bus but Brown has never done that.

Brown knows failure comes from the top and he sees how major oversights on his part lead to the team failing to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. I think he also knows all eyes are on him for this season, especially at Indianapolis. Brown runs McLaren but he has to answer to a board and any more failures or serious slip ups could lead to Brown's removal and the end of McLaren's IndyCar aspirations This is Brown's baby but it will be tossed with the bathwater if necessary.

Brown and McLaren is a nice transition into Formula One news...

Todt: Complaints about growing F1 calendar are wrong
You mean the complaints about road crews working year round, flying around the globe, working ungodly hours across every timezone and not having time to see their loved ones? Those complaints are wrong?

There comes a point where Formula One has to realize there is a limit to the schedule and Formula One is at that limit. There are 22 races and the stated desire from Liberty Media is 25 races and you may be saying, "What is another three races?"

That is a fallacy my friends because it is not another three races. It has been "what has been another race?" for a decade now. It was first going from 17 to 18 then 18 to 19, 19 to 20 and we have been flirting with 20 and 21 for years and now it is 22 and people are saying what is another three races? It is like chocolate cake, what is another slice? But what is another slice after three slices, a full pizza pie, two dozen chicken wings, a sharable size bag of M&Ms, ten Twinkies and 64oz of Coca-Cola?

About a decade ago, when teams pushed back on the budget caps there was a threat of a breakaway Grand Prix World Championship series and I think the teams are doing too well to breakaway from Formula One at this time but there could be a revolt if the teams cannot keep people employed. I don't think we are going to see a breakaway 18-round championship because Formula One demands too much but there will be a breaking point and what with Jean Todt do then?

F1 risks being slower than F2 in 2021 - Racing Point
Does Formula One risk being slower than Formula Two in 2021 or does Racing Point risk being slower than Formula Two in 2021?

Those are two different things.

I kid but it shouldn't matter. For starters, if Formula One takes down force off the cars the FIA is going to adjust Formula Two so it is not blasting out laps a second and a half faster than the pole speed for the grand prix that weekend. This isn't NASCAR where ARCA was running faster than the Cup cars at some tracks in 2019. Everything will be adjusted.

Also, it shouldn't really matter. We love speed but an average lap at 115 MPH is still bloody quick even if it was 119 MPH the year before. We saw with IndyCar at Austin last year that while running much slower than Formula One the race was lively and the relaxed track limits might have had something to do with that but there was plenty of passing and action.

Going back to fallacy again, speed is a fallacy. The cars could be quick but if it is processional then what are we getting? The cars have to be able to race one another, get close to one another and jockey with one another. Let's not be too concerned with the speeds if the racing is exceptional. There is a limit. We don't want the speeds cut down to Formula Ford speeds but if it is still in the ballpark it is no big deal.

Pay TV not just about money, says Formula 1
It is a lot about money.

I understand that Pay TV can give Formula One more airtime and that is important to the series. You want a channel that can broadcast practice and qualifying as well as the race and in some scenarios Pay TV gives you the most exposure but there is a balance of exposure and cost. You can get more airtime but if fans are priced out than the amount of exposure you get is going to be lower.

The problem is Formula One needs to make money. The teams need to make money. The drivers want to make money and television is where the salaries come from. It is tricky but there will come a point where Formula One has to look and decide what is the best deal because getting paid $10 million a year but having a quarter of the largest possible audience eventually will bite the series.

Jumping to NASCAR...

Bobby Labonte lives up to family name with NASCAR Hall of Fame induction
Other than having a brother Terry I do not know what Bobby Labonte had to live up to.

Let's be clear, the Labonte family is not some family that has been around since the beginning of NASCAR. This is not a family that has had four generations of champions that have won a combined 500 Cup races and 22 championships.

It is two brothers, both of which won the Cup championship, in Terry's case twice, and Justin, who won one Grand National Series race because Mike Wallace ran out of fuel on the final lap.

Getting into the hall of fame wasn't something Bobby Labonte had to do. The hall of fame has been around for 15 minutes. Bobby Labonte ran majority of his career without a hall of fame existing. It doesn't mean all that much. Bobby Labonte's career and legacy was just fine without being in the hall of fame and let's not start any garbage saying otherwise.

Will Dale Earnhardt, Jr. be on the next NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot?
Yes, of course, he will be on the ballot but I think there is an argument on why Earnhardt, Jr. could not be on the ballot, why he could not be a first ballot inductee and why he could not be unanimous.

Why he could not be on the ballot: 
Last year, Carl Edwards, who has two more Cup victories and came much closer to winning a Cup championship than Earnhardt, Jr., wasn't included on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Edwards and Earnhardt, Jr. are about equals. Edwards has 28 Cup victories to Earnhardt, Jr.'s 26. Edwards was in the top five of the championship on six occasions to Earnhardt, Jr.'s four. Earnhardt, Jr. won two Grand National Series championships to Edwards' one but Edwards won 38 races in that series to Earnhardt, Jr.'s 24 victories.

If Edwards could not get on the ballot with better numbers than Earnhardt, Jr. why should Earnhardt, Jr. get on the ballot in his first year? The one argument will be popularity and Earnhardt, Jr. won two Daytona 500s.

Why he could not be a first ballot inductee:
It is all the above and voters deciding this is the year a lot of role players get in.

There are a lot of contributors not in the hall of fame from John Holman and Ralph Moody to Ray Fox to Harry Hyde and those are just names on the ballot last year. Smokey Yunick is sitting on the top of everyone's tongue.

I got to admit it is hard to balance drivers, crew chiefs, mechanics and owners all being on the same ballot. How do you compare and then decide one is worthy more than another when they are all contributing in completely different ways? It is one of the major flaws to the NASCAR Hall of Fame selection process.

When looking at the drivers on last year's ballot that did not get in, Earnhardt, Jr. jumps ahead of all of them. Sam Ard was great in the early Busch Series but next. Earnhardt, Jr. was greater than Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, Harry Gant, Herschel McGriff, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal and Ricky Rudd. Mike Stefanik is the one guy who you can argue did more but he did it on a regional level in modified and the Busch North Series, once again showing a flaw in balloting when you have someone who made it to the top on the same ballot with a guy that only diehards have heard of.

Down the line we need to have a larger conversation about the problem NASCAR will soon have with the hall of fame but that can wait for another day.

Why he could not be unanimous:
I will admit that I do not know if any driver has been elected unanimously but Earnhardt, Jr. didn't win a Cup championship. If he is unanimous while his father Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon and David Pearson were not that is utterly stupid. I bet Earnhardt, Jr. himself would agree with that.

I think Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will get in first ballot because those he was never a Cup champion. It is going to be too hard for him not to get votes.

We will end in Australia...

Motorsport Australia to name drug and alcohol offenders
This is a serious topic and I want to touch on it because I think it is important.

Every other sport has a drug policy and we know when it is violated. We find out when a competitor is suspended in baseball, basketball, hockey, football, soccer, golf, tennis and so on. Motorsports should be the same way. We should know.

My fear is, after watching motorsports for my entire life, this is going to be more to shame a driver than used as something to help a driver. When a driver fails a drug test it is very likely that driver is going to be vilified and almost outcasted.

Nobody is perfect and not every failed drug test is because someone has a serious problem. Motorsports is dangerous and no one should be competing while impaired and it is important that all series have a strong drug testing policy but we can all do better in terms of how we view a failed test.

If someone made a mistake or thought what he or she were taking was fine we need to be understanding and if they serve their suspension and pass the tests after that than we should let it go. If someone does have a problem wit addiction we should be there to make sure they have help.

A person doesn't get the help he or she needs if you completely abandon that person. Motorsports series need to be there and we need to be supportive. It is a difficult road. Some people can rehabilitate and are on the straight-and-arrow for there others. Others get clean and then get bumped off the wagon and we have to start all over. It is tough but we need to be there for people if they need help.

Support is one area motorsports has to improve on and we are one month into the 2020s. I hope at the end of the decade we are in a much better place.

That is a much more somber note to end on than other times we do this but I think it is good to end with something to shoot for. We can work on that in February. It is a Leap Year. We get 29 days this time around!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

2020 Bathurst 12 Hour Preview

A week after Daytona the motorsports world turns it eyes to a 12-hour endurance race in Bathurst, Australia on the Mount Panorama Circuit.

For the 19th-time the Bathurst 12 Hour will take place and for the fifth consecutive year this race will be the opening round to the Intercontinental GT Challenge season. The five-race IGTC calendar will feature Bathurst, the 24 Hours of Spa on July 25-26th, Suzuka 10 Hours on August 23rd, the inaugural Indianapolis 8 Hours on October 3rd and the Kyalami 9 Hours on November 22nd.

This year's Bathurst race will feature 11 manufactures. Porsche took the IGTC championship last year, ending Audi's run of three consecutive championships in the first three years of IGTC competition. Porsche driver Dennis Olsen won the drivers' championship, joining Laurens Vanthoor, Markus Winkelhock and Tristan Vautier as the drivers to take that honor. Porsche won three of the five races in the 2019 season after having never won a IGTC race since the introduction of the series.

Porsche will defend its title while Mercedes-AMG will look to breakthrough and gets its first IGTC crown after falling seven points behind Porsche. Audi and BMW made it a clean sweep of the top four in the championship for German manufactures. The other manufactures competing for the championship will be Lamborghini, Bentley, Honda, Aston Martin and Ferrari. Lamborghini and Aston Martin are new to the championship while Nissan has not committed to the full season.

Five different manufactures have won the last five editions of the Bathurst 12 Hour. Nissan won in 2015 with McLaren, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche taking the races since. Mazda has the most Bathurst 12 Hour victories, having won the race four times when it was a touring car race in the 1990s. Audi has three victories while Mitsubishi, BMW and Ferrari each have two victories. Mitsubishi and BMW had all of their victories come when the race was touring car based.

There are 39 entries for this year's Bathurst 12 Hour with 33 Class A entries for GT3 cars, two Class C entries for GT4 cars and four Class I entries for invitational cars. Class A is broken down into three categories, Class A Pro, Class A Pro-Am and Class A Silver. There are 20 Class A-Pro entries, six Class A-PA and seven Class A-SIL entries.

This preview will look at each Class A entry, give you the team, the drivers, reasons why that entry could win this race and reasons why that entry will not win the Bathurst 12 Hour.

#1 Earl Bamber Motorsport Porsche GT3 R
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Craig Lowndes
Why this car could win: Earl Bamber Motorsport won this race last year and it is taking the defending IMSA GT Le Mans class champions in Bamber himself and Vanthoor and pairing them with two-time Bathurst 12 Hour winner and seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner Lowndes.
Why this car will not win: This is a completely new lineup from last year's winners, Bamber and Vanthoor are coming over from the 24 Hours of Daytona and Lowndes is not in his prime anymore. On paper, this is a great entry and I think this car will be pushing for the victory but this is not the Porsche team running for the IGTC championship. Politics could play out on the mountain.

#2 Audi Sport Team Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3
Drivers: Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Haase, Frédéric Vervisch
Why this car could win: Vanthoor won this race two years ago, Haase is a two-time 24 Hours Nürburgring winner and Vervisch and Vanthoor won the Suzuka 10 Hours last year.
Why this car will not win: Haase has yet to win this race and Vanthoor is coming from Daytona. This is another entry that should be putting up a strong fight.

#4 Grove Racing Porsche GT3 R
Drivers: Stephen Grove, Brenton Grove, Benjamin Barker
Why this car could win: These three drivers have won the last two years at Bathurst in Class B for Porsche GT3 Cup cars.
Why this car will not win: This team has moved up to Class A and this is a much tougher class.

#6 Wall Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Adrian Deitz, Tony D'Alberto, Julian Westwood, Camerson McConville
Why this car could win: It will be on the grid is a DJR Team Penske endurance race driver for the three Supercars endurance races with Fabian Coulthard. McConville won the Bathurst 24 Hour in 2002.
Why this car will not win: This is one of the Class A Silver entries.

#7 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3
Drivers: Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet, Jordan Pepper
Why this car could win: Gounon and Pepper have a lot of experience together in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Series. Soulet has had his success with Bentley. Bentley was on the podium for in 2016 and 2017.
Why this car will not win: In the last two years in the IGTC the best finish for Bentley is sixth.

#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3
Drivers: Alex Buncombe, Oliver Jarvis, Seb Morris
Why this car could win: Jarvis is coming off a runner-up finish in the 24 Hours of Daytona. Buncombe has experience at Bathurst not only in the 12-hour but as a two-time Bathurst 1000 starter.  Buncombe also has a Blancpain Endurance Series championship to his name. Morris was the 2017 British GT champion in the GT3 class.
Why this car will not win: This is Morris' Bathurst debut and, despite Buncombe's Bathurst experience, he has not been to Bathurst since 2017. Jarvis is flying in from Daytona.

#9 Hallmarc Audi R8 LMS GT3
Drivers: Marc Cini, Dean Fiore, Lee Holdsworth
Why this car could win: Fiore and Holdsworth have plenty of Bathurst experience between this race and the Bathurst 1000. Cini is a regular in this event. These three were 11th in last year's race, third amongst the A-PA class.
Why this car will not win: It is a Class A Pro-Am and there are too many Class A Pro entries in this race for a Pro-Am to sneak through and get the victory.

#12 NED Racing Team Porsche GT3 R
Drivers: David Calvert-Jones, Romain Dumas, Jaxon Evans
Why this car could win: Calvert-Jones has won in Class B in this race and he has stood on the overall podium. Dumas is one of the most versatile drivers in the world. Evans is a Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion and he was in Porsche SuperCup last year.
Why this car will not win: Like the entry above, this is a Pro-Am squad and though I think this might be the top Pro-Am entry, even with Dumas overall victory is asking a lot.

#18 KCMG Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3
Drivers: João Paulo de Oliveira, Edoardo Liberati, Alexandre Imperatori
Why this car could win: De Oliveira is a race winner in Super GT and Super Formula. Liberati and Imperatori ran together in Intercontinental GT Challenge last year. Nissan won this race in 2015. This team led 18 laps in last year's race before finishing seventh.
Why this car will not win: Nissan's best finish in IGTC last year was sixth. There are stronger cars in the field.

#22 Audi Sport Team Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3
Drivers: Garth Tander, Christopher Mies, Mirko Bortolotti
Why this car could win: Tander is a three-time Bathurst 1000 winner, he was runner-up last year with Shane van Gisbergen and he won the Bathurst 24 Hour in 2002. Mies has won this race twice. Bortolotti had a lot of success with Lamborghini and in his first two starts with Audi he has look good, finishing third at Daytona in the GTD class.
Why this car will not win: It is hard to argue against this car. Bortolotti is coming from Daytona but Tander and Mies will be ready. Audi won this race two years ago. The one concern is Audi struggled last year. Its best finisher was in ninth and none of the Class A Pro Audis finished the race. Last year's results are going to linger a little bit.

#24 Bostik Australia Audi R8 LMS GT3
Drivers: Tony Bates, Geoff Emery, Max Twigg, Dylan O'Keeffe
Why this car could win: Emery has won three consecutive Australian GT Championships. Twigg was fourth in the Australian GT Championship last year.
Why this car will not win: It is a Class A Silver entry.

#27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3
Drivers: Marcos Gomes, Tim Slade, Daniel Serra
Why this car could win: Serra has been an ascending driver in sports cars for the last few years and last year he won at Le Mans, Petit Le Mans and picked up his third consecutive Stock Car Brasil championship. Slade knows Mount Panorama and he won the California 8 Hours last year.
Why this car will not win: Gomes is too much of an unknown and this will be Serra's Bathurst debut.

#29 Trofeo Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Liam Talbot, Dean Canto, Marcel Zallousa, Grant Denyer
Why this car could win: Canto has 21 Bathurst 1000 starts to go with his Bathurst 1000 experience. Denyer has some Bathurst experience but is an amateur driver.
Why this car will not win: This is a Class A Silver entry.

#30 Honda Racing Team JAS Honda NSX GT3
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Renger van der Zande, Mario Farnbacher
Why this car could win: Cameron is coming off an IMSA Daytona Prototype international championship, van der Zande is coming off his second consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona victory, Farnbacher is coming off an IMSA GT Daytona championship. This is a pretty stout trio for Honda to put together.
Why this car will not win: We have yet to see Honda have any great success in IGTC or what will now be known as the GT World Challenge Europe Series. Not to forget mentioning all three of these drivers are coming over from Daytona and van der Zande is the only one with Bathurst experience with that coming in 2016. This will be the first time the Honda NSX GT3 has entered the Bathurst 12 Hour. We are not sure how this car will handle Mount Panorama.

#34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3
Drivers: Augusto Farfus, Nicky Catsburg, Chaz Mostert
Why this car could win: Farfus and Mostert are heading to Bathurst fresh off a victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona in the GTD class. Last year, Farfus and Mostert led 68 laps with Martin Tomczyk, the most laps led. Catsburg is coming over fresh off a debut with Corvette at Daytona. Mostest won the Bathurst 1000 in 2014. Walkenhorst Motorsport won the 24 Hours of Spa in 2018.
Why this car will not win: BMW has not won the Bathurst 12 Hours since it became a GT3 race. All three of these drivers are coming from Daytona, two of which are coming off a victory and here is a fun fact: Since adopting GT3 cars in 2011, no Daytona class winner has gone immediately to Bathurst and won the race.

#35 KCMG Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3
Drivers: Josh Burdon, Katsumasa Chiyo, Tsugio Matsuda
Why this car could win: Chiyo won this race in 2015. Matsuda has two Super GT GT500 championships and two Super Formula championships. Burdon and Chiyo were teammates last year in IGTC.
Why this car will not win: The only time Burdon and Chiyo finished in the points last year was sixth at Suzuka.

#46 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Patrick Assenheimer, Sergey Afanasiev, Michele Beretta
Why this car could win: Black Falcon has a history of winning endurance races and just won the Dubai 24 Hour.
Why this car will not win: It is a Class A Silver entry.

#59 59Racing McLaren 720S GT3
Drivers: Dominic Storey, Fraser Ross, Martin Kodrić
Why this car could win: It is on the grid. Storey is an Australian GT Championship Endurance champion. Kodrić is a GT World Challenge Asia champion and was third in the International GT Open championship last year.
Why this car will not win: It is a Class A Silver entry.

#60 59Racing/EMA Racing McLaren 720S GT3
Drivers: Álvaro Parente, Ben Barnicoat, Tom Blomqvist
Why this car could win: Parente has had a lot of success with McLaren and won this race in 2016. Barnicoat has spent the last two years running an LMP2 car in European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series. Blomqvist is making his McLaren debut after five years at BMW where he won a Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters race and ran in Formula E.
Why this car will not win: This lineup is too inexperienced together. It is a pretty good lineup but this car doesn't feel like a race winner right now.

#62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Luco Ghiotto, Marvin Kirchhöfer, Oliver Caldwell
Why this car could win: Ghiotto is the latest successful Formula Two driver to leave the path to Formula One for greater pastures in sports car racing. This is his Bathurst debut after being third in the Formula Two championship last year. Kirchhöfer has been picking up respectable results in ADAC GT Masters and he was runner-up in this ace last year. Caldwell is 17 years old and spent 2019 in the Formula Regional European Championship where he was fifth in the title race with one victory.
Why this car will not win: A little bit too inexperienced to win Bathurst this year.

#63 Orange1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3
Drivers: Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli, Dennis Lind
Why this car could win: These three drivers had great success in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year with Lind unfortunately missing the finale while Caldarelli and Mapelli won the race to take the championship. Caldarelli and Mapelli also won the Blancpain Sprint Series title as well to sweep the those championships. Caldrelli is coming off a GTD class victory at Daytona and Mapelli was second in class. Mapelli was second in this race in 2015.
Why this car will not win: Caldarelli and Lind are making Bathurst debuts and Mapelli has not been here since 2016. I think this car could be the surprise of the weekend and be competing at the front but it is a tough field and if it just breaking into the top ten that would be a good result.

#75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Kenny Habul, Dominik Baumann, Martin Konrad, David Reynolds
Why this car could win: Reynolds is a Bathurst 1000 winner and has made plenty of starts in this race. Habul was second overall in this race in, albeit with a stack list of co-drivers, Jamie Whincup, Tristan Vautier and Raffaele Marciello.
Why this car will not win: This is a Pro-Am lineup and I think this field is too deep for this entry to win.

#76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Jake Dennis, Rick Kelly, Scott Dixon
Why this car could win: Dennis was second in this race last year after a fierce battle with Matt Campbell and Dennis did everything he could to win this race. Kelly is a two-time Bathurst 1000 winner and he was runner-up in this race in 2016. Scott Dixon is Scott Dixon and just picked up his third overall victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Why this car will not win: Dixon's inexperience? That sounds crazy but Dixon has never raced at Mount Panorama. I don't think this is going to be a race full of rookie mistakes for Dixon but it is a new car and a new track and Dixon is human racing against a bunch of guys for whom this is their main form of racing. I think this car could win. The 2020 season could be all Scott Dixon with victories at Daytona, Bathurst, Sebring, Indianapolis and with a sixth IndyCar championship to boot but if Dixon is to win this race it is not because he carried the team but because Dennis repeated his 2019 performance, Kelly was smooth and Dixon got ran a respectable pace without making a mistake.

#77 Mercedes-AMG Team Craft-Bamboo Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Maro Engel, Luca Stolz, Yelmer Buurman
Why this car could win: Engel, Buurman and Stolz have shared the same car plenty of times. They were co-drivers in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year and they were champions in 2018. Engel has won the 24 Hours Nürburgring and Buurman has won the Dubai 24 Hour. Engel and Stolz had a great race going last year with Gary Paffett before a water pump issue ended their race.
Why this car will not win: It is hard to come up with a reason. This is a good lineup and nobody would be surprised if this car won. The only negative is Mercedes-AMG has not won at Bathurst since 2013.

#96 Hobson Motorsport Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3
Drivers: Brett Hobson, Kurt Kostecki, Jake Kostecki
Why this car could win: I am going to save you some time, it is a Class A Silver entry, it isn't going to win overall.
Why this car will not win: See above.

#159 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Andrew Watson, Olivier Hart, Roman de Angelis
Why this car could win: Watson has had some respectable races at Bathurst. De Angelis is making the step into high-end GT3 racing after Porsche GT3 Cup success in North America.
Why this car will not win: Another silver entry.

#188 Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Alexander West, Chris Goodwin, Côme Ledogar, Maxime Martin
Why this car could win: Ledogar was previously a Blancpain Endurance Series champion. West and Goodwin have raced together before in Blancpain GT Series competition. Martin is a DTM race winner and is having a strong season in Aston Martin's WEC program.
Why this car will not win: This is a Pro-Am entry with a heavy emphasis on the Am. Ledogar and Martin do lift this car to a competitive level. This will be Martin's Bathurst debut.

#222 Audi Sport Team Valvoline Audi R8 LMS GT3
Drivers: Kelvin van der Linde, Mattia Drudi, Markus Winkelhock
Why this car could win: Van der Linde and Winkelhock have more GT3 success than can be listed but van der Linde won the IGTC race at Suzuka last year, van der Linde is the reigning ADAC GT Masters champion, both drivers have won the 24 Hours Nürburgring, van der Linde once and Winkelhock three times and Winkelhock was the 2017 IGTC champion. Drudi spent last year in Porsche SuperCup, ADAC GT Masters and the Blancpain Endurance Series.
Why this car will not win: Drudi is the weakest link in the three Audi Sport Team Valvoline cars. I think that brings this car down and makes an overall victory difficult. 

#777 The Bend Motorsport Park Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Yasser Shahin, Nick Foster, Anton de Pasquale, Sam Shahin
Why this car could win: Foster won the California 8 Hours last year. De Pasquale is coming off a respectable sophomore season in Supercars where he picked up two podium finishes and finished 14th in the championship after being 20th as a rookie.
Why this car will not win: It is a Pro-Am entry and not one of the stronger Pro-Am entries. 

#888 Mercedes-AMG Team Triple Eight Race Engineering
Drivers: Shane van Gisbergen, Jamie Whincup, Maximilian Götz
Why this car could win: It has two of the top Supercars drivers in van Gibsergen and Whincup and both those drivers have won this race before. Add to those two Götz, who was second in the IGTC last year and previously was a Blancpain Sprint Series champion.
Why this car will not win: Götz has had a rough last couple of years. He has only won four races in the last three years, two in ADAC GT Masters, one in Blancpain GT Series Asia and a Blancpain Endurance Series Pro-Am class victory and before that he had not won since 2014. I think this will be  a contender for the victory. Van Gisbergen and Whincup are not going to struggle but there could be one stronger Mercedes-AMG in the way.

#911 Absolute Racing Porsche GT3 R
Drivers: Mathieu Jaminet, Patrick Pilet, Matt Campbell
Why this car could win: Here is one of the winners from last year in Campbell, whose strong 2019 got him a promotion into Porsche's factory GT program. Campbell is special and I do not see him faltering. Pilet is still a strong driver and Jaminet is another Porsche hopeful.
Why this car will not win: Repeating is hard to do for anyone and this is a different team running the lead Porsches at Bathurst. This will be Pilet's Bathurst debut. 

#912 Absolute Racing Porsche GT3 R
Drivers: Dirk Werner, Matteo Cairoli, Thomas Preining
Why this car could win: Werner is another third of the Bathurst-winning combination from last year. Cairoli and Preining have plenty of WEC experience with Cairoli having a few GTE-Am victories to his name.
Why this car will not win: This is the Bathurst debuts for Cairoli and Preining. It just doesn't feel like a Bathurst 12 Hour winning team. 

#999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing
Drivers: Felipe Fraga, Maximilian Buhk, Raffaele Marciello
Why this car could win: Fraga is another rising star in sports car racing. Buhk and Marciello have each won championships in GT World Challenge Europe. Buhk was third in IGTC last year and Marciello was fourth. Marciello did win the 2018 Suzuka 10 Hours.
Why this car will not win: Buhk's one major endurance race victory was the 2013 24 Hours of Spa. It has been a while. This is a good entry but it is not even the best Mercedes-AMG on the entry list.

The Bathurst 12 Hour will begin at 1:45 p.m. ET on Saturday February 1st with it concluding 12 hours later at 1:45 a.m. ET on Sunday February 2nd.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Musings From the Weekend: Lack of Ceremony

Wayne Taylor Racing won the 24 Hours of Daytona for the second consecutive year with Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande becoming the 11th and 12th drivers to win this race consecutive times, Scott Dixon becoming the 15th driver to win the race three times and Ryan Briscoe got his first overall victory. DragonSpeed won in LMP2 for the second consecutive year with Ben Hanley, Colin Braun, Harrison Newey and Henrik Hedman. BMW Team RLL won in GTLM for the second consecutive year but this time it was with the #24 BMW of John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert and Augusto Farfus, who was on the victorious team in 2019. Paul Miller Racing made it three consecutive GTD class victories for Lamborghini at Daytona with Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Corey Lewis and Andrea Caldarelli. My mind was firmly on Daytona and here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Lack of Ceremony
Timo Bernhard retired and it wasn't really mentioned.

There were a lot of top drivers in sports cars that were not at Daytona this year, not all of them retired, but Bernhard is the one that stood out to me because we are not going to see him again. Everything is going to go on. Drivers retire and this was just another case of a driver calling it a career but I feel this exit deserves more recognition.

Bernhard won the 2003 24 Hours of Daytona, he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, one of 39 drivers with multiple victories in that event, he won the 24 Hours Nürburgring five times, tied for the all-time record with Pedro Lamy and Marcel Tiemann, he famously won the 2008 12 Hours of Sebring in the Team Penske Porsche RS Spyder with Romain Dumas and Emmanuel Collard against the mighty LMP1 machines from Audi and Peugeot and he was twice world champion.

No one is calling Bernhard the greatest sports car driver of all-time and that is understandable but his retirement has come with little fanfare. That does not sit right for one of the best sports car drivers for the 21st century.

Bernhard made his name in the Porsche system, starting in the GT program, worked his way into the Porsche RS Spyder program with Team Penske and won two championships while beating the Audi LMP1 program many times in the process and then he became a top LMP1 drivers, winning Le Mans with Audi and Porsche.

In the last 20 years there are not many other sports car careers that match Bernhard's and it is over. No farewell. No congratulations. Nothing. That is kind of how sports car racing seems to be.

Careers end. It might be the nature of sports car racing. Drivers can go on for close to 40 years in some cases and a driver can spend the final ten or 15 years of a career in the lowest class in a sports car series and go under the radar. In that case a driver's career isn't over but it is not getting the same level of attention because that driver is no longer competing for the overall victories. It is still possible to get victories and championships but it is not top billing.

Sports car racing does not have nature of NASCAR and not even IndyCar to have a living wake for its drivers. Paul Menard and David Ragan, two drivers with a combined three victories in a combined 941 Cup Series starts, both got send offs at Homestead last year when both announced their retirements (though Ragan will be running the Daytona 500 this year).

The retirement tour full of gifts does get tiring and is mostly unnecessary but in this case I am not talking about ridiculous displays but just a simple goodbye, an acknowledgment of what a driver has done and appreciating what that driver meant.

I am not mad about it and I am not saying IMSA, the FIA World Endurance Championship and European Le Mans Series are doing something wrong. Bernhard's retirement came kind of quickly and was mostly an Irish goodbye. He got his time with Mazda as an endurance race driver and was running his ADAC GT Masters team and time simply ran out on his career. It happens. I think Christian Fittipaldi's retirement had somewhat of the same ending last year. The only difference is Fittipaldi got to run Daytona as his final race and he got a chance to be celebrated.

I think I feel this way because of how things were different this year at Daytona. Joey Hand, Dirk Müller, Richard Westbrook, Romain Dumas, Jörg Bergmeister, Nissan, CORE Autosport, Montaplast by Land-Motorsport and Chip Ganassi Racing were not at Daytona this year. Those drivers have been a big part of the American sports car landscape for the last 15 years and it is odd they were not there. It felt wrong that Hand, Müller, Westbrook and Dumas did not get rides and it is odd that Bergmeister is done with racing. Bergmeister and Bernhard are in the same boat. Both were top drivers in the United States in the 2000s with the only difference between the two careers being Bernhard going on to great international success in prototypes while Bergmeister's career was primarily in GT racing.

Another part of it is, in IndyCar, Sébastien Bourdais was bounced without any inclination he was in trouble. We are on the verge of Tony Kanaan's 317-consecutive-start streak ending but not because Kanaan is calling it time but because he will still be standing when the music has stopped. James Hinchcliffe's career merry-go-round has stopped with him only able to pick up cameo roles but not because that is what he wants his career to be.

There is always going to be a rotation of drivers in any series. It is natural and necessary. You do not want a series that has the same 20 drivers every year because it shows there is a lack of interest in that series but at the same time you do not want a series that has 20 different drivers every year because that shows a lack of stability. The revolving door has to keep moving and heading into 2020 it was more active than in recent memory with some regulars being funneled out unexpectedly. Everything will be fine. These years of increased activity happen from time to time. The next few years could be rather tame.

It is always going to be tough in sports car racing to give the drivers their due. This weekend at Daytona there were 143 drivers competing and this was a down year in terms of entrants. You try giving each driver the proper sendoff. This is not a series with 40 drivers and it is the same drivers every week and for the most part about 60% of grid is the same as it was a decade ago. It isn't a series with two-dozen drivers and it is easy to know all of them. There are a lot of moving pieces and some are going to be cast under a shadow and missed.

For a few names though, we must keep an eye on them for their success puts them ahead of most in the flock. This year should remind us to appreciate who we have while they are here. We must take some time to acknowledge the veterans every now and then. Otherwise we will fine ourselves wondering where these wonderful faces have gone.

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

Thierry Neuville won Rallye Monte-Carlo after winning the final six stages and entering the final day third in the overall standings.

Ken Roczen won Supercross race in Glendale, Arizona, his second consecutive victory as he swept all three Triple Crown races.

Caio Collet, Émilien Denner and Liam Lawson split the Toyota Racing Series races from Teretonga Park.

Coming Up This Weekend
The Bathurst 12 Hour.
Supercross will be in Oakland.
Toyota Racing Series heads to Hampton Downs.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Predictions For the 2020s: IndyCar

IndyCar rolls into the 2020s off some momentum from the 2010s.

The previous decade saw a big turnaround for IndyCar. The series ushered in a new chassis, a new engine formula, an engine manufacture that saw out the decade and some of the best racing IndyCar has ever seen.

In 2010, IndyCar opened the season in São Paulo, Scott Dixon had only two championships, Dario Franchitti had only two championships and one Indianapolis 500 victory, Will Power had four career victories, all of them on temporary circuits, Bryan Herta had yet to have a car in a race as a car owner, Panther Racing, Dragon Racing, Conquest Racing, FAZZT Race Team, KV Racing, Newman/Haas Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and HVM Racing were all full-time teams. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports were Indianapolis 500-only teams. The schedule make up was eight ovals, five temporary/street courses and four natural-terrain road courses. There were zero American drivers in the top six of the championship, five full-time Brazilians compared to three full-time Americans, none of the races were worth double points, Izod was newly announced as the series title sponsor and Tony George had resigned from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway board.

Yeah, IndyCar looks a lot different entering 2020. Roger Penske owns the series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway! I think that is all that needs to be said to encapsulate how things have changed. If the 2010s can end with Roger Penske purchasing IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway who the hell knows what will happen in the 2020s but we are going to try and predict it right here right now.

1. Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta each win a championship
Not really a stretch but this is just taking the temperature of the series at the start of the decade. The two drivers to keep an eye on for the 2020s are Rossi and Herta.

Rossi has nearly won the title the last two years. Herta blew the doors off the series as a 19-year-old. Rossi is 28 years old and Herta cannot legally purchase liquor for another two years. They are going to be around for a bit longer and if they stick around they are both bound to raise the Astor Cup at least once over the next ten years.

The 2020s could be a decade of American dominance IndyCar has not seen since the 1980s. The 2010s brought Americans back to the top of IndyCar. We had Ryan Hunter-Reay win a championship and an Indianapolis 500. Josef Newgarden emerged and won two titles. Then there are the aforementioned Rossi and Herta. Hunter-Reay's close to the finish line of his career but Newgarden, Rossi and Herta are going to be around for a while.

Add to those three an increased in Indy Lights drivers getting full-time IndyCar opportunities and no sign on that trend reversing and the number of Americans on the grid could continue to go up. The first race of the 2010s had three Americans in it out of 24 drivers (Ryan Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti). The final race of the 2010s had 11 Americans in it out of 24 drivers (Herta, Rossi, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, Andretti, Charlie Kimball, Zach Veach, Spencer Pigot, Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci).

The real question will be does Herta win a title before Rossi? Rossi has had two prime opportunities to win a championship the last two seasons and neither has paid off. After his rookie season, a championship in Herta's sophomore season is a reasonable possible outcome in 2020 and Herta and Rossi will now be teammates.

Could this be a case where Rossi's wait will continue because of the new blood brought into Andretti Autosport? It would be a cruel event if that was to be the case.

2. Scott Dixon surpasses Mario Andretti in victories
Once again, not really a stretch because all Dixon needs to do is win seven more races to take second all-time away from Andretti but after watching Jimmie Johnson's complete fall from grace the last two seasons and with Dixon turning 40 years old during the 2020 season you just have to worry that Dixon will have a similar rapid decline.

I feel good about this season but what about 2021? What about 2022? Seven victories is a lot of victories and Dixon is not going to get those all at once. Hélio Castroneves started the 2010s with three victories in 2010 and then won five races for the rest of the decade with three winless seasons over the next seven years and it led to he being demoted from full-time IndyCar duty after the 2017 season. Granted, eight victories would get Dixon ahead of Andretti but would Dixon really continue if he were coming off two winless seasons at the ages of 44 and 45? I don't think so.

Dixon has only won more than three races in a season once in the 2010s and that was four victories in 2013. The only other times he has won at least four races in a season are 2007, 2008 and 2009.

It is sad to watch any top driver lose it but hold on for three or four seasons thinking he will get it back and that is a fear with Dixon. He is not going to be immune from it. The only hope is he will be proactive and retire one season too early versus two seasons too late.

What is a realistic timeline for Dixon to get to 53 victories?

Let's say he wins at least two races this year, he is always good for at least two victories, and let's say he gets two more the year after that, he would be sitting on 50 victories heading into 2022 and at the age of 41. The 2022 season seems like a good time for Dixon to get three victories.

The only way I see it happening earlier than 2022 is if Dixon busts out another dominant championship seasons in one of the next two years. I am talking about at least four victories but preferably five victories. That would mean the other season would require only two or three victories.

What about A.J. Foyt's all-time record of 67 victories?

Dixon is 21 victories away from tying Foyt. I do not see Dixon running for the entire decade until he is 50. Even if he does, will he still be winning races with regularity when he is 47, 48 and 49 years old?

Dixon won 21 races from 2011 to 2019. He won 24 races over the entirety of the 2010s. Dixon is great. IndyCar is difficult. It is a lot to ask for him to repeat his results of his 30s in his 40s and it is asinine to think Dixon could win 22 races in four or five seasons. The all-time record might be out of reach but second is not that bad.

3. A McLaren car will win a race but not a championship
The 2020s begin with McLaren finally diving feet first into IndyCar.

No more playing around, even though McLaren owns zero percent of the team its branding. No more Indianapolis 500 one-offs. No more shades of the wrong orange. McLaren is here.

Though Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has had rough patches of results the last five seasons the team could still contend for race victories. In IndyCar, if a team is on its A-Game for a race it can pull out a victory and McLaren should be able to do that.

We do not know how long McLaren is going to be in IndyCar. This could be a one-year thing. This could last until 2024. It might make it the entire decade. Though Patricio O'Ward and Oliver Askew are promising talents, a victory in 2020 is asking a lot. This team just has to get good results in year one but a race victory could fall its way and if it doesn't the team should be in better position for a victory in year two.

As for a championship... since 2003, the only teams to win a championship in this series are Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport. That will eventually change and the name McLaren is good enough to do it but we haven't really seen anything branded McLaren have major motorsports success of late.

A decade is a long time but we need to see McLaren be able to put at least one driver in the top ten of the championship before we can talk about the team fielding championship contenders.

4. A non-Big Three team wins a championship
Since 2003, the only teams to win a championship in this series are Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport and that is going to change because I do not think three teams are going to extend that streak to 27 consecutive years winning a championship.

Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport are going to combine to win majority of the championships this decade. You mind as well set the over/under at 8.5 but there is going to be at least one year when someone else is going to step up and take the title. It isn't going to be McLaren because of the prediction above but somebody else is going to reach the mountaintop.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is really the only team to come the closest and it is really the only team showing signs of being capable of putting together a championship push. Takuma Sato won two races last year. It had Graham Rahal in the title fight in 2015 only for two bad races to close the season to take him out of the fight. Maybe Rahal can capture lightning in the bottle one more time or maybe Sato can do what has always seemed unthinkable.

Outside of RLLR, Dale Coyne Racing showed promise with Sébastien Bourdais but Bourdais is gone and DCR goes through a cycle, two or three seasons of success with two or three seasons of mediocrity to follow. You are not going to win a title that way.

Ed Carpenter Racing has the oval pace but right now there are only five oval races. Unless there is some massive shift in IndyCar and fan behavior the most ovals I can imagine in a season is seven. That still means there are going to be more road and street courses than ovals. ECR was a championship-contending team with Josef Newgarden. There are only so many Newgardens out there. Perhaps ECR has gotten the next one in Rinus VeeKay or maybe its second driver will be that next stud and can take ECR to the top.

Maybe Meyer Shank Racing is the answer. Maybe the single-car effort busts its butt and with Jack Harvey ends up fighting for the top spot. Meyer Shank Racing still has a lot to prove but Shank became a sports car contender, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona and Petit Le Mans and it has won a championship in IMSA's GT Daytona class. Shank is in Honda's good graces. Maybe a few years down the line MSR is leading Honda to another championship.

Outside of that A.J. Foyt Racing is in shambles and hasn't done anything worth a damn in nearly 20 years. Carlin is going through a rough patch and its long-term IndyCar commitment is questionable. DragonSpeed, Juncos Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing all have dreams but it is going to take more than dreams to win a championship.

Perhaps someone else enters if a new manufacture ever decides to join the series and can get to the top of IndyCar. I know there have been spells of dominance in other sports. In Portugal, Benfica, Porto and Sporting Clube de Portugal have combined to win 83 of 85 Portuguese league championships and those three clubs have won every title since 2002. In Scotland, Celtic or Rangers have won every league title since 1986. The United States has the gold medal in men's basketball 15 out of 19 times and eight out of 11 times in women's basketball including the last six tournaments.

I don't want to think IndyCar is going to be like that. I don't want to think we will be heading into 2030 with three teams combining to have won 27 consecutive championships.

5. There will be a driver that wins consecutive championship
Because it has happened in every decade but the 1930s!

IndyCar championship history is a little messy at the start of the 20th century. There was no official championship most years except for 1905 and 1916 and there has been a championship every year since 1920. There were retroactive championship results applied to every season to fill the gaps of the 1900s and 1910s but, like I said, it is messy.

Mess aside, every decade but the 1930s have had a driver win consecutive championships.

In the 1920s, it was Louis Meyer in 1928 and 1929. Meyer picked up his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1928 and he won the 1929 title almost by default after Ray Keech lost his life at a race in Altoona.

The 1940s only had six seasons because of World War II and there were two different drivers to win consecutive championship. Rex Mays took the title in 1940 and 1941 and Ted Horn won three consecutive from 1946-48.

The 1950s saw Jimmy Bryan take consecutive titles in 1956 and 1957. In the 1956 season, Bryan won four of 12 races but missed a race and closed the season with seven consecutive podium finishes. Similar to Meyer in 1929, Bryan's title that season benefited from his main title rival Pat Flaherty being injured and missing the final six races. In 1957, Bryan had only two victories but his Sam Hanks retired after winning the Indianapolis 500 that year and Jim Rathmann ran only six of 13 races and he was second in the championship.

The 1960s was the decade of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. Foyt won consecutive titles in 1960-61 and 1963-64. Andretti followed it with consecutive titles in 1965-66, his second and third seasons in IndyCar.

Joe Leonard became the only man to win the national championship on two- and four-wheels when he won the 1971 IndyCar championship and he followed it with another title in 1972. Later that decade Tom Sneva won the title in 1977 and 1978, Roger Penske's first two IndyCar championships and Penske fired Sneva after the 1978 title! Sneva won that championship without winning a race that season.

In the 1980s, Rick Mears won the CART title in 1981 and 1982 and later that decade Bobby Rahal won the title in 1986 and 1987 with Rahal's first title off the back of his Indianapolis 500 victory.

Alex Zanardi won consecutive titles in 1997 and 1998 and, similar to Andretti, Zanardi did it in his second and third seasons in IndyCar.

The 2000s are all over the place because of the split. Gil de Ferran opened the decade with consecutive CART championships in 2000 and 2001. Sam Hornish, Jr. won the Indy Racing League title in 2001-02. Sébastien Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car championships from 2004-2007.

After reunification, Dario Franchitti won the 2009 championship and it followed it with consecutive titles to start the 2010s in 2010 and 2011.

If anything, we are due for a consecutive champion. We kind of got used to it after Bourdais and Franchitti and that period was a bit of stretch, possibly making up for the 1930s, but there always seems to be one driver who catches fire and cannot be stopped.

There are plenty of candidates to do it in the 2020s. Newgarden, Rossi, Herta, maybe Dixon can do the one thing that has eluded him and repeat what Franchitti did at the start of the 2010s and win the title in 2020 and 2021, not only giving Dixon consecutive championships but tying him with Foyt for most championships in IndyCar history.

Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are both going to be around for a bit and both could win consecutive championship, especially if they remain with Team Penske. Could Patricio O'Ward develop into that level of driver? Possibly. Maybe Rinus VeeKay could be that driver. How are we completely overlooking Felix Rosenqvist? Rosenqvist could easily do it with Ganassi.

IndyCar is a difficult series. We have had plenty of seasons with nine, ten, 11 different winners and we have had plenty of seasons where six or seven teams have won a race. In those conditions it is difficult to pinpoint anyone driver who could win consecutive championships but history shows us it is bound to happen. The reverse would tell us we are due for another decade where there are no repeat champions. Someone is going to step up and put himself or herself in the history book.

6. There will be a new Japanese driver that makes at least 50 starts
One thing to consider in 2020 is Takuma Sato is turning 43 years old next week and his time in IndyCar is coming to a close.

Sato is not going to be leaving us immediately but you have to think it will be soon, especially when you see Tony Kanaan's career coming to an end and Sébastien Bourdais moving to sports cars and Juan Pablo Montoya and Hélio Castroneves already in sports cars.

Sato has had a good IndyCar career. He won an Indianapolis 500. What else could you ask for? That alone cannot make Sato's career great. His career will be remembered for the amount of accidents and poor results as much as it will be for his Indianapolis 500 victory. Someone down the line will make an argument that Sato being one of the worst Indianapolis 500 winners of all-time. I am not going to make that argument but somebody will.

Honda will want another Japanese driver in IndyCar and I am ready for it. I was hoping Naoki Yamamoto would be that driver but as of now he does not seem interested. That is ok. There is going to be at least one Japanese driver who will take a crack at it and when that driver comes over that driver will be here for a while.

Of the 12 Japanese drivers to start an IndyCar race, six of them have made 50 starts or more. Sato has made the most all-time, 169 starts. Hire Matsushita is second on 117 starts. Tora Takagi is third on 70 starts with Kosuke Matsuura on 65 starts, Shinji Nakano on 58 starts and Hideki Mutoh on 53 starts.

I do not know when that new driver is coming, I do not know who that new driver will be but I think that driver will get at least three seasons in IndyCar. With IndyCar set on a 17-race schedule, three years without missing a start would be 51 starts. Perhaps IndyCar's schedule grows by a race or two over the 2020s and it would make it easier to reach 50 starts.

7. At least three new countries are represented on the Indianapolis 500 grid
In the 2010s, the Indianapolis 500 had its first Russian driver (Mikhail Aleshin) and Emirati driver (Ed Jones).

In the 2000s, South Africa (Tomas Scheckter), the Czech Republic (Tomáš Enge) and Venezuela (Milka Duno and later E.J. Viso) got their first Indianapolis 500 starters.

In the 1990s, Japan (first with Hiro Matsushita), Sweden (first with Stefan Johansson) and Chile (Eliseo Salazar) were all the new countries to the Indianapolis 500.

It is 2020 and the two largest countries in the world, China and India, have not had an Indianapolis 500 starter. China came close in 2011 with Ho-Pin Tung before a qualifying accident. There really hasn't been an Indian driver close to being on the grid. Amazingly, there has not been a Chinese driver to start a Formula One grand prix either.

Motorsports is much more international diverse than it has ever been. Twenty different countries had an Indianapolis 500 starter in the 2010s. In Formula One, the 2010s the first Russian driver in series history, the first Indonesian driver in series history, the first Monegasque driver since 1994, the first Belgian driver since 1994, the first Swedish driver since 1991, the first Venezuelan driver since 1984, the first New Zealander drive since 1984, the first Mexican driver since 1981 and the first Thai driver since 1954.

Things are going to get more diverse in the 2020s. One or both of China and India or are going to have an Indianapolis 500 starter for the first time ever. There has never been a Danish driver in the Indianapolis 500. Can you say hello Kevin Magnussen? There has never been a Portuguese driver in the Indianapolis 500. Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Uruguay, Estonia, Poland, Guatemala, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Cyprus and Greece are just a few of the countries that have yet to have a participant in the Indianapolis 500.

Most of these countries have had a notable driver in a junior series somewhere around the world in recent times. It is not crazy to think at some point this decade a few of these countries will produce a driver whose path will take them to Indianapolis.

8. A driver will win an Indy Lights championship and an IndyCar championship in this decade
As said above, the Road to Indy system is working and it is becoming the go-to place for IndyCar teams when it comes to hiring a new driver.

The Road to Indy was officially established prior to the 2010 season. Since then the only Indy Lights champion not to run an IndyCar race was 2010 champion Jean-Karl Vernay. Of the 24 drivers to win a Road to Indy championship from 2010 to 2019 eleven of those drivers have not made an IndyCar start but those nine drivers include Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay, two drivers who will be making IndyCar debuts in 2020 and that also includes 2019 U.S. F2000 champion Braden Eves, who will be moving to Indy Pro 2000 in 2020 and 2019 Indy Pro 2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood, who will be moving to Indy Lights in 2020 and if things continue going the way they have been the last two years Kirkwood will be in IndyCar in 2021.

The one issue though is while nine consecutive Indy Lights champions have made an IndyCar start only one of those nine champions has won an IndyCar race, Josef Newgarden, the 2011 Indy Lights champion. In fact, Newgarden is the only Road to Indy champion from the 2010s period to win an IndyCar race.

That is not good and Newgarden's success is propping up the rest of the drivers. That doesn't mean there haven't been good drivers in IndyCar. Sage Karam is a firecracker and has had some strong IndyCar races. Gabby Chaves is an incredibly smart driver. Spencer Pigot has the pace. Ed Jones stood out with Dale Coyne Racing and he had a couple podium finishes with Chip Ganassi Racing. The verdict is still out on Patricio O'Ward and Oliver Askew.

The Road to Indy results are good but not great but I think they will get better. It is going to be tough for whoever is the 2024 Indy Lights champion to win the next four years. Newgarden, Rossi, Herta, Power, Pagenaud and maybe Dixon will all still be around. At that point Rosenqvist, O'Ward, Askew and VeeKay could all be race winners and pushing for titles.

We have used history a lot when making these predictions and that is the case again. There was an Indy Lights champion from the 2000s that won a title in the 2010s: Scott Dixon, who was the 2000 Indy Lights champion. There were two Indy Lights champions from the 1990s that won a title in the 2000s: Tony Kanaan and Cristiana da Matta, the 1997 and 1998 champions respectively.

If there is one early favorite to do fulfill this prediction it is Kyle Kirkwood. Kirkwood has won the U.S. F2000 championship and Indy Pro 2000 championship in consecutive seasons. In 2018, Kirkwood won 28 of 32 races he started between U.S. F2000, F3 Americas and the IMSA Michelin Encore. In 2019, Kirkwood won nine of his 16 Indy Pro 2000 starts and he made two starts in the Euroformula Open Championship with finishes of ninth and sixth at the Monza finale. Kirkwood has already won a race in 2020! He won the IMSA Prototype Challenge season opener at Daytona.

I feel really good about penciling Kirkwood in for the 2020 Indy Lights championship and making his IndyCar debut at 22 years old in 2021. From there he will have nine years to win an IndyCar championship. It could happen.

9. IndyCar will return to another track that hosted an IndyCar race but didn't host an IndyCar race in the 2010s
The fad has been IndyCar returning to long-forgotten venues.

In 2016, Phoenix returned after last hosting a race in 2005. In 2016, Road America returned after last hosting a race in 2007. In 2017, Gateway returned after last hosting a race in 2003. In 2018, Portland returned after last hosting a race in 2007. In 2019, Laguna Seca returned after last hosting a race in 2004. In 2020, Richmond will return after last hosting a race in 2009.

IndyCar always has at least one venue that is on life-support. It is typically an oval. When a race is on life-support, IndyCar has to look elsewhere and there are a lot of tracks out there that IndyCar didn't visit in the 2010s that could return at some point over the next ten years.

Let's start with Mexico City because if Patricio O'Ward busts out IndyCar is going to have to go to Mexico City. IndyCar was in talks with a return to Mexico City prior to the 2018 season. IndyCar hasn't gone to Mexico City since 2007 when it hosted the Champ Car finale. This is the clubhouse leader.

IndyCar has also been in talks with Surfers Paradise about a possible return. That was cooled down but a return to Surfers Paradise would be the first time IndyCar has been there since 2008.

This is IndyCar and there is going to be an oval race that is in trouble. Iowa is having a lot problems. IndyCar has done a great job making sure it does not go below five oval races. Indianapolis is Indianapolis. Gateway is strong. Texas is always threatening to leave but never does (what a kind lover) and then there is Richmond and who knows how that will.

What is on the edge that could return? What ovals could fulfill this prediction?

Michigan last hosted IndyCar in the 2007 season. Atlanta last hosted IndyCar in 2001. Charlotte last hosted IndyCar in 1999.

The problem is three International Speedway Corporation ovals dropped off the schedule after the 2010 season so Homestead, Chicagoland and Kansas would not fulfill this prediction.

10. IndyCar will have at least one flyaway race
IndyCar has been talking about adding a flyaway race or winter series for almost seven years now and have not gotten one flyaway race. However, what is the likelihood that will continue for another ten years?

If IndyCar keeps working on it the series is bound to get conned into another bad contract from somewhere in the world. Although, Roger Penske is now in charge and he does see the value in flyaway races so perhaps this will never happen but Mark Miles has been working on it for a while and perhaps Penske lets Miles see this out.

There has to be one time when IndyCar gets on base with one of these flyaway races. I am not saying it is going to be successful. It just has to happen once, whether it be Dubai, Brazil, Japan, South Africa or somewhere in Europe.

This kind of piggybacks off the prediction above because a return to Surfers Paradise would fulfill this prediction. Mexico City would not. This has to be a race where IndyCar loads up a plane and a Mexico City race would likely see the teams driving south.

That is it! Four sets of predictions are complete. Feel free to check out the predictions for sports cars, Formula One and NASCAR. A few races are already in the books and plenty more are to come in 2020 and the rest of the decade.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

2020 24 Hours of Daytona Preview

Another January has brought us the 24 Hours of Daytona, the first major event on the American motorsports calendar.

Once again, this race serves as the season opener for the IMSA season and we have 38 cars entered for this year's race across the Daytona Prototype international, LMP2, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes. GT Daytona will be the largest class in this year's race with 18 entries with DPi following with eight entries, GTLM with seven entries and LMP2 has the fewest entries, five. Thirty-eight entries are the fewest in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona.

Daytona is the first of 12 IMSA rounds this season with the 12 Hours of Sebring following on March 21st. Long Beach will be April 18th and this year's Long Beach race will include the GTD class along with DPi and GTLM. Long Beach will only count toward the WeatherTech Sprint Cup for the GTD class. All four classes will be back together at Mid-Ohio on May 5th.

Belle Isle will be May 31st and it will be the second Sprint Cup-only round for GTD while it will be the fifth round for the DPi class. The 6 Hours of the Glen marks the midway point of the season and it will feature all four classes on June 28th. On July 5th, DPi, GTLM and GTD will be at Mosport.

On July 18, GTLM and GTD will be at Lime Rock Park. All four classes will be at Road America on August 2nd before another GT-only round at Virginia International Raceway on August 23rd. Laguna Seca will host the penultimate round on September 13th. Petit Le Mans closes the season on October 13th.

This preview will look at all 38 entries for Daytona, give a few reasons why each entry could win their respective class, a few reasons why each entry cannot win its class and what expectations each entry can have for the 2020 season.

Daytona Prototype international
#5 JDC-Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.
Drivers: João Barbosa, Sébastien Bourdais, Loïc Duval
Why this car could win: Barbosa and Bourdais won this race together in 2014. Barbosa has also won this race in 2010 and 2018. Bourdais won in the GTLM class with the Ford GT program in 2017. Duval was third overall with CORE Autosport in 2018. Duval has won at Le Mans, a World Endurance Drivers' Championship. Barbosa had the seventh fastest lap at the Roar with Bourdais and Duval ranking 11th and 13th.
Why this car will not win: While having the same, number and paint scheme, this is a new team. The Mustang Sampling program has moved from Action Express Racing to JDC-Miller Motorsports. JDC-Miller has been respectable in DPi competition. It won the 6 Hours of the Glen two years ago. There could be some growing pains in race one.
What to expect for the full season: I could say every DPi entry could win the championship. That is how good this class is on paper for 2020. Barbosa has won plenty of championships and Bourdais has been fantastic in his career between IndyCar and sports cars. A sports car title would give Bourdais some great hardware to an already decorated career. I worry early teething problems could set this car back. It could win a race or two but be too far in the hole to get out of it.

#6 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud
Why this car could win: These are the defending Daytona Prototype international champions. Montoya has won this race three times before and he was third in the Roar. Cameron is stud and rarely puts a wheel wrong. Pagenaud is coming off a tremendous 2019 season that saw him win the Indianapolis 500 and two other IndyCar races on his way to finishing second in the championship.
Why this car will not win: It always seems like Team Penske cannot put together a complete 24 hours without any major hiccups. Penske has not won this race since 1969 and while the team has not been running it consecutively it has put together some pretty stout lineups and not broken through. Also, while Montoya was quick at the Roar, Cameron and Pagenaud were 24th and 27th out of 27 DPi drivers that participated.
What to expect for the full season: Cameron and Montoya should be up there defending their championship. A win at Daytona would be a great way to start a title defense and it could put the title out of reach on day one. These two could pick up another two or three victories and end up with a second title in as many years to boot.

#7 Acura Team Penske Acura ARX-05
Drivers: Hélio Castroneves, Ricky Taylor, Alexander Rossi
Why this car could win: Because after going winless in 2018 while the sister car won the championship the #7 Acura needs to respond and this is the best way to do it. Add to it Taylor has won this race before and he was second fastest in the test. Castroneves is trying to do all he can to secure his place as a Team Penske Indianapolis 500 entrant and winning this race could give him some leverage. Rossi was great last year in this car and he has a knack for being quick and competitive in anything he jumps in.
Why this car will not win: Similar to the #6 Acura, Team Penske struggles to put together a successful 24-hour race and this car seems to be the one that loses out the most between the two entries. On top of that, while Taylor was second, Rossi was 12th and Castroneves was 23rd at the test.
What to expect for the full season: This car has to win at least one race but it really has to keep up with the #6 Acura. It can win one race but if it is mostly a consolation to a season with mostly fourth and fifth place finishes than it is not going to bode well for Castroneves and Taylor. I think those two can match Cameron and Montoya and they could finish next to each other in the championship with each car winning multiple times.

#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Renger van der Zande, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Kamui Kobayashi
Why this car could win: It won this race last year and while it lost Jordan Taylor and Fernando Alonso it picked up two-time Daytona winner and all-time great Dixon and brought in the ever-reliably Briscoe, who has won this race twice in the GTLM class. Van der Zande is aggressive and Kobayashi had an unheralded drive last year and he is coming off a strong year in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
Why this car will not win: Too many changes and outside of Daytona, Wayne Taylor Racing struggled in 2019. Daytona was the team's only victory last season and its only other podium finishes were second at Sebring and second at Petit Le Mans, a great track record for the endurance races but a worrying sign across the board. Add to it this was the slowest DPi car at the Roar, granted within a second of the top time and van der Zande and Kobayashi were eighth and ninth overall.
What to expect for the full season: Last year still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and this team wasn't necessarily sold on van der Zande returning in 2020. I can easily envision a version of this season where the #10 Cadillac does not win a race and a lot of people saying this is the disappointment of 2020. This car can win but I am not sure it is going to be spectacular. Briscoe is a smart driver who can win races but he is not flashy. Briscoe isn't known for dominating in terms of pole positions and being the driver to watch. I think this car will win one race but this season could look a lot like 2019.

#31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Felipe Nasr, Pipo Derani, Filipe Albuquerque, Mike Conway
Why this car could win: Derani and Nasr are a fantastic pair and adding Albuquerque and Conway makes this a four-headed monster that will be tough to beat. Derani won this race in 2017 and he just seems to have a way with endurance races. Derani and Nasr won at Sebring and Petit Le Mans last year. Nasr won the DPi title two years ago. Albuquerque won this race in 2018 with Action Express Racing. He also won the GT class in 2013. Conway has been remarkable with Toyota in WEC.
Why this car will not win: Nasr was fourth overall in the test but his three co-drivers were all outside the top twenty.
What to expect for the full season: Derani and Nasr will be in the championship fight. This car can win multiple races and I think it will lead the Cadillac collection.

#55 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Jonathan Bomarito, Harry Tincknell, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Why this car could win: Mazda is quick. Bomarito and Tincknell won twice in 2019. Hunter-Reay has had good runs in sports cars.
Why this car will not win: Mazda cannot find success in the long endurance races. Last year, Mazda did not score a top five finish at Daytona, Sebring or Petit Le Mans. Last year, Mazda had a dramatic exit from Daytona, one with a mechanical and the other with a fire.
What to expect for the full season: We do not know if Mazda will contest the full season. Team Joest will field the team through Sebring and after that it is unclear. Mazda is not rushing to announce a new customer team. If one does come up there is no guarantee Bomarito and/or Tincknell will be back.

#77 Mazda Team Joest Mazda RT24-P
Drivers: Oliver Jarvis, Tristan Nunez, Olivier Pla
Why this car could win: This car was fastest again in testing. Pla set the fastest lap. Jarvis was tenth-fastest. Jarvis and Nunez won at Mosport last year.
Why this car will not win: Again... Mazda's unreliability. It can be fast for one-lap, 60 minutes or three hours but can it last a full 24 hours? We have yet to see Mazda do it.
What to expect for the full season: Since we do not know Mazda's plans beyond Sebring, I just want to say it would be fitting if this was the year everything clicked and Mazda won at Daytona. One, it would force Mazda to get on it and find a new customer program. Two, it would likely save the jobs of Jarvis, Nunez, Bomarito and Tincknell. It would be a popular victory.

#85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac DPi-V.R
Drivers: Chris Miller, Juan Piedrahita, Matheus Leist, Tristan Vautier
Why this car could win: It will be on the grid. Vautier has been one of the underrated drivers of the 2010s. Miller has been a good driver in DPi competition. Also, we may be due for a surprise winner. When was the last time we had a 24 Hours of Daytona shocker?
Why this car will not win: This field is too stacked for this car to win. It will require a lot of attrition and this car not experiencing any trouble.
What to expect for the full season: On paper, this is the weakest car in class. It is hard to see it winning a race but perhaps it could get on a podium at least once. It could have one race that goes its way.

#8 Tower Motorsports By Starworks Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Dalziel, John Farano, David Heinemeier Hansson, Nicolas Lapierre
Why this car could win: Starworks has a history of success. It has brought in two top drivers in Dalziel and Lapierre. Those two were second and third in class at the test. Farano and Heinemeier Hansson are two respectable amateur drivers. Both have had great levels of success.
Why this car will not win: It is a new team to the LMP2 class and this is a 24-hour race. It might have a great 12 hours but lose it in the final twelve.
What to expect for the full season: This car will only compete in the endurance races.

#18 Era Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Lewis, Dwight Merriman, Nicolas Minassian, Kyle Tilley
Why this car could win: Minassian is a veteran. Lewis is a quick driver.
Why this car will not win: Minassian and Lewis will not be enough and this is a new team competing against some tough competition.
What to expect for the full season: Minassian and Tilley will be full-time. I think they will be off the podium more times than not. There will be at least one race where Minassian is the best driver in class and carries this car to an impressive finish, perhaps a victory even.

#38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Cameron Cassels, Kyle Masson, Robert Masson, Don Yount
Why this car could win: Cassels and Kyle Masson did a good job last year in the LMP2 class.
Why this car will not win: These four drivers were 11th, 17th, 18th and 19th out of 22 drivers that participated in the LMP2 class at the Roar test. This class is much more difficult than it was in 2019.
What to expect for the full season: Not as many victories and not as many podium finishes as in 2019.    With DragonSpeed full-time, Era Motorsports full-time, Starworks in the endurance races and PR1/Mathiasen still around I am not sure this car will win any of the six LMP2 championship races on the IMSA schedule.

#52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Gabriel Aubry, Nick Boulle, Ben Keating, Simon Trummer
Why this car could win: This team won the championship last year. Aubry ran some races and he is a strong prototype driver, same as Trummer. Boulle is good. Keating is attempting double duty splitting  this entry with a GT Daytona entry (more on that later) and he had a respectable pace in this car.
Why this car will not win: This will be contending for the race victory and Keating might have this planned out but perhaps this team hits a snag and either needs Keating or it gets to the point where if this car is too far behind Keating will focus on the GTD effort and this one cannot comeback.
What to expect for the full season: I do not know who the full-time drivers will begin this car and I think it will be competitive but this is not going to be a two-car class. There are going to be tougher days and weekends when this car is not going to be the fastest in the class off the truck.

#81 DragonSpeed Oreca 07-Gibson
Drivers: Colin Braun, Ben Hanley, Henrik Hedman, Harrison Newey
Why this car could win: This is the favorite. DragonSpeed comes in with a slew of LMP2 success in the European Le Mans Series and some in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Braun landed a ride and he knows this rodeo. Newey won the Asian Le Mans Series championship not long ago. Hanley was fastest in the LMP2 class at the Roar and Braun and Newey were fourth and fifth.
Why this car will not win: For DragonSpeed, it is tough to repeat. If we learned anything from last year it is the LMP2 class is a mixed bag and everyone will have at least one mistake. I think DragonSpeed has the lineup with the least chance of making multiple mistakes.
What to expect for the full season: I already said I think DragonSpeed is going to win this championship and win it handily. It is a new championship in terms of a full season for DragonSpeed but this team is coming in after running against the best LMP2 teams in the world and IMSA's LMP2 class is not up to that level.

GT Le Mans
#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Antonio García, Jordan Taylor, Nick Catsburg
Why this car could win: García has won it before. Taylor has won it before. Catsburg has been successful in touring cars. Corvette is due for a victory.
Why this car will not win: This is a new lineup, while Taylor has been with this program before it has been a while and Catsburg is a late addition after Mike Rockenfeller's DTM schedule led him to be unavailable for the 2020 season. Add to it this was the slowest car in the GTLM class at the Roar test.
What to expect for the full season: I think Corvette is going to win this year and García and Taylor are going to figure it out. There are only six full-time cars in this class. A championship is possible and Corvette proved it does not need to win a race to take a championship. That seems likes a stretch for a second time in three seasons.

#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner, Marcel Fässler
Why this car could win: Gavin, Milner and Fässler have plenty of experience together. These three won this race in 2016. Milner was third fastest in the test.
Why this car will not win: This is a new car and, since their 2016 victory, the #4 Corvette has not finished better than fourth in class in this race. Add to it the #4 Corvette has not had a podium finish since it was third at Long Beach last year.
What to expect for the full season: Last year was a rough year for Corvette across the board but it was especially tough for the #4 Corvette. One podium finish and it was eighth in five of the first six races and it had top five finishes in only two of the final five races. I think things will be better but a victory could still be out of grasp for Gavin and Milner.

Drivers: John Edwards, Jesse Krohn, Chaz Mostert, Augusto Farfus
Why this car could win: Krohn was fourth in the test. Farfus won this race last year in the sister car. Mostert has had some success in BMW sports cars around the globe and he had a good year in Supercars in 2019.
Why this car will not win: While Krohn was fourth, Edwards and Mostert were 20th and 22nd out of 22 GTLM drivers in the test. This car had two runner-up finishes in 2019 but it also finished outside the top five in seven of 11 races.
What to expect for the full season: Kind of like the #4 Corvette, last year was tough and things should be better. There are only six cars in class full-time. Both cars are going to get more top five finishes but it is hard to see this car going from bottom of the class to fighting for the championship.

Drivers: Connor De Phillippi, Philipp Eng, Colton Herta, Bruno Spengler
Why this car could win: It won last year. De Phillippi is a competent driver. Spengler has had plenty of DTM success. Eng is coming off a good DTM season. Herta had a wonderful 2019 with two IndyCar victories to add to his 24 Hours of Daytona triumph in 2019.
Why this car will not win: This car won at Daytona and didn't get another podium finish until Petit Le Mans in 2019. It was sixth fastest in a seven car class at the test.
What to expect for the full season: Spengler is going to be full-time this year and these are going to be a lot of new tracks for him. I think this car will get more podium finishes in 2020 than 2019 but I think it could finish behind the #24 BMW because Spengler will be learning tracks while Edwards and Krohn will be fully up to snuff.

#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE Evo
Drivers: James Calado, Daniel Serra, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon
Why this car could win: It won Petit Le Mans as a one-off last October. It was fastest in the test with Calado taking the top time and Serra was fifth overall. This group knows each other very well from AF Corse's WEC program. Calado, Pier Guidi and Rigon were second at Daytona last year with Miguel Molina.
Why this car will not win: Pier Guidi and Rigon did not participate in the Roar test, which is not the end of the world but that testing could come in handy. This program is not full-time, which can be a positive but it could be a negative. It wasn't a problem last year at Road Atlanta.
What to expect for the full season: This car is only scheduled for Daytona. It would be great if it did all the North American Endurance Championship races. It would be better if it ran the full season. Everyone would love to have the Risi Competizione program back full-time.

#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-10
Drivers: Nick Tandy, Frédéric Makowiecki, Matt Campbell
Why this car could win: Porsche has been fantastic. Tandy is fantastic. Makowiecki might be new to this car full-time but he knows how this race goes. Campbell was the darling of 2019 and it has led to a factory shot in 2020. These guys were second, tenth and 11th at the test.
Why this car will not win: The sister car might be better and sometimes it just will not be your day.
What to expect for the full season: Multiple victories but looking across the garage to the sister car it is going to be really tough for the #911 Porsche to take the championship. It was second last year to the #912 Porsche and that very well could happen again.

#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Laurens Vanthoor, Mathieu Jaminet
Why this car could win: Defending champions. Bamber and Vanthoor were stellar in 2019. If the rain had not ended Daytona early last year this car could have won this race. Jaminet is a quiet, young driver. This team does not make many mistakes. At the test, Vanthoor and Bamber were sixth and seventh respectively.
Why this car will not win: In the other three NAEC races in 2019, the #912 Porsche had finishes of fifth, sixth and fifth. The #911 Porsche was quicker in the test and 2020 could be the year the #911 is best of the Porsches. Add to it the #62 Ferrari is looking ood.
What to expect for the full season: Repeating is hard to do but this car could do it. Bamber and Vanthoor are not going to have a season full of boneheaded mistakes. This car is going to win a few races. I feel like this could be another season of Porsche dominance with Corvette getting a win or two because somebody else has to win and maybe BMW wins one but I do not expect every entry to win once and this championship to be wild open heading into the final few races.

GT Daytona
#9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Patrick Pilet, Zach Robichon, Lars Kern, Dennis Olsen
Why this car could win: Pfaff Racing has a strong 2019. Robichon was third in the championship and won two races. Olsen is coming off the Intercontinental GT Challenge title and he was second fastest at the test. Pilet moves down from the Porsche GTLM program but he can still hold his own.
Why this car will not win: Oof... that is a tough one. This is a tough class. We have seen it the last few years where one GTD team starts out strong and then in the race has one thing go wrong and cannot turn it around. This car was caught in an accident not of its making last year. That could happen again.
What to expect for the full season: This could be the championship winning car. Olsen will pair with Robichon for the full season. Olsen was tremendous in 2019 and it is a surprise he didn't get a call to drive with the GTLM Porsche program. If this car wins the championship or wins multiple races, which I think it will, I bet Olsen gets a promotion in 2021.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Albert Costa, Richard Heistand, Franck Perera, Steijn Schothorst
Why this car could win: This car has won this race the last two years, it also won at Sebring last year and this entry is running the NAEC races.
Why this car will not win: This is a completely new lineup compared to the last two yeas for GRT Grasser Racing Team. Perera was the fastest of this entry in 22nd.
What to expect for the full season: It is only running the NAEC races but I think there will be at least one race where this car is at the front.

#12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Townsend Bell, Frank Montecalvo, Aaron Telitz, Shane van Gisbergen
Why this car could win: At the test, Bell, Telitz and Montecalvo were 14th, 15th and 16th with van Gisbergen in 28th, a pretty consistent lineup. Bell has won this race before and he has plenty of sports car success. Telitz is a driver on the verge of a breakthrough. This team got a Supercars champion in van Gisbergen to come over from Australia.
Why this car will not win: While taking three consecutive spots in class, 14th, 15th and 16th is still a little off the top and this car might be quick but only quick enough for 5th in class. I think this car will do well but it could be a year where this car does nothing wrong all race but lacks that little bit of pace.
What to expect for the full season: Bell and Montecalvo had three podium finishes in 2019 but its best finish over the final five races was seventh. I think this car will win at least one race but just be outside of the championship fight.

#14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3
Drivers: Jack Hawksworth, Parker Chase, Kyle Busch, Michael de Quesada
Why this car could win: Hawksworth might be the most underrated driver in IMSA. Busch did not take long adjusting to this car. De Quesada has won this race in this class before. Chase has been an emerging GT driver the last few years and this is his big break.
Why this car will not win: I am afraid this team might lean too much on Hawksworth. This is Busch's first endurance race. He might be quick but how will he handle being in the slowest class? That is a crazy question but could he be caught out of his element with faster cars around him? I don't think so but there could be something that bites him. Add to it Chase was 59th out of 69 drivers in the test.
What to expect for the full season: This car won two races this year but Richard Heistand has moved to GRT Grasser Racing Team. Hawksworth can win races and I think Chase will find the pace but I do not think this car will be fighting for the championship, at least not this year.

#16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Patrick Long, Ryan Hardwick, Anthony Imperato, Klaus Bachler
Why this car could win: Wright Motorsports has had plenty of success and Long is a veteran. Hardwick was ok last year in a partial season. Blacher has run Porsche SuperCup and some WEC. Imperato did well in GT World Challenge America last year.
Why this car will not win: This is a good but not a great lineup. There just are stronger entries out there.
What to expect for the full season: Long and Hardwick is a good pairing. Any entry Long is in I think can win a race. I do not think this entry could be in the championship discussion.

#19 GRT GEAR Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Katherine Legge, Christina Nielsen, Rahel Frey, Tatiana Calderón
Why this car could win: GRT Grasser Racing Team has won this race the last two years. Legge was eighth in the test, Frey was 12th and Nielsen is a past champion.
Why this car will not win: This is the first time Frey and Calderón have run this race. Frey has endurance race experience but this is Calderón's first time out. In this class you cannot afford too weak of a weakest link.
What to expect for the full season: Legge and Nielsen are a great pairing. Last year with Meyer Shank Racing, Legge and Nielsen were not full-time together and that might be why the results were not terrific in 2019. I think Legge and Nielsen could win a race and be close to fifth in the championship.

#23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Ian James, Roman de Angelis, Alex Riberas, Nicki Thiim
Why this car could win: James has plenty of sports car experience. Riberas has GTD success. De Angelis won the Porsche GT3 Cup Canada championship in 2019. Thiim is one a world champion with a Le Mans victory and is leading the World GT Endurance Drivers' championship.
Why this car will not win: Of the four drivers, Thiim was the only one in the top 40 at the test and he was 40th. It is a return for the Heart of Racing Team. It is asking a lot to come out and win the first time back on track.
What to expect for the full season: Riberas and de Angelis will be the full-time drivers and this could be the sleeper of 2020. I am not saying this car will win three or four races but this car could be closer to the front of the grid than many are expecting.

#44 GRT Magnus Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Andy Lally, John Potter, Spencer Pumpelly, Marco Mapelli
Why this car could win: This is Magnus Racing. It has won this race before. It can win it again. Lally was sixth in the test.
Why this car will not win: There might be a few stronger entries. Pumpelly and Potter were 51st and 53rd respectively at the test.
What to expect for the full season: A typical Magnus Racing season, top five in the championship and I think this car will get more than two top five finishes, the total this entry got in 2019.

#47 Precision Performance Motorsports Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Brandon Gdovic, Eric Lux, Johnathan Hoggard, Mark Kvamme
Why this car could win: It will be on the grid and Lamborghini has been one of the best manufactures in GTD the last few seasons.
Why this car will not win: This is the weakest Lamborghini in the field and Hoggard and Kvamme are refugees after the Rick Ware Racing LMP2 entry withdrew.
What to expect for the full season: This will not be a full-time entry.

#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo
Drivers: Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, Corey Lewis, Andrea Caldarelli
Why this car could win: Sellers and Snow won the GTD championship in 2018. Caldarelli is coming off a sweep of the Blancpain GT Series championships. Lewis has plenty of experience with the Lamborghini. Sellers was fastest in the test with Lewis in third.
Why this car will not win: This is one of the class favorites. I just wonder after all the games Lamborghini was playing and not using the correct gear ratios is going to cause a significant slap on the wrist before the race and that takes this car out of contention before the race starts.
What to expect for the full season: Sellers and Snow won the title two years, Snow stepped away in 2019 when he lost his silver-rating and I think these two will be back in the title fight.

#54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R
Drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Trenton Estep, Sven Müller, Tim Pappas
Why this car could win: Bleekemolen is one of the best GT drivers in the world and he was ninth in the test. Müller is a promising Porsche driver. Estep won the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge championship in 2018.
Why this car will not win: Estep was 47th in the test with Pappas in 60th and Müller in 64th.
What to expect for the full season: This is not a full-time entry.

#57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: A.J. Allmendinger, Misha Goikhberg, Trent Hindman, Álvaro Parente
Why this car could win: Hindman is the defending GTD champion. Parente has won GT World Challenge America championship and he was fourth in the test. Allmendinger is still a talented road course driver. Goikhberg has plenty of experience in sports cars.
Why this car will not win: This is a class favorite but it is the first time this group of drivers has been brought together and it might not gel the first time out. While Parente was fourth, all three other drivers were outside the top 35 in the test.
What to expect for the full season: Parente and Goikhberg will be full-time with Hindman in the NAEC races. This car could win a few races and get the title. Parente is one of the best drivers in this class and Goikhberg is an IMSA veteran. I just wonder if Goikhberg will not be able to run a competitive pace to Parente's.

#63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020
Drivers: Cooper MacNeil, Toni Vilander, Alessandro Balzan, Jeff Westphal
Why this car could win: MacNeil and Vilander were fifth in the championship last year. Vilander has won a world title and multiple times at Le Mans. Balzan and Westphal are Daytona veterans.
Why this car will not win: Amazingly, Vilander has never won this race before. There are a stronger entries in this race.
What to expect for the full season: MacNeil and Vilander did not win a race in 2019 but I think that will change in 2020, however, I do not think these two will improve their championship finish.

#74 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley with Robinson Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3
Drivers: Lawson Aschenbach, Ben Keating, Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson
Why this car could win: Keating and Fraga have established a great partnership. Aschenbach has GT World Challenge America championships. Robinson was a good in GT4 America last year.
Why this car will not win: Keating is splitting his attention between two classes. Aschenbach is not known for endurance race success.
What to expect for the full season: Aschenbach and Robinson will be full-time. I feel like this car will get one or two podium finishes but nothing spectacular.

#86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 Evo
Drivers: Mario Farnbacher, Jules Gounon, Matt McMurry, Shinya Michimi
Why this car could win: Farnbacher is the defending GTD champion. McMurry is coming off an LMP2 title last year. Gounon has won the 24 Hours of Spa, is an ADAC GT Masters champion and won at Circuit Paul Ricard last year in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Michimi has been a Lamborghini Super Trofeo champion.
Why this car will not win: Testing pace was not encouraging and the sister car appears to be much stronger.
What to expect for the full season: Farnbacher could not have asked for a better new driver to join him in his title defense with McMurry. Defending is tough but I think Farnbacher will but up a respectable defense with McMurry with at least one or two victories and end up somewhere in the top five of the championship.

#88 Audi Sport Team WRT Speedstar Audi R8 LMS Evo
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Rolf Ineichen, Daniel Morad, Dries Vanthoor
Why this car could win: Bortolotti and Ineichen have won the last two years but with GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. Morad won this race in GTD in 2017. Vanthoor has won the 2018 Bathurst 12 Hour and he won the 2019 24 Hours Nürburgring.
Why this car will not win: This is a one-off. Bortolotti was seventh in testing but the next best from this entry was Morad in 41st.
What to expect for the full season: This 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: Auberlen, Foley and Machavern ended the 2019 season strong with a Petit Le Mans victory. Aberdeen is tied with Scott Pruett for most IMSA victories, both having 60 victories and what better place to get the record than at Daytona?
Why this car will not win: Auberlen has not won a class in the 24 Hours of Daytona since 1998 and the law of averages would suggest that should change. Testing results were good; all four drivers were in the top 40 with Auberlen quickest in 13th. Maybe this will be Auberlen's year and 2020 will start with a record-breaking performance at Daytona.
What to expect for the full season: I think Auberlen and Foley could be a sneaky championship contender.

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3
Drivers: Ross Gunn, Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda, Andrew Watson
Why this car could win: Lamy and Lauda have experience with one another. Gunn is having a good year in the GTE-Am class in WEC with three podium finishes from four races. Watson has a GTE-Am podium finish this season. Watson will substitute for Paul Dalla Lana, who suffered an injury skiing.
Why this car will not win: It just seems like this entry never has a good one-off at Daytona.
What to expect for the full season: This is not a full-time entrant.

Practice for the 24 Hours of Daytona begins Thursday January 23rd at 10:05 a.m. ET. Second practice will take place at 12:45 p.m. ET with qualifying following at 4:15 p.m. ET. Night practice is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET.

Final practice is scheduled for 9:50 a.m. ET on Friday January 24th.

The 58th 24 Hours of Daytona will begin at 1:40 p.m. ET on Saturday January 25th.