One month is into the books and 2021 has had a fair start.
A few schedule amendments have been made in multiple series. A few races have already been canceled. Some have fortunately only been postponed. Everyone is still making their way in this uncertain world. There have been a few of the highlight events. The Dakar Rally took place. The Supercross season has started. Rallye Monte-Carlo opened the World Rally Championship. The 24 Hours of Daytona has just concluded.
It might have been a different January, but it was still one with plenty to talk about. Let's get to it.
Glad to be Back
There are two thoughts every January: It is great to have motorsports back... and motorsports never really went away.
At the start of a Northern Hemisphere winter, things dial back and there will be a few weeks of nothing as we have Christmas and New Year's. But out of 52 weeks of a year, there are about 48 weeks with some type of action. Formula One races into December now. It's just what they do. The FIA World Endurance Championship has run into December. Formula E doesn't normally start until December. Asian Le Mans Series can race in December.
Then we get to the New Year and the Dakar Rally begins, as does Supercross. Not long after that, the Dubai 24 Hour takes place, Formula E might have another round, Rallye Monte-Carlo kicks off the World Rally Championship season and then there is the 24 Hours of Daytona.
Once we get to Daytona, February is on our door step, which means the start of NASCAR's marathon season, testing ramps up for Formula One, IndyCar, MotoGP and many other series, and then it is March and the season begins to hit its stride and remains moving at a good pace until the end of October.
Outside those final few weeks of December and possibly the first weekend of January, the only other time there is nothing going on is Easter Weekend, and some years there are two or three events that weekend. This year, the FIA WEC season will begin at Portimão on Easter Sunday.
There is a lull, but there are plenty of other things to fill the gap. I want to celebrate Christmas and do family stuff. I want to watch football and hockey. It is ok to have three weeks off, and it is not a big deal when events resume.
With that Said...
The 24 Hours of Daytona remains the first major event of the season. This year was different with the Roar test pushed back to the weekend before the actually race, but I think that didn't cause any problems and could be the way of the future.
It felt odd when the Roar would be January 3-5 or 7-9 and then the race was three weeks later. It makes more sense for all the teams to go down there at once and leave everything set up before the race itself. It does make teams confirm their lineups earlier. Instead of having three or four drivers cycle through a car, all the teams had their lineups set and whoever was testing was likely going to be racing.
I am not sure the qualifying race stuck. What's the point of having a 100-minute race to set the grid for a 24-hour race? When did starting position matter that much for a 24-hour race? IMSA has been trying to make the Roar an event for the last couple of years, whether that has been instituting a special qualifying session to determine garage position or now a 100-minute race to determine the grids, but this kind of came off flat.
Some teams pulled out of the race early to avoid damage and when most classes have ten cars or fewer, there is no reason why a team couldn't win from sixth in class in a 24-hour race. I am sure there is a better way to use these 100 minutes, whether that is adding those to an existing race (Road America) or creating another race on the schedule (I am open to another street race, notably Nashville with IndyCar or a return to Barber Motorsports Park). An extra round likely will not happen, but a man can dream.
Race of Champions
In unexpected pandemic news, the Race of Champions announced it will return in January 2022 with the event being held in Sweden for the first time and this edition will take place on snow and ice. Next year's event will be the first ROC event since Mexico City hosted the 2019 edition. The track will be at Pite Havsbad, about 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
The 2022 edition aims to be fully sustainable and carbon-neutral with electric cars also being a part of the competition. Organizers stated the event will be able to take place in safe conditions even if pandemic restrictions extend into 2022.
I am excited that ROC is returning, and I am excited for a new venue, however, could they have gifted this competition anymore to the Scandinavian nations? I am going to save you the time and spoil the results because we are going to see at least one Swede in the final of the Champion of Champions competition and the other finalist will either be a Swede, a Finn or Finland will sweep the finalists.
Either way, Sweden and Finland will likely meet in the Nations' Cup final. Perhaps Norway sneaks in to either of these finals.
It is cool to do something different, but this is an incredible advantage to the Scandinavians, who have already had great success in this competition. Swedes and Finns combine for nine Champion of Champions victories out of 29 competitions.
In the Nations' Cup, Finland has won twice while three Nordic/Scandinavian combination teams combine for three other victories. That is five out of 19 Nations' Cup for Scandinavian drivers. Other than Germany, which has won the Nations' Cup eight times, the only other country with multiple Nations' Cup victories is France with two. Spain, the United States, England and a French-Spanish-Brazilian All-Star team all have won it once.
At least we should have individual teams for Sweden, Finland, Norway and even Denmark. We shouldn't have a Team Nordic with Tom Kristensen and Petter Solberg competing together. There are plenty of Swedes to choose from. Johan Kristoffersson won with Kristensen in Team Nordic in 2019 and Kristoffersson was a part of the announcement of the 2022 event. I bet he will be there. Sweden also has Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist. Mattias Ekström is still around in Rallycross. The host has plenty of options.
As for the Finns, I doubt ROC could afford Kimi Räikkönen, but Finland still has Valtteri Bottas and WRC competitor Kalle Rovanperä. There are also BMW driver Jesse Krohn, sports car veteran Toni Vilander and 2004 Champion of Champions and 2006 Nations' Cup winner Heikki Kovalainen could make a return.
Norway is a little thinner on options, but WRC competitor Andreas Mikkelsen should top the list. Perhaps Petter Solberg or Mads Østberg could make a return. Porsche could let Dennis Olsen compete. Denmark has plenty of drivers. Besides Kristensen, you could have Nicki Thiim, Marco Sørensen, Kevin Magnussen, Jan Magnussen, Michael Christensen, Christina Nielsen, Dennis Lind, Christian Lundgaard or Frederik Vesti compete.
The conditions and the challenge have actually drawn more interest from drivers. Scott McLaughlin wants to team with Scott Dixon for New Zealand, a move I fully support. Lucas di Grassi has shown some interest. Australians Daniel Ricciardo and Chad Reed got in on the conversation after hearing about the Dixon/McLaughlin pairing. James Hinchcliffe seems game, as does Alexander Rossi. The advantage might be in the favor of the Scandinavians, but the world is not deterred.
I do think France are the sleepers, because they can pull Yvan Muller out of retirement. Muller is famous for having ten Andros Trophy ice racing championships in France. He also has four World Touring Car championships and a British Touring Car Championship crown, but we are talking ice racing here. Combine Muller with Aurélien Pants, the defending Andros Trophy champion, Nicolas Prost, Yann Ehrlacher or Nathanaël Berthon and they could steal the show.
As the self-appointed general manager of the United States in Race of Champions, this Swedish snow and ice event presents a difficult task. One, the United States is not setup to succeed in a snow and ice event, not in Race of Champions. Ice hockey? You bet. Figure skating? Maybe. Curling? Apparently. Race of Champions? Competing in a head-to-head motorsports event in unfamiliar race cars in winter's worst weather conditions? That is not going in our favor.
Who to pick? Honestly, I am not sure I can consider any top circuit racers. I think most options would just cause embarrassment. I thought about dirt racers because they are always racing on slick conditions and battling car control. I have always wanted to see a rally driver attempt to drive a Midget car so why not try the reverse and put a dirt driver on icy conditions in rally cars and buggies?
But I know we have some ice in this country. Not a lot of places do ice racing. A lot of places can't do ice racing. But some do and the first one that sprang to mind was Wisconsin. And there are notable Wisconsinites, Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard. I don't know how much ice racing Kenseth has done, but Menard has competed on a regular basis and started in ice racing as a teenager. Menard might not fit the mold of champion, but he might give the USA its best chance at victory since Colin Edwards carried Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon to victory in 2002.
Race of Champions is also an old man's game, and not just an old man's game but a retired man's game.
Consider that David Coulthard won overall in 2018, six years after his last competitive race over a 43-year-old Petter Solberg and Coulthard also won in 2014 over Pascal Wehrlein. Tom Kristensen made the final four times in five competitions and lost one of those years to Juan Pablo Montoya.
When the 2022 competition rolls around, Kenseth will be about two months away from turning 50 and Menard will only be 41 years old, but a handful of years removed from full-time NASCAR competition. It might not be the sexiest duo the United States could produce, but it is the duo the United States needs.
The big February event is the Daytona 500, and we will have a full-blown NASCAR preview ahead of Speedweeks and the start of the season, but we are going to cover a few bases here.
This is going to be the 63rd Daytona 500.
Denny Hamlin has won the last two Daytona 500s. No driver has won three consecutive Daytona 500s. No team has won three consecutive Daytona 500s, which Joe Gibbs Racing could do. Toyota has won three Daytona 500s. Hamlin has been the driver for all three of those Daytona 500s.
Hamlin will be the only multi-time Daytona 500 winner in the 2021 field. Other past winners include Derrike Cope, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon.
The most years between Daytona 500 victories is ten, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from 2004 to 2014. Cope, Harvick, Newman or McMurray could break that record.
Kyle Busch's 58 Cup victories are the most for a driver without a Daytona 500 victory.
Since 2005, only five of 16 Daytona 500s have been exactly 500 miles (2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017). Ten have had green-white-checkered finish and one (2009) was rain-shortened. However, the longest stretch without a 500-mile finish is three years.
Last year's Daytona 500 was the longest at 209 laps, 522.5 miles.
Chevrolet has won the last three Daytona 500s scheduled for February 14 and General Motors has won the last six Daytona 500s scheduled for February 14. The last non-GM brand to win the Daytona 500 on February 14 was Plymouth in 1971 with Richard Petty.
The last time the reigning NASCAR Cup champion won the Daytona 500 was Jeff Gordon in 1999. That was also the last time the driver to win the season finale from the year prior won the Daytona 500.
The last pole-sitter to win the Daytona 500 was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Joey Logano has won one of the Daytona 500 qualifying races each of the last two years. The only driver to win a Daytona 500 qualifying race in at least three consecutive years was Dale Earnhardt, who won one of the qualifying races in each year of the 1990s.
Team Penske has won one of the Daytona 500 qualifying races in each of the last three years. Hendrick Motorsports is the all-time leader with 16 qualifying race victories. Richard Childress Racing has 15 qualifying race victories and Joe Gibbs Racing has ten.
Other events of note in February:
NASCAR will remain at Daytona for a road course race and then run at Homestead.
Asian Le Mans Series will have its entire season, a doubleheader at Dubai and a doubleheader at Yas Marina, within two weeks.
Supercars begins its season with a sprint round at Bathurst.
The World Rally Championship will contest Arctic Rally - Finland for the first time.