Wednesday, November 24, 2021

2021 Sports Car Predictions: Revisited

Now that Petit Le Mans is complete and the IMSA season is over, we can look at our sports car predictions. This is an exciting period for sports car racing. The Hypercar class made its debut. More manufactures are committing to Hypercar and LMDh. It is hard not to look ahead, but staying in the moment, we had a Le Mans in August, IMSA introduced LMP3 to its top series and the European Le Mans Series continued to have strong grids. How did these predictions shake out?

1. A Cadillac team does not win the DPi Endurance Cup championship
Correct! General Motors' dominance in the DPi Endurance Cup has ended, and a former Cadillac entrant is the reason. 

The #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura of Ricky Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Alexander Rossi took the Endurance Cup championship. It all started with a victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona with Hélio Castroneves, but they were big scorers in Daytona, as the #10 Acura led at the 12-hour and 18-hour marks, netting five points each time. 

Daytona alone carried the team as it did not score the maximum five points until the four-hour mark at Petit Le Mans. However, it was first at four hours and second at eight hours into Petit Le Mans, securing Endurance Cup for the team as the #55 Mazda was outside the top three at each point in the race. Mazda's victory was not going to be enough to top Wayne Taylor Racing, finishing six points back with 39 markers. 

Dane Cameron was alone in third on 34 points driving Meyer Shank Racing's #60 Acura. 

The top Cadillac team? The #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac and the #5 JDC-Miller Motorsports Cadillac were tied on 32 points. I am not sure how a tie is broken, but the #5 Cadillac did win the 12 Hours of Sebring and was the leading car at the six-hour mark in the 24 Hours of Daytona. The only time the #31 Cadillac topped a points-paying time during the Endurance Cup season was the three-hour mark at Watkins Glen.

To add insult to injury, Acura also won the Endurance Cup for manufactures with 51 points to Cadillac's 48 points and Mazda's 45 points. 

2. There will be at least one notable incident involving an LMP3 car

I must say this was an impressively clean year from the LMP3 entrants. Were LMP3 cars in cautions? Yes. Was there an abundance of incidents at Petit Le Mans? Yes. But none of these were that notable and I mean an incident that became a headline story that basically overshadowed the weekend. 

All credit to LMP3. I am not sure where it fits in with IMSA once the 2023 season rolls around and the LMDh class is introduced. It was added to pad car count after the GTLM class was dwindled to three full-time cars. I don't think it will carry on but it is a proper class with many top-notch drivers. I think next year will be just as clean as this year. 

3. There will be one GTLM race where the winning team did not compete in the GTLM class in 2020
Correct! And this one was not as much as a slam dunk as it first appeared, but the #79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche won three times, and it did not take long to get that first victory. 

Cooper MacNeil, Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet won the 12 Hours of Sebring, the second race of the season. MacNeil and Campbell then won at Road America before the American-Australian-French trio took Petit Le Mans victory. 

4. At least two manufactures win in GTD that did not win in 2020
Correct! And this one did not take long either. 

HTP Winward Motorsport won the 24 Hours of Daytona with the #57 Mercedes-AMG. A one-off entry got us halfway there in the first race of the season. 

The #23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin of Romain De Angelis and Ross Gunn won the fourth race of the season at Belle Isle. Heart of Racing Team won two more races this season, Lime Rock Park and Petit Le Mans where De Angelis and Gunn had Ian James join them. 

FIA World Endurance Championship
5. Toyota does not sweep the overall victories
Wrong! Toyota swept them all. 

Six-or-six, and there were a few close occasions.

In the season opener at Spa-Francorchamps, the #36 Alpine was on the lead lap until the end and finished second to the #8 Toyota. One slip in the final hour and Alpine was going to be on the top step of the podium. 

At the second race in Portimão, Alpine was on pole position, but Toyota took a 1-2 finish with Alpine in third. All three cars were on the lead lap, but Alpine was over a minute behind the Toyotas. 

It was a minute between the #7 Toyota and the Alpine at the Monza finish and Toyota had a few problems. The #7 Toyota ground to a halt in the penultimate hour, but Kamui Kobayashi was able to restart the car. He climbed back to the front, but what helped Toyota gain victory was a late caution, which leapfrogged the #7 Toyota ahead of the Alpine. 

In the final three races, Toyota went 1-2 in each with the #7 Toyota winning at Le Mans and the 6 Hours of Bahrain. The #8 Toyota won the 8 Hours of Bahrain season finale.

6. Signatech Alpine wins at least two races

What I did not account for with Alpine's grandfathered LMP1 entry in the Hypercar class was the LMP2 program going away. Signatech continued in LMP2 fielding the #1 Richard Mille Racing Team Oreca, but the best finish for that entry was sixth. 

Either way, this was a bust of a prediction. 
7. At least one full-time GTE-Pro entry does not win a race
Correct! Not only did one full-time GTE-Pro entry not win a race, but two went winless. 

The #51 AF Corse Ferrari of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi and the #92 Porsche of Kévin Estre and Neel Jani each won three races, meaning each of their sister cars were winless. 

The #52 Ferrari of Miguel Molina and Daniel Serra was runner-up at Portimão while the #91 Porsche of Gianmaria Bruni and Richard Lietz was second in the 6 Hours of Bahrain. 

It was really a two-horse race. 

8. A Dempsey-Proton Racing entrant scores at least 90 points
Wrong! But damn was this close. 

Entering the final two WEC races in Bahrain, the #77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche was on 34 points and the #88 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche was on 30 points. Neither were all that close, but with the 8 Hours of Bahrain there were more points on the table, 65 points to be specific, so both cars were alive. 

The #77 Porsche was second in the 6 Hours of Bahrain and the #88 Porsche only got a half-point for finishing 12th. That meant only the #77 Porsche was alive with 52 points and 39 points on the table. A victory would get us there. The #77 Porsche finished second in the season finale, falling 11 points short! 

What makes it hurt more is the #77 Porsche retired from the first two races. Eleven points from two races is completely practical, also when considering the second round was the 8 Hours of Portimão where the points are more heavily weighed. A seventh and an eighth in the first two races would have been enough. A fourth in Spa-Francorchamps or a sixth in Portimão would have been enough as well. 

Those runner-up finishes got the #77 Porsche up to third in the final championship standings but fell short of fulfilling this prediction. 

European Le Mans Series
9. There will be one race where one nationality is represented by at least one driver in all three class winners
Wrong! But there were a few close calls, and the French did their best.

The second round was at the Red Bull Ring. LMP3 had Frenchman Nicolas Maulini win with Cool Racing while AF Corse won in GTE with French drivers Emmanuel Collard and François Perrodo, but LMP2 did not feature a Frenchman. There was Swiss driver Louis Delétraz, Pole Robert Kubica and Chinese Ye Yifei. 

Two rounds later at Monza, France had Julien Canal win in LMP2, and Mathieu de Barbuat won in LMP3, but GTE had Briton Duncan Cameron, Italian Alessandro Pier Guidi and South African David Perel on its top step. 

One round later at Spa-Francorchamps, de Barbuat was victorious again in LMP3 with Collard and Perrodo again on top in GTE, but it was Delétraz, Kubica and Yifei on top in LMP2. To add insult to injury, second in LMP2 was Tristan Gommendy, third in LMP2 was Canal, fourth in LMP2 was Nicolas Lapierre and Charles Milesi, fifth was Nico Jamin and sixth was an all-French lineup of Paul Lafargue, Paul-Loup Chatin and Patrick Pilet. There was at least one Frenchman in five of the top six finishers but none of them were first! 

Maybe next year it will happen!

10. United Autosports wins fewer combined races across the LMP2 and LMP3 classes

After winning seven races between LMP2 and LMP3 last year in ELMS, United Autosports had only one victory. The #22 United Autosports Oreca-Gibson of Jonathan Aberdein, Tom Gamble and Philip Hanson won the season finale at Portimão. The team was shutout in LMP3.

The #2 United Autosports Ligier-Nissan was on the LMP3 podium in the final four races, including runner-up results at Monza and Portimão.

I knew it would be fewer than seven victories, but I wasn't thinking only one. I was thinking four, maybe five tops, but one? All credit to Team WRT in LMP2 and DKR Engineering in LMP3. Both those teams won the respective class championships, and each won three races. 

11. There will be at least one class winner that has no other podium finishes but its one victory

Every class winner was on the podium multiple times. 

G-Drive Racing won in LMP2 at Circuit Paul Ricard, but it was second at Red Bull Ring in the previous round. All the winners in LMP3 were on the podium at least three times. DKR Engineering won three times in LMP3, but those were the team's only podium results. In GTE, the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari was on the podium in all six races and won three of them on its way to the championship. The other two race winners were both on the podium four times. 

The #93 Proton Competition Porsche was close to fulfilling this prediction. It was second at Portimão behind the #80 Ferrari and it was the #93 Porsche's only podium finish of the season. 

12. There will not be a tie for any of the championship after the final race of the season

Team WRT won the LMP2 championship with 118 points, 32 points ahead of United Autosports. 

In LMP3, DKR Engineering won the championship by a point over Cool Racing! 

Iron Lynx had 126 points in GTE, 37 points ahead of the Spirit of Race Ferrari. 

That makes its six out of 12, 50%. Same as last year. It didn't get any better, but at least it didn't get any worse.