Thursday, December 29, 2022

2023 IndyCar Predictions

We are here for the final post of the year, and as has been the tradition, we end with IndyCar predictions. Coming off a championship that saw five drivers alive for the title in the final race of the season, and history made in multiple categories, IndyCar is set for more growth in 2023. The full-time grid will well exceed two-dozen cars and will be closer to 30 full-time entries than 20. 

There is plenty to be excited about. Drivers are moving around. More records are on the verge of being broken and there is a healthy balance between veterans and young drivers carrying the series. But what will happen in 2023? Let's keep an eye on for the following. 

1. Team Penske will lead fewer than 1,000 laps
The 2022 season was a dominant display from Team Penske, otherwise known as business as usual in IndyCar circles. 

Will Power claimed his second championship off the back of one victory but nine podium finishes and 12 top five finishes. 

Josef Newgarden led IndyCar with five victories and was second in the championship. Scott McLaughlin won three times with seven podium finishes and ended up fourth in the championship. 

The Penske drivers went 1-2-3 in laps led. Newgarden led 527 laps, McLaughlin led 433 laps and Power led 335 times. No other driver led more than 200 laps. 

Combined, Team Penske led 1,295 laps in 2022. 

Why do I think Penske will led at least 296 fewer laps in 2023? 

Arrow McLaren looks stronger. Chip Ganassi Racing had a good 2022 season, but it has room for growth. If Andretti Autosport can gets its head straight it could make a significant step forward. 

We also have to realize there is a world where Newgarden, McLaughlin and Power all each 100 fewer laps than they did this year but would still be 1-2-3 in laps led and have only led a combined 995 laps. There is a world where Penske still dominates but doesn't hit 1,000 laps led. 

2. At least five teams win a race
For a while, IndyCar had a period where it felt like every team was winning races. It wasn't uncommon for five or six teams to win in a single season. In 2018, every Honda team won a race plus Team Penske. In 2021, six teams won a race. Ten different drivers won in the 2017 season. The 2014 season had 11 different drivers win a race. Last year had only eight winners, not a low number, but not an overwhelming number. Only four teams won a race. 

However, look at Team Penske's three drivers. Look at the three drivers McLaren has assembled. Ganassi has three proven winners. Andretti should stumble into a victory and it has at least two drivers who should be able to pull it out. 

Outside of the four winning teams we saw in 2022, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is on the door step of a victory. Graham Rahal is regularly at the front but the pieces just don't fall his way. Christian Lundgaard looks poised for a breakout. If Jack Harvey can find his form, he could win a race. Ed Carpenter Racing won two years ago with Rinus VeeKay, and VeeKay shows flashes of speed. Not to mention ECR still looks competitive at Indianapolis. 

David Malukas was maybe a lap or two away from pulling out a stunning victory at Gateway with Dale Coyne Racing. Meyer Shank Racing has two talented drivers in Hélio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. 

Of the ten full-time teams, only A.J. Foyt Racing and Juncos Hollinger Racing appear unlikely to win a race, but now that Foyt has hired Santino Ferrucci, you cannot entirely rule out that group on an oval. 

Somebody new will breakthrough. Five teams will claim a victory. 

3. Colton Herta will end the 2023 season with less than 40 Super License points from IndyCar championship results
The saga of the 2022 season was Herta's pursuit of an FIA Super License, and ultimate failure of reaching the 40-point threshold.

Finishing tenth in the championship gave Herta one Super License point, but with the current provision in the regulation of Super License points coming from the best three of the last four seasons due to the pandemic, Herta's one point for 2022 is effectively dropped and he is stuck on 32 Super License points. 

With the four points for his seventh in 2019 about to be dropped, Herta must finish third or better in the championship in 2023 to qualify for a Super License. Of course, Herta can also earn Super License points from participating in the first free practice. Completing over 100 kilometers with no infractions will earn him a point. 

But when it comes to championship finishes, the only way Herta can reach 40 Super License points is finishing third or better in the championship. I don't see that happening. Herta is good but Andretti is in shambles compared to a few seasons ago. It is a team that cannot get out of its own way. It throws away too many races. Herta would need to be close to flawless to crack the top three. It isn't impossible, but it is unlikely. 

4. Alexander Rossi will have his best average finish since the 2019 season
McLaren has stacked its IndyCar lineup for the 2023 season and adding Rossi at this time could be the final piece of the puzzle. Since purchasing its first piece in Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, McLaren has been aiming to become the exemplary example of IndyCar competition. It has made strides and became a threat to win races, but it hasn't quite become a championship team. 

Rossi is motivated and stated one of the reasons for his move to McLaren from Andretti was to win the championship. I don't know if we will see it in year one, but I think we will see Rossi back to that high level we were accustomed to seeing at the start of the universal aero kit era. 

In each of the last three seasons, Rossi's average finish has been worse than 12th. There is a lot of room for improvement and we will see it. In 2019, his average finish was 6.352. The season before that it was 5.705. He might not get to that level, but it should be better than 12th.

5. Patricio O'Ward does not win either race immediately preceding an IMS road course race
Here is a peculiar thing in recent seasons, Patricio O'Ward has won the race preceding three of the last four IMS road course races.

In 2021, he won the second Texas race, which was the race prior to the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. In 2022, both his victories were the races before IMS road course races. First was Barber Motorsports Park and the other was the second Iowa race. 

There are two IMS road course races again in 2023. Barber and Nashville are the races prior to those events. O'Ward will win neither.  

6. Conor Daly does not finish ten positions or better than his starting position in the Indianapolis 500
Daly has benefitted from timely pit stops and cautions the last two years in the Indianapolis 500. In each of the last two editions, Daly has made an early pit stop just before a caution and each time it has seen Daly go from middle of the pack to the front. 

In 2021, Daly went from a 21st starting position to inside the top three after Stefan Wilson's spin entering the pit lane on lap 33. Daly was leading by lap 50 of that race and then went on to lead a race-high 40 laps before he dropped to 13th. 

This past Indianapolis 500 saw the same thing happen. Daly qualified 18th, was running in the middle of the field, but made his second pit stop just prior to Callum Ilott's accident. Up shot Daly to second and he was leading by lap 80. He only led seven laps this year but ended up finishing 6th. 

That isn't going to happen again but this prediction cuts two ways. This isn't just predicting Daly will not go from middle of the field into the top ten because of a timely pit stop, but it also takes into consideration Daly might not be able to make up ten positions because he could start in the top ten. It could be the case Daly gets the Ed Carpenter Racing qualifying mojo and ends up starting in the top ten. Even if he were to go from eighth to first this prediction would be correct.

7. Kyle Kirkwood outscores Devlin DeFrancesco by at least 75 points
I am not sure anyone saw the 2022 IndyCar rookie class playing out the way it did. 

Many expected Christian Lundgaard to be Rookie of the Year or at least close to it, but David Malukas was the one pushing the Dane. Callum Ilott was the next best rookie despite missing a race. Then it was DeFrancesco and Kirkwood. Expectations were low for DeFrancesco, but Kirkwood wasn't thought to be last of the full-time rookies. Kirkwood was driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, but there was hope he could get something respectable out of that car. 

That didn't happen, and it wasn't all the team. Kirkwood made plenty of mistakes. He had eight finishes outside the top twenty. That killed his season and he ended up 23 points behind DeFrancesco in the championship after finishing 111 points ahead DeFrancesco in the 2021 Indy Lights championship while the two drivers were Andretti Autosport teammates.

They will be Andretti Autosport teammates again in 2023 but now in IndyCar. DeFrancesco had a good season, but he had only three results inside the top fifteen. Kirkwood's season was bad, but even he had three top fifteen finishes with his best result being tenth at Long Beach. 

I don't think Kirkwood will be that bad again, not in an Andretti car. Andretti might be a borderline dysfunctional team, but Kirkwood will get a leg up in this outfit. The concern is his mistakes. He cannot overdrive the car like he did last year. He should get things under control and make a leap up the championship standings. 

Seventy-five points more than DeFrancesco's total would net a driver 17th in the championship in 2022, not great, but the bare minimum of where Kirkwood should be in his sophomore season. 

8. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has at least four podium finish
Arguably the best team not to win a race in 2022, RLLR had plenty of good days, but didn't put together many great days. Qualifying was another hinderance for the organization. Many times the team would be starting outside the top ten and then pull out a top ten result. 

Graham Rahal had nine top ten finishes, but he started only twice inside the top ten. Christian Lundgaard was finding pace late in the season and had five top ten starts, three of which came in the final five races, including two top five starting positions, the only ones for the team all year. Jack Harvey had the season from hell and he started in the top ten three times, but he regularly went backward. 

Rahal was close to a podium finish at Toronto. Lundgaard could have been on the podium at Portland. If this team finds qualifying pace, it will be set up for more podium finishes. I think RLLR will continue heading in the right direction. Rahal and Lundgaard should each get a few podium finishes. The question mark is Harvey. If Harvey is finishing on the podium that should be good news for the other two drivers and the entire organization. 

9. The Detroit street race will have the fewest number of total passes among the five street races
IndyCar is moving from Belle Isle to a downtown Detroit street course, and after attending last year's Belle Isle race, I understand the move. Belle Isle is incredible. The park is a lovely setting and the track itself became the best street course in IndyCar.

But Detroit's downtown area is impressive and the location of the circuit is right next to the heart of the city. It will be more accessible to spectators and be a better experience. However, the course is a little uninspired. It is shorter and some of the roads, especially around where the finish line and pit lane will be located, are narrow. 

Belle Isle had 280 total passes in 2022, the second most for a street race behind only Nashville's 334. The other street courses had 154 total passes (St. Petersburg), 152 (Long Beach), and 145 (Toronto). I think Detroit will fall down around the rest of the street courses and end up with the least. I think an adequate Detroit race would have about 130 total passes. I think there is a chance the race could be just above 100, but not much more than that. 

10. A report will come out about the IndyCar video game being delayed, cancelled or that it is horrible
Full disclosure, I thought of this prediction sometime around late September when it occurred to me IndyCar had said it was working on a video game and yet we went through the entire 2022 season without hearing of any development of said game. 

Flash-forward to the week prior to Christmas and IndyCar's video game world is firmly in the spotlight after it was announced IndyCar's licensing in iRacing was set to expire meaning officially sanction IndyCar races could no longer take place on the racing simulator. IndyCar has an exclusive agreement with Motorsport Games, which is responsible for the current NASCAR video game franchise, rFactor2, a competing simulator to iRacing, and Motorsport Games is also working on a FIA World Endurance Championship game. 

The planned launch date for the IndyCar game was 2023. It will have 365 days to release the game, but considering we haven't heard anything, I am not sure we are going to see it, and if we do see it, will it be any good? 

At the moment, even if the game is good, I don't think it will earn any praise due to the current controversy. However, the NASCAR games Motorsport Games produce aren't rated that highly. They are mostly rated between the high 50s and mid-60s. I would consider horrible anything below 60. 

This isn't even mentioning Motorsport Games is losing money. If any game happens, even if it is crap, could be a minor miracle. I am leaning to the IndyCar game not happening in 2023, and possibly not happening at all, leaving IndyCar right where it has been for nearly two decades in the video game, floating in limbo.

11. At least two drivers that start the Indy Lights season with HMD Motorsports do not finish the season with HMD Motorsports
One Indy Lights prediction to mix it up. 

HMD Motorsports is fielding eight cars next year with a ninth run in partnership with Force Indy for Ernie Francis, Jr. I have watched Indy Lights long enough to know if a season isn't going well for a driver, he will bail and save his pennies for another season or go elsewhere.

Eight drivers is a lot to keep happy, and not everyone at HMD is going to be successful. We will get to the halfway point at Road America and for a few drivers it will be clear 2023 is not their season to win the Indy Lights championship and earn the scholarship, though a decreased valued scholarship to IndyCar. 

Somebody is going to decide that will be enough for them and then someone else will also call it a season before we get to Laguna Seca. It is bound to happen.

12. European drivers combine for at least three victories
It might be a North American championship, but IndyCar has a deep international influence. However, in 2022, European drivers combined for only two victories, Marcus Ericsson in the Indianapolis 500 and Álex Palou in the Laguna Seca season finale. 

It isn't a case of European drivers being known for dominating the championship, but two victories is not very many, especially when you consider the drivers in the series. In 2021, European drivers combined for six victories. European drivers only won twice in 2020 and once in 2018, but they had three in 2019 (all at the hands of Simon Pagenaud), three in 2017 (two for Pagenaud and one for Sébastien Bourdais), six in 2016 (five for Pagenaud, one for Bourdais) and five in 2014 (two for Mike Conway and Pagenaud and one for Bourdais. Bourdais also won twice in 2015, and Pagenaud won twice in 2013).

Generally, European drivers get at least three victories in a season, even if it is only one driver responsible for those victories. There is too much talent there to think the likes of Palou, Ericsson, VeeKay, Pagenaud, Lundgaard, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean and even Callum Ilott and Jack Harvey cannot combine to win at least three races. Five of these drivers have won in IndyCar before. A few will win again in 2023. 

That is it! Predictions are done.  NASCAR is done. Formula One is done. Sports car and motorcycles are done. Next up is 2023. The seasons will come quickly at us. Previews will be in full force shortly.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

2023 Motorcycle Predictions

It is time for motorcycles. We will not only be looking at paved circuit series this year, but we will dive into some dirt, especially as the off-road championships in the United States are seeing a shake up. There has been stagnation in some series over the last few years, but I think 2023 will be the year we see a few changes. It will not be more of the same. 

1. Marc Márquez finishes in the top five of the championship
This is swinging big after three injury plagued seasons. Márquez did not win in 2022 and it looked like it was the first time he has struggled with the Honda bike, something every other Honda rider has been exhibiting for the last few seasons. 

But even with all the injuries, Márquez still looked dangerous. Even if he wasn't 100%, he was fourth at Motegi, fifth at Buriram and second at Phillip Island after missing the middle portion of the season. Based on his 113 points scored, he was averaging 9.41667 points per start. Extrapolate that over a full 20-race season, he would be on pace for 188.333 points. Brad Binder had 188 points in sixth last year and Jack Miller was fifth on 189 points. 

Márquez just has to stay healthy. That has to happen some season, right?

2. At no point will one manufacture have won five consecutive pole positions
Ducati won five consecutive pole positions from Austin to Mugello and then it won six consecutive pole positions from the Sachsenring to Aragón, and just to provide more information, Ducati ended the season with four consecutive pole positions. 

The Italian manufacturer produced the most straight-line speed, and it got them the riders', constructors' and teams' championships last year. That speed will still be there but we will not see any manufacturer go on tears and win every pole position for two or three months. It will be more varied...

Also, I am not entirely sure what this prediction means now that every MotoGP race will have sprint races. I thought of this before MotoGP committed to such a decision. I am figuring this out in real time. I guess this refers to qualifying that sets the grid for the sprint race. MotoGP hasn't really clarified who it will considered pole-sitter for a race weekend. Will it be the fastest qualifier or will it be the sprint race winner, who will start first for the grand prix? I am saying now that I am referring to the qualifying sessions, not the sprint races.

3. The Ducati Desmosedici GP22 will have at least four podium finishes
It was the best bike in 2022, but it didn't start the season that way. Ducati won four of the first eight races of the season, but three of those races did not see the Desmosedici GP22 victorious. It was the Desmosedici GP21 that won with Enea Bastianini. 

The newer Ducati improved and became the best bike, but the year-old model arguably was the second-best bike of the season. 

It seems unlikely the GP23 will have as slow of a start, and Bastianini will now be on the factory bike from the start of the season, but I don't think the GP22 is going to fall off the face of the earth. Marco Bezzecchi was competing at the front on the 2021 bike at the end of last year with VR46 Racing Team. Gresini Racing is a question mark with Álex Márquez joining Fabio Di Giannantonio. 

The 2021 bike had seven podium finishes alone in 2022. If the 2021 bike was that good, the 2022 bike should be at least half as good when a year old, regardless of who is riding it.

4. There will be at least seven occasions where the sprint race winner wins the grand prix
We don't know what will happen with sprint races. They are going to be excessive. Some races they are going to feel excessive. Some races they will likely not even match what happens in a full grand prix. If there is rain it could be a mess. We don't know. 

But there are 21 grand prix weekends scheduled. I have a feeling that at least a third of the time the sprint race winner will win the big race on Sunday as well. Compared to qualifying, only three times in 20 races did the pole-sitter win in 2022. However, I think a race at half grand prix distance will be more reflective of what we will see in the grand prix than a qualifying session where everyone is trying to find one-lap speed. 

I don't think it will become predictable where the sprint race winner is always winning the grand prix. I am not convinced it will happen half the time, but a third of the time is a good amount.

5. Pedro Acosta will be one of the top two Spaniards in the Moto2 championship
Acosta missed two races in the middle of the season and was still fifth in the Moto2 championship in 2022. Champion, and fellow Spaniard, Augusto Fernández has moved to MotoGP. Arón Canet was third. Canet had a good season, but after a year on the Moto2 bike, Acosta should jump Canet. If he jumps Canet, there is a good chance he can be champion. 

Alonso López was eighth in the championship despite missing the first six race. He could push Acosta and Canet as well. After that there is a drop off to the other Spaniards. Albert Arenas was 12th in the championship. The only other Spaniard to finish on the podium besides Fernández, Canet, Acosta and López was Jorge Navarro. 

Izan Guevara and Sergio García moved up to Moto2 after being the top two riders in Moto3. They should have a few good days, but Acosta will be no worse than the second best Spaniard in Moto2. 

6. There will be South American winners in multiple classes
We don't see many South American riders in the grand prix championship series, but let's make an ambitious prediction. 

Diogo Moreira was the surprise of the 2022 Moto3 season and the Brazilian was eighth in the championship. Moreira will be back in Moto3 next year. Moto3 will also have 2021 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup champion, David Alonso of Colombia, compete full-time.

The one series we have seen South American winners is MotoE. Eric Granado has won ten times in MotoE since 2019, including five races last year on his way to finishing runner-up in that championship. Granado will be back in MotoE next year. This prediction is basically hoping we can see a surprise winner in Moto3 next year. 

World Superbike/World Supersport
7. Dominique Aegerter will have at least one accident riding in a top three position where he takes down another rider with him
Aegerter has been an impressive rider the last few seasons, making championship pushes in World Supersport and MotoE simultaneously. In 2022, he won both championships after finishing second in MotoE in 2021 while winning the 2021 World Supersport title. 

In 2023, Aegerter will compete for GRT Yamaha in World Superbike. It has been difficult for newcomers to succeed in World Superbike. Aegerter likely will not be champion. He might be fighting just to crack the top ten, but there will be a few races where he will stiffing the front positions. 

While being a talented rider, Aegerter does have a habit of stepping over the line. In the 2021 MotoE finale, he made a lunge up the inside of Jordi Torres on the final lap at Misano that took Torres out and saw Aegerter take first on the road, but the move was clearly deliberate and resulted in a 38-second penalty that cost Aegerter the title. In 2022, he was excluded from the second race of the Most round after he attempted to fake an injury in the first race of the weekend to draw a red flag and force a restart. 

Aegerter has questionable behavior at times. This is a stronger pool he is competing in. And I can see the pressure getting to him at one race when he is at the front, going over the line and taking someone down with him. It doesn't mean it was intentional. It just means it happens.

8. There will be a minimum of two first-time WSBK winners
World Superbike has been kind of stale. Whoever is winning early is winning late. There hasn't been a season in a while where there is an assortment of different winners spread over the rounds.

But the 2023 season will see a shock of talent entering. There is already Aegerter coming into the series, but his GRT Yamaha teammate will be Remy Gardner, the 2021 Moto2 champion, who was 23rd in MotoGP last year. 

Eric Granado will also be full-time in World Superbike in 2023 riding for MIE Racing Honda. Danilo Petrucci is joining the series after running full-time in MotoAmerica in 2022 and finishing second in that championship. 

Besides those new riders, there are plenty of WSBK experienced riders without a victory. Toprak Razgatliglu's Yamaha teammate Andrea Locatelli has yet to win in two seasons. If BMW finds something it has a winless riders in Garrett Gerloff. British Superbike champion Bradley Ray joins the series on a customer Yamaha. Lorenzo Baldassarri was second in World Supersport in 2022 and he joins World Superbike on a customer Yamaha. 

It cannot be the same three winners every weekend. There have to be some new winners, and not just new winners, but first-time winners. We will have at least two.

9. There will be at least four races where two of Álvaro Bautista, Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea are not on the podium and at least one of those is a SuperPole race
In 2022, there were only three races all season where two of the top three riders in the championship were not on the podium. 

The first was the second race from Assen. Baustista won, the other two retired. The second was the first race from Magny-Cours. Bautista won, Razgatlioglu was 11th and Rea was 24th. The final race was the second race from Magny-Cours. Razgatlioglu won, Rea was fifth and Bautista retired. 

With the riders in this series in 2023, that will be many more podium combinations and there will be different SuperPole podium finishers. In 12 SuperPole races, these three riders took 33 of a possible 36 podium finishes. The other three SuperPole podium results went to Scott Redding (third at Donington Park), Alex Lowes (third at Barcelona) and Andrea Locatelli (third at Mandilika).

There will be different riders on the podium next year and at a greater rate. 

10. There will be six weekend sweeps or fewer in World Supersport
There were seven weekend sweeps in World Supersport in 2022. Aegerter was responsible for six of them (Assen, Estoril, Misano, Donington Park, Barcelona and Argentina). The other was Lorenzo Baldassarri at Most. 

With Aegerter and Baldassarri moving on, I don't think we will see the same level of dominance as we have in recent seasons. Jorge Navarro will be replacing Aegerter at Ten Kate Racing Yamaha. He should win a few races. I don't think he will see him win 16 races and sweep eight weekends. 

There will likely be a few sweeps, but I just don't think they will happen in majority of the season.

11. The Supercross season opener winner will have multiple victories in 2023
In the last four Supercross seasons, the season opener winner didn't win again that season. 

It is usually Justin Barcia who wins. Barcia won the season opener in three consecutive seasons from 2019 through 2021. In all three of those seasons, it was his only victory. In 2022, Ken Roczen won the season opener, and it felt like this trend would be broken, but Roczen was banged up early, and he didn't get another victory. 

Marvin Musquin is the last season opener winner to win multiple times in a season, and that was in 2018. 

It just has to change. Whoever wins the first Anaheim round will win again over the final 16 races of the 2023 season.

12. The SuperMotocross champion will have an average championship finish greater than 2.5 between Supercross and Motocross
This is a new-era for American off-road motorcycle racing. The SuperMotocross Championship is a combination of the Supercross and Motocross seasons. The top 20 riders from the combined championship will advance to the main events for the two SuperMotocross playoff rounds and the championship round. Riders 21st through through 30th in the combined championship standings will compete in last chance qualifiers in each of the three SuperMotocross rounds. 

The individual championships will still exist. With individual championships, we could still see riders prioritize one season over the other. What this prediction is saying is whoever is the SuperMotocross champion has his average championship finish between the Supercross season and Motocross season be greater than 2.5.

Example: If the SuperMotocross champion was first in Supercross and third in Motocross, that average is two and this prediction would be incorrect. If the SuperMotocross champion was fourth in Supercross and second in Motocross, that average is three and this prediction would be correct.

Using 2022 results, Eli Tomac winning the SuperMotocross championship after sweep the Supercross and Motocross titles would mean this prediction is wrong. But if Chase Sexton, who was sixth in the Supercross championship and second in Motocross, won the SuperMotocross title, this prediction would be correct, as his average championship finish was four. 

This sounds like a long shot, but I do not think it will be the case.

One prediction remains and it is IndyCar. If you haven't seen it yet, the 2023 NASCAR, Formula One and sports car predictions have already been made. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

2023 Sports Car Predictions

Sports car racing is about to enter one of its most anticipated periods. In 2023, convergence will be here. The LMDh class will commence competition and an abundance of manufacturers will be eligible for overall victory at Le Mans. It has been decades since the two major 24-hour races could have the same machinery claim overall victory. In 2023, that will be possible and the 24 Hours of Daytona will be a historic pivot point. 

But there will be races beyond Daytona and Le Mans, and this is a set of predictions spanning the sports car world.

World Endurance Championship
1. Toyota will not finish on the podium at Le Mans
Toyota has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five consecutive times. It is the fifth time a manufacture has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times on the spin. 

But that changes in 2023 and it changes in a big way. Toyota may have a head start in the Hypercar world, but it hasn't faced any stiff competition in half a decade. In 2023, who shows up? Peugeot will be back after it started halfway through the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship season. Porsche will have two cars that Team Penske will operate. Ferrari is back, and there will be a Cadillac as well. 

You would think Toyota should at least put a car in the top three, but that is not going to happen this year. It will be an eye-opener for Toyota. It will have to push harder than it has to since 2017. I think it gets pushed over the limit and another manufacturer or two enter in strong form.

2. At least three different manufacturers win overall
There will be six manufacturers in Hypercar in 2023. Toyota isn't going to win all the races. Peugeot was making strides at the end of 2022, but it didn't quite have full race pace yet. Porsche will pull out at least one or two victories. Ferrari could be good enough. Cadillac has been strong in IMSA prior to the LMDh car. Glickenhaus still exists and it won two pole positions last season, but couldn't take the fight to Toyota for victories.

With the influx of new manufacturers, some of these teams will win. I doubt it is all of them, but three, half in a seven-race season, that makes sense. 

3. At least eight drivers with Formula One experience score a class victory
In 2022, six drivers with Formula One experience scored a class victory in WEC. 

Paul di Resta was the first to do in LMP2 at Le Mans. Kamui Kobayashi, Sébastien Buemi and Brendon Hartley all scored overall victories. Will Stevens was a winner in LMP2. Do you remember that Gianmaria Bruni drove for Minardi in the 2004 Formula One season? Bruni did, and he won in WEC last year in the GTE Pro class.

With more manufacturers in Hypercar, plenty of talented drivers filling professional seats in LMP2, and who knows what GTE will look like in its final season, but WEC is full of Formula One experienced drivers. Kobayashi, Buemi and Hartley could all win again, they should win again. André Lotterer is back in WEC's top class driving for Porsche, and Lotterer has the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix on his résumé. Di Resta drives for Peugeot and Jean-Éric Vergne also drives for that program. 

That is six drivers that could win, but Stevens will drive a Porsche for Jota. We still do not know the Ferrari drivers plus LMP2 seats still need to be filled. We know Giedo van der Garde will start at least two races for United Autosports when Tom Blomqvist has IMSA responsibilities. 

There are plenty of Formula One drivers around, they are good drivers. At least eight will be WEC winners.

4. An overall winner will have a double-digit odd-number
This is oddly specific, but one thing I noticed when Alpine won at Sebring last March was it was the first time a double-digit car won overall in a WEC race since the 2015 season finale at Bahrain when the #18 Porsche won. That was over six years, 40 races since a double-digit car won overall.

We had a double-digit car win, but it was an even-numbered car. We had another six races without an double-digit odd-number winner. Who was the most recent double-digit odd-number winner? It was the #17 Porsche the race prior to the #18 Porsche at Shanghai. 

There have been 47 races without a double-digit odd-number overall winner. At the moment, the only double-digit odd-number Hypercars we know will be the #51 Ferrari and the #93 Peugeot. That is it. We are putting money on one of those two winning overall. 

5. At least one manufacturer in GTP does not win a race
We will see four manufacturers in GTP this season. Acura and Cadillac will have Porsche and BMW join the top class in 2023. There is a lot of excitement, but this isn't a perfect world. One of these manufacturers must be last. It is likely one manufacturer will be last more than others. 

It is a nine-round championship for GTP. All four could win, but I think one doesn't. Acura and BMW haven't completed 24-hour tests yet. Porsche and Cadillac appear to be the most prepared for the season. We are going to have eight full-time entries with another two customer Porsches joining some time during the season. Porsche is going to have 40% of the class at some point. The numbers are in its favor. If Porsche hits it could be a beat down. If it is a beat down, someone is going to lose out significantly.

6. No team in any of the classes has more than three runner-up finishes
Meyer Shank Racing won the Daytona Prototype international championship last year with five runner-up finishes. The #30 JR III Motorsports Ligier-Nissan in LMP3 had three runner-up finishes. The #27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin won the GT Daytona championship with three runner-up finishes along with two victories.

It happened in three different classes. I don't think it happens once next year. There will be teams with two runner-up finishes. There will be teams that win multiple races, but nobody will have more than three runner-up finishes in any of the five classes.

7. There will be a winning driver in the Indianapolis race that has won at Indianapolis before
Mixed class sports car racing is returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year for the first time since 2014. It is an anticipated race weekend and it will be a great weekend for a bunch of drivers who have never got to run at the historic track. 

In the first round of Grand-Am/IMSA races at IMS, experienced was beneficial, even if it wasn't on the road course. Sébastien Bourdais won the inaugural Grand-Am race at Indianapolis in 2012 and he had a pair of Indianapolis 500 starts at the time. Max Papis won in GT in 2013. Christian Fittipaldi, 1995 Indianapolis 500 runner-up, won in 2014 while Jack Hawksworth won in Prototype Challenge after having led 31 laps and finishing seventh in the inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis earlier that year. 

All of those drivers had experience at Indianapolis, but none of them had won at Indianapolis prior to that. That will change. Somebody who has won at Indianapolis before will win again. I am not talking about an Indianapolis 500 winner. It could be anyone. 

It could be Bourdais or Hawksworth winning again. It could be João Barbosa, who won in 2014 with Fittipaldi and who now competes in LMP3, winning again. It could be IMS Indy Lights winner Ed Jones, who will run in LMP2 with High Class Racing. It could be Sebastian Priaulx, who will be full-time in GTD in the AO Racing Team in 2023, and who won at Indianapolis in Porsche Carrera Cup North America in 2021. It could be Juan Pablo Montoya and whatever LMP2 program he jumps into this year. Who knows? There could be a surprise entrant. Someone will get another Indianapolis victory in 2023.

8. Italian manufacturers combine for at least four class victories
Last year, the only Italian victory was the Cetilar Racing Ferrari in GTD at Daytona. Italian makes will at least quadruple that output. 

Iron Lynx will field a Lamborghini full-time in GTD Pro with Mirko Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli, a driver who has spanked the GT World Challenge America series in recent years. Iron Lynx will also field a Lamborghini in GTD as well as Iron Dames. NTE Sport and US RaceTronics also have Lamborghinis entered for Daytona.

AF Corse, Triarsi Competizione and Cetilar Racing will all enter Ferraris at Daytona.

Not all of these cars will be full-time. Some will only be endurance race entrants. Four is a hefty increase of victories. I think it will be possible.

European Le Mans Series
9. The GTE Class will have a repeat winner before LMP2 and LMP3
There were no repeat winners in GTE last year in ELMS. Meanwhile, Prema Racing won the first two races in LMP2 and Inter Europol Competition won twice in the first four races in LMP3. In 2021, Team WRT won the first two LMP2 races and Cool Racing won the first two LMP3 races while the first repeat GTE winner didn't come until the third race of the season when the #80 Iron Lynx Ferrari won for the second time. 

LMP2 and LMP3 had repeat winners before GTE in 2020 as well. GTE hasn't had the first repeat winner in an ELMS season since 2014, the year prior to the introduction of the LMP3 class. It is bound to happen again. It will happen in 2023.

10. There will be an Iberian winner in one of the Iberian races
Half of the 2023 ELMS season will be on the Iberian peninsula with Barcelona opening the season before the series' first trip to Aragón in August and Portimão closing the season. Guilherme Oliveira was the only Iberian winner in 2022, but with two races in Spain, perhaps we will see a Spaniard or two compete in ELMS this year. With an increase of Iberian races I think we will see an increase of Iberian drivers. If that is a case, one will pull off a victory in their backyard. 

11. The Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champion will be a non-German from continental Europe
The DTM has not had a continental European champion from a country other than Germany since Mattias Ekström won his second championship in 2007. Where have the champions come from since the Swede Ekström won the title?

Germany, Germany, Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Germany, Germany, Germany, Germany, Germany, Great Britain, Germany, Germany, Germany, South Africa. 

Sheldon van der Linde became the second non-European champion in series history in 2022. 

DTM is a German series by definition, but it has been more of a European championship with a German base since it was revived in 2000. Plenty of talented European drivers have com through the series, but none have taken the title. With GT3-specs for the series, it brings a different mix to the series.

Lucas Auer was only 12 points away from become the first continental European champion not from Germany this past season. Mirko Bortolotti was fourth in the championship with Thomas Preining in fifth, Nico Müller in seventh and Dennis Olsen in tenth. There were more non-German European drivers in the top ten of the championship than German drivers. There are fewer German drivers in the series. Only eight of 26 regulars in 2022 were from Germany. That is less than a third of the grid. 

The 2023 grid hasn't really been in focus since DTM's future was only settled a few weeks ago when ADAC took over the series. The 2023 season opener isn't until the end of May anyway. We will see non-German Europeans in the series. One of them will be champion. 

12. No Belgian will in the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup championship
Dries Vanthoor and Charles Werts has won the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup championship in three consecutive seasons. A Belgian driver has won the overall champion in this series in five of ten seasons. 

Nothing lasts forever. There is a big change as the likes of Vanthoor and Weerts will now drive BMWs after Team WRT switched to the manufacturer from Audi. I don't necessarily Audi is the deciding factor, but we are bound to see something different. That will be no Belgians taking the overall title in 2023.

Three down, two to go. Check out the NASCAR and Formula One predictions. Two-wheel action is next.

Monday, December 26, 2022

2023 Formula One Predictions

Boxing Day is here and it is time for our Boxing Day tradition, making predictions for the upcoming Formula One season. After a competitive yet controversial 2021 season, 2022 was a stark contrast. The title didn't go to the wire, nor did race control play a hand in its fate. What will 2023 look like?

No two seasons look the same and we are bound to see some differences. What exactly? Here are 12 things to keep an eye on in the new season.

1. Three teams will have multiple winners
Year one of the new regulations saw Red Bull dominate, 17 victories, 15 at the hand of Max Verstappen alone. It was an utter demolition of the field and the championship was firmly in the hands of the men form Milton Keynes. 

However, Ferrari did win four races, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, Jr. each scored a victory, and Ferrari probably should have a few more races. Mercedes did get a victory with George Russell at Interlagos, and Mercedes have a few good chances with Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone, Zandvoort and Austin. We may have been one Yuki Tsunoda safety car at Zandvoort away from Hamilton having gotten a victory and the 2022 season producing six winners and three teams having multiple winners. 

Red Bull will be fine even after the cost cap penalties take away some wind tunnel time. Though Ferrari ended the season on a ten-race winless streak, I think it will be able to harness some of what it did right this year and get Leclerc and Sainz back on top next year. Mercedes is coy about its 2023 chances, but the team made great strides after starting behind the eight ball and produced a race winner. I think the Big Three have all of its drivers win at least once in 2023. 

2. Red Bull will not win majority of the races where a Ferrari driver starts on pole position
Red Bull won 17 races, but Ferrari won 12 pole positions. The only problem is Ferrari's conversion rate was disappointing with the Scuderia only converting 25% of those pole positions into victories and two of those were from Ferrari's first two pole positions of the season, which came within the first three races of the season.

Red Bull won the other nine times a Ferrari led the grid. There were a few gifts. Leclerc lost a turbo while leading in Spain, Ferrari botched the strategy while it had both cars out front at Monaco, Leclerc spun off from first in France, somehow Sainz had nothing for Verstappen in Belgium despite the Dutchman starting 14th, the team gave away Italy and Ferrari was smoked in Singapore. 

This prediction goes two ways. Either Ferrari converts more pole positions into victories or Ferrari wins fewer pole positions and Red Bull doesn't win those or some other team wins those races where Ferrari qualifies first. 

3. Mercedes will have at least eight podium finishes in the first 11 races of the season
It didn't start well for Mercedes, but the 2022 season ended on a good note. Mercedes had 17 total podium finishes, ten of which came in the second half of the season, the final 11 races of the season. Mercedes' three races where both cars finished on the rostrum came in the second half of the season. 

Mercedes is already saying 2023 isn't going to be a bang out of the box, but should it carry over the momentum, Mercedes will be competitive. We also need to remember Red Bull will have some less time to develop the car. Mercedes may not make the strides it wants, but it might not be as far behind as it was at the start of 2022. 

Also, eight podium finishes is only one more podium finish than it had in the first 11 races this year. Those seven podium finishes in the first 11 races of 2022 were all third-place finishes. Could Mercedes have eight third-place finishes in the first 11 races of 2023? Yeah. That is doable.

4. Oscar Piastri will score at least 30% of McLaren's point total
One Australian out, another Australian in for the 2023 season. Piastri joins McLaren to replace the departing Daniel Ricciardo after Piastri was an Alpine reserve in 2022. The 2021 Formula Two champion sat on the sideline for the entire 2022 season. 

A year out of a race car isn't a good thing, especially in contemporary Formula One where testing is virtually non-existent. However, Piastri could be entering a situation where it will be harder to fail than succeed. 

McLaren's two seasons with Ricciardo will not be remembered fondly. There will always be the victory at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, but it was a disaster compared to where expectations were entering that season. Ricciardo was let go with a year remaining on his contract. Even worse, Ricciardo was thoroughly thrashed in 2022 with Lando Norris scoring 122 points to Ricciardo's 37 points. Ricciardo was responsible for 23.27% of McLaren's total this past season. 

I feel like Piastri will accidentally do better than that. He would have to actively try to do worse than Ricciardo's output. Either that or Norris would need to achieve a Verstappen-esque performance. But to raise the bar, I think Piastri gets 30% of McLaren's point total. That would have been at least 48 points in 2022, an average of 2.1818 points per race. That should happen.

5. Alpine will have at least one classified car in the 17th race of the season
In three of the last four seasons, Alpine has had neither car classified in the 17th race of the season. 

In 2019, when the team was still Renault, both cars were disqualified from the Japanese Grand Prix for using illegal driver aids. The two cars were seventh and ninth in the 17th race of the 2020 season, the finale from Abu Dhabi. In 2021, both cars fell out of the race within ten laps of each other at Austin, and in 2022, both cars lost an engine within six laps of each other in Singapore. 

This prediction is just playing the numbers. What are the odds Alpine does not have a classified car in the 17th race of the season in four of five seasons? The car doesn't even have to finish, it just has to complete 90% of the race distance. I am not talking about anything spectacular happening. 

Japan will again be the 17th race in 2023. With a scheduled distance of 53 laps, only one Alpine needs to complete 48 laps for this prediction to be correct.

6. Logan Sargeant will score less than 47% of Alexander Albon's point total
An American driver is back in a full-time Formula One seat. The only problem it is with the team that finished tenth in the constructors' championship. 

Sargeant had an adequate Formula Two season in 2022, winning a few races and having a few good days at the front of the field. But he didn't really blow the competition away and he hasn't really shown that breathtaking ability to make you think Williams has a diamond in the rough. I think there is a chance Sargeant's results will not be that dissimilar than Nicholas Latifi's output with the team. 

However, Latifi scored 50% of Albon's point total in 2022. Latifi scored two points. Albon had four. But in reality, it wasn't even that close. Albon had nine finishes of 12th or better. Latifi had two. Based on an alternate reality where every position paid points for finishing and it was proportional to the current system, Albon would have been 15th with 183 points while Latifi would have been 20th with 95 points. 

I don't see Sargeant coming that close to Albon. The Williams likely will not be spectacular, but whatever it is I expect Albon to be comfortably leading the way. It would be great for Sargeant to score any points in 2023, but I don't think he will be pushing Albon for the lead spot in this team. 

7. Nico Hülkenberg's first point scoring race finish of the season will not be a seventh-place finish
Including 2022, in five of his last seven seasons, Hülkenberg's first point scoring finish of the season has been a seventh-place result. It happened in 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020, which I should remind you was when Hülkenberg stepped in for Lance Stroll at Racing Point because Stroll had COVID and Hülkenberg was a last second substitute at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix held at Silverstone. 

It is a staggering occurrence that the guy consistently is seventh when scoring his first points of the season. I know he was driving for mid-pack teams, but shouldn’t there be more variety? It will not happen in 2023, and note how I specify race finish. If Hülkenberg's first points are seventh in the sprint race in Azerbaijan it doesn't count. It has to be a race finish. Hülkenberg is driving for Haas. Seventh is possible, but doesn't his first points end up being a ninth or a tenth? Doesn't that make more sense?

8. Nyck de Vries will clinch the intra-team, head-to-head AlphaTauri battle by the Qatar Grand Prix
This is saying de Vries will have finished ahead of Yuki Tsunoda in at least 12 of the first 18 races. 

Tsunoda is an OK driver but de Vries is more than ready for Formula One. De Vries is mature beyond any rookie in recent memory. He has raced an assortment of cars in many different circumstances and generally succeeded in them. De Vries isn't an overly emotional driver and doesn't really put himself in hazardous situations. 

Tsunoda on the other hand has done that regularly over two seasons in Formula One. I think de Vries will easily lead AlphaTauri this year. He will figure out how to get the most out of the car without stepping over the limit. He has raced with some notable teammates before. Tsunoda will not scare him. De Vries will add pressure and I think he will be clear by a country mile long before the season is over.

9. Lance Stroll does not cause an accident on a straightaway
Stroll took out Fernando Alonso on the straightaway between turns 11 and 12 at Austin and put Sebastian Vettel, his own Aston Martin teammate need I remind you, into the grass on the straightaway after the "Senna S" at Interlagos. 

This prediction is just hoping he has any common sense in his skull to not be such a dummy in 2023. Just don't be a dummy on a straightaway, the easiest part of a racetrack. He will surely screw up a half-dozen corners, but the straightaways should be the part we don't have to worry about. 

This ends up being wrong because Stroll causes an accident on a start next year, doesn't it?

10. There will be a driver who gets his first career fastest lap
In 2022, Guanyu Zhou picked up his first career fastest lap in the Japanese Grand Prix. 

There will be six drivers on the 2023 grid without a career fastest lap. We know debutants Piastri and Sargeant do not have one, but neither AlphaTauri driver has one, which makes sense since Nyck de Vries has one start to his name. The other two drivers? They are a few surprises, Esteban Ocon and Alexander Albon.

You would have thought Albon would have gotten one when driving for Red Bull or even Toro Rosso, but it didn't happen. Ocon had some quick Force India entries and he already has a race victory. The Alpine is a good car, but Ocon hasn't had the fastest lap yet in 111 starts.

One of these six gets a fastest lap in 2023. If I had to put them in order of most to least likely to get it I would go Ocon, Piastri, de Vries, Tsunoda, Albon and Sargeant. It really comes down to the conditions. One rainy day and we could have a surprise. 

11. A safety car period will occur during at least two sprint races
In 2021, there were three sprint races and one safety car period, which occurred at Monza.

In 2022, there were three sprint races and one safety car period, which occurred at Imola. 

With the number of sprint races doubling to six in 2023, it is only natural to expect the number of safety car periods in sprint races to double as well. The sprint races will also be in Azerbaijan, Austria, Belgium, Qatar, the United States and Brazil. We know it will not occur in Italy, but with the nature of Baku, Red Bull Ring and even Spa-Francorchamps and Austin, we will see at least two safety car periods in sprint races, maybe even three. We could even see a sprint race with multiple. Wouldn't that be something?

12. Average American viewership per race decreases by at least 10%
This isn't the "Formula One is done" in the U.S. post, but for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It might not be equal, but after a few years of growth, we may see Formula One cool it. 

In 2022, viewership increased by 28%, with an average of 1.21 million people watching each race over the ABC/ESPN family of networks. Next year begins the new three-year deal between Formula One and ESPN. The contract states that at least 16 races will air on either ABC or ESPN, but there is an inkling that a few races will be exclusively on ESPN+ only. Not many, and with 24 races schedule, two or three races might not be noticed, but those races would be lost if they are streamed only. 

I also think another season of Verstappen and Red Bull dominance could get old. I don't think Logan Sargeant will bring a significant increase in viewers to the screen, especially if he is struggling to crack the top fifteen with Williams. It also doesn't help that one of the three American races will begin at 1:00 a.m. Eastern time, 10:00 p.m. Pacific. Unlike Miami, which had over two million viewer, Las Vegas will not provide that viewership boost.

A 10% decrease would not be devastating, it would only be a decrease of 121,000 viewers from the average. That would still be an average of 1,089,000 viewers. Formula One will be fine. It will still be a good year.

Two sets of predictions down, three to go, and this week will be full of predictions to close out the year. Sports cars are up next.

Friday, December 23, 2022

2022 Motorsports Christmas List

Christmas is here again! And it is a weekend Christmas at that. I hope everyone gets to observe it Monday as well. Christmas is a time of giving and this is our yearly traditional of giving to those around the motorsports community. 

Everyone is looking for something new or something they once had. Life isn’t always fair and not everyone gets what they deserve. This our chance to make it right and fairly reward those who have been working extra hard at being good this year, as well as help those who just need a little help going in the right direction.  

What is waiting this year? Let’s take a look. 

To Patricio O'Ward, Felix Rosenqivst and Alexander Rossi: A McLaren 720S GT3 for GT3 competition in the 24 Hours of Daytona, Bathurst 12 Hour, 12 Hours of Sebring, Petit Le Mans and Indianapolis 8 Hours

To James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens: A GTD Pro Entry in IMSA

To Mark Wilkins: People knowing his name

To Josef Newgarden: Indestructible rear suspension

To Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin: A Porsche 963

To Will Power: An Indianapolis 500 pole position

To Ryan Blaney: A Cup victory in a race that pays points

To Austin Cindric: Better road course results

To Joey Logano: A new swing set for the children

To Romain Grosjean: A test in a Mercedes F1 car... remember when he was promised that? Whatever happened to that test?

To Colton Herta: 13 Super License points to shut everyone up

To Kyle Kirkwood: More checkered flags seen

To Devlin DeFrancesco: A top ten finish

To Martin Truex, Jr: Quick contract negotiations

To Denny Hamlin: The lead in the season finale with five laps to go

To Christopher Bell: Snowboots

To Bubba Wallace: A regular season race victory

To Tyler Reddick: Making Richard Childress jealous

To Ty Gibbs: A level head

To Scott Dixon: A shot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall victory

To Marcus Ericsson: Huski Chocolate arriving in the United States and becoming a big hit with Ericsson becoming a poster boy for the brand

To Álex Palou: Favorable contractual language

To Takuma Sato: An farewell he deserves

To Rinus VeeKay: Becoming beloved in his native country

To Simona de Silvestro: Support for a full season IndyCar program

To IndyCar: Support races for the Canadian Grand Prix, United States Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix. Nothing wrong with racing in front of people

Also to IndyCar: Engine regulations that have some wiggle room to attract multiple new manufactures and will be introduced during the 2027 season

Also to IndyCar: A new chassis also set to debut during the 2027 season

Also to IndyCar: Somebody in the front office who can hit the brakes before doing something like letting the licensing agreement lapse on iRacing. My goodness… you know what? A full blown intervention. IndyCar needs a full blown intervention. 

To NASCAR: Competent race control

To all the NASCAR teams: More testing time with the new car and NASCAR's willingness to correct any persistent issues

To the FIA World Endurance Championship: Every entrant at the season opener running the entire season

To LMP2 teams: The class remaining an option in WEC

To Formula E: Every scheduled event taking place as scheduled

To Formula One: Sensical point distribution if a race ends before 90% of the scheduled distance

Also to Formula One: The Grand Prix of America happening on the Port Imperial street circuit in Weehawken, New Jersey. Forget Miami and Las Vegas. This would be the most picturesque and thrilling track on the schedule. 

To Miami Grand Prix attendees: Better ticket prices

To MotoGP: The confidence to know it doesn't need sprint races and these are just a waste of time

Also to MotoGP: A race at Barber Motorsports Park... it will be on here every year until it happens

To the MotoGP teams: Easy delivery of equipment from round to round, especially to Argentina

To World Superbike: A race at Barber Motorsports Park... if MotoGP isn't coming World Superbike should. It could use an American round

To Francesco Bagnaia: A personal driver to take him everywhere he needs to go

To Marc Márquez: A clean bill of health

To Joan Mir: Pushing Márquez within the Repsol Honda camp

To Álex Rins: Less falls

To Fabio Quartararo: A better day in Assen

To Franco Morbdielli: A time machine back to 2020. Morbidelli is probably the only man who wishes it was 2020

To Aleix Espargaró: A better end to the season

To Raúl Fernández and Miguel Oliveira: Every paycheck clearing

To Johann Zarco: That elusive MotoGP victory

To Álex Márquez: The Ducati Desmosedici GP22 still being a contending bike

To Jack Miller: Making KTM a championship contender

To Joe Roberts: Maximizing his potential

To Álvaro Bautista: A wild card entry with Ducati in a few MotoGP races

To Toprak Razgatlioglu: A victory in Spain

To Jonathan Rea: Converting more pole positions into victories

To Dominique Aegerter: Keeping his emotions in check

To Garrett Gerloff: The best BMW it has ever produced for World Superbike

To the Mandalika International Street Circuit: Clear weather on race day

To MotorLand Aragón: A MotoGP race. It is absurd it lost one

To Sergio Pérez: A teammate who listens

To Max Verstappen: A heart

To Daniel Ricciardo: Openness to race something special in 2023

To Liam Lawson: Not having his career ruined by the Red Bull meat-grinder

To Nyck de Vries: The same thing as Liam Lawson

To Scuderia Ferrari: Proper strategists

To Charles Leclerc: A good day at his home race

To Carlos Sainz, Jr.: No opening lap retirements in 2023

To Lewis Hamilton: A comeback season for the ages

To George Russell: Consistency continuing 

To Kevin Magnussen: More racing with his father

To the Las Vegas Grand Prix: An 8:00 p.m. Eastern start

To Stefano Domenicalli: Understand an 11:00 p.m. local start for the Las Vegas Grand Prix benefits nobody

To all of sports car racing: Formula One not scheduling its grand prix on the same weekend as one of your major races

To Dane Cameron: Success continuing on the global level

To Colin Braun: Becoming the most celebrated driver in IMSA

To Chip Ganassi: Less contact between his cars when they are battling

To A.J. Foyt Racing: All the money ROKiT owes the team

To Juncos Hollinger Racing: A great second driver that can match Callum Ilott

To Magnus Racing: Competing for more podium finishes in GTD

To Jack Hawksworth: Toyota deciding to commit a Toyota GR010 Hybrid to IMSA and having Hawksworth be its lead driver

To Tomoki Nojiri: People outside Japan learning his name... that can happen with a Formula One test

To Kyle Busch: Lots of patience

To Kurt Busch: Feeling well enough to race at some point in 2023

To A.J. Allmendinger: More fun than when he was last full-time in the Cup Series

To Juan Pablo Montoya; Three IndyCar starts, because that is how far he is from 100 IndyCar starts and he sure break the century mark in that category and an LMP2 entry that doesn't get taken out while at the front of the 12 Hours of Sebring

To Tony Kanaan: Another two Indianapolis 500 entries after 2023

To Hélio Castroneves: A Daytona 500 entry

To Simon Pagenaud: A backyard barbecue set

To Ryan Hunter-Reay: A full-time job racing somewhere

To Marco Andretti: At least a dozen starts in NASCAR's second division

To J.R. Hildebrand: Funds to pay for all the IndyCar oval races

To Stefan Wilson: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's speed from the last two years carrying over to 2023

To the marshals at the Singapore Grand Prix: Leaf blowers to clear standing water quicker

To Wayne Taylor Racing: Indestructible rear suspension

To Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor: An Acura program in WEC

To Jordan Taylor: A new hobby

To Ryan Briscoe: A full-time ride somewhere, how about in GTD Pro in an Acura?

To Jack Harvey: A few races as the top Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing finisher

To Graham Rahal: A great year at the dealership

To Christian Lundgaard: A favorable rainy day

To Ed Carpenter: A week vacation to somewhere he has never been before

To Stoffel Vandoorne: Something to supplement his Formula E responsibilities

To René Rast: An LMDh program that doesn't crumble from underneath him

To António Félix da Costa: A shot in the Porsche 963. How hasn't da Costa gotten greater opportunities outside of Formula E?

To Juan Manuel Correa: Success in Formula Two

To Jak Crawford: A Formula Two entry… because all the good Formula Three seats are disappearing and if it doesn’t work out in Europe I hope American teams have his contact information

To Lando Norris: Enough energy to run the 24 Hours of Daytona while still competing in Formula One. You are 23 years old and it is during the offseason. Let's not act like it is that big of a commitment.

To Oscar Piastri: Solid job security

To Yuki Tsunoda: Bosses that respect him

To Lance Stroll: Self-awareness

To Fernando Alonso:That 2017 ambition to go for the Triple Crown of Motorsports and start running other noteworthy motorsports events again. Remember how fun that Alonso was? 

To Sebastian Vettel: Gardening tools

To Valtteri Bottas: Snowshoes 

To Guanyu Zhou: One Drive to Survive episode that shows his personality

To Alexander Albon: People recognizing how good his 2022 season actually was

To Nicholas Latifi: An ounce of respect 
To Mick Schumacher: Peace wherever he races next and hopeful that will be in a Mercedes in Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

To Nico Hülkenberg: A few solid points finishes

To Alpine F1: Better management

To Pierre Gasly: Avoiding those last few penalty points on his license

To Esteban Ocon: Less contact with his teammate

To Logan Sargeant: A few points-paying finishes in general

To Felipe Drugovich: An actual stiff at a Formula One ride

To Pipo Derani: Action Express Racing getting an invitation to the 24 Hours of Le Mans and taking it

To Pietro Fittipaldi: A full-time race seat anywhere. This career is dying on the vine

To Indy NXT: Keeping Indy Lights as its name

To Indy Lights: Better funding distribution to the drivers

To Jamie Chadwick: Reasonable press coverage and respectable results

To W Series: A smart business model that doesn't have it competing in every corner of the global

To Alex Quinn: A full-time Indy Lights ride

To HMD Motorsports: Keeping all of its drivers happy

To Christian Rasmussen: Less contact and always having enough in the tank

To Rasmus Lindh: A season that has his phone ringing off he hook

To Hunter McElrea: His second half of 2022 carrying over to 2023

To Jagger Jones: People realizing he is more than his grandfather

To Matthew Brabham: Another year in Indy Lights. Last year went well

To Oliver Jarvis: A ride with an LMDh or Hypercar manufacturer

To Guy Cosmo: A GTD team with an owner who knows what is going on

To Paul Miller Racing: The #48 back… it is now available 

To Peugeot: A respectable return to Le Mans

To the AF Corse Ferrari 499P program: No dysfunction

To Glickenhaus: A full WEC season

To Argentina: A major international four-wheel race, whether it be WEC, Formula One, heck even IndyCar fits I guess 

To Intercontinental GT Challenge: A return to the Asia-Pacific region

To the World Rally Championship: Something to inject the series with some excitement. A new manufacture. A deeper crop of full-time drivers... something

To Kalle Rovanperä: Accomplishing something that will allow him to be as appreciated as previous WRC champions. 

To Brad Keselowski: Fewer penalties

To Sage Karam: Multiple top ten finishes in NASCAR competition... and Noah Gragson not spinning him out

To Noah Gragson: Nothing because he already has everything the world has to offer seeing as how he continually gets away with stepping over the line

To Brendon Jones: One shot to get even with Ty Gibbs

To John Hunter Nemechek: But before Jones gets his shot, Nemechek gets his shot to get even first

To Parker Kligerman: A way to balance driving 33 races and still being a valuable pit lane reporter

To Cole Custer: This being only a brief return to NASCAR's second division

To Callum Ilott: Race results that are closer to his qualifying results

To Conor Daly: A financial advisor and a change in his portfolio

To David Malukas: A few more laps at Gateway

To Linus Lundqvist: Funding for a full-time IndyCar ride

To Benjamin Pedersen: Good days

To Santino Ferrucci: The best season for an A.J. Foyt Racing driver in the last decade

To Marcus Armstrong: A good nickname

To Nick Cassidy: Becoming the fourth New Zealander on the IndyCar grid

To Brendon Hartley: Becoming the fifth New Zealander on the IndyCar grid

To Oliver Askew: Another full-time IndyCar opportunity

To Kevin Harvick: Believing in his son's dream a little bit more

To Aric Almirola: A better sense of when it is time to retire

To Ross Chastain: A worthy follow up act

To Jimmie Johnson: Better luck as a team owner

To Jeff Gordon: The best back his has felt in 30 years... he might need it

To the NASCAR Le Mans effort: Not causing any major incidents

To Supercars: A successful New Zealand round

To Shane van Gisbergen: An entry in the Chicago Cup race

To Chaz Mostert: A viable Supercars championship push

To Harrison Burton: A look at a college education

To Valentino Rossi: Some racing in the United States

To Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts: The success with Audi following them to BMW

To Mazda MX-5Cup: Races live on American network television. These races last 45 minutes and there is never a dull moment. It would become the most watched series in the country if it ever got a proper profile

To Motorsports fans: Acceptance that they don't need to watch any award banquets. It is just people eating and drinking. It is a party and you aren't invited. That is ok. You aren't missing anything

To Kyle Larson: A Chili Bowl purse worth his interest

To Alex Bowman: A balanced season

To William Byron: A balanced season... the Hendrick Motorsports drivers need it

To Chase Elliott: The ability to loosen up

To Layne Riggs: A full-time NASCAR Truck Series entry

To North Wilkesboro Speedway: An extra access road for traffic

To Chicago: Beautiful weather the weekend of July 1-2

To Jaguar: A return to sports car racing. LMDh, GT3, something. It has the history and it has Mitch Evans and Sam Bird to build a program around

To Sébastien Buemi: A 24 Hours of Daytona entry

To the Monaco Grand Prix: Becoming the first grand prix where teams have to use all five tire compounds during a race. It would be better than the current situation. There would be fewer dull moments during that race

To the Dutch Grand Prix: The same thing as Monaco 

To the Italian Grand Prix: Becoming the first grand prix where DRS must be open the entire lap. The brake zones would be gigantic. The drivers would really have to pedal the cars 

To the Azerbaijan Grand Prix: A place in the schedule take makes more sense than between Australia and Miami and only being a week before Miami at that

To Belle Isle: A Formule E doubleheader weekend

To Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course: Upgraded facilities. It is time

To Road America: An extra hour and 20 minutes for its IMSA race. It shouldn't be hard to get considering the 100-minute qualifying race for the 24 Hours of Datyona is gone

To Texas Motor Speedway: Another reconfiguration and repave

To the new Detroit street course: A race that is at least 75% as exciting as Belle Isle

To the Nashville street course: A good alternative site once the new football stadium starts being built right on top of where the current circuit is located

Most importantly, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a Happy New Year! This was a good year after a few down ones. There is still a lot of work that must be done to make this world a better place, but we should all find happiness in our lives and share said happiness with others. There are plenty of positives around us and we should focus on those more than the negatives.

Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy this time with your loved ones. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

2023 NASCAR Predictions

We are in the final ten days of 2022 and we should start to look ahead to 2023. Our annual prediction series is back to close out the calendar year, and we begin in the normal place. NASCAR had an electric 2022 with more big plans in store for 2023 and change appearing to be a consistent theme for the near-future. What should we expect next year? 

1. At least three winless drivers make the Cup playoffs
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season will be remembered for the 15 race winners that filled the 16-driver playoff field. There were technically 16 winners during the regular season when taking into consideration Kurt Busch who had his season ended due to a concussion. 

There was only one playoff spot left for a driver on points in 2022. Ryan Blaney was second on points after 26 races and made it while Martin Truex, Jr. in fourth did not. Prior to 2022, the fewest number of drivers to make the playoffs on points was three, which occurred in 2014, 2017 and 2021. The most winless drivers to qualify for the playoffs is six, which occurred in 2018 and 2019. 

The new car has leveled the playing field, but I think we will see a market correction in 2023. There will still be races where an unexpected teams are in contention and could still win a race. There are still the plate races where any schmuck can win. 

However, I don't think we are going to see another season with 16 winners in 26 races. Thirteen winners? Sure. A few drivers will feel more comfortable with the new car and have more consistency running at the front. Teams will figure this out and we will likely see at least one driver with four victories before we even get to the playoffs. In 2023, A few extra drivers will get to rest on their points totals at the end of August and have a shot at a championship.

2. At least two new teams make the Cup playoffs
Just because there will be three playoff drivers on points doesn't mean we will not see surprise winners over the 26-race regular season. Truth is we will see a few teams raise our eyebrows, take a surprise win and lock up a playoff spot. Two of those possible teams already won in 2022. 

Petty GMS Racing and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing each won in the first round of the playoffs. The only problem is neither Erik Jones nor Chris Buescher were in the playoffs when they won. Jones had a handful of good days prior to his Southern 500 success and RFK was trending in the right direction at the end of the season. Either of those drivers could win and each will have capable teammates. Brad Keselowski isn't going to be that dreadful for a second consecutive year, and Noah Gragson started a healthy number of Cup races in the new car between driving for Kaulig Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.

Kaulig Racing is another organization to keep in mind. A.J. Allmendinger should have won at Austin last year. Now, Allmendinger will be full-time in 2023 and everyone is penciling him in as a playoff driver. 

Throw in Front Row Motorsports' plate race history, Corey LaJoie being in the mix at Atlanta with Spire Motorsports and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. somehow repeating his 2017 success with JTG Daugherty Racing, and we are bound to see some new teams in the playoffs next year.

3. Kyle Busch wins at least two pole positions in the Cup Series
Busch has accomplished a lot in his NASCAR Cup Series career and even if he only won one race in 2022, he is still a driver to keep an eye on each weekend. He has won a race in 18 consecutive seasons and has amassed 60 victories in that time frame. While Busch is winning races, he hasn't been winning pole positions. 

Busch has not won a pole position since the penultimate round of the 2019 season at Phoenix. He did lose about 31 chances at qualifying in 2020 due to the pandemic and starting grids being set via a qualifying metric and owners' points, but it has been over three seasons since he has won a pole position. In 2017, he won eight pole positions and he won four poles in 2018. 

Busch's new team, Richard Childress Racing, has a knack for winning pole positions. RCR might not always have the best race cars, but it can make horsepower and take center stage in qualifying. Tyler Reddick won three pole positions last year. RCR only had one pole position in 2021, but it had four pole positions in 2019 despite having only one top five finishes all season. 

Combine the two, Busch will take at least two pole positions. 

4. Every driver that makes the round of eight will have double-digit top ten finish totals entering that round
It was a wonky 2022 season. No better example of that than William Byron and Chase Briscoe each made the round of eight while not lighting the world on fire. 

Briscoe had only seven top ten finishes entering the semifinal round and, while he had top ten finishes in all three races in the second round, prior to that run he had gone 15 consecutive races without a top ten finish. 

Byron won twice early in the season, but entering the semifinal round, he had only nine top ten finishes. Four of those came in the first four races of the playoffs. Entering the playoffs, he had only five top ten finishes, four of which came in the first eight races of the season, and entering the playoffs he had not had a top ten result in the prior ten races. 

I think drivers are going to be better next year. No one is going to be able to go nearly a third of the season without a top ten result and make a deep playoff run. 

5. Denny Hamlin will be in the top five on raw points for at least 15 races
In the final playoff standings, Hamlin was fifth in the championship, however, his season was far from that great. Hamlin was outside the top twenty in points through the first 12 races. He didn’t enter the top fifteen on points until the 24th race at Richmond. He wouldn't enter the top ten on points until after the 31st race of the season at Talladega. On pure points, Hamlin would have finished ninth in the championship. 

This wasn't a great season for Hamlin despite what the final championship standings say. But I think 2023 will be a better year. Hamlin had some bad days that weren't his fault. We will see more of the best from Hamlin and less of the worst. On pure points, he will rank in the top five for at least 15 of 36 races this season.

6. A.J. Allmendinger makes it to at least the round of 12 in the Cup playoffs
Allmendinger is back in the Cup Series after a few seasons running in the second division. Expectations are high for this return and partially because it looks like Allmendinger is a more complete driver than when he was last in the Cup Series. 

He is a better oval driver. He scored his second career Cup victory while being a part-timer. There are six road/street courses on the 2023 Cup schedule. Everyone thinks Allmendinger will win one of those. If he wins one of five regular season road courses, he will make the playoffs. I think Allmendinger will drive smart and find a way into the second round of the playoffs.

There is a world where Allmendinger wins two or three road courses in the regular season, amasses ten to 15 playoff points right there, picks up another five to seven playoff points through stage wins and then is ninth or tenth in the regular season, scoops up another playoff point or two and enters round one with about 20-25 playoff points and just need three smart races to advance. 

That is doable.

7. Project 91 will start fewer than six races
A big surprise from the 2022 season is Kimi Räikkönen made his NASCAR Cup Series debut driving for Trackhouse. But this was more than a one-off. 

Räikkönen's debut came from the ambition of Trackhouse owner Justin Marks to have an additional entry for drivers from around the globe. Billed "Project 91" the aim is to run a handful of races with drivers who otherwise would never run a NASCAR Cup race. Räikkönen was the maiden voyager but the plan is for Project 91 to run six to eight races in 2023. 

I will take the under. I feel like we hear about these programs from time to time and they never live up to the potential. I think this will be harder to pull off that Marks thinks and it will not be six to eight occasions but he could get three to five races. This requires money and sponsorship and as easy as it sounds to find the funds to run the likes of Räikkönen or Daniel Ricciardo remember that Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson have been struggling to put together Indianapolis 500 entries. 

We will see Project 91 a few times, but less than the hopeful six to eight.

8. At least one championship ineligible driver wins multiple times in NASCAR's second division
The rule to limit Cup guys running in the lower series has been working, and with Kyle Busch effectively retired from the second-tier series after he surpassed the century mark in victories, there really isn't that Cup driver you regularly count on competing on Saturdays. 

If you want an idea of how much things have changed, only three NASCAR Grand National Series races had Cup drivers as winners in 2022, Cole Custer at Fontana, Tyler Reddick at Texas and Kyle Larson at Watkins Glen. In 2013, series regulars only won a combined four races. 

Things have changed, but I think we will see someone not going for the Xfinity title win at least twice in 2023. For starters, Ty Gibbs is still going to be allowed to run more than five races because he has less than five years of Cup experience. I think Gibbs alone will win two or three races.

Add to it, Larson nearly had two victories last year. It isn't clear if Hendrick Motorsports is going to keep up running as much as they did at the lower levels, but if Larson or Reddick or Chase Elliott or even the likes of Ross Chastain run four or five races in the second division they could win twice and no one would be surprised.

There is always the chance Kyle Busch does come back. You wouldn't pencil him down for fewer than two victories. 

9. Sheldon Creed has at least five top five finishes in the first 17 races of the Grand National Series
Creed was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2022 season. After a few strong seasons in the Truck Series, which included the series championship in 2020, moving up to the second division with Richard Childress Racing felt like a match made in Heaven. Creed was expected to be a playoff driver and a possible outsider for the championship. 

Instead, he didn't qualify for the playoffs while RCR teammate Austin Hill did and single-car team drivers Riley Herbst, Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements also made it. 

But thing were turning around in the later stages of the season. He didn't get his first top five finishes in 2022 until the 18th race of the season. He had four top five finishes in the final 16 races of the season. I think he exceeds his 2022 total within the first half of the 2023 season.

Creed will be back with RCR. His results were getting better late. He had a great run going at Bristol only to have an accident. He should be more prominent in a good way in 2023.

10. Chase Elliott does not win the SRX season finale
This prediction spans multiple series. 

There have been two Superstar Racing Experience seasons. In each of those seasons, Elliott has won the season finale. In 2021, it was at the Nashville Fairgrounds. In 2022, it was Sharon Speedway in Ohio. 

One is a happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is a pattern. 

We will not get a pattern. Either Elliott will not be entered for the finale at Lucas Oil Speedway in Missouri, or he flat out doesn't win while competing. Not all the predictions are complicated. This is simple. 

11. Layne Riggs averages 27 points or more per Truck start
Riggs only started three races in the 2022 season, but in each race he was competitive. He was at the front for most of the Indianapolis Raceway Park race and he was running well at Phoenix before being shuffled back late. 

An established short track driver, he was the 2022 NASCAR Weekly Series national champion. There are hopes he will get more Truck races in 2023 and could possibly be full-time. I hope Riggs is full-time because he has a bright future and he would make the Truck Series much better. 

Last year, Matt Crafton was the final driver to make the Truck playoffs and he did it with 430 points from the 16-race regular season, averaging 26.875 points per race. 

I think Riggs will be a playoff caliber driver. Based on 2022 numbers, 27 points per start will be good enough. Riggs might not be full-time next year but he could be one of the top competitors at the Truck level.

12. Jimmie Johnson's average finish in the Cup Series will be worse than 18.588
After two seasons away from NASCAR competition, Johnson is set to return in a part-time effort with Petty GMS Racing, a team he now owns a portion of. 

We know he will at least attempt to make the Daytona 500. His total number of races is still undecided, but Johnson has been gone for two years. The field has gotten a year with the new car. He will be behind a learning curve after he stepped away while on a downward slide in his career. 

I don't think he will be massively competitive. If he was struggling to crack the top ten while full-time and only a few seasons removed from a seventh championship, how will things be better as a part-timer? 

What is the significance of an average finish of 18.588? That is Johnson's average finish in the 2022 IndyCar season. I think Johnson returns and he does worse than he did when full-time in IndyCar. I know the series have different field sizes and an average finish of 19th would actually be finishing in the top half of the field in the Cup Series, but this will not be a Mark Martin-esque 2007 season that launches a second act. 

One prediction down, four to go. Those will come next week. Tomorrow comes the annual motorsports Christmas list. Stay tuned.