Friday, March 31, 2023

Best of the Month: March 2023

March breathes some life into the season. Nearly every championship has started. A few historic events have taken place. The weather is getting nicer. Coats are becoming thinner. Daylight is more abundant in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a good time. There are a few cooler days, but nothing that is freezing to the core. There is a sense that we have made it.

Best So Far
In terms of events, the first quarter of the calendar year is the appetizer, a small sample size of what is to come. Though there are fewer events than what we will see over the second and third quarter of the year, there are still a few notable moments that should be highlighted and will likely still be on the highlight reel when the year is coming to a close. 

This is a chance to look at the best of what has happened so far in 2023, and some stuff that is good now but could fade as the year wears on. 

Clubhouse Leaders
António Félix da Costa's passes Jean-Éric Vergne in the Cape Town ePrix
Da Costa made a few noteworthy passes in the inaugural Cape Town ePrix, but the most head-turning of them came with two laps to go when the Portuguese driver slipped up the inside of Jean-Éric Vergne in the fast turn eight. 

It was a move where the gap was closing and if da Costa waited a slip-second longer, Vergne  shuts that space off, forces da Costa to lift and the Frenchman would likely hold on for victory. Instead, da Costa took the lead and was able to close out the race, taking his first victory of the season and first victory with Porsche.

Fernando Alonso-Lewis Hamilton battle in the Bahrain Grand Prix
The Fernando Alonso revival at Aston Martin has been talk of the first two rounds this Formula One season, but the first sign of Alonso's specialness came in the opening round of the season in Bahrain. 

Alonso found himself behind Lewis Hamilton in sixth position on lap 38. The Spaniard had been hounding his former teammate for a few laps. A pivotal point for Alonso's final result, it appeared Hamilton may to keep Alonso at bay, which would have kept Alonso off the podium.

When there was an opening on the inside into the tight left-handed turn ten, Alonso went for it and took the position, moving up to fifth and allowing Alonso climb into third in the final result. It was a move that looks tempting at Bahrain, but no one tries it, and most of those who do end up taking out the car ahead of them, likely leading to a reprimand. In this case, Alonso pulled it off.

Eli Tomac's comeback victory in Anaheim I
The 2023 Supercross season opener looked to be settled early. Eli Tomac was running away from the field, and it looked like he was set to begin his title defense in convincing fashion. Then Tomac took a tumble on lap nine, lost the lead and was down to fifth, eight seconds off the leaders. 

In many cases, the victory is gone. Perhaps a podium position could be salvaged, but any damage to the bike or hurt pride could cause a rider to slip further down the field and make the night even worse. 

Instead, Tomac stayed up. He kept clawing out time as other riders fell into trouble. Tomac clawed back the lead at the end of lap 18. In ten laps he went from eight seconds back to the top position. Tomac went on to win by over four seconds. The night was lost but Tomac's recovery made it appear it was never in doubt.

Winward Racing's comeback at the 24 Hours of Daytona
Winward Racing looked to be one of the cars to beat in the GTD class for the 24 Hours of Daytona. The team qualified on pole position in class and was faster than the entire GTD Pro field as well. All of the Mercedes-AMG were threatening, but Winward led the way. 

In opening practice on the Thursday before the race, Lucas Auer spun the #57 Mercedes-AMG into the inside wall separating pit lane exit and the infield portion of the course. The accident caused a fractured lumbar for Auer. The car was destroyed.

Despite being down a driver and a car, Winward scrambled and had the back-up car delivered from Pasadena, Texas to Daytona. Daniel Morad was drafted into the lineup. Winward spent all of Friday preparing the new car for the race. The car was moved to the back of the grid for the 24 Hours of Daytona.

In an un-tested car, Winward drove to the front and was one of the best GTD cars the entire race. The team looked set to possibly win the class, at least finish on the podium, but contact with the #3 Corvette in turn one put the #57 Mercedes-AMG into the same interior wall that Auer hit in practice. Winward had suspension damage and its race was over with less than an hour remaining. 

The race did not end as Winward had hoped, but the team displayed incredible determination and resilience over the entire Daytona weekend. They deserve recognition though the final result was not spectacular.

2023 Dakar Rally - Bike Class
The bike class in this year's Dakar Rally was remarkably competitive. At the halfway point, stage eight, the top eight riders were covered by less than eight minutes. In the first eight stages, the overall lead change in bikes changed four times.

In the final half of the rally, the bike class became a three-rider race. Skyler Howes was on top at the halfway point but Kevin Benavides and Toby Price remained on his heels. Benavides took the overall lead after stage ten, a minute and 29 seconds ahead of Howes and 2:10 clear of Price At the end of stage 12, Price took a 28-second lead over Howes and Benavides was 2:40 back. 

Price's gap was down to 12 seconds ahead of Benavides and 1:31 ahead of Howes after the penultimate stage. In the final stage, Benavides came back and won the Dakar Rally by 43 seconds over Price. Howes dropped to 5:04 behind Benavides, settling for third. 

After thousands of miles of competition over two weeks, for less than a minute to decide the winner is stunning. Benavides deserves all the praise, but Price and Howes put up valiant efforts in their respective defeats.

Good for Now
12 Hours of Sebring
There were a pair of races this month that were good, but flawed. There were memorable moments, but the entire race was not without blemish. 

Case #1: The 12 Hours of Sebring. 

The shocking finish that saw the top three overall runners taken out with 15 minutes to go when the #10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura was knocked off course and collided with the #6 Porsche and collected the #7 Porsche was something unseen in the seven-plus decade of the great endurance race. With the dominoes down, the #31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken took an unexpected victory. 

Sebring had some wonderful moments in every class. The last two hours were brilliant. However, Sebring had a lull in the middle. All five classes were spread out, there was not much action. It is an endurance race. It happens, but it felt dull. Even the finish is shaky. Once the top three were taken out, the race was decided. There were two cars left on the overall lead lap. It was the #31 Cadillac and the #25 BMW, which somehow made it that far, but the #31 Cadillac was not going to face much of a challenge.

NASCAR Cup Race at Austin
Case #2: NASCAR's third race at Circuit of the Americas saw a slight change from the other two. 

The recent Austin race was the first NASCAR Cup event without a scheduled stage caution since the 2016 Homestead season finale, as NASCAR made a rules amendment removing the stage caution for road courses in hopes of having an increase variety in strategies. 

For the first 90% of the race, it was fantastic. Tyler Reddick ran a three-stop strategy to perfection, overtaking William Byron and the rest of the two-stoppers for the lead on the racetrack, and giving Reddick control of the race despite deciding to make an extra pit stop. It was a refreshing change of pace from the monotony of strategy with stage cautions forcing teams to either stop before the caution or under the caution. 

Strategy aside, there was some really good racing between cars and respectable racing. 

Then the final ten laps happen, and by final ten laps, I mean the final 18 laps because this race saw three overtime attempts. The race devolved into a demolition derby. At the front, drivers were rather courteous and not plowing into one another, but from about ninth on back, drivers were making wistful dive-bomb moves hoping to get from 26th to sixth in a corner. Instead, it led to accidents and debris littering the course from destroyed vehicles limbing around the circuit. 

With each restart, it felt inevitable Reddick was going to lose this race despite having been the fastest car all race. Fortunately, Reddick held on and won. It was a good race, arguably a great race, until it wasn't.   

April Preview
In the United States, Easter Monday is not a holiday. People return to work on that Monday and life continues onward until the next holiday, Memorial Day weekend in May. 

However, in Europe, Easter Monday is a holiday and many regional or national series will hold races on Easter Monday. I always enjoy putting on a race or two that morning. It changes the pace of what is just another Monday on this side of the pond. 

This year, the British GT Championship all be racing at Oulton Park. There will be two races on Easter Monday. The first will be at 5:50 a.m. ET and the second will be at 10:50 a.m. ET. Each race will be one hour in length.

If you are thinking, "Why should I tune in for British GT?" You will know a few drivers. Jules Gounon, Ross Gunn and Jonny Adam will all compete and have raced in IMSA and/or the FIA World Endurance Championship before. Gounon just won in the 24 Hours of Daytona in the GTD Pro class. Raffaele Marciello will also be in this race. Martin Plowman, who won in Indy Lights and made a few IndyCar starts, including the 2014 Indianapolis 500, runs in British GT. Plowman also won the LMP2 class at the 2013 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Those are a few notable names to keep an eye on should you tune in on Easter Monday, and you may learn a name or two as well. 

Other April events of note:
Formula One will run in Melbourne and then take three weeks off before running in Azerbaijan. 
IndyCar has Texas, a week off, Long Beach, a week off and then Barber.
NASCAR is short track heavy, Richmond, Martinsville and then the Bristol dirt race. Talladega and Dover close out the month. 
Formula E returns to Berlin. 
MotoGP visits the Americas, Argentina and the United States specifically, before returning to Spain. 
The European Le Mans Series starts its season in Barcelona. 
The Japanese racing season begins with the Super Formula and Super GT seasons getting underway. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Track Walk: Texas 2023

The second round of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season is at Texas Motor Speedway, the first of five oval races this season. Only twice since reunification has the winner of the first oval race of the season gone on to win the championship. In both cases that oval race was the opening race of the season, and in both cases Scott Dixon was the race winner. The winner of the first oval race has finished in the top five of the championship in ten of the last 15 seasons and finished in the top ten of the championship in 13 of 15 seasons. The last nine champions were in the top ten of the first oval race of the season, seven of which had a top five finish. This will be the longest IndyCar race ever held at Texas Motor Speedway. The race has increased to 250 laps, two laps more than last year. Eight Texas races were ran to 248 laps in distance. Twenty-eight cars are entered for this year's Texas race, the largest field since 30 cars entered the 2011 Texas doubleheader.

Time: Coverage begins at 12:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 2 with green flag scheduled for 12:10 p.m. ET.
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe will be in the booth. Marty Snider and Dave Burns will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 9:00 p.m. ET (60 minutes)
Qualifying: 12:15 p.m. ET 
Second Practice: 1:45 p.m. ET (30 minutes)
Final Practice: 2:30 p.m. ET (60 minutes)
Race: 12:10 p.m. ET (250 laps)

* - All sessions will be available live on Peacock

Advantage Chevrolet and Team Penske
Oval races have been Chevrolet's playground for most of the DW12-era but especially over the last few seasons. Chevrolet won four of five oval races last season, leading 1,017 of the 1,258 laps, and the American manufacturer has won six of the last nine oval races. 

Team Penske is responsible for most of those victories, winning four of those six, and Josef Newgarden has won all four. Newgarden won three oval races last season, the first driver with three oval victories in a season since Scott Dixon in 2009. Newgarden's ten oval victories is the most in the DW12-era. The next closest driver is Newgarden's Penske teammate Will Power, who has won eight times in the last 59 oval races, but Power has not won on an oval since Pocono 2019.

The 2022 oval champion was Patricio O'Ward. With 226 points, O'Ward took top spot with his victory in the second Iowa race being the high-water mark for the Mexican. O'Ward had top five finishes in each of the final four oval races last season, starting with a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500. O'Ward is the only non-Penske Chevrolet driver to win an oval race in the last 31 oval races. His first career victory was the second race of the 2021 Texas doubleheader. 

Newgarden, Power and O'Ward combine for Chevrolet's last eight oval victories, but the bow-tie brigade has ten other drivers on its bench looking to earn a victory. 

Scott McLaughlin has been knocking on the door of his first career oval victory. In three Texas starts, McLaughlin has finished second twice, including last year when he led 186 laps only to be passed off the final corner when Josef Newgarden made a move around the outside stick and took victory by 0.0669 seconds. McLaughlin's average finish of fourth is the best among drivers with at least three Texas starts. McLaughlin was on the podium in three of five oval races last season with a pair of thirds in the second Iowa race and at Gateway. In nine oval starts, he has four podium finishes and five top five results. 

Felix Rosenqvist started on the pole position last year at Texas but a halfshaft problem ended Rosenqvist's race after completing 138 laps. He did pick up his first career top five oval finish last season when he was fourth at Indianapolis. Alexander Rossi had eight podium finishes in his first 16 oval starts. However, in Rossi's last 20 oval starts, he has only two podium finishes, a runner-up in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 and a runner-up in the following race at Texas. His only other top five finish on an oval since 2019 was fifth in last year's Indianapolis 500.

Ed Carpenter Racing has not won an oval race since Iowa 2016 with Josef Newgarden. ECR will field three cars this weekend with Ed Carpenter joining Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly. In 12 Texas races, ECR has one victory, three top five finishes and five top ten finishes out of 20 starts. 

A.J. Foyt Racing has its home race with Santino Ferrucci and Benjamin Pedersen as its drivers. Ferrucci has finished fourth, 21st and ninth in his three Texas starts. Foyt has two top ten finishes in the last 12 Texas races and it has not had a top five finish at Texas since Airton Daré was third in the June 2002 race behind Jeff Ward and Al Unser, Jr.

Juncos Racing will have Callum Ilott competing in his sixth career oval start, and Agustín Canapino making his oval debut. Ilott is coming off his first career top five finish at St. Petersburg, and his best finish on an oval last season was 11th in the second Iowa race.

Honda's best hope is Scott Dixon. Dixon is responsible for three of the last six Texas victories. With five total victories at the 1.5-mile oval, the New Zealander leads all drivers. He is also the only driver to have led more than 1,000 laps at the circuit. His 1,043 laps led are more than double the next closest driver. Hélio Castroneves is second with 507 laps led at Texas. In 24 Texas appearances, Dixon's average finish is 7.041, fifth best among drivers with at least three starts. He has four consecutive top five finishes at the track. 

Castroneves has four Texas victories, but we are nearly ten years removed from his most recent one. He has retired from his last two Texas starts after retiring only once in his first 19 races at the facility. The only other Honda driver entered with a Texas victory is Graham Rahal, who won the 2016 race in a Honda 1-2 finish over James Hinchcliffe by 0.0080 seconds. Rahal has five top five finishes in the last eight Texas races. He had only one top five finish in his first eight starts at the track. 

Since reunification, Chevrolet holds a narrow edge in Texas victories, leading Honda seven to five. 

Andretti's Stumble Out of the Gates
Coming to the green flag for the St. Petersburg season opener, Andretti Autosport had three cars in the top five. When the checkered flag waved 100 laps later, Andretti Autosport's best finisher was Kyle Kirkwood in 15th. 

All four of Andretti's entries were involved in an accident at St. Petersburg. Romain Grosjean was taken out after contact with Scott McLaughlin after McLaughlin emerged from the pit lane after his final pit stop. Grosjean was looking at a possible victory, and at worst a podium finish. Colton Herta was nudged into the turn eight barrier from Will Power's front wing. Kirkwood climbed over Jack Harvey's car in turn four only for Kirkwood to be able to continue in the race. Devlin DeFrancesco was caught in the opening lap incident and was vaulted into the air when Benjamin Pedersen slammed into the side of DeFrancesco's stationary vehicle. 

Prior to his accident, Grosjean led 31 laps, second most in the race behind only McLaughlin. Andretti Autosport led only two laps over the final four races of the 2022 season. Both laps led came at Gateway and Grosjean was responsible for each. Herta has not led a lap since his car broke down while leading the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last July. In 2022, Andretti Autosport led five of 1,258 oval laps run. Along with the two laps Grosjean led at Gateway, Marco Andretti led three laps during the final pit cycle in the Indianapolis 500. 

St. Petersburg was the fourth time in the 18 races since the start of the 2022 season Andretti Autosport failed to produce a top ten finisher. Andretti Autosport had only five such occurrences over the 81 races held between 2017 and 2021.

One of those races where Andretti Autosport failed to have a top ten finisher in 2022 was Texas. In 2022, out of 21 oval entries, Andretti Autosport had one top five finish and three top ten finishes. The team had eight oval finishes outside the top twenty. 

Herta's best oval result was 11th. In 20 oval starts, Herta has two top five finishes and six top ten finishes. Grosjean was the only Andretti driver with multiple oval top ten finishes last season, coming home seventh and ninth at Iowa. DeFrancesco's best oval finish last season was 12th at Gateway. Driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, Kirkwood's best oval finish was 15th at Iowa, and he retired from three of five oval races last season. 

The team's only victory at Texas Motor Speedway was in June 2004 with Tony Kanaan. Twenty-one Texas races have been held since that Kanaan victory. Seven different teams have won at Texas in that time. Andretti Autosport has not won an oval race since Pocono 2018 and it has not won on a 1.5-mile oval since Danica Patrick won at Motegi in 2008. 

The only time Andretti Autosport had consecutive races without a top ten finish was in 2016 when it did not put a car in the top ten at Long Beach and Barber Motorsports Park.

PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge
For the second consecutive season, PeopleReady is sponsoring the Force For Good Challenge, a charity bonus program where each IndyCar winner earns a $10,000 donation to charity of the team and driver's choosing. However, the first driver to win a race on a road course, street course and an oval will earn $1,000,000 for charity. 

Last season, Josef Newgarden won the $1,000,000 prize, and it all started with an oval victory at Texas. Newgarden won the next race at Long Beach and his road course victory was in the eighth race of the season at Road America.

The first person on the board this year is Marcus Ericsson. The St. Petersburg victory earned $10,000 for Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis.

Ericsson won the Indianapolis 500 last year, his first career oval victory, and it helped elevate the Swede to second in the oval championship, two points behind O'Ward. Ericsson had top ten finishes in all five oval races last season and he has six consecutive oval top ten finishes dating back to 2021. At Texas, he was third, leading ten laps from 14th starting position, his first career podium finish on an oval. His best starting position at Texas is ninth.

The Swede has a chance to get ahead of the competition, knocking out two of three disciplines off the crack of the bat, and doing so would give Ericsson two chances to clinch the million dollar prize before anyone else could have a shot at it. Barber Motorsports Park would be his first chance to clinch while the Grand Prix of Indianapolis would be his second. 

Winning the first two races would make this the 12th time since 1946 a driver opened the season with consecutive victories. Ericsson would be the first driver to do it since his teammate Scott Dixon won the first three races in the 2020 season. In eight of those 11 seasons, the driver to open the season with consecutive victories went on to win the championship. 

Ericsson has never won consecutive races in his IndyCar career. He has not won consecutive races in his career since he ran in Japanese Formula Three in 2009. He won the second race of the Suzuka doubleheader on July 12 and then won the first race of the Motegi round on August 8. The only time he has had consecutive podium finishes in IndyCar was in 2021 when he was second at Mid-Ohio and then won at Nashville. The only other time Ericsson has had consecutive top five finishes was last season when he was fourth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and then won the Indianapolis 500. 

In seven of the last eight seasons, a driver has won a race on all three track disciplines. Last season, it took Newgarden eight races to win on all three disciplines. That was the earliest a driver had won on all three disciplines since 2015. In the other six seasons it happened, it took on average 13.8333 races for a driver to win on the third and final discipline. 

Texas Motor Speedway has had its share of unsatisfying races in recent seasons after the track saw a reconfiguration in turns one and two ahead of the 2017 race, and the use of PJ1 resin in the turns have stained the track surface, causing grip issues for the Firestone tires. 

The 2018 Texas race had 688 total passes and 242 passes for position. Over the next four Texas races, the total number of passes and passes for positions dropped each time IndyCar ran around the 1.5-mile oval. Rock-bottom was the second race of the 2021 Texas doubleheader. Only 171 passes occurred, 100 of which were for position. 

Ahead of the 2022 race, IndyCar introduced a new bargeboard in hopes of increasing downforce and allowing cars to run on the resin-stained upper part of the racetrack. IndyCar also ran a special practice session with cars only permitted to run the higher line in hopes of adding rubber to the racetrack. 

With all of these changes, last year's Texas race jumped up to 461 passes, more than the three races from between 2020 and 2021, and the number of passes for position shot up to 284, the most in the last six Texas races. 

In 2022, passing increased in four of five oval races compared to most recent race held at those tracks. Passing went up 68.55% and 77.29% at Iowa compared to the most recent Iowa race held in 2020. Gateway had 520 passes in 2022, the most at the track since it returned to the schedule in 2017. It was an increase of 163.9% compared to the 197 passes that happened in the 2021 Gateway race. 

The only oval race that saw a decrease in passing was the Indianapolis 500. The 2022 race saw a decrease of 42 total passes from 465 to 423. Passes for position dropped by 23, from 361 to 338. 

Josef Newgarden's pass for the lead on the final lap was the first IndyCar race to have a final lap pass for the lead since the 2016 Texas race where Graham Rahal took the victory by 0.0080 seconds over James Hinchcliffe.

For 2023, underwing sidewalls have been made optional and the special practice session to increase rubber in the higher groove has been expanded to all entries. 

Fast Facts
This will be the tenth IndyCar race to take place on April 2 and the first since Scott Dixon won at Phoenix in 2016. 

This will be the second IndyCar race to take place on April 2 in the state of Texas. Tom Sneva won at Texas World Speedway on April 2, 1977. 

On two occasions has a driver scored a first career victory on April 2. Pietro Bordino won the first heat race from the 1.25-mile board oval, Los Angeles Motor Speedway, on April 2, 1922. In 1995, Robby Gordon scored his first career victory at Phoenix. 

Four drivers have scored their first career victory at Texas (Billy Boat, Mark Dismore, Jeff Ward and Patricio O'Ward). It was the only career victory for Boat, Dismore and Ward. 

Josef Newgarden won last year's Texas race. American drivers have not won consecutive Texas races since a five-race stretch from June 2001 through June 2003.

Only once has a driver won consecutive Texas races. Scott Dixon won the 2020 race and the first race of the 2021 doubleheader. 

The average starting position for a Texas race winner is 5.1428 with a median of third. 

The pole-sitter has not won at Texas since Ryan Briscoe in 2010.

Eight of the last 14 Texas races have been won from outside the top five starting positions. 

Three of the last six Texas races have been won from seventh starting position.

The average number of lead changes in a Texas race is 13.485 with a median of 13. 

Only one of the last 15 Texas races has had more than 15 lead changes. The 2017 race had 23 lead changes.

Six Texas races have had over 20 lead changes.

Two Texas races have had more than 30 lead changes. There were 31 lead changes in the June 2000 race and there were 32 lead changes in the October 2001 race.

The average number of cautions in a Texas race is 4.2571 with a median of four. The average number of caution laps is 34.771 laps with a median of 32. 

Fifteen of the last 16 Texas races have had five cautions or fewer. Ten of those races had three cautions or fewer.

The most recent caution-free race on an oval occurred at Texas. It was the second race of the 2011 doubleheader.

Josef Newgarden rebounds from a rotten St. Petersburg weekend and becomes the second driver with consecutive victories at Texas Motor Speedway. Newgarden will not need a final lap pass to win the race though. Scott McLaughlin leads fewer than half the laps. Andretti Autosport has at least three cars see the checkered flag. Devlin DeFrancesco avoids causing any incidents. McLaren pit crew members will not be clattered during any pit stops. Santino Ferrucci does not finish inside the top ten. Ed Carpenter Racing's combined laps completed will be less than 735. Meyer Shank Racing's average finish will be better than 15th. There will be less praise for Agustín Canapino. There will be a new championship leader after this weekend. Sleeper: David Malukas. 

Monday, March 27, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: What Are We Saving?

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

Elli Tomac won his 50th Supercross main event, putting him in a tie with James Stewart for second all-time after Chase Sexton fell from a leading position again in Seattle. MotoGP had its first sprint race weekend. NASCAR learned that Jordan Taylor is quite good on road courses. Red Bull said it doesn't have any room for Lewis Hamilton possibly joining the operation. Formula E went somewhere familiar for IndyCar fans. The Road to Indy's lower two series had a race weekend at Sebring. IndyCar's video game will not be released in 2023, and I believe I had that, but there is something else on my mind...

What Are We Saving?
IndyCar loves to surprise you when you are least expecting it. 

Not many changes are announced with much fanfare. IndyCar isn't one for press conferences to announce a rule change or a race sponsorship. Many rule changes are spread over a period of time. There isn't a large scale announcement. Even when a big one comes, IndyCar doesn't make a big deal about it. It announces and then doesn't engage with it. The series more or less allows the masses to handle it without attempting to steer the conversation.

Race distances are a significant thing. The Indianapolis 500 matters partially because it is 500 miles. If in 1911 the race was only 100 miles or 250 miles in length, I am not sure it would have become the seminal event that it has been for over a century. Any changes to a race's length should probably be noted. Late last week, we received word of a race length changing, and it is a notable event. 

The second race of the Iowa doubleheader will be shortened to 250 laps this season after being 300 laps in 2022. 

Iowa has drawn a fair amount of attention since its return to the schedule was announced during the 2021-22 offseason. After a season off the calendar, its return in 2022 was highly anticipated, and Iowa transformed into something it had never been. Outside of 2020, when it became a doubleheader out of necessity due to the pandemic, Iowa's return would be a two-race affair, a 250-lapper on Saturday and a 300-lapper on Sunday. Along with the races, significant country and pop music acts were brought in to round out the weekend with a concert taking place before and after each race.

After long being one of IndyCar's favorite events, Iowa stepped up from being a single race to an entire weekend of festivities in 2022. More isn't always widely accepted. Use it as an example of "be careful what you wish for." Iowa was back, but a contingent didn't care for the inclusion of the musical acts, especially since ticket prices increased compared to previous Iowa races. 

Ticket prices went up again for 2023, as Ed Sheeran, Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney and the Zac Brown Band will be the musical acts over the two days, ruffling more feathers. 

I am fine with the musical acts and the admission cost for such an event, but I wonder what are we saving trimming the Sunday race down by 50 laps?

In fairness to Iowa, 250 laps has long been the length of races at Iowa. It was the distance of eveery Iowa race from 2007 to 2013. Both races in the 2020 doubleheader were 250 laps, and there have been more 250-lap races at Iowa than 300-lap races, but 50 laps is nothing around the 0.875-mile oval. 

The 250-lap race last year lasted an hour, 39 minutes and 34 seconds. The 300-lap race the following day took an hour, 54 minutes and 23 seconds. Fifty laps is basically 15 minutes, not a lengthy period of time. 

It is one thing if a race was unfathomably long, dragging on, and was overflowing a television window. Most IndyCar races want to be completed in two hours. While last year's 300-lap race was close to the two-hour limit, the 300-lap race hardly ever goes over. Only twice in seven 300-lap Iowa races has it taken more than two hours to finish, the longest of which lasted only two hours, three minutes and 50 seconds. Over, but not too much to handle. 

IndyCar typically gets a two-hour and 30-minute television window. Factoring in a desire to have a pre-race show and a post-race show, the race itself cannot be two hours and 30 minutes, but a two-hour race, even a two-hour and 15-minute race, can fit. It is a matter what is done with the window. 

A 30-minute pre-race show is somewhat the norm, but it does make it difficult on the backend if the race is right on the two-hour mark. IndyCar could just come on air and have the race start within five minutes of the TV window starting, but there is some advantage to a build up. It is also smart to have a cushion in case the lead-in event is a sporting event and running long. Must I remind you what happened with the 2018 IndyCar finale at Sonoma with the NASCAR race from Las Vegas leading in or the 2021 French Open men's final and the Belle Isle race?

In the case of Iowa, it really feels like not much is gained by trimming off 50 laps. Iowa has had good races at both distances. I don't think IndyCar is stifling itself with a shorter race, but there are so few races in IndyCar. There are even fewer oval events. Shortening Iowa by 50 laps is a loss IndyCar shouldn't take. Trimming 15 minutes off a race that is usually always completed in under two hours isn't helping the series at all. I cannot imagine IndyCar is saving the teams that much money reducing a race by 50 laps or 43.75 miles. If IndyCar is penny-pinching over 43.75 miles, there are bigger problems at hand. 

Honestly, if IndyCar was going to change the length of the second Iowa race, it should have made both races of the doubleheader 275 laps. The total number of laps over the two days remains the same, except each race is the same distance. No one really loses. It is just evenly distributed. 

IndyCar should be conscious of its race length, but still look to maximize its races. Iowa isn't the only place that has seen a race shortened recently. Prior to the pandemic, St. Petersburg was 110 laps and Mid-Ohio was 90 laps. St. Petersburg went back down to 100 laps during the pandemic and has remained that length. St. Petersburg is already the longest street race of the season. Losing those ten laps does make it a more straightforward race on strategy, but the race remains grueling. 

Mid-Ohio has been 80 laps the last few seasons. The problem with that is Mid-Ohio becomes a two-stop race. Strategy is taken out of it. When it was 90 laps, it opened the door for either a two-stop or three-stop strategy coming out on top. We saw the variety of strategies play out in the 2019 race where two different routes brought Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist to the checkered flag only 0.0934 seconds apart. It was wonderful but also less likely to happen at an 80-lap distance. 

In the seven 90-lap Mid-Ohio races that took place from 2013 to 2019, none went over two hours in length. Only two exceeded an hour and 50 minutes in length. 

The strange thing is, as these few races have been shortened, a few others have gotten longer. Portland and Laguna Seca each added five laps when they returned in 2021. That same season Gateway became 12 laps longer compared to its pre-pandemic race length. Even Texas this year will be two laps longer. It is only two laps, but more is more! 

To make it even odder, both Laguna Seca races since increasing to 95 laps took more than two hours to complete. The 2021 Portland race took two hours and seven minutes. The series obviously is comfortable tip-toeing over the two-hour length, but for some reason is shortening races that haven't been excessively long to begin with. 

IndyCar is always financially conscious when making decisions, almost to a fault, but in a few recent examples the series should not be slashing away from races to save the teams money or to be cautious with a television window. Slashing can dull a race, especially when it sets up for only one usable strategy to make it to the finish. The series shouldn't be looking to save 15 minutes from races that are already short of two hours in length. They are still within the desired window without feeling excessively long. A few will go over and the post-race coverage may be lacking, but if the race is satisfying, fewer post-race interviews will be forgiven. 

It is too late for 2023, but in 2024, IndyCar should not be afraid to run 300 laps at Iowa or 90 laps at Mid-Ohio, especially when the series isn't adding any races any time soon. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Eli Tomac, but did you know...

Francesco Bagnaia won MotoGP's Portuguese Grand Prix. Bagnaia also won the inaugural sprint race. Pedro Acosta won the Moto2 race. Daniel Holgado won the Moto3 race, his first career grand prix victory.

Mitch Evans won the São Paulo ePrix.

Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Cup race from Austin. A.J. Allmendinger won the Grand National Series race. Zane Smith won the Truck race.

Myles Rowe swept the USF Pro 2000 races from Sebring. Lochie Hughes and Simon Sikes split the U.S. F2000 races.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar's long-awaited second race of the season from Texas. 
Formula One is in Australia.
Supercars joins Formula One in Melbourne.
MotoGP flies from Portugal to Argentina. 
NASCAR has its first short track race of the season at Richmond.
GT World Challenge America opens its season at Sonoma.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

2023 MotoGP Season Preview

There will be a few notable changes in MotoGP this year. Suzuki is gone. Riders have changed teams. There are a few new races, but the biggest change will be in the weekend format. 

The 2023 season sees the introduction of sprint races, which will be held on the Saturday of each race weekend. There will be two practices on Friday before qualifying on Saturday morning. Qualifying will set the grid for both the sprint race and the grand prix on Sunday. 

Each sprint race will be 50% of the grand prix distance and the top nine riders will be awarded the following points: 12-9-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. 

The maximum number of points that can be scored in 2023 is 777 points. The first batch of points will be awarded this weekend for the 75th season of grand prix motorcycle racing.

There will be a 21-race calendar, which includes two new venues this season. 

Portimão opens the season this weekend on March 26 and it is the first of six stretches with consecutive races. One week after opening in Portugal, round two will be in Argentina. The United States hosts the third round of the season on April 16 at Austin before Jerez closes out the month of April. 

The only race in May will be the French Grand Prix at Le Mans on May 14. In June, there will be three consecutive races. Mugello hosts the Italian Grand Prix on June 11, a week before the German Grand Prix from the Sachensenring and the Dutch TT from Assen rounds out that stretch on June 25. The first of two new races is the final race before the summer break. It is the Grand Prix of Kazakhstan on July 9 from Sokol International Raceway. 

After a month off, the British Grand Prix from Silverstone welcomes back MotoGP to competition on August 6. MotoGP hits the halfway point on August 20 at the Red Bull Ring for the Austrian Grand Prix. The summer European swing ends with a back-to-back, first with Barcelona on September 3 and then Misano on September 10. 

The inaugural Indian Grand Prix will be on September 24 from the Buddh International Circuit, which hosted three Formula One races from 2011 to 2013. The Japanese Grand Prix will be on October 1 at Motegi. The South Pacific swing will be three consecutive races starting at Mandalika in Indonesia on October 15. MotoGP will go south to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix on October 22 before running at Buriram on October 29. 

The final three races will be in three consecutive weekends in three distinctly different parts of the world. Malaysia hosts the antepenultimate round on November 12. The Qatar Grand Prix moves to the penultimate weekend of the season on November 19 before the season finale in Valencia on November 26.

Ducati Lenovo Team
Francesco Bagnaia: #1 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Win the world championship on 265 points with seven victories and ten podium finishes despite retiring from five of 20 races.

What to expect in 2023: Bagnaia topped the Portimão test and the Ducatis swarmed the top of the leaderboard. Bagnaia nearly took himself out of the championship picture last year, but the sheer pace and his ability got him out of the hole. He will not always be that lucky. He cannot have four retirements in the first ten races again and expect to win the world championship, especially if the other Ducati riders are on point. Bagnaia is going to win a handful of races, but he will see more competition from within the Ducati camp.

Enea Bastianini: #23 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Won three of the first seven races on a year old bike, but only won once more over the final 13 races and had a total of six podium finishes in 20 races, leaving him third in the championship on 219 points. 

What to expect in 2023: After the season Bastianini had on a year-old bike, moving to the factory team should make him an even greater threat. He was slower than Bagnaia on each day at Portimão. That will be his greatest obstacle this season. Though Bagnaia is prone to the occasional mistake, he is blindingly quick. If Bagnaia doesn't stumble, it will be difficult for Bastianini to keep up. 

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing
Brad Binder: #33 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Binder was the top rider in the championship without a victory. The South African had three runner-up finishes, including bookending his season in the runner-up spot. Binder was sixth in the championship on 188 points, scoring points in 19 of 20 races including in 15 consecutive events.

What to expect in 2023: KTM appears to be as confusing as ever. In testing, the bike wouldn't look that threatening one session. The next it would have a rider in the top ten. It is tough to pinpoint where KTM will be this year. I expect a step back. The factory team will drop from second in the Teams' championship. Binder could fall out of the top ten in the championship. If he can finish in the points for all but one race again, he could get the top ten, but I think he will not match that hit rate and miss out.

Jack Miller: #43 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Miller beat Binder for fifth in the championship by a point with Miller scoring one victory and seven podium finishes but finishing outside the points five times. 

What to expect in 2023: Miller moves from Ducati to KTM and a drop is imminent. He will not be on the podium as regularly as he was the previous two seasons. He isn't going to be in the top five in the championship. He will have the same fight as his teammate just to stay in the top ten. Miller also will ride the bike over the limit and cost himself points. Those incidents hurt more when a rider isn't finishing on the podium seven times a season. 

Aprilia Racing
Maverick Viñales: #12 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Viñales took 11th in the championship on 122 points with three podium finishes but he failed to score points in five races and finished outside the top ten in five other events. 

What to expect in 2023: Aprilia showed good pace in comparison to the Ducatis in testing, and Viñales was much closer to his teammate Aleix Espargaró than what we saw over 2022. Not long ago it appeared Viñales was on the verge of being world champion before it all went sideways at Yamaha, and mostly at Viñales' own making. He has matured since getting booted out. His results should be better this year, he should push Espargaró for best in the organization, and a victory is not out of the question.

Aleix Espargaró: #41 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Espargaró scored his first career MotoGP victory in Argentina and he had a four-race stretch where he finished third in all of them. He had ten top five finishes and was fourth in the championship on 212 points.

What to expect in 2023: Last year, Espargaró rode with remarkable consistency, but the pace faded in the second half of the season and it cost him at least one spot in the championship. I don't think he will have the same flying start that we saw in 2022. There will still be plenty of races where he is at the front, but Espargaró is going to face more pressure from within the Aprilia squad. He could fall out of the top five in the championship, but still have a handful of podium finishes and a victory or two.

Prima Pramac Racing
Johann Zarco: #5 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Take eighth in the championship on 166 points with four podium finishes, but that first MotoGP victory remains elusive.

What to expect in 2023: Zarco showed good pace in testing and he had good runs last season, but he just cannot find a way to get that first MotoGP victory. Everything is aligning for that to happen in 2023. He is on the right bike, riding for a team that is capable of winning races. He can have one of those races where it all clicks and he finishes on top, but it is not a guarantee. He should be around eighth in the championship again.

Jorge Martín: #89 Ducati Desmosedici GP23
What did he do in 2022: Won five pole positions, including three on the spin to close out 2022, but Martín did not win while standing on the podium four times, and he retired from five races. He was ninth in the championship on 152 points.

What to expect in 2023: The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of MotoGP, Martín is either not in the mix or right at the front. At any race weekend he could be competing for a victory or be 13th and forgotten about. Last year, he and Zarco were nearly identical in the championship. They both get there different ways. If Martín maximizes his best days, he should be the top Pramac rider and could pick up another victory.

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP
Fabio Quartararo: #20 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he do in 2022: Fall 17 points of successfully defending his championship. He won three races but had three retirements while only standing on the podium eight times.

What to expect in 2023: Quartararo again was miles clear of his Yamaha teammate Franco Morbidelli in testing. Quartararo is going to be at the front and taking the fight to Bagnaia and the Ducatis as he hopes to reclaim the championship, but it will be a one-horse fight for Yamaha as its two riders are going to be at the opposite ends of the grid more times than not.

Franco Morbidelli: #21 Yamaha YZR-M1
What did he in 2022: Finish in the top ten in only two races with his best result being seventh in the second race of the season, a mixed weather race in Indonesia. This placed Morbidelli 19th in the championship on 42 points.

What to expect in 2023: It is difficult to imagine how the last two seasons could have been any worse for Morbidelli, and yet, it appears 2023 is going to be another step backward. I am not sure where the Morbidelli of 2020 went, but we are not going to see him at any point this year from the looks of it. If that is the case, he will likely not get another year in this organization.

Gresini Racing MotoGP
Fabio Di Giannantonio: #49 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Won pole position in Mugello but his best finish was eighth at the Sachensenring and failed to score points in 14 races. He was 20th on 24 points.

What to expect in 2023: Last year, Gresini performed above expectations with Bastianini, and that could be the case again. It is unlikely a Gresini rider will crack the top three in the championship, but it can score a healthy amount of points and be fighting for podium finishes, possibly be in the fight for a victory. Di Giannantonio should improve from 2022. He should be closer to the top ten in the championship and at least crack the top five in a few races.

Álex Márquez: #73 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Score points in 13 races with his best finish being seventh and he had four top ten finishes, but it only put Márquez 17th in the championship on 50 points. 

What to expect in 2023: Perhaps the most pleasing surprise from testing was Álex Márquez's pace. He was regularly quicker than Di Giannantonio. On occasions he was quicker than Bastianini on the factory bike. I don't think Márquez is going to win three races and be the sleeper for the championship, but in three MotoGP seasons he has two podium finishes and three top five finishes with championship finishes of 14th, 16th and 17th. I think he will get more than three top five finishes this season alone and sneak into the top ten in the championship. At worst, he will have his best MotoGP championship result. 

Mooney VR46 Racing Team
Luca Marini: #10 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: After having no top ten finishes in the first six races, Marini had ten top ten finishes in the final 14 races, including three top five results, putting him 12th in the championship on 120 points.

What to expect in 2023: Both VR46 riders looked strong in testing, but they are on the year-old bike. Last year, the year-old Ducati had its days where it still was the best horse out there, but at the end of the season, the newer Ducati was clearly the better bike. Both VR46 riders should make leaps forward. The both should be competing for top ten in the championship. Marini should get on the podium at least one, possibly a few times. If there are multiple podium visits, one could see him on the highest step.

Marco Bezzecchi: #72 Ducati Desmosedici GP22
What did he do in 2022: Finish as the top rookie, 14th in the championship on 111 points with Bezzecchi's best finish being second in Assen. He had three other top five finishes, including a pair of fourth-place results in the final three races. 

What to expect in 2023: Bezzecchi looked better than Marini in testing, but they are close. Is there a world where they take points off of each other and neither looks that spectacular? Sure, but Bezzecchi could make a run for a victory this season. There is a good chance he leaps Marini for top VR46 rider in the championship. 

Repsol Honda Team
Joan Mir: #36 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Riding for Suzuki, Mir was 15th in the championship and missed four races due to injuries sustained in the Austrian Grand Prix. He had three top five finishes over the entire season and only scored 87 points. Mir was on pace to finish 15th in the championship even with his missed races. 

What to expect in 2023: Mir had a rough 2022 season. Suzuki is gone and he is moving to a Honda team that is a bit lost. The bike doesn't look great. Marc Márquez is having trouble finding speed. The good news for Mir is he was right around Márquez throughout testing. However, it doesn't look like Honda will be competing for podium finishes. This could be a fight just to make it into the championship top ten.

Marc Márquez: #93 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Missed eight races due to injuries, two because of a concussion and six due to arm surgery midseason. He was second at Phillip Island and he had five top five finishes in 12 starts with 11 top ten finishes and one retirement. He scored 120 points to finish 12th in the championship, averaging ten points per start, or on pace for fifth in the championship. 

What to expect in 2023: With Márquez, nobody knows. His results look good enough to be one of the top riders in the championship, but he has not stayed on the bike for an entire season since 2019. He misses a handful of races and it costs him about seven to ten spots in the championship. This year in testing, Márquez, and Honda in general, looked disappointing. This is the first time it feels like Márquez cannot work his magic and wind up at the top of the championship or at least be on pace for a top spot. It is Márquez. There will be one or two races he pulls out a podium finish, most likely if it rains, but it will be rare to see him fighting for victories this year.

LCR Honda Idemitsu/Castrol
Takaaki Nakagami: #30 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Missed three races due to finger surgery, but he had four top ten finishes all season and had only 48 points, 18th in the championship. 

What to expect in 2023: Nakagami was at the bottom consistently in testing. His championship position has dropped the last two seasons. It seems likely to drop for a third consecutive season and it could fall off substantially from 2022 as well. 

Álex Rins: #42 Honda RC213V
What did he do in 2022: Won two of the final three races and he had four total podium finishes. Despite a five-race stretch without scoring a point, he was still seventh in the championship on 173 points.

What to expect in 2023: Rins was running competitive times compared to the factory Hondas and he was close to his past Suzuki teammate Mir. Rins could have a good goal just to beat Mir in the championship and at least win himself some brownie points. If the factory Hondas are not going to be competing for victories, Rins isn't either. Top ten in the championship looks to be a stretch. 

RNF MotoGP Team
Raúl Fernández: #25 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: In his rookie season, Fernández scored 14 points putting his 22nd in the championship with two missed raced due to a hand injury, and his best finish was 12th in Germany and Valencia.

What to expect in 2023: It wasn't only the factory Aprilias that were competitive in testing. RNF's two riders kept up as the team switched from Yamaha in the offseason. I don't think either RNF Aprilia will be fighting for victories regularly, if at all in 2023, but the team should score more than the 37 points it had last season. Fernández should beat the 14 points he amassed, and he should have a few races where he is contending for the top five. 

Miguel Oliveira: #88 Aprilia RS-GP
What did he do in 2022: Oliveira won in mixed conditions in Mandilika and then won in Buriram, but he had three more top five finishes all season. He did score points in 13 consecutive seasons to close the season and it got him tenth in the standings on 149 points. 

What to expect in 2023: I just said RNF likely will not be competing for a race victory at any point in 2023, but it also has Oliveira, who for the past three seasons has made a name for himself winning races seemingly out of nowhere. We cannot rule it out, especially if there is a wet race. His consistency will help the team score points. Top ten in the championship is a stretch, but if Oliveira cracks the top fifteen, it will be a successful year for RNF.

GasGas Factory Racing Tech3
Augusto Fernández: #37 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Fernández won the Moto2 championship with four victories, nine podium finishes, 15 top five finishes and 17 top ten finishes in a 20-race season with 271.5 points scored. 

What to expect in 2023: Tech3 has taken on new branding, but it is still a KTM bike. Fernández will be the lone rookie on the grid this season. I think it will be difficult to score points. Tech3 wasn't that far off the factory KTM team, but it wasn't consistently at the front. There is a good chance Fernández will top his veteran teammate.

Pol Espargaró: #44 KTM RC16
What did he do in 2022: Riding for Honda, Espargaró was third in the opening round, but then had one top ten finish in the final 19 races of the season. This left him 16th in the championship on 56 points. 

What to expect in 2023: Espargaró moves to Tech3 after a disappointing time with Honda. The results are not going to be better here. There will still be frustration. His best results will be cracking the top ten and not doing much better than that. 

Practice begins at 6:45 a.m. ET on Friday March 24 for MotoGP with the second session taking place at 11:00 a.m. ET. On Saturday, there will be a final practice at 6:10 a.m. before the first round of qualifying at 6:50 a.m. with the second round at 7:15 a.m. 

The inaugural sprint race take place at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday March 25. The Portuguese Grand Prix opens the 2023 season on Sunday March 26 at 9:00 a.m. 

Monday, March 20, 2023

Musings From the Weekend: Expanding the World Championship

Here is a rundown of what got me thinking...

It is now spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Sergio Pérez made it two victories in two races for Red Bull. Fastest lap kept Max Verstappen on top of the championship. Fernando Alonso was on the podium, lost a podium, and then back on the podium. McLaren is tenth of ten teams. The World Rally Championship will run a test event in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Atlanta was bad, and historical slow. Aaron Plessinger had a rough night. Sebring came down to an accident that resembled bowling more than a motor race. Scott McLaughlin, again, may be the best driver in the world. But it was the other series at Sebring that is on my mind…

Expanding the World Championship
Another FIA World Endurance Championship season commenced over the weekend, and as we are still in the early days of convergence with the Hypercar and LMDh spec cars competing against one another in the world championship while also having the possibility of competing against one another in IMSA, each championship is looking to make the most of this grand period. 

Manufacturer involvement is at its greatest level in quite some time. The top class in WEC has never looked this deep and with cross-pollination possible, the technological barrier for competition in the historic endurance races is no longer there. 

With this manufacturer growth, WEC is looking to capitalize on this period and it is working on returning to its pre-pandemic schedule length with eight or nine races. It has already been announced Qatar will be  a new round on the 2024 schedule. A new track could be hosting the series in the United States next year. But WEC is looking for more than those minor changes. However, there is a constriction to WEC's growth. 

It is the endurance part of the World Endurance Championship that is a difficult sell. 

Six-hour races have been a part of motorsports for decades. It is the basic endurance race. Not as big of a commitment as a 12 or 24-hour race. It is long enough that it cannot be considered a sprint. It gives everyone plenty of racing, but it is almost a full-day commitment, especially if you are attending. 

There is also greater financial cost in running six-hour races. 

As WEC looks to expand, it must ask how does it want to do it? 

The series has seven races for 2023. Qatar will be eight in 2024. The longest WEC schedule was nine races, but is adding one more race, one more country visited, really going to help increase the exposure and the audience for the series? If WEC wants a greater reach, it may have to consider slightly altering its format. 

WEC CEO Frédéric Laquien admitted that WEC has to adapt for television and make the series more accessible for normal viewers. 

A six-hour race is not friendly to viewers. It is difficult to get an average person to commit to watch anything for six hours let alone a sports car race. It is also not friendly for a broadcaster. No broadcaster wants to schedule six hours to an event where viewers will come and go, especially when there are shorter options and multiple events could fill that window while drawing more eyeballs. 

There is a way for WEC to maintain its endurance roots and also expand while becoming more accessible to the average viewer. 

Shorter races provide flexibility. WEC can keep its famed endurance races, but shorter events can allow for more races to take place in more countries and be friendlier to the television audience. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans isn't going anywhere. Neither is Spa-Francorchamps nor Fuji, and if Sebring and the series can work out a deal, the 1,000-mile race will remain, but the schedule could be broken up where half are traditional endurance races and another half would be sprint races. 

Keep Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps, Fuji, Sebring and Bahrain, but the series could strategically expand and have sprint races in each of these regions. Qatar is joining the schedule, but it could be a three-hour race instead of a full six-hour event. Paired with Bahrain, these races could be done in one trip, two weeks apart or so. 

The same could happen with Fuji and another Asia-Pacific round. Fuji could take place and two weeks later WEC could run a three-hour race in Malaysia or South Korea or visit Australia for the first time. Sebring could be paired with a three-hour South American round in Brazil or Argentina. Monza and Portimão could each become three-hour races and, with the European base of the series, it could allow for another one or two three-hour races in other circuits such as Silverstone, Nürburgring, the Red Bull Ring or any of a number of circuits that haven't been in consideration. 

Because of race lengths, WEC is likely never going to be a 18 or 20-race championship, but it could at least have 12 rounds, maybe even 14 rounds, especially if a few events are only three hours in length. 

This can be more than an endurance championship but be a world sports car championship, like we saw in the 1970s and 1980s, which had a variety of race lengths. IMSA runs highly competitive two-hour and 45-minute races. WEC doesn't have to run exclusively six-hour races or longer to have an exciting series and showcase its highest level of competition. It can have both, and those three-hour races could be done in plenty of time that it doesn't dissuade a viewer from tuning in because of the length of the commitment. 

What is better for WEC? Eight endurance races, all greater than six hours in length but only bringing the series to eight countries, or five endurance races, with another seven to eight three-hour events and at least a dozen countries visited? 

Sprint races could fill the gaps that have long existed in the WEC schedule and create a better rhythm. When the 24 Hours of Le Mans ends on June 11 this year, there will be only three WEC races over the following 146 days. That is one race every 48.667 days! The entire seven-race calendar is spread over 233 days. That is a race every 33.285 days, basically one race a month. 

Instead of that spread, WEC could run a race in the Americas in late March after Sebring. Portimão and Spa-Francorchamps could be the sprint/endurance pairing in April with Le Mans in June. After that there could be a European sprint swing during the summer with three or four races, and it could fill Formula One's summer break, giving WEC a chance to get some attention. There could be another Asia-Pacific round in late-September or early-October after Fuji. Qatar could be two weeks before Bahrain at the end of the calendar. 

That would be 12 races over 233 days, a race every 19.41667 days. A more regular schedule would keep people's attention instead of disappearing for a month or more at a time, increasing the opportunity to be forgotten.

In terms of championship logistics and what to do with three-driver teams as two drivers will be more than enough for the sprint races, we can figure that out. Perhaps for Hypercar the sprint rounds would only count toward the manufacturers' championship that way the driver lineup doesn't really matter. For the pro-am categories, the championship are for the amateur anyway. The amateur competes in every round and then the professional can rotate. These things can be sorted in the wash.

Convergence has brought together one of the best sports car grids we have seen in decades. WEC has a chance to bring an exciting championship to many different people, but it will require slightly altering its format to make it happen. These changes are worth it for sports car racing, and it could bring this series to more people than it ever has in its first decade. WEC should not be afraid to change for the better.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Sergio Pérez, but did you know...

The #31 Whalen Engineering Cadillac of Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken won the 12 Hours of Sebring. The #8 Tower Motorsports Oreca-Gibson of Scott McLaughlin, Kyffin Simpson and John Farano won in LMP2. The #74 Riley Motorsports Ligier-Nissan of Felipe Fraga, Gar Robinson and Josh Burdon won in LMP3. The #9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche of Klaus Bachler, Patrick Pilet and Laurens Vanthoor won in GTD Pro. The #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW of Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow and Corey Lewis won in GTD.

The #7 Toyota of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and José María López won the 1,000 Miles of Sebring. The #48 Hertz Team JOTA Oreca-Gibson of Will Steven’s, Ye Yifei and David Beckmann won in LMP2. The #33 Corvette of Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg and Nico Varrone won in GTE Am. 

Ayuma Iwasa (sprint) and Frederik Vesti (feature) split the Formula Two races from Jeddah. 

Joey Logano won the NASCAR Cup race from Atlanta. Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race, his third victory of the season. Christian Eckes won the Truck race.

Sébastien Ogier won Rally Mexico, his second victory of the season, a record seventh Rally Mexico victory, and Ogier’s 57th career victory.  

Chase Sexton won the Supercross race from Detroit, his second victory of the season, after Aaron Plessinger went down while leading on the penultimate lap. 

Coming Up This Weekend
MotoGP opens its season in Portimão. 
Formula E visits Brazil for the first time with a round in São Paulo.
NASCAR has an international contest in Austin. 
Supercross returns to Seattle.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

2023 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Preview

After a rough period for the FIA World Endurance Championship, the 2023 is set up to be one of its most exciting in its 12-year history. 

New manufactures, new cars and new drivers are in the series. The top class is larger than it has ever been with 13 Hypercar entries set for the full season and there are other manufacturers looking to join the series either sometime in 2023 or in 2024. 

While the Hypercar class is at a high point, the rest of WEC's grid is going through a transition. This will be the final season for GTE-spec cars, and there will only be a GTE Am class competing in 2023 while LMP2 is looking to be phased out as well due to the growth of Hypercar. GTE is set to be replaced by a pro-am GT3 class starting in 2024.

The distant future can wait, but we have a thrilling season awaiting us with 38 full-time entries set for the seven-race season.  

The WEC calendar has expanded to seven rounds after running only six races the previous two seasons. For the second consecutive year, Sebring hosts the season opener with a 1,000-mile race on Friday March 17. 

One month later, WEC has its first of four European rounds with the 6 Hours of Portimão returning to the calendar on April 16. Two weeks later, the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps will take place. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be June 10-11 with the final European round occurring a month later at Monza, a six-hour race on July 9. 

There will be a two-month break before the 6 Hours of Fuji is held on September 10. Bahrain hosts the season finale with an eight-hour race on November 4.

Cadillac Racing
#2 Cadillac V-Series.R
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Richard Westbrook
What to expect: At the 24 Hours of Daytona, there was almost a sense that Acura had the outright speed over a single lap, but had the most questions about reliability. Porsche had the speed over the long run, but still had little things popping that halted its progress. In the middle was Cadillac, good speed, but the most reliable and it felt like Cadillac was positioned to win at Daytona. 

Acura was able to complete all 24 hours and that one-lap pace carried over an entire stint. Cadillac went 3-4 behind the Acura 1-2, but the top four were covered by 11.176 seconds. Cadillac should feel confident entering its first foray into WEC. It helps that the Cadillac only trailed the Toyotas in the Prologue test last weekend at Sebring. Bamber is a past champion. Lynn has experience from GTE and LMP2. Westbrook is a capable veteran. This could be a special season for Cadillac, but it will not be easy.

Floyd Vanwall Racing Team
#4 Vanwall Vandervell 680
Drivers: Tom Dillmann, Esteban Guerrieri, Jacques Villeneuve
What to expect: Possibly a name change, but we can tackle the legal issues another time. This is the ByKolles outfit in another name. The team is known for talking a big game and massively underdelivering. Villeneuve will turn 52 years old this April. He hasn't run a prototype since 2008 when he was second at Le Mans in the Peugeot 908. I am not sure what he has left. Guerrieri is coming up from touring car racing, where he had good success and he was once a promising Indy Lights driver, but this is a big step. Dillman has been hanging with the ByKolles group since 2018, and he did win the 2022 Le Mans Cup LMP3 championship with Alexander Mattschull. 

It is doubtful this car completes the entire season let alone accomplish anything remotely remarkable on track. This is such an odd combination of drivers. Compared to the other lineups, it is weak. However, it did top the Glickenhaus in testing, and was within two seconds of the fastest time at the Prologue.

Porsche Penske Motorsport
#5 Porsche 963
Drivers: Dane Cameron, Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki
What to expect: This biggest concern for Porsche is it is taking drivers accustomed to GT machinery and hoping they can succeed in prototype. Cameron is simultaneously the leader and the least experienced in this group in terms of the series. Christensen and Makowiecki know the series but neither have extensive prototype experience. A race car is a race car, but even professionals have a learning curve. 

This should be the second of the two factory Porsches, yet it was the faster of the two at the Prologue. Add to the concerns the gremlins that keep plaguing the Porsche 963. Porsche will figure those out. The car had promise at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Porsche will figure it out, but questions remain over this lineup leading the way over the entire season. 

#6 Porsche 963
Drivers: Kévin Estre, André Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor
What to expect: Lotterer is one of the best drivers of his generation. He is fine, but he even expressed some concerns after being away from top tier prototype racing for the last few seasons. Vanthoor was one of the best GT drivers in the 2010s and he has dabbled in LMP2 competition with some success, but he has never driven a prototype regularly. Estre is taking on something entirely new. 

This car feels the most set up for success in the Porsche camp. Estre was the fastest of the three drivers in the #6 Porsche at the Prologue. If Lotterer and Vanthoor pick up their pace, this is a scary lineup. With the Porsche's little problem, a championship is hard to imagine at this point. It has to get through a few races before that can feel possible.

Toyota Gazoo Racing
#7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, José María López
What to expect: This is the greatest test Toyota has seen since 2016 when Porsche and Audi were still field LMP1 teams. Toyota has the upper-hand in experience. This will be the third season of the Toyota GR010 Hybrid. This is Toyota's 12th season in WEC competition. It knows all the circuits. It has been through this gauntlet before. The biggest difference is will be facing the most competition ever in WEC. 

This is the sixth consecutive season for this lineup in the #7 Toyota. López topped the Prologue. It has won 11 races since the start of the 2018-19 season. Outside of a retirement at Sebring last year and a disqualification at Silverstone in 2018, this car has been on the podium in every race during that timeframe. It is the less celebrated of the two Toyota teams, but its quietly gets the job done. There should be tougher days for Toyota with all the manufacturers in Hypercar. The #7 Toyota will have its days though, and another world championship is possible.

#8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryō Hirakawa
What to expect: While the #7 Toyota has won 11 times since 2018-19, the #8 Toyota has won 12 times in that time, but this team has seen three different driver lineups in that time span. Buemi has been the one consistent, and Hartley and Hirakawa took no time to get up to speed. The defending champions are the favorites at the start, but with new cars and seven races in the 2023 season, there is plenty of time for momentum to swing in someone else's favor. 

The #8 Toyota will win races, and likely be a contender for the championship, but this team will see its greatest challenge in quite some time. Buemi and Hartley have shown they are up for it with their past successes in WEC. Hirakawa will be facing it for the first time. There will likely be a race where Toyota is thoroughly beat and it will be an eye-opener for this group that is used to winning or only losing because of how Balance of Performance played out. There is going to be a race where Toyota doesn't have an answer. It will not necessarily be a regular occurrence. It could happen once and Toyota could be in control for the other six races. 

Hertz Team Jota
#38 Porsche 963
Drivers: António Félix da Costa, Will Stevens, Ye Yifei
What to expect: For starters, Jota will not have its Porsche 963 until Spa-Francorchamps at the earliest, but perhaps not even until the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At the first few rounds, Jota will field an extra LMP2 car for its Hypercar drivers. Yifei and Stevens will drive an LMP2 car at Sebring with David Beckmann while Yifei, da Costa and Beckmann will drive at Portimão. The three regulars have all found success in LMP2 competition. They should all be competitive moving up to a Hypercar, but will be playing catch-up and there should not be expectations for victories or podiums. 

Ferrari AF Corse
#50 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen
What to expect: Ferrari's long-awaited return to top-tier sports car racing has arrived, and it is bringing fairly unexperienced prototype drivers into the top class. Fuoco was a promising single-seater driver. Molina doesn't really to struggle anywhere he has been. Nielsen is an up-and-coming getting tossed into the deep end. 

Ferrari has been known for its poor decisions in Formula One over the last few seasons, and it has had questionable car development. Testing showed a Ferrari that could at least be competition. AF Corse running this program is the best thing that could happen. It knows how to handle endurance races. It will not be thrown through a loop in a 1000-mile or 24-hour race. The team is set up right. The car should be good, but if there is any manufacture you expect to have mechanical failures derail races, it is Ferrari.

#51 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi
What to expect: Pier Guidi and Calado have won almost everything together in GT racing. They know the WEC schedule and the only thing that is different is the car. Calado did well in the Formula One ladder series, but never really got a sniff at it. The prototype is new for him and Pier Guidi while Giovinazzi is coming over after a lackluster time in Formula One. 

Giovinazzi turned some heads when he ran in LMP2 competition prior to his time in Formula One. He will be comfortable in endurance races and bolsters this lineup. The #51 Ferrari should finish better in the championship than the #50 Ferrari. If there is any Ferrari that should win this season, it is the #51 Ferrari, but all three of the #50 Ferrari drivers were faster than the #51 drivers at the Prologue. 

Peugeot TotalEnergies
#93 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Paul di Resta, Mikkel Jensen, Jean-Éric Vergne
What to expect: Peugeot arrived in the middle of last season and was fine. In three races, it failed to get on the podium once with its two cars. Twice did the #93 Peugeot retire. The pace was getting closer at the end of the season, but Peugeot has a long way to go. 

It hasn't done a 24-hour test yet. This will be its first time at Sebring. Though it has a half-season head start of the LMDh cars and Ferrari, Peugeot was slower than all of them at the Prologue, and the LMDh cars have run a 24-hour race already. This should be a frustrating season. The lineup is good, but if the car is not reliable, the drivers can only do so much.

#94 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Loïc Duval, Gustavo Menezes, Nico Müller
What to expect: The #94 Peugeot made it to the finish of every WEC race it entered last season, but it still had its share of mechanical problems. The closest it got to the lead lap was six laps down. It had good pace at the end of last season, but that could not be carried over a full race, and the Peugeot was fighting just to be ahead of the LMP2 winner. 

Of the five big manufacturers, Peugeot is a clear fifth. Its best results will have to come down to finding reliability while others struggle, and that isn't something you can bank on with the French manufacturer at this time. 

Proton Competition
#99 Porsche 963
Drivers: Gianmaria Bruni
What to expect: Proton's Porsche likely will not be available until Monza. It is not entered for Le Mans. Bruni is the only announced driver at this point. 

Glickenhaus Racing
#708 Glickenhaus 007
Drivers: Romain Dumas, Ryan Briscoe, Olivier Pla.
What to expect: Glickenhaus showed speed last year, but this is a tough field than it raced against in 2022, and it was 2.965 seconds off the top time Toyota set. Glickenhaus will have two cars at Le Mans and it is believed it will rotate its drivers through the one full-time car over 2023. Pipo Derani and Franck Mailleux drove for Glickenhaus last year and do not have WEC rides for 2023. Mailleux is assigned to the second Glickenhaus for Le Mans. 

Prema Racing
#9 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Juan Manuel Correa, Filip Ugran, Bent Viscaal, Andrea Caldarelli
What to expect: This is a young lineup of drivers who were recently in junior formula racing in European. Correa is still competing in Formula Two. Ugran ran in Formula Three two seasons ago but didn't score any points. Viscaal won in Formula Three, had a pair of podiums in Formula Two and he ran in the European Le Mans Series in LMP2 last year. This could be a blindly quick group that turns some heads or an inexperienced group that makes some mistakes. Caldarelli will only race at Sebring as Correa has Formula Two responsibilities in Saudi Arabia. 

#63 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kvyat, Doriane Pin
What to expect: This should be the best Prema team. Bortolotti had a successful career in GT3 competition in many different series. He made his LMP2 debut last year at Le Mans. Kvyat brings Formula One experience. He should have a handle on the car. Pin is 19 years old and showed great speed last year in GTE. She is new to an LMP2 car, and she was third fastest at the Prologue. She should improve over the entire season, but she is already starting on a good note. Prema has produced race winners before. This car could do it. 

Vector Sport
#10 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Ryan Cullen, Gabriel Aubry, Matthias Kaiser
What to expect: Vector got a podium result last year, but finished ninth or worse in the remaining five races. Aubry won in LMP2 driving for Jackie Chan DC Racing over 2018 to 2020. Kaiser is relatively new to LMP2. Results should be better than last year. There should be more than one finish better than ninth. 

United Autosports
#22 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Filipe Albuquerque, Philip Hanson, Frederick Lubin, Ben Hanley
What to expect: Either of the United Autosport cars could win the championship. Hanson and Albuquerque have great experience together. There are two races that clash with IMSA, meaning Albuquerque will not be in WEC, but Hanley is an incredible substitute to call in. Lubin is moving from Euroformula Open. He is in good hands. Lubin is the question mark, but this team should still be at the front. 

#23 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Tom Blomqvist, Oliver Jarvis, Josh Pierson, Giedo van der Garde
What to expect: This might be the best team in class. Blomqvist and Jarvis won the IMSA Daytona Prototype international championship last year with Meyer Shank Racing. Pierson had a stellar rookie season in 2022. Like Albuquerque, Blomqvist has two IMSA rounds that take priority, but van der Garde will not miss a beat. Both United cars should win.  

#28 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Pietro Fittipaldi, David Heinemeier Hansson, Oliver Rasmussen
What to expect: Fittipaldi is joining a regular LMP2 contender in Jota. He and Heinemeier Hansson raced together in ELMS last year. Rasmussen had a good rookie season in WEC with Jota last year. I wouldn't be surprised if this team found a way to win a race or two. I am concerned with this program as Jota expands to Hypercar. Divided attention could see a downward turn in results. 

Team WRT
#31 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Robin Frijns, Sean Gelael, Ferdinand Habsburg
What to expect: Frijns and Gelael were second in the championship last year with three victories. Frijns and Habsburg won the LMP2 title two years ago. This will be a tough group to beat. Multiple victories feel highly likely. They should be in the championship discussion to the very end of the season. 

#41 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Rui Andrade, Louis Delétraz, Robert Kubica
What to expect: Delétraz has won the ELMS LMP2 championship the last two seasons. In 2021, he won it with Kubica. Kubica had good results last year in WEC, and Andrade won a race while finishing on the podium three times. Andrade also won Petit Le Mans while finishing second in the IMSA Endurance Cup for the LMP2 class. It will be tough to beat the sister car, but the #41 Team WRT entry should get a win or two. 

Inter Europol Competition
#34 Oreca-Gibson
Drivers: Albert Costa, Fabio Scherer, Jakub Śmiechowski
What to expect: Costa has found success in GT3 competition, but LMP2 is completely new to him. Scherer and Śmiechowski have each spent the last few seasons in LMP2. Scherer has shown promise. Results have been more spotty for Śmiechowski. This class is going to be difficult. Any top five finishes will be a victory for this group. 

Alpine Elf Team
#35 Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Olli Caldwell, André Negrão, Memo Rojas
What to expect: This is a sleeper in a strong LMP2 class. Negrão won the LMP2 title in 2018-19 and is stepping down from Hypercar as Alpine prepares an LMDh car. Rojas is a veteran from IMSA and ELMS, but this will be his first WEC season. Caldwell has some good results in Formula Three. This could be the group that surprises folks this season. 

#36 Alpine A470-Gibson
Drivers: Julien Canal, Charles Milesi, Matthieu Vaxivière
What to expect: Both Alpine entries are sleepers. Canal has won this championship twice and he has been exceptional in ELMS. Vaxivière is another driver coming down from Hypercar. There is no need to worry about him. Milesi won this championship in 2021. There are eight cars in this class that could conceivably win the championship. There are only seven races. Somebody is going to end this season disappointed. It could be the #36 Alpine or the #36 Alpine could be spoiling the party. Both are equally likely outcomes. 

AF Corse
#21 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Simon Mann, Stefano Costantini, Ulysse de Pauw
What to expect: Ferrari was shutout in GTE Am last year. Aston Martin and Porsche split all of the races. Mann's best finish was seventh last season with Christoph Ulrich and Toni Vilander as his co-drivers. This lineup isn't better on paper. I don't see this team making a leap forward in the championship.

#54 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr, Davide Rigon
What to expect: With GTE Pro dissolving, Castellacci and Flohr gain a stunning boast in Rigon joining the lineup. This car has what it takes to win races with the inclusion of Rigon. A championship could be a stretch, but you cannot rule it out. 

#83 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Luis Pérez Companc, Alessio Rovera, Lilou Wadoux
What to expect: Rovera returns after winning the 2021 GTE Am championship. He spent 2022 in LMP2. Pérez Companc is returning to WEC competition. He did the IMSA endurance races last year. Wadoux had a taste of WEC in LMP2 last year. This will be a new challenge for her. This team will not be regularly pushing for podium results. 

#25 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Ahmad Al Harthy, Michael Dinan, Charlie Eastwood
What to expect: TF Sport won the championship last year with Ben Keating and Marco Sørensen. It doesn't have a top notch Aston Martin factory driver this year. Al Harthy has a lot of time driving Aston Martins, and he won last year in the European Le Mans Series. Eastwood has spent the last few years in LMP2, but he nearly won the GTE Am title in 2019-20 driving an Aston Martin. Dinan is new to WEC and international competition. It is good car, but I think results will be scattered all over the place.

Corvette Racing
#33 Corvette C8.R
Drivers: Ben Keating, Nicky Catsburg, Nicolás Varrone
What to expect: Keating just won the championship last year in an Aston Martin. He has found success in many different types of machine. The Corvette should not be much more of a challenge, especially with Corvette factory driver Nicky Catsburg paired with him. Varrone is a young up-and-comer. He won on his European Le Mans Series debut last year and he won in his IMSA debut this past January in the LMP3 class at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Keating will have a good push for defending his title. 

Project 1 - AO
#56 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cairoli, P.J. Hyett, Gunnar Jeannette
What to expect: Hyett and Jeannette may have surprised themselves last year, finishing second in the Bahrain finale, their first race in WEC. I don't think the results will come that easy in 2023, even with the likes of Cairoli as their co-driver. Not to diminish it to beginner's luck, but any podium finishes will be a impressive result. 

Kessel Racing
#57 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Scott Huffaker, Takeshi Kimura, Daniel Serra
What to expect: Kimura has made a handful of WEC appearances while remaining a Asian Le Mans Series regular. Huffaker has won in IMSA driving in LMP2. Serra has a good record in GTE Pro competition. Serra can only do so much and his co-drivers are going to be learning these circuits. 

Iron Lynx
#60 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni, Alessio Picariello, Claudio Schiavoni
What to expect: Cressoni and Schiavoni return for another season together. Their best finish last year was fourth, but they were eighth or worse in their other races. The move to Porsche means Picariello joins the lineup. Picariello has won an ELMS championship. This group could see a marginal improvement. 

Dempsey-Proton Racing
#77 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Julien Andlauer, Christian Ried, Mikkel O. Pedersen
What to expect: Reid won twice last year. Pedersen won once with Team Project 1. Andlauer has been an emerging driver for the last few years. Ried has never won an WEC championship. Twice he was runner-up in this class. He has won 11 times in his career. This could be the team that gets him that elusive championship.

Iron Dames
#85 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Sarah Bovy, Rahel Frey, Michelle Gatting
What to expect: This team has spent the better part of the last two years together. They were on the podium in the final three races last season in WEC and they were third in the ELMS GT championship. The group is changing cars from a Ferrari to a Porsche. It could take a moment to get used to the cars, but Gatting was second at the Prologue and Frey was eighth. This is a tougher field. A slight dip in results would not be surprising, but would not be the end of the world. 

GR Racing
#86 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ben Barker, Riccardo Pera, Michael Wainwright 
What to expect: Since 2016, GR Racing has only five podium finishes in 45 WEC starts. It has never won in WEC. I don't see that changing in 2023. It may get one podium finish. If it gets two, it will be an outstanding year for this group.

Proton Competition
#88 Porsche 911 RSR-19
Drivers: Ryan Hardwick, Zachary Robichon, Harry Tincknell
What to expect: Hardwick is stepping into WEC competition as he has been a top amateur driver in IMSA's GTD class for many years. Robichon has won IMSA's GTD championship and Tincknell was fourth in the GTE-AM championship last year and he knows all of these tracks. This is a sneaky strong team though two drivers are unfamiliar with WEC. Hardwick is not commitment beyond the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they could be set for big things. 

Northwest AMR
#98 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Paul Dalla Lana, Nicki Thiim, Axcil Jefferies
What to expect: Dalla Lana and Thiim opened 2022 with three podium finishes, and then didn't finish better than fifth the rest of the season. They are both past champions. Aston Martin has had at least one car finish in the top two of the GTE Am championship the last three seasons. However, the top Aston Martin driver ranked 24th out of 43 in GTE Am at the Prologue. Thiim was 28th. Jefferies has only one WEC start and will be learning most of these tracks. 

D'station Racing
#777 Aston Martin Vantage AMR
Drivers: Tomonobu Fujii, Satoshi Hoshino, Casper Stevenson
What to expect: Fujii and Hoshino got a podium finish last season and they had a podium finish last season. Their points total dropped from 51 points to 35 points from 2021 to 2022. This car should be somewhere in the middle of 35 to 51 points. The podium will be tougher to get on in 2023.

On-track action begins Wednesday March 15 at 10:55 a.m. ET with second practice later that day at 4:35 p.m. On Thursday March 16, there will be a third practice session at 11:55 a.m. ET. Qualifying will consist of three separate sessions, one dedicated for each class. Each session will last 15 minutes and qualifying will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday. 

The 1,000 Miles of Sebring will begin at 12:00 p.m. ET on Friday March 17. There is an eight-hour time limit on this race. In the first two editions of the 1,000 Miles of Sebring, only 946.23 miles and 725.56 miles were completed. Last year's race saw a red flag for an accident by the #7 Toyota and a second red flag for lightning and heavy rain, which ended the event 45 minutes before reaching the time limit.