Thursday, February 29, 2024

Best of the Month: February 2024

Welcome to Leap Day! Only once every four years to we get to experience February 29. It is the quadrennial chance to wish Ja Rule a happy birthday. Masten Gregory is the only driver born on Leap Day to start the Indianapolis 500, but don't forget Louis Schweitzer, born on Leap Day 1880, who never started the Indianapolis 500 but drove in relief for Harry Come in the first Indianapolis 500. This the 20th anniversary of Sam Hornish, Jr. winning on his Team Penske debut at Homestead. 

It is rare we get to experience this day! We must make the most of this later end to February!

Possible IndyCar Milestones
Not really February-related, but we are within two weeks of the first IndyCar race of the season. We are running out of time for previews and to be set for the first race. Each year, it is good to know what we could witness over the course of a season. We are always going to see something historic. What is possibly ahead of us in 2024?

Scott Dixon: 400 Career Starts
Where he is at: 385 starts

What he needs to do: Start 15 races. 

Dixon is quietly approaching another all-time record. If he makes 15 starts, Dixon will become the second driver in IndyCar history to start 400 races. Mario Andretti's all-time record is 407. 

In all likelihood, Dixon is going to break this record. There has been no signs he is suggesting 2024 will be his final season. I think we are at least going to get 2025, and probably 2026. When all is said and done, Dixon could be looking at about 440 starts in his career if he only continues for three more seasons, and there is a chance he clears 450. 

Consider where Dixon could be in the record book when his career is over.

Starts: 1st
Victories: 2nd (There is a chance he reaches the 60-victory mark)
Runner-Up Finishes; 2nd (Dixon has 50, six behind Andretti's record)
Podium Finishes: 2nd (Dixon has 137, seven behind Andretti's record)
Top Five Finishes: 1st (Dixon is so far the only driver to surpass 200 career top five finishes)
Laps Led: ... We will get to that in a minute.
Championships: 2nd (And there is still a good chance Dixon gets one more title and finishes tied with A.J. Foyt for first all-time)

Stunning. Simply Stunning.

Scott Dixon: 7,000 Laps Led
Where he is at: 6,734 laps led

What he needs to do: Lead 266 laps, which could be a little of a stretch.

Dixon is already second all-time in laps led. He would be the second to 7,000 laps led. The all-time record is Mario Andretti's at 7,595 laps led. 

Dixon led 205 laps last year, but he led only 13 laps in the first 13 races. He has led 266 laps or more in only six of 12 seasons since the introduction of the DW12 chassis. It is literally a 50/50 shot he reaches 7,000 laps led this season. If it isn't 2024, it will be 2025, and more likely early 2025. 

What about the all-time mark?

Dixon is 861 laps behind Andretti. Dixon averages 292.7826 laps led per season. That means Dixon is about three seasons away. It is possible, but far from a guarantee. 

Josef Newgarden: Top Ten All-Time in IndyCar Victories
Where he is at: Tied for 13th all-time with Rick Mears on 29 victories.

What he needs to do: Win at least two races to becoming tied for tenth all-time. Win at least three races to earn sole possession of tenth all-time.

Newgarden is 33 years old. There is a good chance he will be in sole possession of tenth all-time all on his own and easily have another decade left in his career. He is only going to be reaching the 200-start milestone two races into this season. Top ten is just going to be a start. 

Forty victories are easily in play. Fifty isn't out of the question either. Since joining Team Penske, Newgarden is averaging 3.714 victories per season. Only once has he failed to win at least three races in a season with Team Penske. 

An average of three victories a season over the next decade with Team Penske is possible. If he does that, we are taking about a guy pushing 60 victories. Even if his average is only 2.5 victories per season, he will clear 50. This is still the start of something great, and it is already pretty sensational. 

Josef Newgarden: 4,000 Laps Led
Where he is at: 3,983 laps led

What he needs to do: Lead 17 laps, which isn't that hard. Newgarden will surpass 4,000 laps led this season. He might even crack 4,500 laps led. 

He has led at least 300 laps in each of the last nine seasons. His average laps led per season during that time is 440.222. And again, he is only 33 years old and has yet to make 200 starts. Give him another decade and lower his average laps led per season down to Scott Dixon's 292.7826 laps per season pace, and Newgarden will be on the verge of 7,000 laps led.

Talk about near-identical careers.

Will Power: 300 Career Starts
Where he is at: 285 starts

What he needs to do: Start 15 races. 

Power is on the verge of becoming the tenth driver to reach 300 career starts. It has been an incredible career. Starts shows longevity. For nearly two decades, Power has been at the top of IndyCar, a standard every driver wishes he or she could emulate. 

We don't know how many more races Power has in his career. We know we beyond the halfway point. We should appreciate every start we get from him.

Will Power: 100 Podium Finishes
Where they are at: 98 podium finishes

What they need to do: Score two podium finishes. Power entered 2023 with a good shot of hitting the century mark in podium finishes. He fell a little short. He should get over that line this year.

Since joining Team Penske, here is how many starts in a season it has taken for Power to reach two podium finishes...

2009 - 4
2010 - 2
2011 - 2
2012 - 3
2013 - 15
2014 - 2
2015 - 5
2016 - 7
2017 - 5
2018 - 5
2019 - 8
2020 - 6
2021 - 9
2022 - 5
2023 - 7

At worst, he will get it in the early summer. Only four drivers have 100 podium finishes (Mario Andretti 144, Scott Dixon 137, A.J. Foyt 119, Michael Andretti 100). Power will make that five in no time. 

Team Penske: Tenth 1-2-3 Finish
Where it is at: Nine 1-2-3 finishes 

What it needs to do: Score a 1-2-3- finish.

We don't consider team milestones, but this was something is recognized while going over the record book. Penske has nine 1-2-3 finishes. There have only been 13 1-2-3 finishes in IndyCar since 1946. The only other team with multiple 1-2-3 finishes is Andretti Green Racing/Andretti Autosport/Andretti Global with three. 

Penske hasn't had a podium sweep since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma.

With Newgarden, Power and Scott McLaughlin, Penske has the trio to do it. 

Team Penske: 300 Pole Positions
Where it is at: 298 pole positions

What it needs to do: Win two pole positions! 

Team Penske has done a lot in IndyCar, but 300 pole positions would be something. To give you some perspective, Chip Ganassi Racing is the next closest active team in pole positions, and it only has 93. 

This is going to happen. It might happen within the first two races. It is staggering and it will likely never be topped. 

Álex Palou: Second youngest three-time champion
Where he is at: Two championship prior to turning 27 years old

What he needs to do: Win the championship for starters. 

That is easier said than done, perhaps for most drivers, but for Palou, it might be easier to do. He makes it look that way. 

Palou turns 27 on April 1. If he wins the championship this season, he will have three titles at 27 years, five months and 14 years old. That would make him the second youngest triple champion. Only Sam Hornish, Jr. would have three titles at a younger age. Hornish, Jr. won his third at 27 years, two months and eight days old.

This is more a case of Palou being born two months too early, and, to be fair, that was be out of his control. He would have three titles before 28 years old. The only other driver to do that was Sébastien Bourdais, who was born a little over four months before Hornish, Jr. and the Champ Car season went two months later in 2006. 

Even if Palou doesn't get the record, he is rare company and at the start of an IndyCar career that doesn't appear to be ending any time soon. 

Colton Herta: 15 Pole Positions
Where he is at: 11 pole positions

What he needs to do: Win four pole positions. 

Fifteen pole positions might not sound like much, but if Herta wins four pole positions, he will become just the 23rd driver to reach 15 pole positions in a career. It would put him level with Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya. That would put Herta ahead of Tony Bettenhausen, Tom Sneva, Simon Pagenaud, Parnelli Jones and Rodger Ward. He is already ahead of Dan Gurney, Alex Zanardi, Nigel Mansell, Bryan Herta, Sam Hornish, Jr., Al Unser, Jr., and Ryan Hunter-Reay. 

Herta isn't quite on pace to rival Will Power’s all-time record, but Herta is on pace to have 38 pole positions when he reaches 285 starts, Power's current total. That would be good enough for seventh all-time. We are 203 starts from that point in time, but it is something to keep in mind.

Kyle Kirkwood: Third driver with his first three top five finishes being victories
Where he is at: Kirkwood's first two top five finishes were victories

What he needs to do: Have his next top five finish be a victory.

We covered this after the end of last season. Kirkwood put himself in exclusive company last year with his two victories and those two victories being his only top five finishes. He can put himself in another group if his next top five finish is a victory. 

The only drivers to have their first three top five finishes be victories are Juan Pablo Montoya and Sébastien Bourdais. Of course, Montoya and Bourdais each did that in their respective rookie seasons. Kirkwood's first two victories came in his sophomore season, and a possible third would come in his third season. It would be a different way to accomplish it. 

It should be noted, no driver have had their first four top five finishes all be victories. Kirkwood has a chance to be in a class of his own.

Patricio O'Ward: Most runner-up finishes between race victories
Where he is at: O'Ward has four runner-up finishes since his most recent victory.

What he needs to do: Despite the results, O'Ward's 2023 season likely will not be remembered fondly because of how close he came to victory on a number of occasions but could not get a victory. O'Ward had four runner-up finishes. What is the record for most runner-up finishes between victories? It is a stretch for O'Ward to reach it, but it is ten runner-up finishes. 

Tom Sneva had ten runner-up finishes between his victories at Pocono in 1977 and the 1980 Phoenix season finale. 

O’Ward is good enough to have six or seven runner-up finishes this season before he wins a race. This is one of those records O'Ward likely does not want, but still remarkable if he achieves it.

Graham Rahal: Most Starts Between Victories
Where he is at: 107 starts without a victory

What he needs to do: Ok... technically, this record cannot be reached until 2025, but if Rahal does not win a race in 2024 he will have gone 124 starts cine his most recent victory. 

What is the record for most starts between victories? 


Who owns that record?

Graham Rahal! Rahal went 124 races between his first career victory at St. Petersburg in 2008 and his second career victory at Fontana in 2015. If Rahal does not win a race in 2024 and then wins the 2025 season, he will match his own record. If he wins any race beyond the first race of 2025, he will break his own mark.

It is an accomplishment no driver really wants, and yet, if Rahal does accomplish it, the achievement shows resiliency through a trying career that might not have lived up to the hopes of 18 years ago, but is respectable nonetheless. Even if he wins in 2024, Rahal would become the first driver to have ended multiple winless droughts of 100 races or more. 

You may not like your place in history but it is a place in history. Embrace it!

Santino Ferrucci: Six Ten Finishes in First Six Indianapolis 500 Starts
Where he is at: Five top ten finishes in five Indianapolis 500 starts

What he needs to do: Finish in the top ten of the Indianapolis 500, but do you know how rare six top ten finishes in the first six Indianapolis 500 starts for a driver is?


With his third place finish last season, Ferrucci became the third driver to have five top five finishes in his first five Indianapolis 500 starts joining Harry Hartz and Hélio Castroneves. 

Ferrucci has had some impressive drives at Indianapolis. He has yet to put a wheel wrong. He has made the most of some mid-pack teams and finished better than expected. However, it should be noted that Hartz and Castroneves both finished 25th in their sixth Indianapolis 500 start. Keep that in mind.

Hélio Castroneves: Oldest Indianapolis 500 Winner
Where he is at: On Indianapolis 500 race day, Castroneves will be 49 years and 16 days old.

What he needs to do: Win the Indianapolis 500, and it will break Al Unser's record of being the oldest "500" winner at the age 47 years, 11 months and 26 days. It would also make Castroneves the third oldest winner in IndyCar history. 

The only older winners would be Mario Andretti, who was 53 years, one month and seven days old when Andretti won his final race at Phoenix in 1993, and the oldest winner in IndyCar history is Louis Unser, who was 57 years, five months and 22 days old when he won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1953.

In a return to being a one-off, it is unlikely Castroneves will win at Indianapolis, but we said the same thing in 2021 and what a way would it be to get his fifth? 

Fifth Indianapolis 500, victory oldest Indianapolis 500 winner annd oldest IndyCar winner in over 31 years!? What a day that would be.

March Preview
It might not be Super Sebring, but the 12 Hours of Sebring is still the standout event this March, and it has a tough act to follow after last year's race. The #31 Whelen Engineering Cadillac took the victory after the top three runners all took each other out in one accident with about 15 minutes remaining. It was Cadillac's third consecutive Sebring victory. 

Cadillac has a chance to join Porsche, Ferrari and Audi as the only manufacturers to win overall in at least four consecutive years at Sebring. We are likely going to see the IMSA debut for Lamborghini's GTP program in this race, which was fastest when it completed its homologation test. Acura will be looking for its first Sebring victory. Porsche hasn't won since Penske's upset victory in 2008 with the LMP2 RS Spyder. BMW is going on 25 years since its most recent overall Sebring triumph. 

On the driver side, Pipo Derani is going for his fifth Sebring victory, and he would only be the third driver to win Sebring at least five times overall, joining Tom Kristensen and Rinaldo Capello, and Derani is only 30 years old. 

Other events of note in March:
Formula One has three races: Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Australia.
MotoGP has two races races: Qatar, Portugal.
Super Formula has an earlier start to its season. 
There is the WEC season opener from Qatar.
Daytona Bike Week.
Formula E makes its first visit to Tokyo.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

2024 Formula One Season Preview

In 2024, the final days of February mean the final days of the Formula One offseason, as Formula One is set for its earliest start since 1992, and it all begins on a Saturday night in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Along with the different day of the week, this season is set to be the longest in Formula One history. Twenty-four races are slated to take place over the span of 282 days, and this season will take place in ten of the 12 months. 

On the grid, all 20 drivers that competed in the 2023 finale from Abu Dhabi are in the same seats for the 2024 season opener. However, we already know of at least two seats that will change in 2025, but that discussion can wait for another day. 

Max Verstappen is attempting to win his fourth consecutive World Drivers' Championship. It would be the fifth time a driver has won at least four consecutive titles. Verstappen and Red Bull are looking to improve on their near-perfect season in 2023. Red Bull won 21 of 22 races, Verstappen won 19 of them, a record both in total and percentage. Surpassing his own mark is daunting, but not out of the question.

For the first time since 1982, the Formula One season begins on a Saturday, as the Bahrain Grand Prix opens the season on Saturday March 2. One week after that, Formula One will run the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday March 9, the first of eight instances this season with consecutive races. This will be the first Formula One season with multiple races not held on Sunday since 1983, when the British and South African Grand Prix were both run on Saturdays.

After a week off, the teams head for Australia for the third round on March 24. This begins a stretch of four rounds happening on alternating off weekends. The Japanese Grand Prix moves up to April 7, the earliest Japan has ever appeared on the Formula One schedule. The Chinese Grand Prix returns on April 21. 

Miami returns for a third season on May 5 and that is just before the European portion of the calendar begins. A back-to-back kicks off the European calendar with Imola on May 19 and Monaco on May 26. There will be the Montreal detour on June 9, but after the trek to Canada there will be three consecutive weeks of races in Europe. It starts with Barcelona on June 23 before the Austrian Grand Prix on June 30 and it ends with the British Grand Prix on July 7. 

A back-to-back takes Formula One into its summer break. The series will race in Hungary on July 21 and then Belgium on July 28. 

Zandvoort restarts the season on August 25 with the Italian Grand Prix following on September 1, and that will conclude the European section of the season. Azerbaijan moves to September 15, one week prior to the Singapore Grand Prix. 

There will be an autumn break for the teams after Singapore, as the next round will not be until October 20 at the United States Grand Prix. Austin will lead off three consecutive weeks of racing in the Americas. The Mexican Grand Prix will be October 27 before the Brazilian Grand Prix on November 3. 

Las Vegas remains on a Saturday night, scheduled for November 23, and it leads off three consecutive races to close the season, the final two will take place in the Middle East. Qatar moves back to December 1 and Abu Dhabi closes the season on December 8.

Oracle Red Bull Racing
Drivers: Max Verstappen (#1 Red Bull RB20) & Sergio Pérez (#11 Red Bull RB20)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
Verstappen, and it shouldn't be close. Verstappen won 19 of 22 races last year. His worst finish was fifth. He had more than double the points of Pérez, and Pérez was second in the championship. 

This team is Verstappen's team. Red Bull is built for the Dutchman. He is Red Bull's first, second, third, fourth and fifth priority. It doesn't matter what Pérez does in the first five races. It doesn't matter if the drivers have three victories and two victories respectively. It is Verstappen's team. 

Pérez isn't going to accidentally end up in a championship position. There is no taking the fight to Verstappen. Some of that is the team, a lot of it is still on the drivers, and Verstappen is head and shoulders ahead of his teammate. 

There are 24 races on the 2024 calendar. Is Verstappen going to win 86.36% of the races again? That is essentially 21 victories. No one had won more than 75% of the races in a season let alone more than 85% of the races before Verstappen did it last year. History says it will not happen because it hasn't happened before. The unprecedented has to happen at some point. 

Verstappen is going to win a bulk of the races, and that is over the entire season. Whether that is 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 or 21, we will find out. Pérez might win his two again, but no one would be surprised if he was shutout despite his teammate's success.

Where should Red Bull finish in the championship?

After falling a race shy of the perfect season, Red Bull will fight to get over that hill. In testing, it feels possible, but going 24-for-24? It is ridiculous! All it takes is one off weekend in Singapore for it to all go wrong. 

Winning only 23 races or only 22 races or, heaven forbid, only 20 races, is still a historic season. The question for Red Bull is how historic will 2024 be?

Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton (#44 Mercedes W15) & George Russell (#63 Mercedes W15)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
With Hamilton announcing he would move to Ferrari for the 2025 season, this is a sentimental year for the Brackley-based operation. For a little over decade, Hamilton and Mercedes were Formula One. Every grand prix started and ended wondering how Hamilton and Mercedes would do. Hamilton has gone winless the last two seasons, and after notable disagreements with the direction of the car, Hamilton is leaving despite having signed a two-year extension last year. 

In the last two seasons, each driver has come out on top. Russell had the edge in 2022, 275 points to Hamilton's 240 points with a victory carrying additional bragging rights. In 2023, Hamilton was 59 points clear of Russell (285 to 175). Neither driver won, but Hamilton had six podium finishes to Russell's two. 

These drivers have been rather even over their two seasons together. The W15 has received greater praise through testing, and the team sounds like it is at least pointing in the right direction and not uncertain of which way to go. 

Hamilton still finished third in the world championship last year despite Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin's superior start to the season, and Hamilton was in a car he dreaded. If this year's car is not a demon damaging the psyche of the team's most successful driver, I think it is safe to say Hamilton should have the edge over Russell, though it could remain close for a third consecutive season. 

Where should Mercedes finish in the championship?
In the fairy tale grounded in reality, Mercedes, after abandoning its sidepod-less concept and reverting to something a little more battle tested, would be more competitive than the previous two seasons. With Lewis Hamilton about to head out the door, the team is able to produce a race winner, get Hamilton a victory or two to end on and hang his hat before heading out the door. It isn't the world championship, it isn't close to Red Bull, but it is a few days to cherish as Mercedes finishes second. 

That is as good as the fairy tale can get. We know how this season will play out, but even then Mercedes' best possible outcome might fall short. It is the manufacturer that won seven consecutive drivers' championships and eight consecutive constructors' championship. It should figure out its woes and at least plant itself in Red Bull's rearview mirror even if only the reflection is only a speck. But with Hamilton's pending departure, the sense of lost faith is inescapable, and this is set to end on a low note. Third, not bad, but still low.

Scuderia Ferrari
Drivers: Charles Leclerc (#16 Ferrari SF-24) & Carlos Sainz, Jr. (#55 Ferrari SF-24)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
This is a lame duck season for the Ferrari team as we know it. Leclerc will be sticking around, but Sainz, Jr. know he will be out the door, regardless of how he does this year. Absent of pulling out an unthinkable championship, the Spaniard will be making way for Hamilton while Leclerc will remain. 

For all the potential we have seen from Leclerc, Sainz, Jr. has made it impossible not to ask if Ferrari is keeping the right driver. Leclerc has beat Sainz, Jr. in the championship each year, but he has also tossed away many quality race results. Not that Sainz, Jr. isn't innocent of that either, but he is responsible for Ferrari's most recent victory. 

Sainz, Jr. will be trying to earn a job. He will certainly get one. Leclerc will be trying to prove Maranello it might the right decision. Only six points separated these drivers in 2023. It could remain that tight, but considering Leclerc will be around, the Monegasque driver should have a slight advantage again.

Where should Ferrari finish in the championship?
Either second or third. It really comes down to Mercedes. 

Last season, Mercedes clung to second and survived to finish runner-up to Red Bull. Ferrari has a handful of places where it could kick itself for coming three points short, but the Scuderia ended on the offensive and looked a little mightier than Mercedes down the stretch, and that isn't even taking the Singapore victory into consideration.

Both drivers have something to play for. Leclerc is trying to convince everyone Ferrari made the right choice keeping him over Sainz, Jr. and Sainz, Jr. has a 24-race audition. If Mercedes is caught between two minds in car development and the Ferrari is humming, Ferrari could be second for the entire season and not have to worry about pressure from behind.

McLaren F1 Team
Drivers: Lando Norris (#4 McLaren MCL38) & Oscar Piastri (#81 McLaren MCL38)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
The comeback of the season saw McLaren rise from being one step from being in the cellar to finishing fourth and being on the doorstep of victory in 2023. McLaren is exponentially better positioned at the start of 2024 compared to the start of 2023. If it can end up fourth in the constructors' championship after how 2023 started, how high up the order can it finish was a marginally better start let alone the leap we are likely to see in 2024 compared to last year?

Both drivers covered themselves well in the final chapter of last season. Both drivers were on the podium. Piastri won a sprint race. Considering how things started and the difficulty adjusting to Formula One, the fact Piastri scored 97 points and finished ninth in the championship is remarkable.

Norris is more comfortable, and he should remain the top driver at McLaren. Norris had McLaren second in a great number of races last year. It is reasonable to feel McLaren is the closest to knocking off Red Bull, even if only for one race. But Piastri will make a statement as well. This team isn't Norris or bust, which is a great position for the Woking team to be.

Where should McLaren finish in the championship?
No team had more runner-up finishes in 2023 than McLaren, and that could point to it being set to be the surprise and jump up into the top two or three spots. But this is McLaren. For the previous two seasons, it has started flat and then found form. Last year was a seismic turnaround from the first race to the last. McLaren shouldn't start that poorly this year, but it will still have to bridge a 100-point gap between it and Mercedes and Ferrari. 

It is doable, but teething problems will likely persist. Everyone has Norris as a sleeper for a race victory, some likely are throwing their weight behind Piastri. Top two or top three are practical, but Mercedes isn't going to slide back any further from where it was in 2023. McLaren should be a closer fourth than last season.

Aston Martin Aramco F1 Team
Drivers: Fernando Alonso (#14 Aston Martin AMR24) & Lance Stroll (#18 Aston Martin AMR24)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
Alonso and it should be a runaway. Alonso was six positions and 132 points better than Stroll in the championship last year. Alonso had 11 top five finishes in 2023. Stroll had three. Aston Martin ended up finishing 22 points behind McLaren for fourth in the constructors' championship. With a driver only a few percentages better than Stroll, Aston Martin could have claimed fourth, and this was a team that looked ready to fight for second in the opening third of the championship. 

Aston Martin will go as far as Alonso can take it. Stroll is just providing a boost. If Stroll can be fractionally better compared to Alonso's total, it should help Aston Martin in the championship, but if Aston Martin starts 2024 like it ended 2023, Aston Martin will be losing ground no matter what.

In all likelihood, Aston Martin is not going to be as good as it was in 2023. Alonso isn't going to open with five podium finishes from the first six races. Aston Martin isn't going to have a driver finish in the top five of the championship let alone take fourth. 

Where should Aston Martin finish in the championship?
We saw the tank go dry on Aston Martin at the halfway point of last season and the Silverstone-based team coast to the finish line, losing a handful of spots in the process. Aston Martin isn't going to start with that same podium form we saw in 2023. It isn't going to have that consistency at the front at any point in 2024. It will likely have a few competitive days, but it isn't going to be a regular occurrence. 

That means a step back for Fernando Alonso, and if Fernando Alonso is taking a step back, Aston Martin is taking a step back. If Alonso is taking a step back, Stroll is taking a step back. Stroll is not going to be picking up any slack for what Alonso loses. Considering the gulf that existed between Aston Martin in fifth and Alpine in sixth last year, Aston Martin could lose ground and still end up fifth. However, it will be more frustrating than last season. 

BWT Alpine F1 Team
Drivers: Pierre Gasly (#10 Alpine A524) & Esteban Ocon (#31 Alpine A524)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
Hardly anything separated these two drivers in 2023. Gasly would up 11th in the championship on 62 points while Ocon was 12th on 58 points. They each stood on the podium once, with their best finish being third. Coincidentally, both races had changing track conditions.

It is throwing darts at the wall between these two. In his first season with Alpine, Gasly narrowly beat Ocon. In two of the previous three seasons, when Gasly was at AlphaTauri, he finished ahead of Ocon. Gasly takes it. 

Where should Alpine finish in the championship?
From the sounds of it, Alpine has its work cutout for itself after testing. There is a sense of frustration out of the French camp and it could find itself in the same position where McLaren was at in the early portion of the 2023. The only difference is I don't think Alpine can dig itself out of same size hole the way McLaren did last year. 

If Alpine is coughing up points early, it will cost them late. There was 92 points between it and Williams for sixth in the constructors' championship. That daylight can disappear quickly if Alpine is struggling to break into the points. Last year, Alpine failed to score points in only six races, and it never had a drought longer than two races. That will likely change in 2024. 

It will not be rock-bottom. It will be a slide down the order to seventh, but it could be worse.

Williams Racing
Drivers: Logan Sargeant (#2 Williams FW46) & Alexander Albon (#23 Williams FW46)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
Albon has achieved impressive results in two seasons with Williams. He is frequently the unsung hero of most grand prix. He scored 27 points and ended up 13th in the championship, ahead of both AlphaTauri drivers, both Alfa Romeo drivers, and both Haas drivers. 

Williams deserves some credit. The car last year was better than any Williams over the previous five or six seasons. The combination was just right. 

Albon is paired with Sargeant, who wasn't abysmal in his rookie year. Sargeant had some tough times and some rough races, but he wasn't completely lost on track. The American didn't pick up a point after Hamilton and Leclerc were disqualified from Austin, but he wasn't sniffing the points on a regular basis while Albon did score in seven races. 

This should go comfortably in Albon's favor, but we could see both drivers make step forwards this year and Williams could be in the running to finish seventh again in the constructors' battle.

Where should Williams finish in the championship?
The goal should be just to get back to seventh. Williams was 92 points off Alpine last year. Williams only scored 28 points in 2023. More than tripling its points total is asking a bit much from this group. Albon will give it his all, but we should not believe Sargeant is going to make a substantial leap. Any improvement from Sargeant will be welcomed. 

Williams is going to be about where Williams was the last two seasons. Albon can produce something out of nothing with this car. If Sargeant can have two or three races where he sneaks in the points, it will only help this outfit. 

Seventh again feels ambitious, but it is possible. It really will come down to how lost Alpine is and how quickly Alpine can find itself. If Alpine is out in the woods, it bodes well for Williams. 

Visa Cash App RB F1 Team
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo (#3 VCARB 01) & Yuki Tsunoda (#22 VCARB 01)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
The team formerly known as AlphaTauri/Toro Rosso/Minardi is now some amalgamation of a credit card company, a mobile payment app, an abbreviation of another team on the grid, the abbreviation for the series it competes in and the word "team."

For the sake of sanity, this is Toro Rosso. 

In the seven races they competed together as teammates in 2023, Tsunoda finished ahead of Ricciardo four times. Tsunoda outscored Ricciardo 14 points to eight with Tsunoda scoring in four races, plus a sprint race, and the only race Ricciardo scored in was with his seventh place finish at Mexico City.

Ricciardo was a top tier talent, a grand prix winner, and at one point, a potential world champion. Would it be surprising if Ricciardo tops this team and leads Toro Rosso up the standings? No. But it feels like the moment has passed. Ricciardo is turning 35 years old and driving for the same team he spent his first full season in Formula One 12 years ago. There is also Liam Lawson looming in the background. 

A Red Bull seat will likely be open in 2024. Even if Tsunoda does best Ricciardo within the Toro Rosso battle, the Red Bull seat could be going elsewhere.

Where should Toro Rosso finish in the championship?
Looking at pacing, Toro Rosso should move into the middle of the grid. It feels like the car is at a spot where both drivers can compete to make it into Q3 in qualifying, and both drivers could possibly make it. If Toro Rosso can produce a car where both drivers are starting in the top ten and finishing in the points, even if it is seventh and ninth or eighth and tenth, those results go a long way. That is effectively how Alpine ended up sixth last year. 

I think Toro Rosso can do that and inherit sixth from Alpine. The one-off (or I guess two-off) podium finishes might not happen, but consistently scoring points is possible Toro Rosso.

Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber
Drivers: Guanyu Zhou (#24 Sauber C44) & Valtteri Bottas (#77 Sauber C44)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
It is Sauber. There. With that covered, Bottas is a Formula One veteran and in two seasons he has outscored Zhou 59 to 12 and he has finished ahead of Zhou in 29 of 44 races. However, last year, Zhou did beat Bottas nine times.

We haven't really seen enough to suggest it is without question Zhou who will come out on top in the Sauber camp. Bottas does not make mistakes and does not tear up race cars. He can position himself to take advantage of the off days of others and finish two or three spots better than expected.

Where should Sauber finish in the championship?
Last year, the team doing business as Alfa Romeo had good testing pace and then never replicated that again all season. This year, Sauber had good testing pace, Zhou ran the fourth fastest lap, but no one is really believing Sauber will make a significant jump from ninth to regularly in the middle of the field. After all, Bottas was 18th in testing. There is a lot of ground between fourth and 18th.

The tight three-team cluster for seventh should remain this season, but with Alpine taking the place of Toro Rosso. Like with Williams, if Alpine is bad, that could be good for Sauber, but that is Sauber's best hope for eighth. 

MoneyGram Haas F1 Team
Drivers: Kevin Magnussen (#20 Haas VF-24) & Nico Hülkenberg (#27 Haas VF-24)

Who should win the intra-team battle?
Hülkenberg was ahead of Magnussen in 13 of 22 races last year. However, Hülkenberg had only one points finish, and it was seventh in Australia after four cars had an accident on the late restart and Carlos Sainz, Jr. had a five-second penalty for causing a collision dropped him out of the points. 

It doesn't really matter at Haas because the team is going to be so woefully behind a tortoise could be behind the wheel of the car and no one would know the difference. 

Neither of these drivers are all that inspiring of a choice. Neither seem to have any chance of improving their value in Formula One nor torpedoing their value either this season. 

Let's just say Hülkenberg for the sake of making a pick.

Where should Haas finish in the championship?
Haas was focused on tire degradation at the Bahrain test. That says enough. This is a team that has broken 20 points only once in the last four seasons. This feels like 2020 and 2021 all over again except with less funding concerns. The team made the late change at team principal, axing Guenther Steiner on January 10, a move that either was made about a month too late or three years too late depending on how you look at it. Ayao Komatsu takes over the role, who has been with Haas since its first season in 2016 as the trackside engineering director. 

Speed is the concern. Points are going to be harder to come by. Hülkenberg and Magnussen are mostly competent drivers. They are both on borrowed time in Formula One and would not be here if Haas was run by someone with competency or at least ambition. 

The only way Haas finishes ninth is if Alpine is a complete train wreck and is in constant turmoil. Haas should be tenth, and in all likelihood it will score fewer than the 12 points it earned in 2023.

The opening practice for the Formula One season will take place at 6:30 a.m. ET on Thursday February 29. The second one-hour session will be at 10:00 a.m. On Friday March 1, practice will run at 7:30 a.m. with qualifying scheduled for 11:00 a.m. The 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix will start at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday March 2. 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Musings From the Weekend: Making Sense of Time

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

William Byron eventually won the Daytona 500 with only four laps led. Austin Hill eventually won again at Daytona. Formula One tested in Bahrain, and Drive to Survive was released. Red Bull is going to be hard to beat again. Shipping delays delayed the FIA World Endurance Championship prologue test in Qatar. Ferrari and BMW lost all of its points from the 24 Hours of Daytona in both GT classes for violating expected performance levels. IndyCar has a few new rules. Restarts have a new line. Drivers will not be able to repeat the weaving we have seen at the finishes of the last two Indianapolis 500s. Indianapolis Motor Speedway upgraded some barriers and fencing, except in the area where you think it is needed. Does anyone know the actual format for the exhibition race from The Thermal Club? We are a month out. Shouldn't we know that by now? Anyway, we have something else on our mind as IndyCar inches closer to its first race of the season.

Making Sense of Time
Last week, start times for the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season were announced. 

A few were as expected, a few others were entirely different, and we learned the method of the madness in a few other circumstances. In February, it might not appear to be clear plans for July or August, but let's take this chance to go over the timetable we have been given, and think about the decisions that have been made, round-by-round.

St. Petersburg - March 10 - Noon Eastern (NBC)
The usual season opener. It is St. Petersburg and we are doing it early. That isn't a bad thing, especially since NASCAR is out west in Phoenix this weekend and that race will start after 3:00 p.m. Eastern. IndyCar races do better when not head-to-head against NASCAR Cup races. Whether you like it or not, people will choose NASCAR first over IndyCar. They will watch both but go with a Cup races if pressed into a decision. IndyCar can get its season opener in and out before NASCAR even starts. Good decision as always. 

We should note that these start times are all for the broadcast window. Most of these green flags will likely be closer to half-hour after the stated time. A few will likely start closer or right after the TV window begins.

The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge - March 24 - 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
This one might be the most peculiar on paper since the exhibition race in Palms Springs, California will start at 9:30 a.m. local time, but do you really care? Most don't want this race to happen. Only 2,000 people are attending specifically as spectators. The club members might not like the early start, but we get this race over with early. The early start does mean this race will likely be over before the NASCAR race from Austin begins.

Long Beach - April 21 - 3:00 p.m. ET (USA)
This is more like it for a West Coast race. Afternoon start. The Southern California locals will be able to have fully digested their breakfast before the green flag falls in Long Beach. Unfortunately, this race will go head-to-head with NASCAR at Talladega starting at the same time. Long Beach should be over at least an hour earlier, but everyone is going to watch Talladega on network Fox instead. For Long Beach, it cannot start much earlier than that. NASCAR is starting all of its races in the middle of the afternoon. Gone are the 1:00 pm starts. It is unfortunate, but these conflicts are bound to happen. 

The USA location is a different channel to catch the race. There is golf that weekend on NBC. No matter the network, they all have multiple properties. Everyone must get along.

Barber - April 28 - TBD  (NBC)
Ok... the lone TBD remaining on the schedule, we do not know the Barber start time yet. It is a little strange that two months out from a race we do not know the start time. This seems important for people wishing to attend the race and a negative for ticket sales if it is not resolved quickly. Either way, it will likely step on NASCAR's toes as the Dover race is scheduled for a 2:00 p.m. start time, the earliest start time for a Cup race during the regular season and the only other 2:00 p.m. starts are Talladega and Charlotte in October, and Martinsville in November. Barber has historically been a mid-afternoon start because it is in the Central Time Zone.

Grand Prix of Indianapolis - May 11 - 3:00 p.m. ET (NBC)
The traditional date and time for the decade old road course race to start the month of May. No complaints here. The NASCAR Cup Series is running the next day at Darlington. Good date.

Indianapolis 500 - May 26 - 11:00 a.m. ET (NBC)
The television window is going to start at 11:00 a.m. The actual race likely will not start until closer to 12:30 p.m., based on recent years with the television broadcast. With Kyle Larson attempting The Double, Roger Penske might even have this start be closer to 12:15 p.m. just to help Larson with his travels to his day job. It is the Indianapolis 500, the Coca-Cola 600 is in the evening. It is the one Sunday afternoon that is all IndyCar's.

Detroit - June 2 - 12:00 p.m ET (USA)
Detroit has moved from its network spot the week after the Indianapolis 500 to cable the week after the “500,” and it is much earlier in the day. Detroit had been a 3:00 p.m. or a 3:30 p.m. start for almost its entire time in this race spot since 2012. One event of note that afternoon is the French Open final, and do you remember what happened in 2021? That's right! The French Open final went to five sets and the first third of the IndyCar race was shown on CNBC before joining the race in progress. We should avoid that with the USA spot, but some will not be happy. The good news is this race should be over before the NASCAR race from Gateway at 3:30 p.m. 

Road America - June 9 - 3:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
This is the strangest one to me, because ever since Road America returned to the schedule all we have heard is Road America likes an early start time because it ensures people who are coming from the Chicago-area can get home before sunset. That is why it has been a noon or 1:00 p.m. ET start almost exclusively. This is a 2:30 p.m. local start, probably closer to 3:00 p.m. local start. The NASCAR Cup race from Sonoma begins at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, which will be on Fox, and this is Canadian Grand Prix weekend, which means the Montreal race will start at 2:00 p.m. Eastern and be on ABC in the United States. 

This is one where I scratch my head a little. It is at a time the track is not fond of and against the two biggest series in the United States, both of which will be on other network stations. 

I cannot recall another time in U.S. television history when three different network stations showed three different major series all at once and live! I am sure it must have happened once before, but it has been a long time since it has happened. 

No matter how great IndyCar is from Road America, this feels like it is up for a beating in the ratings. This is the one year where IndyCar really needs that noon start time! The crazy thing is IndyCar is last to announce its start times. It knew when Formula One and NASCAR would be starting. 

Maybe it was push come to shove and Road America could have had a noon start, but that meant it would have been on USA. The NBC window was dependent on the later start, which is better for sponsors, but now it is against the biggest two series in the United States, and it really doesn't matter how great the IndyCar race is because no one is accidentally going to turn it on. 

I do wish IndyCar would do something nuts for Road America just to try and attract viewers. Pay to have Sebastian Vettel compete as a one-off entry for Penske, bring Mario Andretti out of retirement, something crazy that would make waves!

Laguna Seca - June 23 - 6:00 p.m. ET (USA)
When Laguna Seca was moved to the middle of the season I was worried we would have one of those clunky weekends where IndyCar has a 3:00 p.m. race on NBC and NASCAR has a 3:00 p.m. race on USA and we are wondering why two NBC properties are going head-to-head. That felt inevitable. I like the solution that was found. 

With a 6:00 p.m. start, Laguna Seca will take place after the NASCAR Cup race from Loudon on USA. This is smart. It is an afternoon full of racing. You get the Cup race leading into the IndyCar race. It is on USA, but if you want to watch racing all day, USA is the place for you. 

This is how it should work. The series should play off of one another and the networks were smart for this. I know people bemoan cable races for IndyCar, but this is better than being on NBC and head-to-head against NASCAR. You trade a network race for this. 

What does it do to race attendance? This is middle of the afternoon in California. For a number of years when it was a noon local start, nobody showed up. Maybe it helps. I don't know. Maybe we just have to accept Laguna Seca isn't going to attract 30,000 people no matter when the race takes place. 

Mid-Ohio - July 7 - 1:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Remember what I said earlier about the networks and series working with one another? Mid-Ohio is 1:30 p.m. The NASCAR Cup race from Chicago is at 4:30 p.m. on NBC. Same thing as the Loudon/Laguna Seca weekend, except IndyCar leads off this weekend and both races are on NBC. Applause to everyone. 

Iowa - July 13 - 8:00 p.m. ET (NBC) & July 14 - 12:00 p.m. ET (NBC)
This is a case of where you cannot have your cake and eat it too. 

Everyone wanted a night race at Iowa. Great! You got it! And on NBC to boot! But this is a doubleheader weekend. The Sunday race was never going to be a night race, but that means a tight turnaround for the teams. It is even tighter as the Sunday race will start at noon Eastern, 11:00 a.m. local! It does mean the Sunday race is not directly against the NASCAR Cup race from Pocono race. The Pocono race will be at 2:30 p.m. ET. 

This is what you have to accept. If the IndyCar race was at 3:00 p.m. Eastern, it is directly against the NASCAR race and everyone is upset. Now, it will be at 11:00 a.m. local time, and likely everyone will be upset about it. 

You cannot have both. You could not have a night Iowa race and a second Iowa race with a perfect start time with no competition. This is as good as it gets. 

Toronto - July 21 - 1:00 p.m. ET (Peacock)
The first of two Peacock exclusive streaming races for IndyCar, Toronto can start whenever it wants. It is streaming. It isn't going to be stepped on coming on air. It isn't going to be rushed off air. It has its own window. Obviously, start time matters, and this weekend is the return of the Brickyard 400. The races will mostly not overlap. The Brickyard 400 is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. start. The Toronto finish and the Brickyard start will likely clash. With this race only being on streaming, it is for IndyCar fans. Nobody is accidentally going to stumble upon the Toronto race. That is how it has been for the previous two years.

Gateway - August 17 - 6:00 p.m. ET (USA)
IndyCar returns from its Olympic break with a Saturday evening race from Gateway. It isn't a night race. It will be a 5:00 p.m. local start on the shores of the Mississippi River. For everyone upset with the non-nighttime start, well, it goes back to series working together. The Gateway race will directly follow the NASCAR Grand National Series race from Michigan. As much as you want to wait until 8:00 p.m. Saturday night, this race will get better viewership directly following the NASCAR race than having two hours of Law & Order: SVU between the two races. 

You give the audience a moment to breathe, it will go somewhere else. Put these races bam-bam right next to each other, those watching the first one will most likely stay around the second. It isn't a night race, which could be a concern for Gateway. This race hasn't really kept up what we saw in 2017 and 2018. It is still a good crowd but not as stunning as it once was. The St. Louis Cardinals is scheduled to be hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 6:15 p.m. local first pitch. That doesn't necessarily help attract locals across the river to Madison, Illinois. 

Portland - August 25 - 3:00 p.m. ET (USA)
The plus here is the NASCAR Cup Series is racing the night before at Daytona. IndyCar has this Sunday afternoon (barring rain in Daytona). It is a cable race on USA. It might be the price to pay for a Saturday night Iowa race on NBC. Considering NASCAR is not running this Sunday, it would be nice to have a cable window. The bright side is the IMSA race from Virginia International Raceway will lead into the IndyCar race from Portland this afternoon. Again, series working off one another. If you want an afternoon full of racing, USA is the place for you. 

Milwaukee - August 31 - 6:00 p.m. ET (Peacock) & September 1 - 2:30 p.m. ET (USA)
A second Peacock exclusive race, the first Milwaukee race will be another Saturday evening race, which is a little odd because Milwaukee does not have lights and from the sounds of it they are not bringing in temporary lights. I would read into this as IndyCar is doing this in a two-day show. There is will be a Saturday morning practice, a Saturday afternoon qualifying session before the Saturday evening race. 

NASCAR's second division will be running at 3:30 p.m. ET that Saturday afternoon, so there is no competition, but Milwaukee is on Peacock. Will people turn on Peacock once that is over and close out their Saturday night? We will have to wait and see.

As for the Sunday race, again, series working with series. IndyCar is on USA, but the second Milwaukee race will lead into the Southern 500 from Darlington. You get an entire day of racing on USA. This is a good thing. This is what we want. It is glorious. 

Nashville - September 15 - 3:00 p.m. ET (NBC)
No longer a downtown street race, the Nashville season finale will be on the 1.333-mile oval in Lebanon, Tennessee. The television time has not changed, which means it does not change the fact the season is ending head-to-head against the NASCAR Cup race from Watkins Glen. That bummer was always going to happen. 

However, this is the price IndyCar pays ending on the second weekend of the NFL season. It is not only going against NASCAR but football when football is loved the most. There are 32 fanbases that still believe their team can win the Super Bowl, and most are occupied with their teams during the time of the finale. 

If IndyCar is going to end its season on one of the first two or three weeks of the NFL season, it should just jam its season in before Labor Day. With the Nashville street race dead until 2027 at the earliest, there is no reason why the Nashville Superspeedway should host the finale in 2025 and beyond. Move this race into the Olympic vacancy that will need to be filled, put it under the lights in early August to shut up the fans and give them another night race, and end the season at Milwaukee, which isn't as sexy as Nashville but is a hell of a lot sexier than Lebanon, Tennessee.

End with a doubleheader for all I care, and if it is too weird to have a doubleheader as the finale, give Nashville Superspeedway two August races and make that a pair of Saturday/Sunday races, maybe both could be night races. 

IndyCar ending by Labor Day isn't some Herculean task. It is moving one race weekend to an open weekend between February and August. With no Olympic break in 2025, at least three weekends are open. There is plenty of room. 

If we look at the 2024 IndyCar season as a scorecard, we have 13 races that will not be directly head-to-head with NASCAR Cup races, two that absolutely will be head-to-head and two races that will be overlapping a little with Cup races. That is as good as you can ask for. There are always going to be a few conflicts. IndyCar has mostly avoided all of them, though has one glaring one that is kind of unfathomable. 

Ten races will still be on NBC. That might be fewer than some recent seasons but that is still over half the scheduled and it wasn't long ago IndyCar didn't even get a third of its races on network television. A 20% increase is still a good thing. 

Even the races that are not on network television are strategically placed to provide a full afternoon of racing on cable. These races are either leading into a NASCAR Cup race or following a NASCAR Cup race, or in one case following IMSA. It is a raising tide lifting all boats. You cannot be upset with it. 

There is no perfect schedule. There is no way IndyCar is going to find the time to have all 17 of its races be on network television at an hour is best for the racetracks to draw a crowd and not have any conflicts with the other major motorsports series in the United States. It isn't going to happen. The best IndyCar can do is avoid the conflicts and take television windows that fit the series into network windows while also strategically placing the series so it can be a part of a larger marathon window of races on one network. 

The 2024 schedule does that. There might be a few flaws, but damn does it do its hardest. 

Winners From the Weekend
You know about William Byron and Austin Hill, but did you know...

Daniel Suárez won the NASCAR Cup race from Atlanta. Austin Hill won the Grand National Series race, his second consecutive victory. Kyle Busch won the Truck race.

Broc Feeney and Will Brown split the Supercars races from Bathurst.

Nicoló Bulega (race one) and Alex Lowes (SuperPole and race two) split the World Superbike races from Phillip Island. Yari Montella swept the World Supersport races.

Cooper Webb won the Supercross race from Arlington, his second victory of the season. Haiden Deegan won the 250cc race.

Coming Up This Weekend
Formula One starts on Saturday in Bahrain.
The FIA WEC season starts on Saturday in Qatar.
Supercross opens Daytona Bike Week.
NASCAR visits Las Vegas.

Friday, February 23, 2024

2024 IndyCar Team Preview: Chip Ganassi Racing

We have reached the end of our 2024 IndyCar team previews, and with 16 days to spare from the St. Petersburg season opener. The only team that remains is the defending champions. Chip Ganassi Racing is coming off a historic season, one where a Ganassi driver locked up the championship with races in hand for the first time in over 15 years. However, it wasn't just one driver that made a splash for Ganassi. It was a triumvirate that carried Ganassi in 2023, but one of those drivers is gone and the lineup has been shaken up, though the big guns remain.

At First Glance... How does Ganassi follow up 2023?
It wasn't just Álex Palou's championship that Ganassi has to be proud about from 2023. It was a total team beat down in IndyCar. 

Nine victories was the most for Ganassi since 2009. Ganassi had three top ten finishers in every race last season. It had multiple top five finishers in 11 races. The team went 1-2-6 in the championship, and it claimed rookie of the year with a driver that didn't contest any of the oval races. Last year, I wrote that Ganassi was ready to win now, and it did. Ganassi was undoubtedly the best team in 2023 and enters 2024 as the team to beat. 

All of those marks will be tough to match. Everyone will raise their game to try and usurp Ganassi from the top spot. Team Penske will look to continue its oval dominance while improving on road and street courses. Arrow McLaren had about five races it felt it should have won last year, won none, and a number of those went the team of Ganassi. Andretti Global is looking to reclaim former glory and it will do it with a former Ganassi driver. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing looks to build upon what it accomplished in 2023 despite plenty of adversity. 

The road only becomes tougher for Ganassi, and the lineup has changed. Palou is still there. Scott Dixon is still there. The third bullet is gone. Marcus Ericsson has moved to Andretti. Ericsson wasn't some average driver. He had 47 top ten finishes in 64 starts with the team over four seasons. That is 73.4375%. He was sixth in the championship in three consecutive seasons. Oh, and he won an Indianapolis 500. Those are numbers that will be daunting to duplicate. 

Ganassi has hope primarily spread over two drivers. Marcus Armstrong will be full-time after running all the road andstreet course races in 2023. Linus Lundqvist replaces his fellow Swede Ericsson in the #8 Honda after Lundqvist made three starts last season substituting for the injured Simon Pagenaud. These are two drivers that showed promise last season. Filling the absence of Ericsson and trying to keep up with Palou and Dixon will test the ability of both. 

Ganassi will win races. With its top two drivers, it will likely have at least one driver contending for the championship, but this team has taken a significant swing into the youth, especially when you include the 19-year-old Kyffin Simpson in a fifth Ganassi entry. This is a team still looking to win now, but has an eye on the future. 

Considering the changes in the team, it will likely not be as good as last year, but it should still be a competitive season for the Ganassi gang.

2023 Chip Ganassi Racing Review
Wins: 9 (St. Petersburg, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Detroit, Road America, Mid-Ohio, August IMS road course race, Gateway, Portland, Laguna Seca)
Poles: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Detroit)
Championship Finishes: 1st (Álex Palou), 2nd (Scott Dixon), 6th (Marcus Ericsson), 20th (Marcus Armstrong), 29th (Takuma Sato)

Kyffin Simpson - #4 Journie Rewards Honda
Numbers to Remember:
10.8461: Average finish in 13 Indy Lights starts last year.

17.8461: Average number of starters in the 13 Indy Lights races Simpson ran last year.

3.5714: Average finish in 14 LMP2 starts over IMSA, European Le Mans Series and Asian Le Mans Series in 2023.

What does a championship season look like for him?
IndyCar falls on major financial hardship that strikes the teams immediately and in a way to raise funds the series switch to LMP2 cars with three-driver pro-am lineups. Simpson has a familiar pair of drivers drafted in and he is able to continue his LMP2 success but this time in IndyCar and takes another championship.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
Of all the drivers competing in IndyCar this season, Simpson has been the hardest to project. 

Based off his Indy Lights results, this shouldn't be a good season. Simpson had a few good races last season, but it was not regular time spent at the front. He went from ninth in the Indy Lights championship in 2022 to tenth in 2023, and he was averaging about a half point fewer per start last season compared to the year before.

However, Simpson has done well in LMP2 competition. It is a multi-driver class, but ELMS is a stout series and all three drivers must be contributing to win. Simpson is also driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. This isn't going to be a cheat code that automatically puts Simpson at the front, but it is a car that is better than over half the grid.

This does feel like too much too soon for Simpson. He is only 19 years old. When you consider how much Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pedersen struggled, Simpson will likely race in that territory. However, Ganassi should give him a little more of a boost. It is isn't going to be a difference between eight or ten spots in the championship, but it likely could be worth two to four spots. 

Consider that in Jimmie Johnson's one full IndyCar season he was 21st in the championship with 214 points and he had a fifth and a sixth at Iowa and Texas respectively, and in Johnson's 2022 season when he just ran 12 road/street course race, he scored 201 points, an average of nine points per race with his best finish being 17th. That is the bottom for Simpson to clear. That feels more than likely.

Any top ten finishes will be impressive. He should have a few top fifteen finishes, but there will be days he is firmly in the bottom third of the field.

Linus Lundqvist - #8 American Legion Honda
Numbers to Remember:
9.34375: Average finish for Marcus Ericsson over four seasons in the #8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

8: Lundqvist is one of eight Swedish drivers to start an IndyCar race

50: Percentage of Swedish drivers that have started an IndyCar race to have driven for Chip Ganassi Racing once Lundqvist starts his first race with the team

What does a championship season look like for him? 
Lundqvist starts his season better than any of us expect and he is the top Ganassi finisher in the opening round with a podium result. He follows it up with another race as the top Ganassi finisher and on the podium for a second time. What does he do for his third act? Wins at Barber Motorsports Park directly ahead of Scott Dixon to add insult to injury. 

With this start, Lundqvist finds himself out front and everyone is already chasing him. A pair of top ten finishes in Indianapolis with a tough day in Detroit has everyone thinking all the air has been let out of the balloon, but Lundqvist response with a Road America victory and a podium at Laguna Seca. Another top five finish comes at Mid-Ohio.

He has one bad Iowa race, and one Iowa race like Álex Palou had last year where Lundqvist ends up eighth but that is about four spots better than where he ran the entire race. The Swede takes a top five finish at Toronto to head into the Olympic break on a high note.

When competition resumes, it is a top ten at Gateway with a top five in Portland. He is on the podium in one of the Milwaukee races with at least a top ten in the other. Lundqvist finishes the season with an emphatic victory in Nashville to take an improbable championship.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
Somewhere between sixth and 14th in the championship.

That is a wide net, but that is where Ericsson finished in this car the past three seasons and right around where Marcus Armstrong's average points per start (more on that in a moment) would have placed him in the 2023 championship had Armstrong run all the races. 

In his three cameo appearances last year, Lundqvist had some head-turning runs, even if the results didn't go his way, and that was driving for Meyer Shank Racing, which spent the entire 2023 season lost. He was likely the best driver MSR had last season. Instead of driving a car that was barely able to crack the top fifteen with someone else driving it, Lundqvist is now driving a car that has won in each of the last three seasons and was first and second in the last two Indianapolis 500s. 

A respectable season would be about eight top ten finishes, a couple top five runs and ending up around the top ten in the championship. Performing above expectations should plant him solidly in the top ten, but if he has a handful of rookie days it shouldn't nosedive his championship position. 

Scott Dixon - #9 PNC Bank Honda
Numbers to Remember:
14: Consecutive top ten finishes to close out the 2023 season

4: Consecutive podium finishes to close out the 2023 season, the longest podium streak since the 2019 season finale through the first three races of the 2020 season

5.3529: Average finish in 2023, second best in IndyCar

What does a championship season look like for him?
Dixon has won the championship six times before. He has had a handful of other seasons where he was there and just fell short, last year included. We know what Dixon has to do. In this case, it might be his hardest task yet, beating Álex Palou.

Dixon had one of his best seasons in IndyCar last year, it likely wins the championship nine times out of ten, and yet Palou clinched the championship a race early and the Catalan won the title by 78 points over Dixon. 

There was only one race where Dixon finished outside the top ten. Even with that result, his average finish was better than sixth. If you dropped the 27th from the Grand Prix of Long Beach, Dixon's average finish in the other 16 races is fourth! Palou's average finish for the 2023 season was 3.7059, and, in the sake of fairness, if you dropped Palou's worst result as well, it would be 3.4375. 

Dixon didn't do much wrong last year to lose a championship. Palou did that much more to win it.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
Last year was really a tale of two seasons for Dixon. 

In the first 13 races, he had no victories, two podium finishes, he had led only 13 laps and he had yet to be the best Ganassi finisher in a race. 

In the final four races, he won three times, was on the podium for all four events, and he led 192 laps. 

We entered August really thinking 2023 would be the year Dixon did not win a race. He ended up winning three. It should not surprise us, and yet, for the first five months of the season, Dixon didn't look all that close to victory despite having only one finish worse than seventh. 

A realistic season is something between his first 13 races and his final four races. Good runs with a victory or two spread in-between, but not necessarily being the driver controlling the championship. 

Palou has proven to be Dixon's toughest teammate since Dario Franchitti. Dixon can do everything right and that still not be enough. No one dominates forever, and we must remember Palou almost went winless in his season following his first championship in 2022. Like Dixon, Palou is human. 

In 17 of the last 18 seasons Dixon has ended up in the top five of the championship. I think that is where we start. Dixon will be somewhere in the championship top five. Is it first with three victories, eight podium finishes and over 300 laps led or is it fourth with a victory and four trips to the podium, but two untimely retirements? 

Álex Palou - #10 DHL Honda
Numbers to Remember:
9: Victories in 50 starts with Chip Ganassi Racing

24: Podium finishes in 50 starts with Chip Ganassi Racing

42: Top ten finishes in 50 starts with Chip Ganassi Racing

What does a championship season look like for him?
The man has the blueprint. With his first championship, Palou won early and was frequently on the podium even though he had a few down results. A fortunate caution at Portland after an unfortunate caution in the same race saw him swing from losing the title to controlling his destiny in the final two races. 

With his second championship, Palou strangled the competition. He lived in the top five, won three on the spin and four in five races. His worst finish was eighth and nobody could keep up. 

For three seasons, Palou has been one of the most reliable drivers in IndyCar. He does not drive over the car. He has finished 35 of the last 36 races. His lone retirement is when a teammate drove into him. This might be unfathomable for some of you to accept, but Palou is the number one driver at Ganassi at this moment. He was the rabbit no would could catch last year, and he won his championship earlier than anyone since 2007. If he has done it once, he could do it again.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
In all likelihood, Palou will come back down from earth. That doesn't mean he will not be the driver to beat, but it also doesn't mean he will finish in the top eight of every race again. The Catalan driver has 18 consecutive top ten finishes dating back to 2022. That streak will not last forever. 

He is going to win races, he is going to stand on the podium. In all likelihood, his title defense will go deep into the season, if not all the way to the season finale. Palou has had the upper hand on Dixon for the better part of three seasons. If the first step to winning a championship is beating your teammates, Palou has that covered. 

Outside of the Dixon, none of the other Ganassi drivers are a threat to Palou. When it comes to other teams, there are plenty of drivers that could match Palou, but they will have to be near flawless. Palou is not going to give them much to capitalize on. 

A title is realistic. A half-dozen victories are realistic. Another historic season is not out of the question.

Marcus Armstrong - #11 Ridgeline/Root Insurance Honda
Numbers to Remember:
17.833: Average points per start last season, on pace for 13th in the championship last year

5: Top ten finishes in 2023, more than nine full-time drivers

9: Times as the top rookie finishers in 12 starts

What does a championship season look like for him?
A quiet start with a string of top ten finishes to open the season. Nothing earth-shattering but something respectable, and in a few races he is, unexpectedly, the top Ganassi driver. This good start has everyone impressed, which includes the New Zealander taking Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, but they aren't considering Armstrong a championship contender through the first third of the season. 

That changes with a victory at Road America, which starts a run of three consecutive podium finishes, ending with a second victory at Mid-Ohio. He has some struggles at Iowa, but he is back on the podium at Toronto. When IndyCar returns from its Olympic break at Gateway, Armstrong pulls out a top ten finish. 

In Portland, Armstrong is on the podium. He gets two top ten finishes in Milwaukee before he caps off the season with a podium finish that puts him just over the line for the championship.

What does a realistic season look like for him?
Armstrong should make a push for the championship top ten. His points pace was in that ballpark last year. His race results were far better than any of the other rookies last year. He had a few other good races get away from him and not necessarily because it was his fault. 

Eight to ten top ten finishes are realistic. Three or four top five finishes are realistic. Armstrong should probably be on the podium at least once and he is with the right team that he could pull out a victory. If the results are on the better end of expectations, Armstrong will be in the top ten of the championship, possibly pushing for the top five and he could fill in sixth in the championship where departed Ganassi driver Marcus Ericsson made a living for the last three years. 

That would be a great season for Armstrong. Anything between eighth and 13th will be a successful year in his first full campaign.

The first round of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series season will be the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. Coverage will begin at noon on NBC and Peacock.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

2024 FIA World Endurance Championship Season Preview

As February enters its final leg, we are approaching the start of a few championships. With so little time and so many series to preview, we come to the FIA World Endurance Championship just a little under two weeks until its opening round. 

The introduction of LMDh cars into the Hypercar class increased car count and manufacturer participation last season. This season will see more of the same, as WEC undergoes a class structure change. This year will only feature Hypercar and the new LMGT3 class, replacing the GTE Am class as GT3-spec vehicles are introduced into the series. The LMP2 class has been dropped from the championship but the class will still feature at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Four manufacturers are joining Hypercar this year as 19 cars will compete in the top class. In LMGT3, nine manufacturers will each have two participants, bringing the overall grid size up to a capacity 37 entries.

This WEC season sees an introduction of a few new tracks, as well as a return to a few circuits, one for the first time in a decade, and another is back for its third stint on the calendar. 

We start with something new, and the Losail International Circuit in Qatar hosts the opening festivities of the season. Losail will host the prologue test over February 24-25 before hosting the Qatar 1812 km on March 2. The distance is derived from the 18th of December, Qatar National Day, and it is scheduled for 335 laps but will have a ten-hour time limit. 

The first two rounds are held on new circuits as the 6 Hours of Imola follows on April 21. Imola replaces Monza as the home of the Italian Grand Prix is undergoing track renovations. Spa-Francorchamps remains in early May and the six-hour race will still be on a Saturday, this year May 11th. 

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will take WEC to the halfway point of the season over June 15-16. After a month off, WEC will run the fifth round of the season on July 14, the 6 Hours of São Paulo from Interlagos. It is the first time Interlagos has been on the calendar since 2014.

After a six-week break, Circuit of the Americas revives Lone Star Le Mans, the six-hour race running on September 1. It is the first time Austin has been on the schedule since 2020, when Austin was a last-minute replacement for Interlagos when their were conflicts between the promoter and WEC. Austin's first run on the schedule was from 2013 to 2017. 

A fortnight after Austin, the penultimate round of the season will be the 6 Hours of Fuji. There will be a seven-week gap between Fuji and the season finale, the 8 Hours of Bahrain on November 2.


Cadillac Racing
#2 Cadillac V-Series.R
Drivers: Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn, Sébastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande, Aléx Palou
What to expect: Bamber and Lynn will be full-time as Bourdais and van der Zande will rotate into the car for the races longer than six hours. Palou will drive the 24 Hours of Le Mans as Bourdais, van der Zande and Scott Dixon will be in the #3 Cadillac for the French classic. Cadillac has shown good pace, but reliability has been a question mark, as we saw in the 24 Hours of Daytona. A victory is within reach but has proven difficult to grasp.

Porsche Penske Motorsport
#5 Porsche 963
Drivers: Matt Campbell, Michael Christensen, Frédéric Makowiecki
What to expect: Campbell replaces Dane Cameron as a full-time driver in this car. Campbell is going to make this team better. Porsche did not win in WEC last year. The #5 Porsche didn't get on the podium. That should change, possibly in both categories. It is too early to say if Porsche can compete for the championship. We will have a better idea through the first few rounds.

#6 Porsche 963
Drivers: Kévin Estre, André Lotterer, Laurens Vanthoor
What to expect: It was a slightly better season for the #6 Porsche compared to its teammate in 2023, but still nothing to leap for joy about. This Porsche is in good hands. Both Porsches should do better than last year. Slight edge to this car for that first WEC victory for the 963.

Toyota Gazoo Racing
#7 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi, Nyck de Vries
What to expect: Until someone consistently beats Toyota, why should we expect Toyota to lose the championship? Everyone should be closer. Perhaps someone will breakthrough, but Toyota is the team to beat. The #7 Toyota has moved de Vries in as José María López moves to GT3 competition. De Vries drove well in LMP2 competition. The #7 Toyota did win the most races last year, and likely only lost the championship because it retired at Le Mans. The one change to the driver lineup could bring it back behind the #8 Toyota.

#8 Toyota GR010 Hybrid
Drivers: Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley, Ryō Hirakawa
What to expect: The defending champions are not changing a thing. Same drivers as last year in a team that had two victories, four runner-up finishes and its worst finish was sixth. That is hard to beat. It is also hard to duplicate. The #8 Toyota will win races in 2024. Will it go first or second in over 85% of the races? That is unlikely. It should still be the championship favorite but it will likely require a little more work. 

Isotta Fraschini
#11 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 6-C
Drivers: Carl Bennett, Antonio Serravalle, Jean-Karl Vernay
What to expect: It is a manufacturer with no modern racing experience with a driver who is coming out of Formula 4 and a driver who spent most of last year on the sidelines with Indy Lights and LMP3 as his greatest experience. Vernay is the only driver in this car ready for a Hypercar role. Expectations should be zilch.

Hertz Team Jota
#12 Porsche 963
Drivers: Callum Ilott, Norman Nato, Will Stevens
What to expect: Jota has a year under its belt with this car. Stevens ran this car last year, but his teammates are completely new. Ilott has taken well to everything he has driven. Nato should get up to speed quickly. On paper, this feels like the better of the two Jota cars.

#38 Porsche 963
Drivers: Jenson Button, Philip Hanson, Oliver Rasmussen
What to expect: Button has not been full-time in any series since 2019. Hanson has had plenty of LMP2 success with United Autosports. Rasmussen has spent the previous two seasons with Jota in LMP2. There does feel like a greater learning curve for this entry compared to its sister car. Do not be surprised if the #38 Porsche with the past World Drivers' Champion is second of the two Jota cars.

#15 BMW M Hybrid V8
Drivers: Raffaele Marciello, Dries Vanthoor, Marco Wittmann
What to expect: BMW is bringing a number of inexperienced prototype drivers into Hypercar. Wittmann ran a few races in this car last year in IMSA. Vanthoor and Marciello are coming from nearly exclusive GT competition. All three have been successful everywhere they have gone, but this is going to be an uphill battle for the #15 BMW.

#20 BMW M Hybrid V8
Drivers: Robin Frijns, René Rast, Sheldon van der Linde
What to expect: BMW's experience is in this car. Frijns has an LMP2 championship in WEC and six class victories in 19 starts. Frijns and Rast were co-drivers together in 2022. Van der Linde has never raced a prototype before. BMW has made big gains in IMSA. If any BMW is getting good results in WEC this year, it will be this BMW. 

Alpine Endurance Team
#35 Alpine A424
Drivers: Paul-Loup Chatin, Ferdinand Habsburg, Charles Milesi
What to expect: This is a strong LMP2 lineup moving up to the Hypercar class. Chatin has won multiple European Le Mans Series championship and he won the LMP2 championship in IMSA last year. This is a big jump up for Habsburg and Milesi. It should be an eye-opener at times for this lineup.

#36 Alpine A424
Drivers: Nicolas Lapierre, Mick Schumacher, Matthieu Vaxivière
What to expect: Lapierre has a stellar record in LMP2 competition and is a good lead driver while he and Vaxivière were co-drivers for a few seasons in the Alpine A480, a grandfathered LMP1 car running in the early seasons of Hypercar. Schumacher is making a big change to sports cars after a season out of Formula One. Schumacher improves with time. There could be some teething issues early on. This Alpine is the leader on paper out of the two-car outfit.

Ferrari AF Corse
#50 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Antonio Fuoco, Miguel Molina, Nicklas Nielsen
What to expect: Though the #50 Ferrari did not win a race last season, it was the best Ferrari in the championship and was knocking on the door. The #50 Ferrari should breakthrough this season at some point. There will be plenty of opportunities as Ferrari looks to take a greater fight to Toyota this year.

#51 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado, Antonio Giovinazzi
What to expect: The 2023 Le Mans will be looking for more in year two. The #51 Ferrari only had two podium finishes last season. This was the lineup less prototype experience of the two cars last year. This team should increase its competitiveness, but it has a mighty task of being the best within its own factory lineup let alone the entire championship.

#83 Ferrari 499P
Drivers: Robert Kubica, Robert Shwartzman, Yifei Ye
What to expect: This will be a customer Ferrari entry. Shwartzman was a rising Formula Two driver a few seasons ago as he moves to sports cars. Kubica and Ye have been successful in LMP2 racing. It will be difficult to defeat the factory Ferraris let alone be the outright top Hypercar entry. 
Lamborghini Iron Lynx
#63 Lamborghini SC63
Drivers: Mirko Bortolotti, Daniil Kyvat, Edoardo Mortara
What to expect: If there is any reason for optimism, it is the speed the Lamborghini showed in the Daytona homologation test for IMSA during the offseason. Bortolotti and Kyvat were co-drivers last year for Prema in the LMP2 class. Both have limited prototype experience. Mortara has no prototype experience. There could be days where the speed is there but lack of race knowledge could be a setback. There could be days where the speed will be enough.

Peugeot TotalEnergies
#93 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Nico Müller, Mikkel Jensen, Jean-Éric Vergne
What to expect: Peugeot has underwhelmed in its first season and a half in Hypercar. The team is developing a rear wing that is expected to debut early this season. It cannot make things worse for Peugeot, but it is not expected to shoot the French manufacturer to the top. The Balance of Performance is favorable for Peugeot at the Qatar opener. Hopefully, Peugoet can at least compete for podium finishes on a more regular basis. This lineup is capable.

#94 Peugeot 9X8
Drivers: Loïc Duval, Paul di Resta, Stoffel Vandoorne
What to expect: Vandoorne joins this team, as Peugeot shuffles some drivers around. It is a good lineup. There are no weak links in this car. Results cannot be much worse. The #94 9X8 has only two top five finishes in ten races. At best, this team is competing for the top five in the championship.  

Proton Competition
#99 Porsche 963
Drivers: Julien Andlauer, Neel Jani, Harry Tincknell
What to expect: Jani and Tincknell ran a few races together last year. Last year, running an LMP2 car in ELMS, was the first time Jani had been full-time in a prototype since 2019. Tincknell had a good stint in the Mazda DPi program, his most recent prototype program. Andlauer is new to prototype racing. Porsche has a good car, and a few great results should to be a surprise for this team, but they are not guaranteed.


Heart of Racing Team
#27 Aston Vantage Vantage AMR GT3 Evo
Drivers: Ian James, Daniel Mancinelli, Alex Riberas
What to expect: Heart of Racing Team has plenty of experience with this car and with one another. This is a championship team from IMSA taking on the world championship. Heart of Racing Team should factor into a few races. This group surprise the WEC grid.

Team WRT
#31 BMW M4 GT3
Drivers: Augusto Farfus, Sean Gelael, Darren Leung
What to expect: Team WRT has long been a dominated team in GT3 competition. It is a different grouping for BMW with Farfus leading the way while Gelael is transitioning to GT racing after a number of years and success in LMP2. Leung won the British GT Championship last year. This is a leap for Leung and these will be new circuits. It should still be a competitive entry.

#46 BMW M4 GT3
Drivers: Maxime Martin, Valentino Rossi, Ahmad Al Harthy
What to expect: Martin and Rossi drove together last year in GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup and results were respectable. Al Harthy drove in WEC last year in GTE Am and he is coming off a good year in Asian Le Mans Series' LMP2 class. This will be a competitive class, but don't be surprised if the #46 BMW is in the top third of the class.

Vista AF Corse
#54 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Francesco Castellacci, Thomas Flohr, Davide Rigon
What to expect: This lineup is unchanged from WEC last year. Castellacci and Flohr has spent the better part of a decade together. They struggled for great results in WEC over the last few years. Experience could be their greatest aid, but the switch to GT3 does not necessarily make the #54 Ferrari a favorite. 

#55 Ferrari 488 GTE
Drivers: Simon Mann, François Heriau, Alessio Rovera
What to expect: Rovera won the GTE Am championship there years ago. He has been strong in LMP2 competition. Heriau developed in ELMS from LMP3 to LMP2. Mann has been in WEC the last few years. Rovera is a strong driver, but will be carrying this entry. The continuity in the sister car gives the #54 Ferrari an edge. 

United Autosports
#59 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo
Drivers: Nicolas Costa, James Cottingham, Grégoire Saucy
What to expect: Costa is coming off the Porsche Carrera Cup Brasil championship while Cottingham was second in the British GT Championship. Saucy is moving from Formula Three. These are three drivers all moving into a new car in a new championship for all. Don't expect the world. It might take a few rounds for these drivers to get comfortable.

#95 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo
Drivers: Josh Caygill, Nico Pino, Marino Sato, Hiroshi Hamaguchi
What to expect: Pino has spent the last few years in LMP2 and LMP3. Sato did well in LMP2 last year in ELMS. Caygill was in LMP3 the last two years in ELMS and Le Mans Cup, and he hasn't raced a GT car since 2021. Hamaguchi will replace Caygill at Le Mans. Pino and Sato could prove to be a strong combination.

Iron Lynx/Iron Dames
#60 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2
Drivers: Matteo Cressoni, Franck Perera, Claudio Schiavoni
What to expect: Cressoni and Schiavoni were third in the ELMS GT championship last year and they raced together in GTE Am. Perera is experienced in the Lamborghini, and has won in a number of series. The Iron Lynx entry should be competing for a race victory and could string together the results to be in the title discussion. 

#85 Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo 2
Drivers: Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting, Doriane Pin
What to expect: Bovy and Gatting were second in the GTE Am championship last year, and Pin had a podium finish in LMP2. This trio have plenty experience together. They have won together in ELMS. Iron Dames will be competitive. Race victories are more than possible. It will be a fun battle just within the Iron Lynx/Iron Dames stable. 

Proton Competition
#77 Ford Mustang GT3
Drivers: Ryan Hardwick, Zachary Robichon, Ben Barker 
What to expect: The Ford is a new car, but Hardwick and Robichon have spent a few seasons together. Barker is WEC-experienced, though the results were not outstanding driving for GR Racing. There are still a few unknowns about the Ford. There should be a few praiseworthy finishes, but Proton Competition will have some tough days.

#88 Ford Mustang GT3
Drivers: Dennis Olsen, Giorgio Roda, Mikkel O. Pedersen
What to expect: It is a good combination. Olsen was strong with Porsche, and Roda won an ELMS championship with Proton. This should be the stronger of the two Proton Competition entries. We don't know enough about the Ford to say where it should finish. Podium finishes would be good in the first year of this program. 

Akkodis ASP Team
#78 Lexus RC F GT3 
Drivers: Timur Boguslavskiy, Arnold Robin, Kelvin van der Linde
What to expect: Akkodis ASP is making the switching from GT World Challenge Europe to WEC. It is switching from Mercedes-AMG to Lexus. Boguslavskiy was a front-runner in GTWCE. This will be a new car but Lexus has been strong in IMSA. Van der Linde is making a leap but should get be up to speed quickly. Robin has been mostly focused on LMP2 and LMP3 classes. It would not be a surprise if this team is competing for victories.

#87 Lexus RC F GT3 
Drivers: Takeshi Kimura, José María López, Esteban Masson
What to expect: López moves from Hypercar to GT3. He was spectacular in touring car competition, his last experience outside a prototype. Masson was the French F4 champion three years ago, and the 19-year-old spent last year in Formula Regional Europe. Kimura had a few good races last year. This team has a greater learning curve than its teammate. 

TF Sport
#81 Corvette Z06 GT3.R
Drivers: Rui Andrade, Charlie Eastwood, Tom van Rompuy
What to expect: This car brings together one of the LMP2 co-champions from last season in Andrade, and a driver that won the 2023 ALMS LMP2 championship while having years of WEC experience in Eastwood. Van Rompuy has spent recent seasons in LMP2 and LMP3 machines. Andrade and Eastwood should carry the #81 Corvette up the grid. If they are able to light a spark, this team could be in the conversation in most races. 

#82 Corvette Z06 GT3.R
Drivers: Sébastien Baud, Daniel Juncadella, Hiroshi Koizumi
What to expect: Juncadella is the Corvette factory driver filling this ride, and he was second in IMSA's GTD Pro class last year. Baud was second in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup bronze class last year. Koizumi was second in Le Mans Cup's GT3 class last year. WEC is a big leap for Baud and Koizumi. Top five finishes would be great results for this team. 

Manthey EMA/Pure Rxcing
#91 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)
Drivers: Richard Lietz, Morris Schuring, Yasser Shahin
What to expect: Lietz has spent years in WEC and has won all the big events. Shahin is coming from Australia's GT scene. Schuring won twice in Porsche Supercup last year and is 18 years old. Lietz is the only driver with deep knowledge of the WEC circuits. Depth is a weakness in this lineup.

#92 Porsche 911 GT3 R (992)
Drivers: Klaus Bachler, Alex Malykhin, Joel Sturm
What to expect: This #92 Pure Rxcing Porsche is coming off the Asian Le Mans Series championship over the winter. Bachler is a capable lead driver. Malykhin and Sturm will be stepping up to a higher level than ALMS. They might not repeat their ALMS success, but they can be a frequent contender in WEC.

D'station Racing
#777 Aston Vantage Vantage AMR GT3 Evo
Drivers: Erwan Bastard, Clément Mateu, Marco Sørensen, Satoshi Hoshino
What to expect: Sørensen is a past champion while Bastard has won GT4 championships in Europe. Mateu was in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup last year in the bronze class. Hoshino will be one of the drivers at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Some experience is lacking. The hope should be to improve as the year goes along.

WEC's Prologue test session will start on Saturday February 24 with the first three-hour session starting at 4:00 a.m. ET. The second session on Saturday will begin at 9:00 a.m. ET and last four hours. On Sunday February 25, WEC will be on track for three hours starting at 3:00 a.m. ET, and four hours starting at 8:00 a.m. ET.

The first official practice sessions for the season will be on Leap Day, Friday February 29. On Friday March 1, WEC will have a one-hour practice at 3:00 a.m. before qualifying at 8:00 a.m. The Qatar 1812 km will begin at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday March 2.