Thursday, May 21, 2015

2015 Indianapolis 500 preview

In my previous text, I was writing about the crashes that have taken place during the practice for this year's Indianapolis 500. But now it's time to look forward to the race on Sunday.

The front row was occupied by Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud. This trio was quite dominant, the only ones with a speed of over 226 mph with fourth-placed Tony Kanaan at 225.503. The top 5 was occupied by Chevrolet-powered cars with the fastest Honda driver being Justin Wilson on the sixth place.

The pole went to Scott Dixon. This was his second pole at the 500, the first being in 2008 when he went on to win the race. And this year seems like a good chance for him to repeat that feat. He's been solid in the previous races in the IndyCar Series and he's been constantly among the fastest in the Indy 500 practice days.

Last year's series champion Will Power was second in qualifying. He's also been solid in practice days, even though not as consistent as Dixon. Earlier this year, I wasn't so convinced of his performances, he had some stupid moments like the overly optimistic attempt to overtake Montoya at St. Petersburg or crashing with Sato when exiting the pits at Barber. But he took an impressive win at the GP of Indianapolis, and even though now we're on oval, I expect him to be battling for the win.

I was disappointed with Simon Pagenaud's performances in the early season. But before the technical retirement at the GP of Indy, he was having a solid race, performing like one could expect from him before the season. And he's been one of the best drivers in the practice days. While he's still to win an oval race, he's a strong contender on Sunday. Still, I rank Dixon as the favorite.

The second row has some serious challengers for the win. The 2013 winner Tony Kanaan was fourth in the qualifying and excels on ovals. So does also the fifth-fastest man of the qualifying, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. After his scary flip in the Wednesday practice, he set the fastest lap of the week in the Saturday practice.

The sixth-placed Justin Wilson was the fastest Honda driver. Honda, who have been underdogs on road courses, had obviously their priority in succeeding at the 500. Looking at the practice and qualifying results, a Honda win would be a surprise, though.

The last two years' polesitter, oval specialist Ed Carpenter had a big crash in the morning of the qualification day. Given the circumstances, 12th place with the backup car was a decent performance but he has lots of work in the race. And his practice results weren't so good, apart from that Sunday morning before his crash.

The 2000 winner and the series leader Juan Pablo Montoya was a disappointment in the qualifying, only 15th, especially given his teammates were second, third, and fifth. Actually, I find it a bit surprising Power and Pagenaud were the best Penske drivers in the qualifying. Given how well Montoya and Castroneves have started their seasons, I was expecting those former 500 winners to have an advantage at Indianapolis.

The weather forecast for Speedway doesn't look too good for Sunday with thunderstorms being forecasted for the afternoon. Hopefully they will stay away long enough to let the race finish first. After all the difficulties in this month, I'm hoping for a good and safe race that would help to forget those difficulties and would be great promotion for the series.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A week of crashes behind at Indianapolis

The Indianapolis 500 is approaching; the qualifications are behind as well as all practice sessions but one-hour Carb Day practice on Friday. Then on Sunday, it's time for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
This year has seen the introduction of the new aerokits. An aim in opening the aerodynamics for competition was to get visible differences between different manufacturers. And it seems that aim was achieved; there are clear differences in the Chevrolet and Honda aerokits and the manufacturers had even designed different parts for the qualifications and the race.

In my previous text, I was carefully positive about the introduction of the aerokits. The aerodynamically more sensitive cars haven't hurt racing, at least too much. But we may have seen another harmful effect of aerodynamically sensitive cars. There have been five crashes on the oval at Indianapolis this year, in four of them the car turned upside down. At first it seemed like it might have been an issue of the Chevrolet aerokit as the first three flips happened with it. But yesterday also a car with the Honda aerokit turned upside down when James Hinchcliffe had a heavy crash and his car was sliding sideways.

Maybe the new aerokits are so sensitive that they have caused the tendency for the cars to flip this year. Or maybe the new aerokits being faster is a reason for crashes and subsequent flips. Or maybe a bit of both, or maybe that could've happened also with the old Dallara aerokit. A thing to be noted is that all flips with the Chevy aerokit happened with the qualifying parts which were abandoned later as it became required to run the qualifying with the race trim.

But what should have been done otherwise, if anything, and what should be done in the future? Well, clearly something should be done to avoid these flips in the future; we don't want that to happen in a race with a group of cars coming behind. And all these flips can't have been a coincidence; there is something wrong at least in the Chevy aerokit. Actually, I'm less worried about the suspension failure that caused the crash of Hinchcliffe, despite it being the only of the crashes where the driver got injured. That crash may just have been a one-off failure and very bad luck for Hinch. There will always be the risk of a mechanical failure, and on an oval it can have severe consequences. 

I think IndyCar should have tested the speedway aerokits already before May. To start testing them only in May meant they didn't have time to fix the arisen issues before the 500, they can only hope the race setup leads to less crashes and isn't so prone to flip. Had they tested the speedway aerokits in winter, they could've addressed and solved their issues before the Month of May.

As for what they should do now, I don't know as I'm not an aerodynamics engineer. But here's a bit radical idea. Make the car less aero-sensitive. Distinctive differences between manufacturers are the only good thing I can imagine of the aerokit competition. Otherwise advanced aerodynamics don't improve racing on track and as we've seen on the past week, they can make a spinning car behave unpredictably. I'd reduce downforce and compensate the loss in lap times with more mechanical grip and power. Of course, this is no short-term solution, rather an idea on what they should do when they set the regulations for the successor of DW12. A short-term solution is just to find what makes the cars flip so easily and how to avoid that from happening without a complete redesign of the car.

Crashes have taken the attention on the first week of this year's Indy 500. But hopefully on Sunday there will be a great race. Later this week I will write a preview of Sunday's race.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Some review of the early 2015 IndyCar season

It's time for some review of the first IndyCar races of the 2015 season. The big change for this season was opening the aerokits for competition. The start wasn't promising. In the first race of the season at St. Petersburg, broken winglets brought many debris cautions plus drivers were already saying it's harder to follow the car ahead. Those were my concerns about the aerokits. The more aerodynamically advanced the cars get, the more they suffer when following another car. And more fragile wings may discourage drivers from overtaking attempts or lead to debris cautions.

Barber was the race I was looking forward the most to see the effects of the aerokits on a road course with fast corners. And it left a good impression, it was a good race. Obviously it's harder to follow the car ahead but it wasn't hurting the racing at Barber too much. And maybe it's only the track characteristics or maybe the drivers have learnt to be more careful with the more fragile wings after St. Petersburg. So, I'm thinking the manufacturer aerokits are a good thing; the cars are a bit more different now. Different aerokits also caused fear of one manufacturer dominating the series. Honda were underdogs in the early season but pretty competitive at Barber, so maybe their car isn't as bad as it seemed earlier. It will be interesting to see how Honda will do at the Indianapolis 500 where they have won 10 of the last 11 races. I hope they could improve their performance on road courses a bit so that we'd have two manufacturers racing for wins all the time. Even better would be if a third manufacturer came to IndyCar soon.

Still, I think IndyCar must ensure the cars don't get aerodynamically too advanced. Aerodynamically advanced cars don't usually provide so great racing plus they put less emphasis on the drivers' skills. Also, while I'd like opening the rules more, it should be done carefully to avoid creating too big performance differences between the manufacturers as well as to avoid costs exploding.

Juan Pablo Montoya is leading the championship by three points to Helio Castroneves. Montoya took a brilliant win at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. At the second-race of the season at NOLA, his pace wasn't so good but as the qualifying had to be abandoned, he started on pole as the championship leader and finished fifth. Great defensive driving at the end of the Grand Prix of Long Beach gave him the third place there and he retained his championship lead at Barber despite finishing only 14th.

Castroneves took the poles in the last two races at Long Beach and Barber. Having to wait for the traffic on the pit road probably cost him the win at Long Beach and at Barber he finished only 15th after running out of fuel. Still, his pace in the last two races shows he's a strong contender for his first IndyCar Series title and surely one of the favorites for the Indianapolis 500 where he could equal A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears at four wins.

Scott Dixon is on the third place of the standings. After the difficult first two races, he took his first win at the Grand Prix of Long Beach and then was third at the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber. Everything looks to be set for another great season for the three-time series champion.

Josef Newgarden has had a good start to the season, three times in top 10 and fourth in standings. The 2011 Indy Lights champion took his first career win the in the IndyCar Series in the last race at Barber. He seems to have potential to become the next American superstar in IndyCar, and an American superstar would be great for the series in its home market. I heard some speculation that he might be a candidate for the new Haas F1 Team in 2016, even though he may not fulfill the super licence requirements. While I'd love more crossover between IndyCar and F1, I must say I'd be slightly disappointed if IndyCar lost a potential future American star driver to F1.

The defending series champion Will Power is only fifth in the standings. A pole and a second-place finish at St. Petersburg as well as a fourth-place finish after a collision and drive-through penalty at Barber show he has the pace but he should have been smarter at times. At St. Petersburg, an overly-optimistic dive on Montoya for the lead caused a collision but thankfully didn't take the cars out. At Barber, colliding with Sato when exiting the pits was a stupid mistake. He hasn't lost the championship yet but he needs to drive smarter if he wants to win it.

Simon Pagenaud completed Team Penske's four-car dream team. One might have expected him to be a threat for the veterans Montoya and Castroneves for the 2016 seats unless Penske wants to continue with four cars. But Pagenaud has been a disappointment for me. He's been the weakest Penske driver so far and is only ninth in the standings. That's quite poor given he's been in the top 5 in the last three years and his teammates are first and second in the standings.

And few words about the calendar. As it seems that Formula One is going to start the 2016 season only in April, I think IndyCar should try to fill the void of open-wheel racing. Start the season in the Southern states, Latin America, or Australia right after the Super Bowl and have few races before the F1 season starts. The winter break of F1 might make some F1 fans to watch IndyCar.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to stop the decline of F1's viewership?

Formula One is struggling with viewing figures. Recently I read the former Mercedes-Benz motorsports director Norbert Haug's comments about how to increase the popularity of the DTM which is also struggling with viewing figures (in German). I think some of his comments would also apply to F1. Especially I liked these:
"When you're once at the track, then you'll surely follow the series in media."
"If I had great TV ratings and the grandstands at the track are half empty, that is not good. Firstly the spectators at the track must be served."
These remind me of the suggestions in Racer's website's IndyCar 2018 article series, where many people emphasized the importance of race events for the series' popularity.

Almost everywhere in the World, the most popular sport is some team sport. You can see it live almost every week during the season, in some sports multiple times per week. A successful team increases the sport's popularity in their city or region. And while tickets are getting more expensive in every sport, the tickets are still affordable for casual fans, who might get hooked and become regular game-visitors.

For a series like F1, or whatever motorsport series, it's different. The series visits a track only once, or twice in some cases in the DTM or NASCAR. Visiting a Grand Prix isn't as casual as visiting a football or hockey game which can be more comparable to going to movies. That's why you don't get those casual fans there so easily. Of course, as a Grand Prix is such a rare event, you get spectators from a larger area. But, with tickets being so expensive, it's hard to fill the stands. If you aren't really into F1, you probably aren't going to spend hundreds of euros for tickets. And even if you're a big fan, you may not be able to afford those tickets. And here's a thing I think F1 has got wrong. As Norbert Haug said about the DTM, when you get people to the track, then you'll begin to follow the series in media. I think F1 needs less expensive tickets to get casual fans there; if they enjoyed the event, they'll come again the following year and follow the series in media. With less expensive tickets, there might be more fans visiting multiple races per year. And less expensive tickets require lower sanctioning fees for tracks, then they can lower the ticket prices.

And make the series seen where they are racing. The only time I have lived in a country where a GP is being held was last summer in Germany. I have to say I hear a lot more about the Rally Finland in the Finnish media than I heard about the German GP in the German media. Maybe I didn't follow the German media enough or maybe the event gets more publicity in regions closer to it, or maybe the FIFA World Cup title took media's attention. But surely a big sports event gets also more TV audience in the host country, offering a chance to get people into that sport. Having a good vibe around the event makes people more interested about it. Positive things like big audience are a way to create that good vibe. When you can say there are well over 100,000 spectators, it's easier to make other people check it on TV. To get a big audience, you need good marketing, affordable tickets, and an attractive event.

As I think experiencing F1 live is a way to market the series, then leaving classic venues where the audience is must have been a mistake. Surely, one can say F1 is trying to expand its fanbase by going to Asia. But I'm sceptical about that having been the main reason for it. F1 has been going to Asia to receive bigger sanctioning fees; expanding fanbase has been a desired side effect of that. And countries like Bahrain and Abu Dhabi don't really offer big opportunities to expand fanbase. I think F1 should put more emphasis on getting crowds than receiving big sanctioning fees. A badly attended Grand Prix doesn't increase viewership, no matter how big the sanctioning fee is. Of course, some attempts to expand into new markets are OK but they should result to getting a well-attended event or leaving the country.

I think NASCAR has got it right; they race in front of big crowds. The races are where there are fans and the tickets are affordable. And I think they have it right with television, too. While I'd prefer all races free-to-air, pay-per-view channels just can pay more for the TV rights. But, the problem with PPV is that then it's mostly the hardcore fans who can watch the races, casual viewers less likely have the pay channels. Even some hardcore fans must stop watching the series as they can't afford the PPV channels. I like how it is with NASCAR in the USA. Certain attractive races like the Daytona 500 and the last races of the Chase are on FTA channels. That helps to keep masses interested in the series but isn't enough for the hardcore fans who will pay for the cable channels to see the other races.

I think F1's willingness to go for money at the expense of viewing figures may undermine its future. Even if F1 got more money from the new Asian host countries than declining viewership costs, the declining viewership is a problem. The huge global audience has justified manufacturers' and sponsors' spending. Is it justifiable anymore when viewership decreases? If F1 lost manufacturers, would it anymore be the top-tier class if the manufacturers joined another series and hired F1's top drivers? And, are those new host countries anymore willing to pay the high sanctioning fees when they get less exposure than before?

I think stopping the declining viewership is important for F1. Surely there are things in the sport that could to be improved to be more attractive to fans. But F1 also needs to be more affordable and accessible for fans. Still, I'd find a big drop in sanctioning fees and TV rights surprising, for sure the commercial-rights holder doesn't want a huge drop in their revenue. Maybe the declining viewership is OK for them as long as they make profit; after all, F1 is owned by an investment company.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Should IndyCar go to Europe?

I think IndyCar needs some overseas races to get more international recognition. While NASCAR is the biggest motorsport in the USA, international exposure would help IndyCar to attract sponsors. Besides North America, Europe is obviously the continent with the strongest motorsports culture. But for certain reasons, I have been thinking IndyCar shouldn't go to Europe. Firstly, could IndyCar succeed among established series in Europe? F1 is the big thing in Europe and there are strong regional and national series there. And if IndyCar couldn't succeed in Europe, would it make sense to go there with races being on TV at 8am ET like F1? That's why I think the overseas races should be in close time zones in South America or in the Asia-Pacific region like Australia or Japan, taking place in late Saturday night for the US audience. Especially South America might be a continent with potential. They have only one F1 race, the Brazilian GP. And I think IndyCar should really try to get a race in Colombia as there are four Colombian drivers in the series.

But F1 pricing itself out from Europe might give IndyCar a chance to make ground there. Governments aiming to promote their countries have set the bill of hosting a Grand Prix so high that European countries not needing to promote themselves can no longer afford it. Ticket prices must be increased to cover the high hosting fees, and less people can afford attending the race. Last year, more than half of the seats of the Hockenheimring were empty at the German GP. This year, the financially troubled Nürburgring withdrew from hosting the German GP and Hockenheim didn't want to host the race, despite Mercedes-Benz's offer to cover half of the potential losses of the event. So, for the first time after 1960, there will be no F1 race in Germany.

OK, there should be the German GP at Hockenheim next year. But how long can Hockenheim continue paying the hosting fees even every second year as the Nürburgring can't anymore? And what if Germany can't afford hosting a race anymore? Will F1 let Germany lose its Grand Prix just like it let France, the birthplace of Grand Prix racing, lose it? If F1 lets its traditional European hosts lose races and instead keeps on going to new government-subsidized non-European tracks, then I could see chances opening for IndyCar in Europe. Surely there would be some demand for high-level open-wheel racing in Europe.

I'm not saying IndyCar should go to Europe immediately. While Germany doesn't have a Grand Prix this year, Britain and Italy have and France has Le Mans. And those are the countries where I think IndyCar should go to if they come to Europe. But if the future of the German GP is a biennial race at Hockenheim, then I think IndyCar could be the future of open-wheel racing at the Nürburgring. Surely, lack of German involvement in IndyCar could be problematic, even though a rare European IndyCar race might bring fans from abroad. As is the case with American races, good promotion would be important also here. Try to get good support classes. DTM or WEC might want to be the headline series of the weekend but the World Series by Renault might be a good support series with local interest. And moreover, provide a great fan experience. Give access to pits, have some exhibitions relevant to the audience, provide some entertainment at the track area once racing has ended, etc. Make it an attractive event also for those who aren't yet into IndyCar, or aren't necessarily even racing fans. And give them a reason to attend the event the following year, too. But keep it affordable. Otherwise only hardcore fans will come, and there aren't many of them in Europe.

If IndyCar came to Europe, it should be two or three races. It wouldn't make sense to fly to Europe for one race, yet there probably wouldn't be demand for more than three races. I think Britain might be the best European country for IndyCar to have a race in. They have maybe the strongest motorsports culture in Europe and some drivers in the IndyCar Series. And Britain has a modern oval in Rockingham, just like Germany has the EuroSpeedway. I'm not sure IndyCar should go to ovals in Europe; road courses are what attracts Europeans. Still, I think an oval race could work in Britain. In Germany IndyCar would be a substitute for F1, in Britain an alternative. I think F1 would be too strong in Britain for IndyCar to compete against. Yet I think they have a strong enough motorsports culture for an IndyCar race, even on an oval. And Brands Hatch or Donington would be road course options in Britain, as well as the new MotoGP venue Circuit of Wales.

Italy might be another good candidate for an IndyCar race. There were talks about an IndyCar race in Mugello some years ago. If not Mugello, then also Imola might be a good host. As a former F1 track, there might be some desire to see again high-level open-wheel racing. And Bernie Ecclestone threatened least year to drop Monza from the F1 schedule. With Germany already gone, that doesn't sound quite so unlikely anymore. If Italy really lost its Grand Prix, IndyCar could go for the void left by F1. And with two drivers in the series, maybe France could also be a potential destination for IndyCar in Europe, especially as they lack an F1 race.

But are there really chances for IndyCar to go to Europe? And would it make sense? Even as a European fan, I would rather like to see IndyCar being big in the USA than being a global second-tier series. But I think some overseas races would be good for the series. If Europe could offer great events, then I think IndyCar should have some European races. If a country like Germany or Italy lost their Grand Prix, I think IndyCar should try to fill the void. With good promotion, I believe an IndyCar race could be a success, especially when it wouldn't compete against F1 in that country. Of course, the Labor Day finish would bring challenges for European races. If IndyCar wants to finish by Labor Day, then the summer dates are for American races and the overseas races have to be in the early season when it's still winter in most of Europe. But if IndyCar has a good chance to go to Europe, then abandon the Labor Day finish. Dedicate August (when F1 is having the summer break) for the European races and finish the season only in October in the USA.

Monday, March 23, 2015

My review of the 2014-15 Alpine Skiing season

The 2014-15 Alpine Skiing World Cup season came to its end last weekend and now it's time to look back into the past season.

Men


Marcel Hirscher won the fourth consecutive overall World Cup title and for the first time in his career achieved the double of slalom and giant slalom World Cup titles in the same season. He was dominant in giant slalom, winning five of the eight races and missing the podium only once. In slalom he was more vulnerable, yet in the end, his final race win was enough for the slalom title. In the final weeks of the season, he had some decent super-G results. He scored points with the 17th place in Saalbach and was fourth in the final super-G in Méribel. I wonder if he does super-G more frequently next season, especially if he faces stronger opposition for the overall title.

Kjetil Jansrud was Norway's No. 1 skier as Aksel Lund Svindal missed the World Cup season because of an Achilles tendon injury. And Jansrud's season was like a copy of Svindal's last two seasons; he won both downhill and super-G World Cup titles but that wasn't enough to beat Hirscher for the overall World Cup. After a great start to the season, mediocre results mid-season cost him the chance to win the overall title. To afford missing podiums in speed disciplines, he should have a strong giant slalom like the likes of Maier and Eberharter had when winning overall titles. Instead of finishing on the 19th place of giant slalom standings, he should've been in the top 8 to beat Hirscher for the overall title. Next season his task will be even harder as the draft schedule has only 19 speed races (11 DHs & 8 SGs) as opposed to 23 technical races (10 GSs, 11 SLs, & 2 CEs). It will also be interesting to see how he can defend the downhill and super-G titles when Svindal will be back on the tour.

Alexis Pinturault finished the season on the third place of the overall World Cup, like last season. To me, it feels like he could make no progress from the last season. He has versatility needed to succeed in the overall World Cup; he can succeed in all disciplines but downhill. But to be a contender for the overall title, he needs to start winning and making podiums frequently. This season, he couldn't take a step into that direction, instead his two wins is one less than in last two seasons.

Felix Neureuther had a solid season, fourth in the overall World Cup and second in the slalom World Cup. Still, the last weeks of the season were a disappointment for him. He lost his 66-point slalom lead in slalom to Hirscher with the 9th and 12th places of the last two slaloms, being the runner-up for the third time in a row.

Hannes Reichelt was obviously the second-best skier in men's speed disciplines, World Championship gold medal in super-G, second place in the downhill World Cup, and fourth place in the super-G World Cup. He had a streak of strong downhill performances since January, including a win in Wengen to achieve the double of classic downhill wins after last year's Kitzbühel win. Before the final downhill of the season, he was only 20 points from Jansrud who dominated the early season. Still, in the final race he couldn't beat Jansrud for the downhill title.

Henrik Kristoffersen must be the biggest prospect on the tour. The junior World Champion won two slaloms this season and at the World Cup Finals he won his first giant slalom. I think he will be ready to race for the slalom World Cup title next season. In giant slalom he may need few more years for that, yet I can see him in the future as a Hirscher-style overall World Cup contender whose campaign is based on strong slalom and giant slalom.

In speed disciplines, it's harder to see potential future overall World Cup champions. Of younger speed skiers, Dominik Paris had the best season, second in the super-G and fourth in the downhill World Cup standings.  Matthias Mayer was almost as good, third in the super-G standings and tied the fourth place in downhill. I expect both of them to win discipline titles in the future but prefer Mayer's chances for the overall title as he is at least a point-scorer in giant slalom. Yet his only top 10 result is a sixth place from last year's Olympics, he would need to improve a lot to be in giant slalom top 10 all season long.

One of my fondest memories of the season is Carlo Janka having won the combined in Wengen. That was the first win for the 2009-10 overall World Cup champion in almost four years, after suffering health issues. Even nicer was it happening in his home country Switzerland. He finished the season on the 10th place of the overall World Cup, his best season after 2010-11. But he still has lots of work ahead to win crystal globes again, 11th place in super-G was his best ranking in discipline standings.

Another fond memory is Ted Ligety having won the World Championship giant slalom in Beaver Creek, the first gold medal for the host nation on the third-last day. I was really happy the greatest giant slalom skier of this decade was able to win the gold medal in home championships as he will have retired before the next Worlds or Olympics in the USA. Apart from that gold medal and the World bronze medal in combined, this was otherwise a poor season by his standards. His only win in the World Cup was also from Beaver Creek, a giant slalom in early December. For the first time after 2009, he missed the top 2 in the giant slalom standings. And after this season, his overall World Cup dream seems quite distant. He would need another strong discipline besides giant slalom, yet he made no progress in any discipline this season, rather declined.

Women


Anna Fenninger defended successfully the overall World Cup title. After winning the opening race in Sölden, the early season wasn't otherwise particuarly good for her and in January she was already over 300 points behind Tina Maze. But in her last 13 races, she missed the podium only twice and eventually won the overall World Cup by 22 points to Tina Maze. Besides the overall World Cup, she also managed to defend the giant slalom World Cup title. Winning the last three giant slaloms were decisive for both titles. In the speed disciplines, she challenged Lindsey Vonn very well for both downhill and super-G titles but couldn't quite beat her.

Tina Maze dominated the overall World Cup for the first half of the season. Her campaign was based on consistent good results in all disciplines rather than dominating few of them. For a long time, it worked well. Fenninger was mediocre in the first half of the season, Vonn doing only speed disciplines, and Shiffrin doing only technical disciplines. Once Fenninger started getting top results in giant slalom, super-G, and downhill, she started catching Maze whose form had dropped in technical disciplines. Maze got her best results in technical disciplines in weeks at the World Cup Finals but it wasn't anymore enough for her after the previous weeks' poor results.

Lindsey Vonn finished the season on the third place of the overall World Cup. That was a great season after her injuries. World Cup titles in downhill and super-G were very much all she could achieve by doing mostly speed disciplines. Fifth place in the final giant slalom gives some hope of a strong overall campaign next season but she would need those good giant slalom results frequently to challenge Fenninger who has three strong disciplines.

Mikaela Shiffrin finished the season on the fourth place of the overall World Cup. She was once again the dominant slalom skier and she also got her first giant slalom win this season. Within the next few seasons, I can see her becoming a strong contender for the giant slalom World Cup title. But if dominating technical disciplines is how Hirscher wins men's overall titles, that wouldn't work on women's side as the best speed skiers also have a strong giant slalom. For the overall title, Shiffrin must do at least super-G besides the technical disciplines. Despite some plans, she didn't debut in super-G this season but I expect her to give it a try in the future. If she could get decent super-G results, then she would have a great chance to win the overall title in the future.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 Alpine Skiing World Cup title battles: Finals in Méribel

The Alpine Skiing World Cup will finish with the Finals in Méribel. The final downhills will be on Wednesday and the super-Gs on Thursday. On Friday there will be a team event. The final technical races will be in the weekend; men will have the giant slalom on Saturday and the slalom on Sunday, women will have the races in those disciplines in the opposite order.

Men


Men's overall


The men's overall title seems pretty secure for Marcel Hirscher as he has a 164-point lead over Kjetil Jansrud. Jansrud could take the World Cup lead after the speed races with a win and a second place but Hirscher should secure the title with routine performances in the technical disciplines, if Jansrud even overtook him in points in the speed races.

The battle for the third place seemed interesting two weeks ago with two races in each discipline remaining; five men were within 83 points. Now before the final races, those five men are within 207 points. Alexis Pinturault is on the third place, 82 points ahead of fourth-placed Felix Neureuther. Dominik Paris is on the fifth place 153 points behind Pinturault, which is probably too much even if he won both speed races and scored 200 points there. It already seemed before Kranjska Gora that Neureuther is on Pinturault's level in giant slalom and that he can score more points in slalom than Pinturault in slalom and super-G combined. That's why he was my pick for the third place. But Neureuther wasn't very good in Kranjska Gora whereas Pinturault had a very good weekend, his first giant slalom win of the season and his second-best slalom result of the season, a seventh place. He can also succeed in super-G so right now he seems to be on the way to the third place in the overall World Cup like last season.

Men's downhill


After Kjetil Jansrud's win in Kitzbühel, Hannes Reichelt has caught him by 194 points in the last three downhill races and is now only 20 points behind. Third consecutive downhill win would give him the title as he would finish with at least equal points with Jansrud and have one more win. In other scenarios ending with a tie, Jansrud would get the title as he has more second or fourth places.

Jansrud's best result from last three downhills is a seventh place (36 points) in the last downhill in Kvitfjell whereas Reichelt's worst result from last three downhills is a third place (60 points) in Saalbach. So, Reichelt can well deny Jansrud from finishing the season on the top of the downhill standings he's lead all season long.

But let's not write Jansrud off. A super-G win in Kvitfjell shows his form is still there. If he can bring his best to the final downhill, Reichelt will have trouble to beat him. And warm spring weather may make it hard to finish high in the results. Let's remember the 2011 final downhill where the title contenders Cuche and Walchhofer finished on 4th and 11th positions. The lower Reichelt finishes, the more skiers he needs ahead of Jansrud to gain 21 points on him.

Men's super-G


Jansrud secured this title already in Kvitfjell. And also other top 3 positions seem quite secure. Second-placed Dominik Paris is 79 points ahead of third-placed Matthias Mayer who is 67 points ahead of fourth-placed Hannes Reichelt.

Men's giant slalom


Marcel Hirscher secured the giant slalom World Cup title in Kranjska Gora but the second place is open. Alexis Pinturault is leading last year's champion Ted Ligety by 33 points. This can still go either way; while Ligety has been having a poor World Cup season by his standards, his World Championship gold was proof of his great skills. If Ligety had a good race or Pinturault a bad one, then 33 points can be caught. But in the last giant slalom in Kranjska Gora, Pinturault took an impressive win and Ligety has had only fourth places in the two races after the Worlds. So I expect Pinturault to keep the second place in the giant slalom standings.

Men's slalom


Felix Neureuther had a weak race in Kranjska Gora, a ninth place, and he couldn't secure the slalom title. His title rival Marcel Hirscher had a huge mistake in his first run but was still able to finish sixth, catching Neureuther by 11 points. Neureuther's lead is now 55 points and he'd need a top 4 finish if Hirscher won. He's missed the top 4 only twice this season but worryingly Kranjska Gora was the other of them. On the other hand, if he didn't score any points, Hirscher would still need to finish on podium, what he hasn't done after the Kitzbühel slalom almost two months ago. The good thing for Hirscher is that he'll probably have secured the overall title before the final slalom so he can take risks to win the race.

Women


Women's overall


Anna Fenninger overtook Tina Maze in the overall standings in the weekend of Åre and she leads by 30 points. Maze's task to take the lead back in the Finals seems very hard. She is behind Fenninger in all disciplines but slalom and the 15th place of the last slalom would give no points at the Finals where only fifteen best get points.

Speed disciplines have recently been Maze's strongest disciplines and they may be a chance for her to catch and overtake Fenninger. But Fenninger is so strong in speed disciplines that it is equally possible Fenninger will further expand her lead. Giant slalom is the discipline where Fenninger has the biggest advantage over Maze and it will be hard for Maze to make up the deficit in slalom where she hasn't been on podium since mid-January. To win the title, Maze needs perfect races and probably also poor results from Fenninger. Given it's been Fenninger with great results and Maze with poor results, Fenninger seems to be on the way to the overall World Cup title.

Mikaela Shiffrin is on the third place, 58 points ahead of Lindsey Vonn. Vonn will probably overtake her after the speed races but looking at the previous races, Shiffrin will probably score well over 100 points in the technical disciplines, maybe over 150. So, to finish the overall standings on third place, Vonn may need to win both speed races, what she may also need for the titles in those disciplines.

Women's downhill


Anna Fenninger caught Lindsey Vonn by 44 points in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and is now 35 points behind. Including the World Championships, Fenninger has now three second places in a row in downhill whereas Vonn's best downhill result from that period is a fifth place at the Worlds. Now Vonn needs a strong performance to keep her points lead. Fifth place is enough if Fenninger is again second. If Fenninger wins, Vonn needs to be second. Tina Maze has a very slim chance for the title. She is 96 points behind Vonn and 61 behind Fenninger. To win the title, she would have to win and Vonn would have to miss the top 15 as well as Fenninger would have to miss the top 6. So that is a very unlikely scenario.

I still trust in Vonn here, she is the best downhill skier on women's side. In the second Garmisch race, the super-G, Vonn won and Fenninger was only third, even though super-G should be Vonn's weaker and Fenninger's better discipline. I expect yet another solid performance by Fenninger in the final downhill but Vonn has the capabilities to do what is needed for the title.

Women's super-G


Vonn regained the super-G points lead from Fenninger in Garmisch, one week after having lost it in Bansko. But with a minimal gap of eight points, this is getting to be a one-race shootout for the title. By beating Vonn, Fenninger would be close to taking the lead in the final race, a podium finish would surely be enough in that case.

While I rate Vonn above Fenninger as a super-G skier, Fenninger is closer to her in super-G than in downhill and she's been in a great form recently. But I really can't choose the title favorite here.

Women's slalom


Mikaela Shiffrin leads the slalom standings by 90 points to Frida Hansdotter. Hansdotter's only chance is to win the final race and Shiffrin would have to miss the top 15. That is quite unlikely a scenario; Shiffrin has won the last two World Cup slaloms plus the World Championship slalom and hasn't missed the top 15 all season long. Hansdotter has only one win and only one of her second places was a loss to Shiffrin; that was at the World Championships.

Women's giant slalom


Anna Fenninger leads the giant slalom standings to Eva-Maria Brem by 86 points. The situation is quite the same as in slalom. Brem's only chance is to win the final race and Fenninger would have to miss the top 15. Also, Fenninger's recent giant slalom record reminds of Shiffrin in slalom, she's won the last two World Cup giant slaloms plus the World Championship giant slalom and hasn't missed the top 15 all season long. And just like Hansdotter in slalom, Brem has only one win in giant slalom, so the scenario of her winning the giant slalom title is very unlikely.