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.


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.


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'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'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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Ski Jumping World Cup title battle: four competitions remaining

The 2014-15 ski jumping season is coming to its end. There are four individual competitions left in the World Cup: two in large hill in Holmenkollen in Oslo this weekend and two in flying hill in Planica next weekend. Three men are well ahead of the rest of the field and will decide the World Cup title; Severin Freund leads Peter Prevc by 34 points and Stefan Kraft by 46 points.

Freund has been a very consistent top jumper after the Four Hills Tournament. Excluding the Sapporo competitions that he skipped, he's been on podium in all but two competitions, one of those podium misses having been a fourth place and the other being a disqualification. He was the best jumper of the World Championships, a dominant win in the large hill and a second place in the normal hill narrowly missing the win. After the Worlds, he was second in Lahti and won in Kuopio and Trondheim, even though in the latter he wouldn't probably have won without Kraft's binding problem.

Prevc's form in the recent weeks hasn't looked so good and he's been inconsistent. He had good results since the beginning of the season, was third at the Four Hills, had strong results after the Four Hills, and won in Sapporo and Vikersund, giving him the World Cup lead. But the World Championships after Vikersund were a disappointment. He was 13th in the normal hill and 4th in the large hill and failed to repeat his two-medal performances from the previous Worlds from two years ago and last year's Olympics. And while 4th, 17th, and 2nd places from the last three World Cup competitions aren't such a bad result, the worrying thing for him is that he just seems unable to match Freund and Kraft. I hope the pressure isn't too much for him but this is starting to seem like yet another title this season he can't eventually fight for. Prevc couldn't stay in the Four Hills title contention in the last two competitions and he couldn't win a medal at the Worlds despite having been one of the favorites to succeed. Now I hope he can bring his best to the remaining World Cup competitions to get a strong finish to his season, no matter if he wins the title or not.

Kraft made his big breakthrough this season when he won the Four Hills Tournament. Since then he's been consistently on top but he lost the World Cup lead when he skipped the ski flying weekend of Vikersund to prepare for the World Championships. Third in the normal hill and fifth in the large hill was a decent World Championships performance by him even though nowhere near to Freund's performance. But after the Worlds he's been great. A dominant win in Lahti, third place in Kuopio, and an unlucky 9th place in Trondheim. He had a great first jump in Trondheim but an unlucky binding problem on the second round may have cost him the win. The only fortunate thing is he could handle the dangerous situation and land safely; otherwise his World Cup campaign might have been over.

But who is the favorite? The gaps are small given there are four competitions left. Kraft can overtake Freund already after the Holmenkollen competitions if he jumps like in Lahti and Trondheim. And while Prevc has recently been the weakest of these three, he hasn't lost anything yet. But looking at the recent form, Freund and Kraft are the favorites. Kraft seems like the best jumper at the moment. Though, the last two competitions will be in a flying hill and Freund and Prevc are well-accomplished in ski flying. Freund is leading the Ski Flying World Cup by 85 points after three of five competitions. He has wins from Kulm and Vikersund and he won the Ski Flying World Championship gold medal last season. Prevc is second in ski flying standings, won in Vikersund, and won the Ski Flying World Cup crystal globe last year, even though it consisted of only two competitions. Kraft doesn't have such a record from ski flying but he was second in Kulm this season so ski flying shouldn't be a problem for him. But if he couldn't reduce the gap to Freund and Prevc in the large hill of Holmenkollen and even build some lead, then I'd prefer Freund's and Prevc's chances to win the title in Planica as a flying hill should benefit them. But I expect a tight battle of the title between two or even all three of the candidates until the last competition. Kraft should be strong, Freund should be strong, and Prevc can be just as good. Right now Kraft would be my pick for the title, he's the best jumper at the moment and 46 points isn't such a huge gap with four competitions remaining.

To not miss the remaining competitions, add the World Cup calendar with start times to Google Calendar.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

2015 Alpine Skiing World Cup title battles: overall, giant slalom, and slalom

Next weekend there will be the second-last World Cup races of the season in technical disciplines. Women will race on Friday and Saturday in Åre and men will race on Saturday and Sunday in Kranjska Gora. In my previous post, I wrote about the speed disciplines' World Cup title battles, now I write about the technical disciplines' title battles as well as about the overall World Cup.

Men's overall

Kjetil Jansrud reduced Marcel Hirscher's lead from 188 points to 52 points in the speed events of Kvitfjell but that is too little too late. Hirscher is the big favorite for Saturday's giant slalom and can also win Sunday's slalom. While Jansrud does giant slalom, he will probably score only small points, and the gap can be after Kranjska Gora even bigger than before Kvitfjell.

The battle for the third place is more interesting. Alexis Pinturault is 17 points ahead of Dominik Paris and 20 points ahead of Felix Neureuther. Paris is in the worst position of these as he doesn't race in Kranjska Gora. I fancy Neureuther's chances to finish the season on overall third place. He has recently been on Pinturault's level in giant slalom and his slalom is very strong. Pinturault does slalom and super-G besides giant slalom but he seems unable to score high enough points in those disciplines to match Neureuther's slalom points. Paris's chance for third place would be to have excellent final downhill and super-G races in Méribel and he would need mediocre races from Pinturault and Neureuther.

Men's slalom

I think men's slalom has the most interesting title battle of technical disciplines in either gender. The last two years' runner-up Neureuther leads the last two years' champion Hirscher by 66 points. Neureuther has been having a solid slalom season, only one retirement and otherwise always on podium, winning two races. Hirscher has been more inconsistent. Two wins but also a retirement and two other missed podiums. And we saw that inconsistency also at the World Championships where he ran out in the second run after being fastest in the first run.

66 points is a good lead but this title battle may still be far from over. I think Hirscher is the fastest slalom skier. Despite the inconsistent results this season, I could see him even winning the remaining two slaloms. And in that case, two third places wouldn't be enough for Neureuther. On the other hand, Neureuther can secure the slalom title in Kranjska Gora by scoring 35 points more than Hirscher. I think this will come to whether Neureuther can perform up to his potential. If he can, then the title should be his. If he can't, then Hirscher will get a chance for the title. And the overall standings may play a role here. If Hirscher needs a safe result for the overall, he may not be able to threaten Neureuther then. A third place in Kranjska Gora wouldn't be enough for Hirscher to take the title decision to the final race if Neureuther wins.

Men's giant slalom

Men's giant slalom title is almost secure for Hirscher already. All he needs is 12 points if currently second-placed Ligety won the remaining two races. A top 19 result in Kranjska Gora secures the title for Hirscher.

Women's overall

The gap between Tina Maze and Anna Fenninger remained in 44 points as they both had a second and a third place in the speed events of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. So, it seems like speed events won't make a big difference between them but the technical events next weekend in Åre and in the Finals in Méribel may make. Maze's former parade discipline giant slalom has been her worst discipline this season. She won a giant slalom in next weekend's venue Åre in December but after that her best giant slalom result has been the fifth place at the World Championships. Meanwhile Fenninger has been in a great giant slalom form in the last races. She was second after Christmas in Kühtai, won the World Championship giant slalom, and after the Worlds, she won the latest World Cup giant slalom in Maribor. To offset the deficit to Fenninger in giant slalom, Maze may need podium finishes in slalom. She has three podium results from this season's seven World Cup slaloms. But she failed to finish in the latest slalom in Maribor and she was only eighth in the World Championship slalom.

Looking at the latest races, it seems like Fenninger will overtake Maze in the standings, Maze hasn't been in her best form. But if Maze can bring her best in the remaining races, then I think doing all four disciplines should win the title for her.

The third-place battle is between two Americans, Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin. In the speed races of Garmisch, Vonn turned a deficit of 44 points into a lead of 92 points. Now the technical events of Åre provide Shiffrin a chance to overtake Vonn. Even if Vonn did giant slalom, Shiffrin is still almost likely to overtake Vonn next weekend. Including the World Championships, Shiffrin has won four of her five last slalom races and finished one on third place. In her weaker discipline, she has won one race this season and her worst giant slalom result of the season was a tenth place in Åre in December.

Women's giant slalom

The defending champion Anna Fenninger leads Eva-Maria Brem by 46 points. Brem started the season well with three podium finishes, including a win in Aspen. But her recent results don't seem like she could challenge Fenninger for the title. Fenninger has been in a great form, a win and a second pace from the last two World Cup giant slaloms and a win at the World Championships. Mikaela Shiffrin scored her first giant slalom win this season but she is 71 points behind Fenninger, which is probably too much for her to catch.

Fenninger can secure the giant slalom title already in Åre by scoring 55 points more than Brem and 30 points more than Shiffrin. If Fenninger won, Brem would need a top 4 result and Shiffrin a second place to stay in contention for the title.

Women's slalom

In women's slalom, the two-time defending champion Shiffrin is leading the standings. Her closest rival is last year's runner-up Frida Hansdotter 30 points behind. I trust in Shiffrin here. Hansdotter is a great slalom skier but Shiffrin is just better. But Shiffrin still needs strong performances to win the title. If she had to retire and Hansdotter won, Hansdotter would suddenly have a 70-point lead and need only a top 8 result in the final race. And this hasn't been a flawless season for Shiffrin, she needed four races to win or even make the podium in slalom. Since then she's been great, though. Always on podium, winning all but one race.

To secure the slalom title in Åre, Shiffrin would need 71 points more than Hansdotter. If Shiffrin won, then Hansdotter would need a top 8 result to stay in contention for the title.

Speed disciplines

In speed disciplines, the first crystal globe is already decided as Jansrud won the Kvitfjell super-G and extended his points lead over second-placed Paris to over hundred points. In downhill he wasn't able to secure the title in Kvitfjell though. The winner of the Kvitfjell downhill, Hannes Reichelt, reduced the gap to 20 points before the final downhill.

In women's speed disciplines, Vonn leads both downhill and super-G standings. Fenninger reduced her downhill points lead to 35 points whereas in the super-G standings Vonn overtook Fenninger to lead by eight points.

I will write more about the speed disciplines standings before the World Cup Finals in Méribel.

Friday, March 6, 2015

2015 Alpine Skiing World Cup title battles: overall, downhill, and super-G

The last three weeks of the Alpine Skiing World Cup are here. Both men and women have eight races remaining, two in each discipline. This is a week of speed events; men race in Kvitfjell and women in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

Women's overall

Women's overall title battle seems like the more interesting overall battle. Tina Maze's huge lead in the overall standings has decreased to 44 points over Anna Fenninger. Maze didn't really dominate any discipline at any time this season. But her consistency in all four disciplines build her points lead. She seemed to run away from defending champion Fenninger who doesn't do slalom. But the downhill of St. Moritz feels like where Fenninger's World Cup campaign really started; second place after mediocre downhill performances until then. And after that she has been in top 2 in all her starts but the World Championship combined where she was fourth.

Actually, also Maze seems to be in a great form right now. Like Fenninger, she won two gold and one silver medal at the World Championships, and last weekend she was second in both races. But, it was Fenninger who finished ahead of her in those races. And in giant slalom she looks unable to match Fenninger. Of course, Maze is a capable slalom skier but even good slalom results may not be enough when Fenninger is beating her in other disciplines. Given their respective form, Fenninger may overtake Maze in points already in the speed events in Garmisch this weekend and keep the lead in the technical events in Åre before the Finals week.

Women's super-G

Fenninger didn't only take a huge leap towards the overall leader Maze in Bansko but she also took over the super-G World Cup lead from Lindsey Vonn and leads now with 32 points. Fenninger has been very consistent this season; she's finished every super-G and after the eighth place of the first race, she had three second places in a row. After winning the super-G at the World Championships, she won her first super-G on the World Cup Tour last weekend.

Vonn's season in super-G has been great too. She has two wins in the World Cup, one second, and one third place but also one retirement. Her recent form leaves some questions. Her only medal at the Worlds was bronze in the super-G won by Fenninger and last weekend in Bansko she was third in the super-G also won by Fenninger. But I feel this title can go either way. Fenninger has some lead and if she beats Vonn in Garmisch this weekend, I believe she will go to win the super-G title. But if Vonn beats Fenninger in Garmisch, then I think it will be a fifty-fifty situation before the final race. And of course, Fenninger can secure the title already in Garmisch, even though it is unlikely. Even if she won, Vonn should be out of the top 8. And if Vonn retired or were 20th at best, Fenninger should be second.

Women's downhill

Vonn has a 79-point lead over Fenninger in the downhill standings. She has a realistic chance of securing the title this weekend. If she wins, Fenninger must be second to keep the title battle open until the final race. If she is second, Fenninger must be third. If she is third, Fenninger must be fourth, etc. But even third places in the remaining two races wouldn't be enough if Fenninger won both races.

Vonn has three wins from this season whereas Fenninger has none. But just like in super-G, the recent races have gone better for Fenninger. Fenninger was second in the latest World Cup downhill in St. Moritz and in the World Championship downhill. Vonn was 23rd and 5th in those races. Vonn probably needs to do better than that to win the downhill title. If Fenninger is second in the remaining two races, Vonn needs at least a fifth and a sixth place or something like that. But Vonn is surely the favorite here; she is the best downhill skier on women's side.

Men's overall

Men's overall World Cup has been a battle between Marcel Hirscher and Kjetil Jansrud. Jansrud started his season well and was in top 2 in all speed races before Christmas, winning four of six. Since then, he has made the podium only twice, win in the Kitzbühel downhill and third place in the Saalbach super-G. That drop in form has very much dropped him out of contention for the overall World Cup title.

Hirscher is having a great giant slalom season. The only World Cup giant slalom he didn't won was in Beaver Creek where he was third, on the same slope where he suffered another defeat in giant slalom this season at the World Championships. In slalom he hasn't been quite as good. At times he has been great in slalom but he hasn't really stood out in that discipline. Some poor slalom races by his standards gave Jansrud some chances in the overall title battle but Jansrud couldn't have the results to stay in the battle.

Hirscher's lead is 188 points which is quite impossible for Jansrud to catch. If Jansrud won both races in Kvitfjell this weekend, he would overtake Hirscher in the overall points. But then Hirscher would have two technical races in the following weekend to take the lead again and build some gap. The battle for the 3rd place is almost more interesting with Alexis Pinturault, Felix Neureuther, Matthias Mayer, Dominik Paris, and Fritz Dopfer being within only 83 points. I will write more about that 3rd-place battle in next weeks.

Men's downhill

Men's downhill title seemed to be going to Jansrud after his great start to the season, wins in the first two races and second place in the third downhill. Dominik Paris seemed like his main rival but unable to match Jansrud. But Jansrud has struggled after the Christmas break; only one downhill podium, a win in Kitzbühel. In Garmisch last weekend, Jansrud even missed the top 15; a result which would award no points at the Word Cup Finals. But Paris has also been struggling lately and hasn't been able to benefit from Jansrud's mediocre results.

Austrians Hannes Reichelt and Matthias Mayer seem like the main rivals for Jansrud now. Reichelt is 84 points behind Jansrud and Mayer is 113 points behind. They both have a win and a third place from the last two downhill races, i.e. 160 points. Jansrud got only 40 points in those races. So, Jansrud needs to perform better to not lose the downhill World Cup he's lead all season long. And I believe he has the potential for that. So many times he's been good in training but mediocre in races. He needs to bring his best to races now. Also, Paris is actually one point ahead of Mayer in the standings but his recent results don't imply he might have what it takes to win the downhill title this season; he rather struggles to even make it into the top 3 of the final points.

While Jansrud's lead has decreased, he has a decent chance to secure the downhill title in his home race in Kvitfjell this weekend. He needs 17 points more than Reichelt and can lose 12 points to Paris and Mayer. A win would secure the title, no matter how others perform.

Men's super-G

Just like downhill, super-G has seemed since December like Jansrud's title to lose. And just like in downhill, Paris seemed to be his main rival. But like in downhill, both Jansrud and Paris seem to have a dip in their super-G form. And with a win two weeks ago in Saalbach, Mayer joined the battle for the super-G title.

Luckily for Jansrud, super-G seems like his best discipline right now. But third place two weeks ago in Saalbach is his only podium in super-G after the New Year. Paris has three super-G podiums from this season, including a win in Kitzbühel. But given his poor form recently, I doubt he can catch Jansrud's 73-point lead. Mayer is 102 points behind Jansrud but given his recent great form in speed disciplines, I think he has better chances than Paris. But I think Jansrud's lead should be too much for Mayer; Jansrud seems still too good to lose over 100 points in two races, unless Mayer won them both.

And like in downhill, Jansrud has a chance to secure also the super-G title in Kvitfjell this weekend. He needs 28 points more than Paris and can lose by one point to Mayer. If Jansrud won the Kvitfjell super-G, Paris would need a second place to retain a small chance for the super-G title.

Technical disciplines

I will write about the technical disciplines before next week's technical events in Kranjska Gora (men) and Åre (women). And to not miss the remaining races, add the World Cup calendar with start times to Google Calendar.