Marco Andretti: “I need to be consistently better”

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Marco Andretti has done good in the first two races of the IZOD IndyCar Series season, collecting a podium finish in the opener at St. Petersburg and a Top-10 finish in the most recent race at Barber Motorsports Park. But with Andretti Autosport teammates James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay winning those events, the third-generation racer seems to figure that “good” is not good enough.

“I really worked on consistency in the off-season so it’s a decent start to that. But when I look at two of my teammates who have won the first two races, I need to be consistently better,” Andretti said to reporters at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. “I think if we keep knocking on the door like we have been…Like even last weekend, we had another good shot at another podium, but we lost a lot of time coming out behind another car. We’ve been driving good, so we have to keep doing that.”

Andretti will look to continue the momentum at Long Beach, where his grandfather Mario and father/team owner Michael notched a combined five victories during their driving careers. However, he himself has not had as much success at the Beach. His highest finish there so far is a sixth-place result from 2009, and his last two Beach starts each ended with a DNF.

But coming out of the gate strong this year has him feeling confident, and despite winding up 17th on the combined time sheets in Friday’s practice sessions, he believes he and his No. 25 team are on the right track.

“There is still a lot of speed out there for us to find, and I am feeling optimistic thinking about our potential heading into tomorrow’s [pre-qualifying] practice,” he said. “Today, we tried a lot of different things, but set-ups are always a tricky thing to figure out. It’s great that the track is pretty similar to a year ago, so we can definitely put something together that will keep us competitive this weekend.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.