James Jakes ends his best weekend in IndyCar with first podium

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Mike Conway stole the early headlines this weekend in Detroit as the “spoiler British driver,” but come Sunday, the other under-the-radar Englishman in the IZOD IndyCar Series field – James Jakes – had his day.

Jakes spent the first two years of his career in Dale Coyne’s second car, and rarely made a huge impression. That said, being a mistake-free, clean and relatively quick driver who was close enough on times to teammate Justin Wilson has earned him his place within the field.

This year, Jakes has been a man reborn in the new confines of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He’s meshed well with engineer Eddie Jones, and the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda has shown further speed increases, often times outqualifying teammate Graham Rahal.

Jakes struggled massively on Firestone’s red alternate tires in Saturday’s Chevrolet Indy Dual at Detroit race one, and fell to a disappointing 10th place from third on the grid. Come Sunday, the RLL team had found a much nicer balance on the reds, and he had a chance from second on the grid, where he finished.

“We qualified on the blacks this week because the car was working so well on them,” Jakes explained. “We really, really struggled on the reds. The game plan yesterday was to put them on and get them out of the way as quick as possible. We did that, but we lost so much ground.

“I mean, we knew we wanted a chance at a podium today, maintaining a position where we started, we had to find a bit of consistency on the reds,” he added. “Big credit to the guys because we found a lot. Yesterday in the race we couldn’t get in the 79s on red. Today we got in the 77s or low 78s. Without that we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

More than finding a setup on the reds, Jakes also had to avoid the first-turn pileup on lap 28, and he almost made it through unscathed. He needed a front wing change and was “hit from all angles,” but otherwise emerged without damage.

“I actually hurt my wrist, the one I hurt a couple years ago, so I was a bit worried about that,” he noted. “We had a window towards the end of the race where everyone pitted in front of us, the track really opened up, and we were able to leapfrog a lot of people. That’s what put us in the position really.”

His day included some surprise guests – Jakes’ girlfriend made last-minute arrangements to fly up to Detroit from Orlando, and Jakes’ fan club, “Jakesy Nation,” was also in attendance and viewed Sunday’s race from pit side grandstands in Turn 1.

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.