Panther’s TBA seat has a few good possibilities

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With two yet to-be-announced seats ahead of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ race at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday night, we’ll offer some thoughts on potential drivers of Panther Racing’s No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet, and Dale Coyne’s No. 18 Honda, which won the first race at Detroit.

Well, we were going to, but it appears the No. 18 announcement has been made via Twitter, and Pippa Mann appears set for that seat in Texas.

But as for the No. 4, hey, we won’t have the chance to make these prognostications after Wednesday, and we didn’t have the chance to make any last season with only one in-season driver change (Bruno Junqueira filling in for an injured Josef Newgarden in Baltimore).

No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet/Panther Racing

  • Oriol Servia. If contractual issues can get sorted, this is probably your guy. His Texas results aren’t great (two DNFs in four starts, with best finish of 15th), nor did he endear himself to the locals with a tweet concerning the track’s safety aspects as it was the first 1.5-mile race since Las Vegas 2011. But in terms of his ability to jump in a car last-minute and get up to speed, plus with having worked in Panther’s technical partnership team of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, a near obvious choice.
  • Townsend Bell. No NBC broadcasting commitments or American Le Mans Series race this weekend, plus he tweeted last weekend in Detroit he “wanted to pull a Mike Conway” and go from couch to cockpit and win. Oh, and driving for Panther at the Indianapolis 500 didn’t hurt. Has only one prior Texas start, ninth in 2004 for, you guessed it, Panther.
  • Carlos Munoz. He did alright in his IndyCar debut at the Indianapolis 500, eh? A less likely or viable candidate given his Andretti Autosport contract, but he does have IndyCar testing miles under his belt at Texas earlier this year, and has been rumored as a possibility.
  • A.N. Other No. 1. Ryan Briscoe, who drove at Detroit, is now in Europe for Le Mans advance work, and Conor Daly is there likewise in Hungary. Katherine Legge could fit, potentially, as a driver who raced at Texas last year.

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his 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.