Porsche, OAK capture Le Mans class victories

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Perhaps unexpectedly, Porsche swept through to take class victories in both GTE Pro and GTE Am with two different iterations of its iconic 911. The victories are the 99th and 100th in class for Porsche at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Its new 911, the 991 that is campaigned in a two-car works effort from Weissach with preparation from Team Manthey, finished 1-2 in GTE Pro with a clean drive from both cars. All their rivals from Aston Martin, Ferrari, Corvette and SRT didn’t quite have the pace, consistency or luck to match.

Marc Lieb, Richard Lietz and Romain Dumas co-drove the winning No. 92 991, with second place taken by the No. 91 driven by Jorg Bergmeister, Patrick Pilet and Timo Bernhard. The No. 91 had earlier contact with a Ferrari in the pit lane so did well to recover from that, while the No. 92 largely ran trouble-free.

Aston Martin’s underlying pace resulted in only one podium finish – third for its “Art Car” No. 97 Vantage driven by Stefan Mucke, Darren Turner and Peter Dumbreck.

All in all though, it had been such a challenging day for Aston, who pressed on gracefully after the tragedy in the first hour with the accident that claimed driver Allan Simonsen.

Porsche also took the GTE Am class win with the No. 76 Imsa Performance Matmut 911 GT3 RSR, a 2012-spec car, with co-drivers JK Vernay, Christophe Bourret and Raymond Narac. AF Corse’s two Ferrari F458 Italias finished second and third, just ahead of the Dempsey Del Piero Racing Porsche co-driven with Patrick Dempsey, Joe Foster and Patrick Long.

OAK Racing captured a 1-2 in LMP2, with ex-IndyCar drivers Bertrand Baguette and Martin Plowman sharing the class-winning No. 35 Morgan Nissan with Ricardo Gonzalez. The polesitting No. 24 finished second in the hands of Olivier Pla, Alex Brundle and David Heinemeier Hansson, and the G-Drive Racing No. 26 Oreca 03 Nissan of Mike Conway, John Martin and Roman Rusinov secured the final podium position in class.

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.