Rahal’s reboot will take more time

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The engineering reboot at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn’t immediately pay dividends at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend.

As part of a team restructuring effort, Graham Rahal’s engineer Gerry Hughes was reassigned to be the team’s Head of Development, with ex-Dragon Racing hand Neil Fife brought in to help stem the tide of a frustrating season.

Initial signs from the weekend weren’t promising. Rahal lost a day of testing on Wednesday due to fuel issues, his second lost test day this year (Barber open test). He qualified only 22nd and finished only 18th in the No. 15 Midas/Big-O Tires Honda on a day he and his home fans in Columbus would rather forget.

“It was a struggle all day. The car was loose from the get-go, really loose.  Here, where you have these high commitment corners when you are loose it’s a struggle and unfortunately we never really came to grips with that,”  he said. “Obviously I’m disappointed. We wanted to show better at my home race but unfortunately this is all we had today. We’ve just got to keep soldiering on. Nothing is coming easy to us right now. We’re just not competitive so we have to just keep working hard. We are looking forward to the test day in Sonoma, without a doubt. Hopefully we can get out there and get a lot done.”

James Jakes continues to punch above his weight in the second RLL car, the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda. The affable Englishman outqualified Rahal for the eighth time in the last 10 races, with a respectable 10th place effort. That said, 13th wasn’t a result to write home about on his 26th birthday.

“It was a pretty frustrating race really,” said Jakes. “We started tenth, lost a spot on the start. Everyone else was on red tires and the three guys that were on blacks in front of us Marco, Pagenaud and ourselves all caught up to each other and I thought we were in a good position.  We had pretty good laps going and I was quite happy with the balance of the car but then we just got stuck behind the guys that were doing the two stop race and that just killed us. It was difficult to overtake and we struggled from then on.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.