A tough finale, but Pagenaud, SPM end third in points after great year

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Simon Pagenaud’s last race of the year didn’t go according to plan – a late-race engine issue thwarted a great comeback after an early race tire issue – but the driver of the No. 77 HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda ended the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series third in the points standings, an incredible effort.

Pagenaud, in his second full season in IndyCar after a partial 2011 and a solitary Champ Car campaign in 2007, produced the second straight top-five championship finish for Sam Schmidt’s squad. He was fifth last year and secured the SUNOCO Rookie-of-the-Year honors – an achievement matched by teammate Tristan Vautier this year – while in 2013, Pagenaud got his first two victories at Detroit Race 2 and Baltimore as part of a second half surge this year.

“We’ve been able to show that we can be strong on each type of track now,” Pagenaud said in a team release. “It’s only our second year but we came home third in the championship, which is seriously cool. I’m so proud of the guys and the HP team for what we’ve accomplished this year.”

As for the race itself, Pagenaud was forced to pit on Lap 5 with his tire pressures too high, so he changed all four. That put him a lap down and sent him into an early hole. However, he recovered admirably throughout the rest of the night, getting back on the lead lap and making it into the top five before the late-race engine issue with just 33 laps remaining. Pagenaud was classified 13th.

“The first few laps were difficult because we had an issue with our tires,” Pagenaud said. “Luckily we were able to recover from that. We had an incredible race car, and I couldn’t believe how strong it was in traffic. We drove our way back from one lap down to eighth, and then we even ran as high as fourth.”

Pagenaud’s former teammate at Team Australia in that 2007 Champ Car season, Will Power, leapt to fourth in the final standings with his third win in the last five races. One-time points leader Marco Andretti, who finished seventh, secured fifth in the championship and was best of the four Andretti Autosport cars.

The rest of the top 10: Justin Wilson, defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti. Wilson’s sixth is the best for Dale Coyne Racing since Bruno Junqueira was seventh in that 2007 Champ Car campaign, and ninth for Kimball is a career-best.

More on all their seasons will come in the following days and weeks.

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.