The 2014 Long Beach weekend was just what the doctor ordered

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The sun has set on another Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.

And it’s at this point I suggest to Grand Prix Association of Long Beach President/CEO Jim Michaelian, that you and your staff take a victory lap around the 1.968-mile street course.

The numbers are still to come in terms of ticket sales, TV ratings and all the rest, but the 40th running of this historic event was one of its best yet.

To wit…

  • IndyCar’s weekend was unpredictable and loaded with drama. A Penske/Ganassi-free Firestone Fast Six? A near upset by a 23-year-old American on a single-car team, before contact with the last American series champion triggering a chain reaction incident? Two of the series’ biggest names making contact with other cars, yet avoiding penalties (one finished second)? And then a guy whose resting heart rate barely tops 50 beats per minute going out and capitalizing to score a surprise, yet deserved victory? Sunday’s race provided several examples of what can make the Verizon IndyCar Series great: a seriously tight field, surprise stars, no holds barred action, some emotion boiling over and seriously populated fans in grandstands ooing and awing at every moment. St. Petersburg was an appetizer to the 2014 season, but Long Beach truly provided the first main course.
  • Two sports car races that avoided major meltdowns and major accidents. Let’s be honest, here. Neither the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship nor Pirelli World Challenge got off to the smoothest of starts for their 2014 campaigns. Dramas over officiating, accidents and driver rankings were unfortunate story lines in the first two TUDOR Championship races; high demand overloaded the World Challenge live stream for its opener at St. Pete. But many issues were rectified in Long Beach. The TUDOR Championship ran a caution-free 100 minutes Saturday, with PWC tossing up a solid serving of sports car sprint racing Sunday afternoon. I had some fears there could be something of a political bloodbath this weekend – and yes, I did see some eyes gazing from drivers and officials in the respective paddocks to see how each side was operating – but nothing that indicated a war was about to break out. For once, it seemed as though the collective focus in both series was mainly on the racing, and that was a good thing.
  • Holy crowd, Batman. Or Spider-Man could work for that lead-in, since Tomy Drissi ran a livery promoting The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the PWC race on his Drissi Motorsports/TRG Aston Martin GT3. But yeah, this Spidey-liveried car was among the stars of the weekend to the throngs of youngsters in attendance.

    Besides the kids, there seemed to be a substantially bigger crowd here this year than last. Judging by Friday, a day that ordinarily I could skate between the media center and IndyCar/sports car paddocks without the need for much contorting of my body to fit through gaps that exist in the walkway, I had to resort to my Saturday/Sunday snaking skills to make it through without losing time in the crowd. That was all I needed to see first-hand – this was my ninth Long Beach weekend – to provide the impression that the crowd was up for the 40th, big time. And given the event’s future, with some making overtones for wanting an F1 return, I’m left thinking this was a crowd that really appreciates the IndyCar atmosphere.

  • Roll out your Who puns. The Who frontman Roger Daltrey was probably the biggest celebrity appearance of the weekend, although he wasn’t here to announce any reunions or musical ventures. No, Daltrey was here promoting Teen Cancer America – a U.S. arm of the organization he launched in the U.K. to help teens who have cancer. It’s a good cause – the TCA signage appeared on Justin Wilson’s No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda – and more will come later this week to MotorSportsTalk after I had a few minutes to speak with him on Sunday. Daltrey started the IndyCar race in one of the Honda two-seaters, driven by Mario Andretti.
  • So “Who Are You?” If you’re Colombian, you’re top 10. Among the weekend’s most interesting stats, all four Colombian IndyCar drivers finished in the top-10 in the IndyCar race. Carlos Munoz was third, with Juan Pablo Montoya fourth, Sebastian Saavedra ninth and Carlos Huertas 10th. Memorize that quartet now for the inevitable trivia question down the road…
  • “Gabby O’Reilly?” Perhaps it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Baba O’Reilly,” but hey, Gabby Chaves won the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race on Sunday and his name has two b’s in it, just like Baba does. Like podium finishers Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham, though, none are 21 yet so even though they’re nearly teenagers, they can’t get wasted.
  • I’ll stop with the Who puns now and wrap it up. Additional elements that add to the weekend were the other events – the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks, exotic car display over in what was the TUDOR Championship paddock the first two days of the weekend, and of course, the Long Beach area itself. People occasionally call Long Beach the “Monaco of the U.S.,” but other than the long history of the race I’m not sure that’s the best way to call it. Just call it what it is – Long Beach is Long Beach – and leave it at that. Because in 2014, Long Beach once again did not disappoint.

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.