EJ Viso slots in nicely in pinch-hit role for Hinch Sunday at IMS

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Welcome back, EJ Viso, even if it’s in admittedly less than ideal circumstances.

The Venezuelan was forced to withdraw on the eve of the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, with Carlos Munoz drafted in as a last-minute replacement at Andretti Autosport.

Now it’s Viso’s turn to deputize for one of the Andretti quartet, with James Hinchcliffe sidelined due to a concussion suffered during the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Hinchcliffe was checked and released Satruday evening from Indianapolis Methodist hospital with symptoms of a concussion. On Sunday, the Canadian made a brief appearance, but no medical evaluation was performed today and the three-time race winner returned to his Indianapolis home to rest and recuperate. Hinchcliffe could return to the speedway for re-evaluation as early as Tuesday, however a date for his next medical visit has not yet been set. In the meantime, the Canadian is not cleared to drive in Indy 500 practice sessions.

That leaves it to Viso to fill-in in the interim. On Sunday, he was immediately comfortable and back up to speed in his first running of any kind since driving Starworks Motorsport’s Riley Dinan Daytona Prototype at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, and his first running in an IndyCar since the streets of Houston last October. He ended sixth at 222.105 mph after 28 laps, most of them in traffic.

“So far things have been pretty smooth,” Viso said. “I love working with these guys. Last year I had an amazing year, an amazing experience, and I only have positive things to talk about my teammates and my team. This opportunity just showed up overnight.”

Viso also addressed the flow of information regarding his appointment to the seat on Saturday. The Venezuelan tweeted a picture of him in Hinchcliffe’s firesuit shortly after news got out he had a concussion, but later deleted the tweet.

“Of course we all know what happened to Hinch – at the same time, he is a great friend of mine, he was my teammate last year,” he said. “Right now I’m helping him out, putting miles on his car and hoping he comes back soon and jumps back in. It’s all credit to the team; we have a very strong car, and I think with the little things we’re tuning up, they’ll become very important later on in the week when we start trimming the car. As of now we have a good database from last year to start the month off.”

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.