Ferrari Challenge, Porsche Supercup qualifying set before Saturday Austin races

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AUSTIN – Lest we forget that the U.S. Grand Prix at Austin is only Formula One, there are two other series on the docket this weekend.

Both the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and Ferrari Challenge are in action, as both series’ drivers cope with limited track time.

Practice and qualifying are in the books as of Saturday morning before their first races this afternoon. Ferraris run first from 3 to 3:35 p.m. local time for 10 laps or 25 minutes, while the Porsche run from 4 to 4:30, for 14 laps or 30 minutes. Sunday races run before the U.S. GP.

Ricardo Perez of Mexico City claimed the Saturday pole position for Ferrari of Houston, ahead of a second Ferrari of Houston entry driven by Mark McKenzie. The 35-car grid sees the field of Ferrari 458 Challenge entries with a wide grid gap of more than 9.2 seconds from the pole time (2:10.591) to the slowest qualifier (2:19.751).

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Thiim at Monza. Photo: Porsche

The Supercup series – which is stacked at the top with talent – had its qualifying after F1’s FP3.

Leading into qualifying, practice saw Kuba Giermaziak, Michael Ammermuller, Nicki Thiim, Ben Barker and Earl Bamber round out the top five – all bar Ammermuller made selected starts in North America this year in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Giermaziak’s fastest practice time was a 2:10.140, and the top seven in practice were separated by only 0.462 of a second.

Times dropped substantially from practice with Giermaziak setting the early pace once more at 2:08.334, and the top nine down to Christian Englehart (0.959 of a second back) were within a second halfway through the 30-minute session.

Giermaziak was poised to capture the pole position with his early session flier, but on his final lap, Thiim beat it with a 2:08.305. That edged Giermaziak by just 0.029 of a second. Ammermuller, Bamber and Eng completed the top five, all separated by just 0.201 of a second.

Beyond the leaders, there are several Americans in the Supercup race too. Young rising stars Madison Snow, Sean Johnston and Colin Thompson are entered along with David Ducote, Jeff Harrison, Tomy Drissi, Mark Kvamme and Bill Peluchiwski. Johnston, in 12th, is the top American on the grid with Snow 15th and Thompson 18th.

Unfortunately American Porsche Junior driver Connor de Phillippi was due to drive, but like Alexander Rossi on the Formula One side, his team ran into funding issues for his car that have sidelined him.

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.