Rosberg praises team’s setup as help in securing Austin pole

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AUSTIN – Nico Rosberg has praised his Mercedes’ team’s setup on his W05 as the deciding factor in claiming his ninth pole position of the year Saturday at Circuit of the Americas. That total leads all drivers, and is two ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton’s seven.

This one seemed a bit of a surprise as Hamilton had led all three practice sessions coming into qualifying. But Rosberg said setup, rather than his own digging deep and finding the time needed to snatch the pole, was more to thank.

“It worked out very well together with my engineers,” he said post-qualifying. “I was very happy with the balance. It was quite a challenge with the wind changing, conditions were different, and a lot colder (earlier in the day). In the end we had a great setup, great car.”

Rosberg exploited it to his advantage, particularly in what was a scintillating first sector. With a 25.662 sector one to Hamilton’s 25.847 on his ultimate best, Rosberg had time in hand to improve his fastest lap down to 1:36.067 at his final lap.

It was an impressive lap time, as the new formula of 1.6L V6 power units and on Pirelli’s soft tires (last year, the medium was the alternate whereas this year that’s the prime with the soft the alternate), produced a pole time quicker than Sebastian Vettel’s of 1:36.338 one year ago with the previous formula.

Rosberg upped the gap to 0.376 over Hamilton thanks to his pole time, and the Englishman could come no further.

Asked about the first sector specifically, Rosberg again downplayed it.

“I finally got the right setup together with the team,” he said. “We’ve continued to improve the car all the time. I felt comfortable and was finally able to push.”

Rosberg’s pole means he’ll start on the clean side of the track whilst Hamilton will be on the dirty side.

“I haven’t thought that far ahead yet, but if you say that’s good, that’s great,” Rosberg opined.

A win for Rosberg would be vital in the championship chase. He enters 17 points down to Hamilton with three races remaining. A Rosberg-led Mercedes 1-2 would close the gap to 10, and further inroads could be made if Hamilton falls further back on Sunday.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

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.