De Silvestro set for her best chance yet in IndyCar with Andretti in St. Pete

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Simona de Silvestro will arrive at the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as fourth driver for Andretti Autosport, unsure of her future in the team beyond the first race.

The above sentence was written in a similar way five years ago, with a few different words:

Ryan Hunter-Reay will arrive at the IZOD IndyCar Series’ season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 as fourth driver for Andretti Autosport, but unsure of his future in the team beyond the first few races.

Indeed, de Silvestro will try to emulate what Hunter-Reay did when she makes her team debut in a few weeks, because the American was in a similar situation when he got his shot ahead of the 2010 season.

Hunter-Reay was one of America’s top open-wheel prospects in Formula Atlantic and overachieved in a Reynard chassis as a rookie in the 2003 CART season. But two years with midlevel teams – HVM being one of them – followed before he was tossed out just before the end of 2005.

He made it back in with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won a race and lost a ride when a sponsor departed. An eleventh hour deal with Vision Racing and an injury fill-in role with A.J. Foyt Enterprises kept him afloat in 2009, but those were both temporary.

This leads us nicely to 2010, when Andretti had a fourth car to fill, and the team provided Hunter-Reay the opportunity of a lifetime for an early season deal that was not confirmed for the full season, at least initially.

Hunter-Reay promptly finished runner-up on his team debut in Sao Paulo – a race where de Silvestro made her series debut – won at Long Beach a couple races later and had a full season confirmed by midseason.

De Silvestro enters Andretti’s fourth car having followed a similar career path. The Swiss driver raced in the U.S. for the first time in 2006, notably scoring a podium in Formula BMW on the Formula 1 weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Three seasons in Atlantics followed and like Hunter-Reay, she won races but came up just shy of a title.

Her first three IndyCar seasons were spent with HVM Racing, a team which Hunter-Reay drove for and overachieved with. Several races marked her a potential future standout, notably her qualifying seventh her first year at Edmonton, finishing fourth at St. Petersburg and setting the fastest race lap in Sao Paulo in 2011.

But her year with a Lotus-powered sled in 2012 did her no favors; she won over fans even more with her class and resiliency in the face of driving a car with an inferior powerplant.

A chance with KV Racing Technology in 2013 was a roller coaster campaign. Several highs occurred, including her overdue first career podium in Houston, but a rough middle portion of the season and general inconsistency made it a mixed year in total. By the end of the season, her future in the sport was in doubt, more due to a lack of seat vacancies than a lack of ability level.

Her F1 dream fizzled before it ever truly had a chance to materialize. Sauber’s financial woes meant an early end to her planned testing program. She also announced a split from her longtime manager, and began targeting a return to the U.S.

Wednesday’s announcement for de Silvestro with Andretti was only confirmed for one race, but, it likely will be the start of a relationship for further races provided it goes smoothly.

For years, observers have noted her talent level and said if she had the right opportunity, she could be a race winner in IndyCar. She’s been hailed for her strength level to handle the high downforce (particularly now with the new aero kits) cars that lack power steering.

She’ll have a support group of teammates that is two more than she’s ever had in IndyCar. Tony Kanaan was her only teammate in 2013 at KV; with Andretti, she’ll have Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and, naturally, Hunter-Reay to compare data and notes with.

She steps into the team that has worked to find additional sponsorship for its drivers. For example, DHL, Hunter-Reay’s primary sponsor, is on board for a three-year extension through 2017.

She has a big volume of fan support, as witnessed by the seemingly endless explosion of congratulatory posts hitting on Facebook and Twitter this morning.

She’ll also have no excuses, and with a lot of eyeballs on her, a fair bit of pressure to perform. This is a seat that has been linked with Justin Wilson all winter, among others, and while de Silvestro is still one of IndyCar’s more capable shoes, she’s not quite at Wilson’s level. Yet, anyway.

But this is a driver who has been defined by resilience, and refused to be defeated. She’s smiled after walking away from two fiery crashes. She’s garnered “Iron Maiden” as one of her nicknames.

She’s been in the U.S. for the better part of 10 years, save for last year, working tirelessly to advance into a seat of this caliber.

And in a one-shot deal, she’s got the best opportunity of her career, by far.

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.