Dixon on St. Pete: “The car was better than what I got out of it”

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With three finishes outside the top-14 on Sunday, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams did not kick off its 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the manner it would have wanted.

Granted, Tony Kanaan was able to salvage a third place, but teammate Scott Dixon ran through the gamut of issues in an ultimately frustrating opening weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Dixon noted the team’s different testing strategy, opting to test more at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park rather than Sebring International Raceway, which is the best track to test for street course conditions.

“We haven’t been to Sebring since last year man,” Dixon told MotorSportsTalk on Tuesday. “The car at St. Pete generally was OK, considering we’d done zero street course tire testing, and haven’t been to Sebring like most teams.”

Dixon had been to Sebring a week before St. Petersburg, but as third driver in CGR’s No. 01 Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

At St. Petersburg, Dixon said he was comfortable on pace in the practice sessions but failed his timing during qualifying en route to getting knocked out in Q2. He qualified ninth for the season opener.

“Ultimately yeah for sure, the car was better than what I showed,” Dixon said. “We hit the track OK. We backed up on a few things.

“The 9 car was strong until qualifying, then in Q2, coming up to my second timed lap, (Simon) Pagenaud was stopped in T10, and then I had to get out of TK’s way when he was on a flier. So I only had one lap to get it together and I fudged it up. The car was better than what I got out of it.”

Of course, if qualifying was bad, the race went worse for Dixon. An air jack failure occurred at his first stop, and as Dixon related, it likely was a small single cheap part failure that caused the issue.

“It looks like the dump valve … which is something Ganassi has had the same type of part for 15 years,” Dixon said. “I could be wrong as I’m not the technical guy … but we think the dump valve seal failed. Go figure a $2 or $5 piece broke and wouldn’t allow the rear air jacks to work.

“Your first thought is that it was the one in the back. We tried to see if it would work. But with no chance of fixing it, you know your day’s done. Pit stops go from eight or nine seconds up to 20 seconds. It was a nightmare.”

Dixon said team owner Chip Ganassi at least laughed it off as a case of the standard early-race curse that seems to strike the team so frequently.

“The first thing that Chip said to me after was, ‘I guess it’s a regular St. Pete.’ I hate hearing that! We ended up fourth last year (and fifth in 2013).”

Being back in the pack – Dixon finished 15th on Sunday – meant Dixon had a bird’s eye view to the contact that took place around the 1.8-mile street circuit.

“It seemed a little harder to pass; the wake was bigger and washout was more,” Dixon said. “The braking zones got smaller as well with more downforce and more drag.

“I thought there’d be a lot more debris, it being the first race, street course, St. Pete out of the box. With the Honda front wing and the size that thing is, it’s ultimately gonna get taken off.

“I expected a fair number of cautions. There was a lot of debris, man. Everyone got through the first stop. But then it was in 9, 10, 2, 5… there was junk everywhere.”

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.