WEC: Spa-Francorchamps signs new three-year race deal

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The legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps will continue to welcome the FIA World Endurance Championship for the next three years following the announcement of a contract extension on Saturday.

Ahead of the 2015 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, the second round of the 2015 FIA WEC season, officials from the WEC, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB) confirmed that a new deal had been signed to keep the race at Spa until 2018.

“The WEC will therefore be present in Belgium until 2018 and the race will be held every May at the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps,” a statement from the series read. “The high quality and great all-round success has perfectly demonstrated how the event has grown year on year, season on season.

“The enthusiasm and happiness of competitors, manufacturers, partners, fans, media and the organisers in and around the paddocks of this most iconic and historic of tracks prove what a real celebration of sports cars the event has become. All parties look forward to many more great WEC 6 Hours of Spa Francorchamps to come.

“The Belgian round of the WEC, a favourite for teams and drivers alike, has formed an integral part of the season since the championship was launched in 2012 and is viewed as the traditional dress rehearsal for the Le Mans 24 Hours which follows in June.”

Spa has been one of the most popular rounds on the WEC calendar since its first season in 2012, making today’s announcement a welcome one for those involved in the series.

By retaining its May slot, the 6 Hours of Spa could be poised to become the penultimate round of the WEC season in the next few years, given that the FIA is exploring the possibility of making it a winter series that would enjoy its finale at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.

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.