Le Mans: Corvette, Dempsey, Scuderia Corsa make for heavy American podium presence

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LE MANS, France – It was a banner day for the U.S.A. at the Circuit de la Sarthe this Saturday and Sunday.

Corvette Racing captured a popular, comeback, emotional and overdue victory in the GTE-Pro class, while five American drivers finished on the podium in the GTE-Am class.

For Corvette, the win came after a thrilling back-and-forth bout with its trio of Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor in the No. 64 Corvette C7.R against the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F458 Italia of Gianmaria Bruni, Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella, the defending race champions.

But gearbox problems resigned the Ferrari to the garage in the second-to-last hour and Corvette emerged triumphant at the end of a trying week, where the No. 63 Corvette C7.R with Jan Magnussen, Antonio Garcia and Ryan Briscoe had to withdraw after an early week accident caused by a mechanical issue.

“I am proud of how the No. 63 and No. 64 drivers, engineers and crew came together to rally around a single Corvette C7.R entry for the race after Thursday’s unfortunate incident,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. Vice President, Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “They prepared thoroughly and had each others’ back all race long. Perseverance, teamwork and execution were keys to the winning effort.

“It was very emotional to be in the garage with the entire team when the checkered flag dropped,” he added. “The Corvette Racing team simply never gave up.”

Said Gavin, who won his fifth Le Mans and first in nearly a decade since 2006: “Winning Le Mans is always a fairy tale story. The way everything turned out over the week, with the No. 63 Corvette having its issues and not being able to start the race… the way the team all came together and led us into the race and enabled us to have this fantastic result today, it’s just amazing.

“It’s just been one of those days where you’re waiting for something to spring up, like another hurdle to come in your way to stop you from taking a victory. It was a spectacular race for Tommy and Jordan and myself – one of those events where you’re having great races with Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche but in the end we were the strongest car and we ended up coming away with victory. This is my fifth victory here at Le Mans, and I’m absolutely thrilled to come back here with Corvette Racing. I’m a very happy man.”

The GTE-Am, battle, meanwhile was shaping up to only see one American entry on the podium, but wound up with two.

A last hour crash for the class-leading and erstwhile dominant No. 98 Aston Martin Vantage V8 promoted the No. 72 SMP Racing Ferrari F458 Italia to the class lead, and brought both the No. 77 Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR and No. 62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari F458 Italia onto the podium after their own scrap had been for third.

For Patrick Dempsey, it marked his first Le Mans podium in four attempts (2009, 2013, 2014) in the car he shared with past Le Mans class winner Patrick Long, Porsche’s lone American factory driver, and Le Mans debutante Marco Seefried.

Meanwhile Scuderia Corsa’s trio of Townsend Bell, Bill Sweedler and Jeff Segal podiumed in their Le Mans debut. Bell and Sweedler add the Le Mans podium to class wins at Daytona and Sebring.

Other American entries included Extreme Speed Motorsports and Krohn Racing in LMP2, both of which finished, while Riley Motorsports came up just shy of a finish in the final couple hours with gearbox issues on its mighty Dodge Viper GTS-R.

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.