IndyCar’s Montoya enjoys memories in return to Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) Juan Montoya has vivid, visceral memories of competing at Road America’s 14-turn, 4.048-mile circuit.

Even though he’s 15 years removed from competition at the road course, the routine came flooding back Tuesday as a handful of IndyCar Series drivers participated in a test session in preparation for next year’s return to the circuit.

“It’s kind of funny because I still remember where I braked, where I needed to turn, where I needed to lift and where I needed to be wide open,” said Montoya, who has worked for Team Penske for two seasons.

Montoya led 46 of 55 laps at Road America during his rookie season in the former CART Series but retired with a gearbox problem. Montoya won his one and only championship that season with owner Chip Ganassi, and he returned to the track one year later and led 11 laps before bowing out with a mechanical issue.

Next year’s race at Road America will be the first for the series since 2007. Practice and qualifying is scheduled June 24-25, and the race is set for June 26.

Twenty-five races were held at the road course from 1982-2007, some with CART and the defunct Champ Car Series, which was IndyCar’s competitor during the open-wheel split.

Much like forgetting poor finishes at Road America, Montoya has no bad feelings about his runner-up finish for the IndyCar title one month ago at Sonoma. Montoya was the series points leader for 15 races, but finished sixth at Sonoma. In the double-points finale, Scott Dixon won the championship in a tiebreaker situation, with three race wins to Montoya’s two.

“The championship is what it was,” said Montoya, who won his second Indianapolis 500 in May. “To be honest with you, I haven’t even thought about it. We had a good year, did everything what we needed to do, executed all year, and that was it.”

Montoya, who turned 40 on Sunday, was more interested in discussing Road America’s nuances, including its “insanely fast” corners and track flatness. He also noted how a couple thousand fans showed up for weekday test session.

Ten drivers and six IndyCar teams took part in the session, including seven drivers with experience at the track. A second test session, closed to the public, is set for Sept. 28.

“I think for the fans it’s exciting, because fans are passionate about IndyCar,” Montoya said. “And people are passionate about seeing the cars here, so the race should be fun.”

Dixon, a four-time IndyCar champion, has run two races at Road America. Dixon finished fourth with PacWest Racing in 2001, and wound up 17th in 2002.

The only thing that seemed familiar to the New Zealander about Road America was coming into pit lane, but said he’s looking forward to seeing what type of lap times will come with more downforce and faster cars.

“The corner speeds are definitely up, and they were pretty fast cars back then,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what the record is, 39 or something. We were running 43 or 44, so we’ve got a bit of a ways to go.”

Dixon was referring to the 1 minute, 39.87 seconds track lap record that Dario Franchitti put down during qualifying for the 2000 CART race at Road America.

Dixon said he was happy to be back in a race car, and was still basking in the joy of his championship. His fourth title goes along with championships in 2003, 2008 and 2013, all with Ganassi.

“I think that one was definitely a surprise and it feels great,” Dixon said. “I think we’ve lost championships before in `07 and `09 where we just didn’t get it right in the last race, so I think it was the perfect scenario for a finale.”

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.