WSR: Rowland one point away from FR3.5 title

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Oliver Rowland moved to within just a single point of the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 title by storming to his seventh victory of the year at Le Mans on Saturday.

Formula Renault 3.5 is the flagship series on the World Series by Renault roster, and has produced a number of Formula 1 drivers including Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Sainz won last year’s title with a record seven victories before joining Toro Rosso in F1 for 2015, but his tally was tied by Rowland on Saturday after the Briton dominated proceedings from pole position on the Bugatti layout of the Circuit de la Sarthe.

Rowland came under pressure throughout the race from title rival Matthieu Vaxiviere, but when the Frenchman lost part of his front wing trying to take the lead, he dropped back into the pack.

Vaxiviere took a rather liberal attitude towards to the track limits, frequently cutting the chicane in a bid to gain position and keep the chasing drivers back. The stewards decided that enough was enough after he had cut it four times and handed him a time penalty.

This left Vaxiviere tenth at the end of the race, giving him one point that in fact denied Rowland from being crowned champion on Saturday. With 75 points remaining, Rowland leads by 74, making his title victory a mere formality.

“The start was difficult and Egor [Orudzhev, who finished second] was very close to me, but I managed to keep him behind me,” Rowland explained.

“After that, I really had no answer to Matthieu’s pace. Although the contact made my life easier, I was a bit worried for my tyre and tried to stay away from the curbs, as well as stay within the track limitations to avoid a penalty.

“I spent two seasons with Fortec in Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 and this is my second season in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series with them. It is great to reward such fantastic people with this victory record.”

Rowland and Orudzhev were joined on the podium by Tom Dillmann, who edged out Dean Stoneman for P3 on the final lap of the race.

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.