United States GP Paddock Notebook – Thursday

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AUSTIN, Texas – Pick your weather term de jour – rainy, cloudy, muggy or overcast – and you have Thursday from edition 4.0 of the United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas in a nutshell.

There haven’t been a ton of updates to note, but still enough to keep things interesting.

Here’s a roundup of news, features and other items from the paddock at COTA today (and some from Wednesday rolled into this post):

PADDOCK NEWS AND FEATURES

WEDNESDAY PRE-RACE ITEMS

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

How wet will it get?

Preparations are in full force for rain this weekend, as evidenced by the frantic, furious and frequent mounting of Pirelli intermediates and full wet weather tires up and down the paddock. The question on most minds isn’t necessarily will it rain, but how much, for how long, and more.

I guess it’s fitting I’m here for this one – having been to two prior Circuit of The Americas events this year, the Pirelli World Challenge event back in March when it was absolutely freezing (ambient temperatures hovering in the 30s, Fahrenheit, then with rain on the Sunday) and then last month for the Lone Star Le Mans joint FIA World Endurance Championship/IMSA weekend (a scorcher with temps in the 90s), that the trilogy of less than ideal weather acts rolls on with a likely swampy deluge set to occur here this weekend.

There’s a long running joke about me and rainy weather, and combined with USA Today Sports’ Brant James, I think the two of us have locked down the title of “rain-meisters” in the media centre.

Hamilton enters with poise, confidence, swagger

Five of the six drivers in the FIA Press Conference held earlier today appeared in normal kit, with the lone exception perhaps Daniel Ricciardo of Infiniti Red Bull Racing in his “Wolverine 2.0” get up of intense side burns and a goatee. Then champion-elect Lewis Hamilton walked in, sunglasses on, gold chain present atop his black Mercedes AMG Petronas T-shirt, and it was though you needed an American wrestling type announcer or something to say “The champ is here!” upon entry.

A reporter asked a question you don’t ordinarily hear in these type press conferences – asking how to create more enthusiasm in urban black America for F1 – and Hamilton responded, “Don’t look at me, ask the others first… I’d love to see what others think!” When it did get around to Hamilton, he said it’s difficult for people to get attached, but he hopes one day F1 can engage with some of the stick-and-ball sports that are so popular in this country.

Frankly, F1 could do worse with an “F1 in America” ambassador; as my colleague Luke Smith touched on earlier today, this is Lewis’ de facto second “home grand prix” as it is, and he embraces it. NBC’s Leigh Diffey had an interview with Hamilton earlier today that will be part of our broadcast this weekend (TV times linked here). The early mood this weekend is already one of “this is Hammer Time,” as Hamilton stands on the precipice of clinching his third World Championship.

Rossi ready for racing

The build-up is obvious for American Alexander Rossi ahead of his home Grand Prix. But I have to imagine for as great as he’s been in all his pre-race media commitments, Rossi is keen to get behind the wheel and actually drive his Manor Marussia Ferrari in Friday’s sessions.

I asked him during today’s FIA Press Conference whether having done FP1 here two years ago, then in a Caterham, would be of any help to him. He said it was good to have the track experience, but the car difference night and day will make for an entirely different session.

“It gives you a baseline but at the same time the cars in ’13 were clearly very different to what they are now,” Rossi said. “I don’t know how much is applicable to be honest. I think it’s more of a bonus, the fact that I’ve actually driven the track, more than anything else.”

Fan events kick off tonight

Come rain or shine, tonight marks the true and proper kick off to the fan events taking place this weekend in Austin. I’ll be at Buxton’s Big Time Bash later this evening (details here), with a full report to come later in the weekend. Additional link outs to other fan events are featured in this post.

That’ll be it for today, with more to come on Friday and throughout the weekend on MotorSportsTalk. We appreciate your reading and support.

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.