Indy Lights test complete in Phoenix; Thursday IndyCar notes

RC Enerson waiting to go out. Photo: Tony DiZinno
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AVONDALE, Ariz. – It’s already been a busy morning for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, which is testing today at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Dallara IL-15 Mazda chassis is hauling the mail. With timing & scoring up, RC Enerson in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car is the first driver to clock a lap sub-22 seconds, and as of 11:00 a.m. MT and local time, has a best lap time of 21.872 seconds – or 168.214 mph.

The session runs til noon local time. Rookies were out first, then veterans only, then all cars of the 16 cars entered.

Juan Piedrahita, driver of the No. 2 Team Pelfrey car, sustained a small fire which brought out an extended yellow flag. A heavy amount of oil was laid down and put the session under yellow.

Piedrahita reported he was OK and didn’t get a warning, but pulled off course once smoke was detected at Turns 1 and 2.

Meanwhile, here are some of the other early nuggets gleaned from the first morning of three during this week’s series test:

  • Gabby Chaves is on site, in the first round of his “making the rounds” and working to secure an Indianapolis 500 program. Chaves told NBC Sports he hopes to have that program sorted within the next several weeks, and from there, will be able to determine what other future races – IndyCar or elsewhere – he hopes he can participate in this year.
  • Most, but not all, of the IndyCar transporters have loaded into the track on the inside of Turns 1 and 2. Team Penske’s four transporters were getting a typical washdown to make them seem even cleaner.
  • Expect a number of new liveries to be revealed this week, including from Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing. Josef Newgarden teased a hint of his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka entry on Wednesday, with the full reveal set for Thursday.

7:00 p.m. ET (UPDATE 2): Enerson’s morning time stood as the fastest lap of the day and, by default, of the one-day test.

In the afternoon, Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao led the way in a 1-2 in two other Schmidt Peterson cars. Urrutia, the Pro Mazda champion, also broke into the sub-22 second bracket at 21.986 seconds, 167.341 mph.

Negrao, Felix Serralles and Dean Stoneman were next up. Stoneman tested earlier this week for Andretti Autosport to complete his maiden oval test.

Team Pelfrey’s challenging day continued with Scott Hargrove also having an engine issue in his entry, which sidelined him for the remainder of the day. Piedrahita returned to the track in the final hour.

Not as lucky was Dalton Kellett of Andretti Autosport, who had a “bigger than he realized” accident off Turn 2 in the No. 28 entry. Kellett’s car didn’t appear that bad upon returning to the paddock area; however, he told NBC Sports it was heavy contact that cracked the bell housing.

In other IndyCar nuggets:

  • In the new livery department, there are a total of 14 of 21 cars testing this weekend that have a new livery compared to the final race of last year. They are: the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet, the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, all four Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolets, all four Andretti Autosport Hondas, the two Dale Coyne Racing Hondas, the No. 11 KVSH Racing Chevrolet and the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Without giving too much away before cars hit the track tomorrow, some of the new liveries seem to fit or look better than others.
  • Alexander Rossi is here, although he won’t be testing this weekend. Rossi, who will take the reins of the No. 98 Honda for the Bryan Herta/Michael Andretti partnership, will have his first oval test in a private session at Phoenix prior to the April 2 race. A date is yet to be revealed. He’ll also likely need to undergo a test at a bigger oval prior to the month of May at Indianapolis, similar to what Max Chilton did at Auto Club Speedway earlier this month.
  • Ed Carpenter told NBC Sports he is “running out of time” to make the second car run on road and street course races this year, the team’s No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, although there remains a possibility the car could run all events. Carpenter said he doesn’t want to detract from the team’s primary program for Newgarden. The No. 20 car, along with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 16 Honda for Spencer Pigot, are set to alternate as the 22nd car at selected races this year.
  • On that front, INDYCAR is expected to reveal its 2016 Leaders Circle entrants likely early next week, per an INDYCAR spokesperson. The Leaders Circle entrants receive financial assistance over the course of the season.

More to follow throughout the weekend on NBCSports.com.

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.