Bell, Sweedler join Alex Job Racing for full NAEC program

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Alex Job Racing has confirmed that Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler will be part of its line-up for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds of the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, starting with the Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

AJR will field a new Audi R8 LMS for the rounds at Daytona, Sebring, Watkins Glen and Road Atlanta, with Frankie Montecalvo set to join Bell and Sweedler for the events. Audi ace Pierre Kaffer will be the team’s fourth driver for Daytona.

Bell and Sweedler have formed a potent partnership in recent years, scoring class victory at Daytona and winning the Patron Endurance Cup in 2014, winning the IMSA season-long title in GT Daytona in 2015 and then the 24 Hours of Le Mans this year in the GTE Am class, all in Ferraris.

However, Bell and Sweedler won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in an AJR Porsche in 2012 (in the then-American Le Mans Series GTC class), in what was Bell’s endurance race debut.

“It feels like coming home,” NBCSN IndyCar analyst Bell said in a release. “My first sports car team and my first sports car win with AJR at Sebring. I am so happy to be back.

“They are such a talented and experienced team that I am sure we will fall right back into the winning routine. I am looking forward to driving the Audi R8 LMS.

“Big thanks to everyone at Audi of America for helping us make this possible. It looks to be a very competitive and reliable piece.”

“It is nice to come full circle and be back with Alex Job for 2017,” Sweedler added. “I won my first big race with AJR at Sebring five years ago, so it is nice to be back in the family.

“The Audi R8 LMS is a great endurance package. Frankie is a welcome addition with a lot experience and speed. Townsend and I have had a lot of success in the longer races over the past four years and we are looking to continue winning with AJR, Audi and Frankie.”

Of note, there’s also been three other Rolex 24 and season confirmations in the last week or so:

  • JDC/Miller Motorsports has confirmed a full-season lineup of Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg with Chris Miller third driver for the Patron Endurance Cup races and Mathias Beche the fourth driver in the team’s No. 85 Oreca 07 Gibson.
  • Stevenson Motorsports has a single Audi R8 LMS for at least Daytona (the team ran two cars last year), with all four of its 2016 full-season drivers, Andrew Davis, Robin Liddell, Lawson Aschenbach and Matt Bell in the renumbered No. 57 entry. Stevenson will reveal the rest of its 2017 program after Daytona.
  • The TRG Porsche 911 RSR will carry the No. 991, a departure from the de facto trademark No. 66 for Kevin Buckler’s team when it was with Porsche, or No. 007 as it’s had in recent years with Aston Martin. The team has confirmed a full-season Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge entry with Craig Lyons and Kris Wilson sharing an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in the series’ GS class.

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.