Toyota Gazoo Racing confirms Lopez, third car for Spa, Le Mans

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As expected, Toyota Gazoo Racing has confirmed three of its Toyota TS050 Hybrids will be in action at next year’s FIA World Endurance Championship rounds at Spa-Francorchamps and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The extra entry from Toyota ensures there will be at least six LMP1 cars at those two rounds, joining the two Porsche Team and single ByKolles cars. Porsche has also been rumored to run a third car and any confirmation of that would come Thursday during the formal reveals of the FIA WEC and Le Mans entry lists.

Jose Maria Lopez has also been confirmed alongside Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi as a full-season driver with Stephane Sarrazin being slotted into the team’s third car. The 33-year-old Argentine competed in GP2 before moving to the World Touring Car Championship where he won the last three titles.

“It’s great to be part of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing,” Lopez said in a release. “This is a dream come true for me and I can’t wait to get to the first race. Mike and Kamui are both great team-mates; I will learn plenty from them I am sure. Driving an LMP1 car is very different compared to WTCC cars but I am enjoying this challenge. The power and grip of the TS050 HYBRID is incredible and TOYOTA’s hybrid technology is impressive. I am looking forward to my first experience of WEC and particularly Le Mans which is a very special race.”

Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima continue as the lead trio.

“I believe this is an exciting time for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in endurance racing,” Toshio Sato, Team President, said. “Entering three cars for Spa and Le Mans represents a new challenge for our team. We are working hard to be prepared and we are inspired to win. I would like to welcome José María to our team; I am confident he will fit in well as he is quick, intelligent and a strong team player. Our existing drivers have already proven their abilities in endurance racing; all are race winners and we are very happy to work together again.”

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.