Serralles, Marciello land AKKA-ASP Mercedes seats in Blancpain GT

Photo: Team AKKA-ASP
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Two drivers who’d come close to reaching their respective top levels in open-wheel – Felix Serralles and Raffaele Marciello – have instead gone the sports car route for 2017 having been confirmed at Jerome Policand’s Team AKKA-ASP for the upcoming season in the Blancpain GT Series.

The two drivers will be split in a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars for both the Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup races, Serralles with Dani Juncadella in the No. 88 car and Marciello with Michael Meadows in the No. 90 car. Tristan Vautier (No. 88) and Matthias Lauda (No. 90), both of whom have full-season appointments in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance Championship, respectively, are the third drivers for these two PRO class entries at Endurance Cup races.

Serralles enjoyed a particularly busy offseason with his first test in both an IndyCar with Andretti Autosport at Sebring International Raceway, and in an Oreca 05 Nissan LMP2 car with G-Drive Racing (with Jota Sport running the operation) at the FIA WEC end-of-term rookie test in Bahrain.

After two years in Indy Lights, first with Belardi Auto Racing and then with Carlin, Serralles won a few races but was ultimately in the eye of the storm at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale when he pulled aside to allow Ed Jones through to score enough points for the title. The Puerto Rican needed to sort his own future for 2017, and now has.

Marciello was at a similar open-wheel crossroads after his stint in Ferrari’s Young Driver Academy ended. Three seasons in GP2 where he struggled to properly contend for a championship saw him score only one win and finish at best, fourth in the standings. Marciello also had a handful of race weekends as third driver with Sauber F1 Team in 2015, but never competed beyond a practice session.

Juncadella has previous touring car experience in DTM and also did a handful of free practice sessions in F1 with Sahara Force India. Meadows has both single-seater and GT experience. Interestingly, Juncadella beat Marciello to the 2012 Formula 3 Euroseries title.

The full Team AKKA-ASP roster is below. Testing takes place in Paul Ricard March 13-14 with the seasons opening at Misano April 1-2 (Sprint) and Monza April 22-23 (Endurance).

Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup

PRO category
#90 Raffaele MARCIELLO (ITA) – Michael MEADOWS (GBR) – Matthias LAUDA (AUT)
#88 Felix SERRALLES (PRI) – Daniel JUNCADELLA (ESP) – Tristan VAUTIER (FRA)

Pro-AM category
#87 Jean Luc BEAUBELIQUE (FRA) – Mauro RICCI (ITA) – Jules GOUNON (FRA)
#89 Daniele PERFETTI (SUI) – Alex FONTANA (SUI) – Ludovic BADEY (FRA)

Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup

PRO category
#90 Raffaele MARCIELLO (ITA) – Michael MEADOWS (GBR)
#88 Felix SERRALLES (PRI) – Daniel JUNCADELLA (ESP)

Pro-AM category
#87 Jean Luc BEAUBELIQUE (FRA) – Jules GOUNON (FRA)
#89 Christophe BOURRET (FRA) – Jean-Philippe BELLOC (FRA)

Blancpain GT Sport Club

#72 Anthony Pons (FRA)

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his 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.