With Rosberg watching, Bottas sets fastest time in testing

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) With retired champion Nico Rosberg watching from the pits on Wednesday, Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya a decade ago.

The display in preseason testing made another clear statement about Mercedes’ potential in Formula One this season.

Bottas, who replaced Rosberg after his surprise departure last year, had a time of 1:19.705 seconds in the morning session on Day 3 of testing, nearly one-and-a-half seconds faster than Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo.

Bottas’ time came on the supersoft tires, while Ricciardo had his lap on the slower softs. The Mercedes driver also had the most laps in the morning session with 75.

After the track changes in 2007, when a chicane was added, the fastest lap in Barcelona had been set by Mark Webber’s Red Bull in 2010, with a time of 1:19.995 in qualifying. Bottas’ time was considered unofficial because it came in testing.

New tire and aerodynamic rules introduced in 2017 to bring more excitement to the series gave cars more grip and downforce, making them significantly faster than in previous years.

Rosberg, who retired in December five days after clinching the title with Mercedes, was at the track and spent time in the paddock talking to several drivers and teams.

Lewis Hamilton will take over the Mercedes for the afternoon session on Wednesday.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso had a problem-free session after a series of issues on the first two days.

The teams return to the track on Thursday for the last time this week. Another four-day session will take place from March 7-10.

The season-opening race is in Australia on March 26.

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.