Indy Lights graduates Ed Jones, Zach Veach shine in Long Beach Grand Prix

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Fans of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires had lots of reasons to cheer in the final stages of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, as two recent MRTI graduates featured prominently in a hard-fought battle for the final spot on the podium.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ed Jones, the 2016 Indy Lights champion, dueled Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach, a multi-race winner in Indy Lights in his own right, late in Sunday’s race for third place after both enjoyed quiet races, but strong finishes that saw them avoid all mishaps to run up front at the end.

Veach tried to pass Jones a couple times, even getting close with an outside move entering Turn 9, but Jones ultimately held him off to take his first podium finish since last year’s Indianapolis 500, where he also finished third.

For Jones, it serves as a nice rebound from a tough Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix, in which he crashed late in the race while running in second.

“It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for me with Chip Ganassi Racing,” Jones said after the race. “It’s a big move for me after my rookie season. We struggled this weekend early on, especially on Friday.

“We made some good jumps for Saturday, but we still qualified 13th, which wasn’t good enough. But you know, the guys played a great strategy and did great pit stops, and a little bit lucky with the yellows, as well, to be able to end up third.”

For Veach, despite just missing out on a podium, there was plenty to be happy about in finishing fourth.

Zach Veach’s efforts in Long Beach came up just shy of a podium, but there was still. Photo: IndyCar

“(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest,” said an elated Veach, who credited the No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda team for helping him rebound from a tough opening two races.

“The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but … after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today,” Veach said. “I’ve got to thank my Group One Thousand One guys, honestly.

“I kind of made a mishap in qualifying to put us 16th. Today we had great strategy, great stops. They got me to where I could capitalize on it so this is more for them than me.”

Jones and Veach will look to build on their Long Beach successes next Sunday at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

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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.