Danica Patrick highlights veterans, rookies who took to IMS on Tuesday

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A number of rookies and veterans took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday to complete refresher courses and rookie orientation as part of testing at IMS this week.

Most prominent among the veterans to complete a refresher was Danica Patrick, who returns to the Indianapolis 500 this year for the first time since 2011. Initially, things got off to a rough start for Patrick, whose No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing was plagued with a water temperature issue when she first ventured out on track, prompting the ECR team to bring her back in for a quick check of the car.

No major issues persisted, though Patrick acknowledged that the car’s steering felt heavier than anticipating and required some adjustments for comfort, and she was able to continue running throughout the day, completing her refresher program late in the afternoon, meaning she is now good to go once practice begins later this month.

Patrick explained afterward that the goal for today was simple: knock the rust off and complete her refresher course, rather than focus on putting together an ultra quick lap.

“I just kind of wanted to get today over with, not in a negative sense, but just that it’s been seven years since I drove an IndyCar here. Yeah, it’s been a long time,” she detailed in a press conference afterward.

Patrick also explained that a heavy steering sensation made things a little more complicated, despite a well-documented and intense workout regime she has become known for.

“The car, it just felt very hard to drive. The weight of the wheel was very heavy for me. So I don’t know what the heck I’ve been doing because I feel a lot stronger than when I was here before. You have to see the videos, I crushed it like crazy. I can pick some weight up. But I did not feel very strong out there,” she joked.

Patrick will also take part in Wednesday’s manufacturer test, and described the goal as getting the car to a point where she can be flat out around the IMS oval.

“I feel like tomorrow (the goal is) just a smooth day where I get flat out and feel the changes, have good information leading into two weeks from now where we really are going to have to get down to business,” she finished.

Among the rookies, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens also encountered some issues during his rookie orientation, with his No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda suffering gearbox problems. Consequently, the SPM team rolled teammate James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Wickens to complete his orientation.

However, the rest of the day was trouble free and Wickens was able to finish all three phases of rookie orientation.

Wickens explained that switching to Hinchcliffe’s car was far from simple, requiring a quick seat fitting, and also pressed them for time a little bit.

“It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really do a seat fit for me in his car. Apart from the seat going in, everything was more get on with it, get the orientation done. We were actually a little pressed for time to get all the phases through in the time allocation we had,” he explained.

But, the team completed everything they needed to go to get Wickens back out there and allow him to finish the orientation program.

“The guys worked hard to get the (No. 5) car ready. Yeah, I mean, I love it around here. It was my first taste of Indianapolis. I love the oval. I ran the GP course 12 years ago. Yeah, it was good to do my first laps at the oval, full throttle laps, flat laps. It was very special,” Wickens added.

Other drivers to venture out on Tuesday were SPM’s Jay Howard, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing’s Sage Karam, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Matheus Leist, and Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser.

Howard and Karam completed their refresher courses without incident, with Leist and Kaiser doing the same for their rookie orientation programs.

Times are below. Wickens was fastest on the day with a quick lap of 220.111 mph. Patrick’s best lap came in at 218.500 mph

Testing continues on Wednesday in a private, manufacturers’ day at IMS.

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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.