IndyCar: O’Ward finishes ninth to complete dream IndyCar debut at Sonoma

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The lion’s share of attention will go to Scott Dixon, now a five-time IndyCar Series champion, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who dominated the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma, in the wake up Sunday’s IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

However, one other driver deserves his share of attention following the weekend.

Quite simply, Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, had a dream weekend in his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing.

O’Ward shined in Friday practice, ending up third in Practice 2. He starred in qualifying, making the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying a remarkable fifth. And in Sunday’s race, he took the checkered flag in ninth, Harding’s only Top 10 of the 2018 season and their best result since Gabby Chaves finished fifth for them last year at Texas Motor Speedway.

What’s more, O’Ward underwent a baptism by fire in the opening stint, as he struggled with tire management – he described that his tires lost grip after only a few laps – and he dropped well outside to the Top 10 after the opening round of stops.

However, pit strategy and a timely caution on Lap 44 – Graham Rahal lost power and pulled off on thr back straight away – allowed O’Ward to regroup, and once he found his rhythm, he began charging his way back toward the Top 10.

He ultimately finished a very impressive ninth, putting the cap on a dream weekend for the 19-year-old native of Mexico.

Patricio O’Ward was all smiles after a dream weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

While he admitted that he wanted to finish a little higher, O’Ward was plenty happy afterward.

“It was a really great weekend, we learned a lot,” he detailed. “We qualified the car fifth and we ended the race ninth. As a driver, you want to stay in your qualifying position or get better. But I think for a first try, especially with a super long race with three or four pit stops that was a job well done. I’m really satisfied, and I just want to get better for next year.”

As the Indy Lights champion, O’Ward is guaranteed at least three races in the 2019 IndyCar season, including the Indianapolis 500.

More details about O’Ward 2019 plans will come at a later date.

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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.