Joe Roberts ‘proved we’re a front-runner’ with fourth in Moto2 opener

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Tetsuta Nagashima emerged from a spirited four-way battle late in the 20-lap race to win the Moto2 season opener in Qatar, but Joe Roberts still made an impact from the pole.

Roberts, who became the first American to start from a Moto2 pole, finished fourth and led the 15th of 20 laps on his No. 16 Kalex bike.

He excelled Sunday despite being on a tire that wasn’t as soft as Nagashima and other top contenders.

“We gambled with the harder front tire, there were a couple of moments, on the left side I was losing the front and had to save it,” Roberts said. “At that point, I was like, ‘OK, maybe there’s something going on with the front,’ and I had to play a little bit safe on the left side of the corners.”

MOTOGP ON NBC: How to watch the next race at Circuit of the Americas and the full 2020 MotoGP schedule on NBC Sports

It’s the first top-five finish in 42 Moto2 starts for the 22-year-old from Malibu, California. His previous best finish was 10th in his Moto2 debut in the 2017 race at the Czech Republic. He had finished no higher than 13th since until Sunday at Qatar.

“To be pole position and come away with a top five is the best result I’ve ever had in my career,” Roberts said. “You can’t be upset with that. I really wanted to get the win, especially for the guys back home. All the support I’ve had over the weekend was driving me for that win, and I was pushing so hard for it.

“We just missed out, but it’s a long season, and I think we proved we were a front-runner, and we can do this again. Maybe in our own GP!”

The next MotoGP event for Roberts and his class will be the April 3-5 weekend at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Roberts, who rides for the American Racing team, had set track records on consecutive days of practice and qualifying earlier in the weekend at the Losail International Circuit near Doha.

Joe Roberts leads the field during the season opener in Qatar (Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images)

He said his biggest lesson was “dealing with the nerves before qualifying” with a fast bike.

“(That) was one thing I struggled with last year, and to overcome that now this year, that’s a huge step for me and my own confidence in riding,” Roberts said. “And also now to be running up front with those guys and even led a lap. I can tick that off the box.

“Man, I want more. I really wanted to win. I really, really did. It’s a fantastic result and the guys in American Racing did a great job this weekend, and it was perfect.”

Luca Marini led 13 of 20 laps but crashed on the last circuit. He was seen and released at the track medical center.

Albert Arenas won the earlier Moto3 race, giving KTM its 100th victory in the class.

The Grand Prix of Qatar opened the seasons Sunday for Moto2 and Moto3. You can watch the full 2020 MotoGP season on NBC Sports’ group of networks.

The premier MotoGP class canceled its season opener at Qatar because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions. The season’s second race in Thailand also has been postponed.

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.