IMSA: Juan Pablo Montoya fastest in opening practice at Daytona

Acura Team Penske
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Juan Pablo Montoya was fastest Friday night in the opening IMSA practice session for the WeatherTech 240 at Daytona International Speedway.

Montoya’s lap of 1 minute, 35.960 seconds in Team Penske’s No. 6 Acura bested the No. 31 Cadillac of Pipo Derani (1:35.976) and Harry Tincknell’s No. 55 Mazda (1:36.013) in the DPi class.

Derani’s co-driver for the weekend is Gabby Chaves after teammate Felipe Nasr tested positive Thursday for COVID-19.

SPEED CHART: Click here for results from Friday’s practice at Daytona

DAYTONA INFO: Start times, schedule, TV info for the race weekend

“I am so excited to be back in the car,” said Montoya, who won the DPi championship with teammate Dane Cameron last year. “Dane came in from practice and said, ‘The car feels pretty good and I think you are going to like it.’ I said, ‘Ah, thank you, no pressure!’ And, he was right. I think we have a really good race car. I felt comfortable, and I love driving this car. Everyone on the team is so excited to be back at the track.”

In other divisions, Laurens Vanthoor led GTLM in a Porsche 911 RSR-19, and Toni Vilander paced the GTD class in a Ferrari 488 GT3.

There will be another practice Saturday morning followed by qualifying for each class.

The WeatherTech 240 will take place at 6 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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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.