Arrow McLaren SP still interested in Jimmie Johnson despite Ganassi test

McLaren Jimmie Johnson Ganassi
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McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said his IndyCar team remains interested in fielding a car for Jimmie Johnson even as the seven-time NASCAR champion works with Chip Ganassi Racing.

A July 8 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in a Dallara-Honda for Ganassi was postponed after Johnson tested positive for COVID-19. The Hendrick Motorsports driver since has tested negative twice and been cleared to return Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. During a Friday news conference, Johnson said there had been “a couple of conversations” about rescheduling the test with Ganassi.

“I think Ganassi and IndyCar are eager to have that experience to get me in a car and get me tested,” Johnson said. “But everybody is giving everything a little time to breathe right now and maybe identify the next possible date that works for IndyCar and works for Ganassi.

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“And I’m clearly hopeful to get a test with McLaren as I was trying to work on back in April that went away because of the lockdown. So, I think that’s all to come. It’s hard to say anything’s really taking place just yet, but I know I’m eager and I know everybody involved is eager for that to take place.”

Johnson originally was scheduled to test April 6 at Barber Motorsports Park with Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports (the IndyCar operation of McLaren Racing) before the session was scrubbed because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He visited the team’s Indianapolis shop in March for a seat fitting in one of its Dallara-Chevrolets.

“He’s free to do what he wants,” Brown said Friday during a team media availability when asked whether Johnson working with Ganassi would rule out Arrow McLaren SP. “It really just depends on the situation that we’d be presented with as to what we would do and when we would do it. He’s got a desire to get as much experience as possible. With the limited testing that looks like we’re going to be allowed, the more testing for Jimmie, the better wherever he ends up racing, so that certainly wouldn’t put us off.

While there are no immediate plans to test Johnson, Brown said Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports would be open to trying another test in a few months.

“Anytime you can put a seven-time champion of anything in your racing car, that’s always a lot of fun,” Brown said. “He did a great job in our Formula One car, so if schedules allow, timing allows, then we’d love to have a go. Our priority is exclusively on (IndyCar drivers) Oliver (Askew) and Pato (O’Ward). So that’s all on our mind at the moment.

“But later in the year, at the end of the year, if it makes sense, it would be great to see what (Johnson) can do in an IndyCar.”

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.