Americans Joe Roberts, Cameron Beaubier have pace during Moto2 sessions in Portugal

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Joe Roberts will line up eighth for the Moto2 race Sunday at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimao, Portugal, which has become a quasi-home circuit for the Southern California native.

Last season, Roberts became the first American to win a pole in Moto2 in 10 years, and he moved from American Racing Team to Italtrans Racing Team this year. He was fastest in both Moto 2 practice sessions Friday.

“It’s a nice way to start coming back to Europe,” Roberts said. “Kind of like a home away from home because I’m basing myself in Portugal now so it’s nice to be here. I love this track so much. Every time we come here, it’s always been great with the test and the race last year. So I’m not surprised.

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“The lap times kind of come quite nice, and we’ve just been working really well, and it just kind of came really easy. It’s cool to have that. But the important day is Sunday. The good thing is our paces seems pretty good, so yeah, I’m happy about it.”

MotoAmerica Superbike champion Cameron Beaubier, who took Roberts’ slot at ART this year, qualified 13th for Sunday’s Moto2 race, which could offer the chance for an American victory breakthrough. Roberts finished a career-best third for his first podium and also captured three pole positions last year.

“We know the fast lap is there,” Roberts said after setting the best time Friday. “Considering the conditions with the rain and wind, it’s a good time and a solid start, but the eyes are on Sunday for sure.”

It’s been an eventful weekend at Portimao in MotoGP’s premier class. Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Márquez was back on his Honda after an eight-month recovery from a broken arm that he suffered in the 2020 season opener.

After three surgeries, the Spaniard was third fastest in the first practice Friday.

“Difficult to find a single word to describe my first session, but I feel very HAPPY!” Márquez wrote in Spanish on his Twitter account.

Marquez, 28, qualified sixth Saturday.

There were two significant incidents Saturday. Jorge Martin was sidelined after being injured in a crash that sent him to the hospital, and Pole Espargaro also had a high-side wreck but was cleared to return.

Fabio Quartararo won the pole position after Pecco Bagnaia’s fast lap was canceled.

Sunday’s race is the third of the season. Johan Zarco, who also crashed in qualifying Saturday, leads the standings with 40 points.

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.