Fabio Quartararo earns first MotoGP championship in third season


Fabio Quartararo clinched his first MotoGP championship in his third season when his closest competitor for the title, Francesco Bagnaia, crashed out of the lead with five laps remaining in the Emilia-Romagna GP. With two rounds remaining and 25 points awarded to winning riders, Quartararo holds a 65-point lead.

Marc Marquez won the race in Misano over Pol Espargaro and Enea Bastianini. Quartararo finished fourth and missed the podium by less than a second.

While Quartararo would have liked to clinch with better finish, he was pleased to have made his way to the front of the pack from his 15th starting position – especially after seeing Bagnaia start from the pole.

And frankly, grinding out a solid top-five under challenging conditions made this race a fitting end to the yeoman’s season.

“I never start (further back than) P11 in Moto GP, and I’m starting from P15 on the one of the most important race of my career,” Quartararo said during the post-race press conference. “We chose the safe tires. For us the hard would have been much better, and I think that the podium was there with the hard, but I had no more stability when I was behind all the group. I couldn’t overtake.

“I’m really happy about my race, even if I would not have won the championship, because it’s something really great and (a great) experience that I had that we finished P4.

“Super happy about my race and of course, with the championship it is something extra.”

After starting the season with a fifth-place result in the GP of Qatar, Quartararo won the next two races and then suffered his worst finish of the season in Spain. He crossed under the checkered flag 13th. That race shook his confidence after ending the 2020 season with a series of hardships and an eight-place position in the points standings.

Quartararo won three races last year, but those were his only podiums for the season.

Even with his disappointing finish in Spain he earned a few points, and in hindsight, it was that consistency for which he credits his championship. Quartararo was back on the podium in his next outing at France and won the Italian GP, which is the race he says turned his season around.

“I think the consistency we had this year (was critical). I’m touching wood,” Quartararo said as he playfully tapped his skull. “But we finished all the races and were scoring every time points, points, points. I think even in Jerez (Spain) I scored three points with the arm pump problem. So I think the consistency of 2021 is same as in 2019, but we are faster so that was the key to winning the championship this year.”

Quartararo finished fifth in the standings in his maiden season of 2019.

Through 16 rounds of 2021, Quartararo has ground out the finishes.

In a highly competitive field, he has scored three consecutive podiums only once. Back-to-back second-place finishes at San Marino and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas put him in the position to clinch in Misano, but the turning point came in Round 6. His Mugello victory, coupled with problems for a lightning fast Bagnaia, convinced him that the title was in reach.

“For me the key point was Mugello when we won because Bagnaia was super strong and he made a mistake on the first second lap … that was where I took a lot of confidence back.”

Clinching the Moto GP title with two races remaining gives Quartararo an opportunity to bask in the glory.

It will also give him a chance to regain his voice before the championship banquet.

“To be honest I have already not my original voice.” Quartararo said “So I cry a lot. I scream a lot. But it feels amazing, because when I cross the finish line, I think of all the tough moments I had and to be world champion in MotoGP is something that I never expected when I was in a bad situation a few years ago. So right now, I’m feeling the dream.”

Fabio Quartararo MotoGP championship
Fabio Quartararo of France celebrates his title after finishing fourth in the Emilia-Romagna GP in Misano Adriatico, Italy. (Photo by Steve Wobser/Getty Images)

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).