Month: January 2017

What’s in store for Jack Miller?

Our snapshot of the Aussie MotoGP race-winner and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Imagine if he’d been able to stop hurting himself … That was common refrain when summing up Jack Miller’s MotoGP season in 2016, which was a year of sporadic racing between eye-watering injuries and a few fleeting showings of why the Townsville 22-year-old is so highly regarded. Top of that list of course was his stunning victory at Assen, and while a win is never to be sniffed at, Miller will be targeting more consistency and fewer trips to the trackside Clinica Mobile this year. What’s in store for 2017, the final year of his three-season deal with Honda Racing Corporation?

The stats
‘Jackass’ turned 22 last week, and is still the youngest rider in MotoGP – good mate and fellow young gun Maverick Vinales is six days older. He has seven victories all told across the three world championship classes (after skipping the second one, Moto2, to come straight from Moto3 to MotoGP in 2015), while his win in The Netherlands last year was the first MotoGP success for an Aussie since Casey Stoner won his home race at Phillip Island in October 2012.

What he did last year
Other than #JackAssen, you mean? His victory in the re-started race at ‘The Cathedral’ in atrocious conditions that caught out many of his more experienced rivals showcased the natural talent Miller has in abundance, plus the new-found maturity he displayed at times last year. That win and four other top-10 finishes were the good; what wasn’t were the endless injuries, from his broken right leg from a pre-season motocross crash to his wrist and back injuries suffered after a huge off in Sunday morning warm-up in Austria. He had more points, more points finishes and finished higher in the championship (18th) than in his rookie campaign in 2015 – and managed that while missing five of the 18 races with various ailments.

What changes in 2017?
Behind the scenes, the loss of crew chief Cristian Gabbarini is a blow; the experienced Italian, who worked with Stoner in his Ducati and Honda glory days, has been lured back to the red team to be the right-hand man to new signing Jorge Lorenzo. Gabbarini’s wisdom has been a huge benefit to Miller across 2015-16, and the baton has been picked up by vastly experienced Spaniard Ramon Aurin, who most recently worked with Dani Pedrosa. It’s a change that will get few headlines, but one that’s critical to keep Miller’s career moving forward.

Number to know
Miller became the first independent (as in non-factory) team rider to win a Grand Prix in close to 10 years (Toni Elias in Portugal in 2006) when he saluted at Assen last June.

Chief rival
Gravel traps, tarmac and any other places Miller ends up after falling off his Honda. Every MotoGP rider crashes, it’s inevitable – but Miller needs some luck with how and where he falls as much as anything. Missing races in the final year of his HRC contract through injury won’t be ideal. Being fit and on the grid in all 18 races is a must.

Dream outcome
Getting some momentum, and keeping it. Miller had three top-10 finishes in succession across Catalunya-Assen-Sachsenring last year and looked set for a strong second half of the season, but then didn’t score a single point until six races later at Phillip Island as injuries kept him mostly on the shelf. With the factory Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia line-ups all featuring partial or completely new rider line-ups for 2017, not to mention newbies KTM adding to the factory mix, there’s a lot of unknowns to start the season, and a chance for a rider like Miller to get off to a strong start while others find their feet.

Nightmare realised
Starting the season injured and never really getting healthy again – 2016 all over again, and this time without another year on his contract to take the pressure off.

Fearless prediction
Given Miller’s career has been a study in defying logic, convention and even common sense at some stages, crystal ball-gazing can be hazardous when it comes to MotoGP’s sole Aussie. We’ll go with some more regular appearances in Q2 and a more consistent presence in the top 10 as the season progresses. And if it rains? Invest a couple of dollars on Miller, and pronto. Remember he was paying 1000-to-1 at Assen before the race last year …

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What’s in store for Dani Pedrosa?

Our snapshot of Repsol Honda’s Spanish veteran and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Assessing Dani Pedrosa’s MotoGP career is almost as difficult as securing a ticket for race day at Mugello when Valentino Rossi is in the championship mix – not completely impossible, but damned hard work. The Repsol Honda rider has won 52 races across all the world championship classes; only eight other men have won as many or more Grands Prix in a series that dates back to 1949. His quality is undeniable. But the flipside? Pedrosa has been at the sport’s best (or at least second-best) squad for all 11 of his MotoGP seasons and hasn’t won the title – and three of his teammates over that time (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez) have. It’s a statistical conundrum that makes his upcoming season all the more interesting – so here’s what’s in store for 2017.

The stats
Perhaps it’s his diminutive frame (160cm, 51kg), but you can’t help but double-check Pedrosa’s date of birth when you realise he turns 32 in September. A one-time 125cc champion (2003) and double 250cc champ (2004-05), Pedrosa has won races in all 11 of his premier-class campaigns and has finished championship runner-up three times. His place in history? Consider that Mick Doohan, one of the best ever to do it, won two more races in his career than Pedrosa’s 52 and counting.

What he did last year
Last year’s switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres was one that was supposed to benefit Pedrosa, the extra grip provided by the Michelin rear expected to suit his signature sweeping riding style. What wasn’t in his favour was the weather, 2016 seeing an unusually high number of races held in either wet or cold (or both) conditions. When track temperatures were low, the small Spaniard struggled to get any heat into his tyres and was nowhere, especially as the Honda was notoriously slow out of corners. Misano and the San Marino GP (held on a track surface that was a roasting 43 degrees) saw Pedrosa in his element, storming through from eighth on the grid to win, but he fell in practice at Motegi two races later, busted his right collarbone, and missed three of the final four races.

What changes in 2017?
A change of luck would be high on Pedrosa’s wish-list; only twice in the past seven years (2012 and 2014) has he been able to complete the entire season without falling victim to serious injury. Job security isn’t an issue – Pedrosa was re-signed by Repsol Honda until the end of the 2018 season last May – while behind the scenes, crew chief Giacomo Guidotti (who was Scott Redding’s right-hand man last season) replaces Ramon Aurin, who worked with Pedrosa from 2012 onwards and will now team up with fellow Honda rider Jack Miller.

Number to know
One win in 2016 equalled 2014 as Pedrosa’s worst year since his rookie season in the world championship on a 125 (2001), while sixth overall was his lowest finishing position in 11 MotoGP campaigns.

Chief rivals
We’ll go with ‘rivals’, plural, as it’s hard to separate Pedrosa’s horrendously bad luck and Marquez in this space. A year without significant injury would be the second-best outcome besides taking the title, while everything Pedrosa achieves will be analysed through the lens of what Marquez does on the sister Repsol Honda. Only once, in 2015, has Pedrosa finished anywhere close to Marquez in the end-of-season points tally, which had plenty to do with the world champion crashing out of one-third of the 18 races that year.

Dream outcome
Pedrosa simply can’t afford a start to 2017 that mirrors last season, where he made just one podium in the opening six races, a gifted third in Argentina that owed itself to Andrea Iannone taking himself and Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso out on the final lap. The majority of Pedrosa’s 14 race victories over the past five seasons have come in the second half of the year, so simply being in contention by the mid-year break after the German GP in early July has to be the aim.

Nightmare realised
An early injury or a Marquez blitzkrieg in the Qatar-Argentina-Austin flyaways to start the season would be bad news for Pedrosa. While he’s contracted to Honda for the next two seasons, a slow start would only increase the noise as to who would inherit his prize seat for 2019, such is the interest in Honda’s long-term plan on who to place alongside Marquez.

Fearless prediction
A better season than 2016? Yes. A title rival for Marquez, let alone Rossi on a Yamaha and perhaps the likes of Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales? Unlikely. A top-three championship result would represent a strong bounce-back campaign.

What’s in store for Marc Marquez?

Our snapshot of the reigning MotoGP world champion and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Sorry, Valentino Rossi fans: Marc Marquez is the undisputed kingpin of MotoGP. From the moment he arrived in the premier class of two-wheel road racing in 2013, the oft-sideways Spaniard has shown the rest of the field the way more often than not, winning titles by speed, by smarts and by stealth in three of the ensuing four years. What’s in store for 2017? Glad you asked.

The stats
The fresh-faced Marquez turns just 24 on February 17; Rossi, by contrast, blows out 38 candles on his birthday cake the day prior. Marquez is a five-time world champion with 55 world championship race wins, and victories count for 61 per cent of his 90 career podiums. He also shares the all-time pole position record across all classes (65) with Jorge Lorenzo.

What he did last year
Learn that there’s more than one way to win a world title. After his 2014 tour de force when he won the first 10 races of the season and rampaged his way to a second MotoGP crown, Marquez was bitten by his ‘win it or bin it’ approach a year later, failing to finish six times as he relinquished the title to Lorenzo. Last year saw a smarter Marquez, the Repsol Honda rider finishing the first 15 races en route to sealing the title in that 15th race, the Japanese GP at Motegi in October.

What changes in 2017?
Not a lot. After an off-season where his likely world champion challengers swapped either teammates (Rossi) or teams (Lorenzo and Maverick Vinales), the Marquez camp – with crew chief Santi Hernandez in his ear, manager Emilio Alzamora pulling the strings and dad Julia riding the emotional rollercoaster in the back of the garage – remains intact. Why change what ain’t broke?

Number to know
In his first four premier-class seasons, Marquez has won 29 races. By comparison, Rossi won 33 races from 2000-03, and Lorenzo 17 from 2008-11.

Chief rival
With Lorenzo gone to Ducati on a world championship quest that will surely take time and with Vinales finding his feet at Yamaha, it has to be Rossi, doesn’t it? The Italian veteran never really figured in the title reckoning last year from the mid-point of the season after a slew of uncharacteristic crashes, and while the frosty relationship between Rossi and Marquez from late 2015 thawed to some degree last year, expect tensions to rise again if the pair clear off from the rest in the early part of the ’17 campaign.

Dream outcome
Could Marquez set up his title defence before the series swings back to Europe and Jerez in round four? It’s very possible. He’s been on the podium in all but one of his four outings in the Qatar season-opener, while you can almost mark the third round in Austin as a win in indelible ink – remarkably, he’s never lost a MotoGP race in the US in eight attempts between COTA, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis since 2013. And in three races in Argentina, home to the race between Qatar and Austin, he’s won two of them. Rossi and the rest will be on guard for a blistering Marquez start.

Nightmare realised
Lorenzo comes out firing in Ducati red, Vinales’ pace from the outset as Rossi’s teammate drags both Yamahas into the mix, and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa starts the season fit (a stretch given his wretched injury history) and in the form he hasn’t shown since Marquez’s rookie season of 2013, when he finished 13 of 17 races on the podium. Unlikely, but not impossible.

Fearless prediction
By the end of 2017, Marquez will have taken his fourth MotoGP world title in five years. Who or what stops him?