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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