MotoGP

Miller Time: There’s no reward without risk

Jack Miller writes about a Malaysian GP tyre gamble that could have been a masterstroke, but instead produced a familiar result at a scorching Sepang.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It’s hard to know how to feel about my Malaysian GP, other than pretty bloody hot. I’m flying back to Europe in a couple of hours, so I’d better get a shower in first … But that’s now three years in a row that I’ve been eighth here, so you look for small victories. In 2016 and ’17, I was more than half a minute behind the winner; this time, it was 19 seconds. So, progress to some extent, but it’s hard not to feel a bit flat after being less than seven seconds from the front at Phillip Island last weekend.

It’d be hard to find two more different places than Phillip Island and Sepang, and that’s not just because of the conditions – the big jacket and beanie that I had last week at the Island never left the hotel here. It’s just a very different race track, a bit of fast and flowing stuff but mostly straights and heavy braking, at least at the start and the end of the lap. That’s normally a good sign for the Ducati and I was looking forward to the race as ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) had won the last two times at Sepang, including last year on the bike I’m riding at the moment. But it just never happened on Sunday.

All through the weekend I felt good, I was up there on the timesheets and made it into Q2 in third on the practice times, so I knew we had decent pace. Qualifying was a bit compromised because the rain delayed us for ages, and it was OK except for that I was a bit annoyed with the second row of the grid, I thought I had the pace for the top three but missed it by about two-tenths.

For the race, you have to get 20 laps right here and not just one, so we went for the medium-compound rear tyre, and I was the only one of us on the entire grid to race it, everyone else used the soft. We had a warm-up session on Sunday on a damp track still, so we didn’t do any laps on slicks on Sunday before the race. It was a bit of an educated guess for all of us with tyre choice, and mine didn’t work. I wanted to do something different because it was the hottest it had been all week, the track temps were up around 54 degrees before the race.

I got a good start again, up to third at the first corner and was able to run some good laps early, but I had to spin the tyre too much too early to stay with the front guys, and the tyre actually spun on the rim and it went out of balance, so I had this mad vibration for half the race. It got worse as the race went on. I had a big save at the last corner on one lap, I wore right through my leathers on my arm, not even the elbow slider, so it was a lucky save, for sure.

When you’re racing the factory guys, doing the same as them with tyres means you’re going to probably finish behind them because of the equipment they have. It’d become a game of follow the leader where you know where you’ll finish, more or less. If the medium tyre had have paid off for me today, it would have looked like a masterstroke. You have to try to do something different to come up with a different outcome. I’m not under any pressure from behind in the championship, there’s nothing to lose, so I thought I’d give the medium a go.

The only place I gained in the last 10 laps was when Vale (Valentino Rossi) crashed out from the lead near the end, which was a bit a surprise. So, the margin to Marc (Marquez, the race-winner) was better than the last few years, but I wasn’t really that happy with how it went.

We raced two hours earlier than we were supposed to after the start got brought forward because of qualifying being delayed for so long on Saturday, and it was the right decision because of the way it rains here. I don’t mind the conditions when it’s a bit mixed as you all know, but there’s not really such a thing in Malaysia as anyone who has been here knows, the rain comes down at a pretty crazy rate when it comes down. It goes from completely dry to unrideable in about two minutes. You can almost set your watch that it’ll rain in the middle of the afternoon here, so running the race earlier was the right way, it’s always been the right way. Maybe the Silverstone situation this year when we couldn’t race was a factor, you wouldn’t want to have too many delayed or cancelled races in one season. We got away with it fine and dry, so it was the right call.

It’s been a pretty massive three weeks with races each weekend, a lot of travel and of course my home GP, so I’m looking forward to getting back to Europe for Valencia in a couple of weeks, get some rest and then try to crack 100 points; if I can finish seventh or better (which is where I finished last year at that race), I’m there. And then I get to try my new Ducati for next season, the GP19, for the first time in the two-day test afterwards, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll speak to you after that.

Cheers, Jack

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Different, but same: Miller secures seventh at home

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Different year, different approach, same result; that was Jack Miller’s assessment of his seventh-place finish in Sunday’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, which came 12 months after he finished in the same position at Phillip Island after dramatically leading for the opening four laps of the race.

Starting from sixth on the grid on Sunday, Miller made his customary jack-rabbit getaway when the lights went out to start the 27-lap race, storming past world champion Marc Marquez (Honda) into turn four on the opening lap to take the lead. Mindful of how his race pace faded after trying to break away from the front early last year, the Australian elected to pace himself on his Ducati, looking to preserve the life of his tyres for a late-race charge towards the podium. But it was a charge that never came.

Miller dropped back to fourth on the second lap of the race, prepared to bide his time in a front-running freight train of 2018-spec Honda, Yamaha and Ducati machines as he punched above his weight on his year-old bike. It was a planned strategy after “spinning the tyre off its head” a year ago, but he finished five seconds from the podium finishers and 6.7secs adrift of Spain’s Maverick Vinales, who broke Yamaha’s 25-race winless streak with his maiden Phillip Island victory.

“I didn’t lead as long as last year, but that was planned,” Miller said.

“I didn’t expect to be leading that early, but the opportunity arose and I put myself there, but really I was trying to save the tyre. For the first three-quarters of the race, the bike was really slow off the corners, and I was actually happy with that. I had a really dull (engine) map, the softest map known to man, and tried to preserve the tyre as much as I could. But it wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have anything to push with in the last laps.”

Miller looked set to pounce in the closing stages as Alex Rins (Suzuki) battled with Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi for fifth place, but ran out of laps to achieve his best premier-class finish at his home race.

“To have Rossi and Rins, the factory Yamaha and the factory Suzuki, right in front of me, that’s a good result,” he said.

“I expected a little bit more. It’s still seventh position like last year, so I’m not too happy, but on a bike that wasn’t in the top 10 here last year, I’ll take it.”

Miller was a constant presence near the sharp end of the timesheets throughout the Phillip Island weekend at a track where Ducati traditionally struggles. Andrea Dovizioso’s third place on Sunday was just the second rostrum result for the Italian manufacturer in Australia since Casey Stoner won his home Grand Prix four times in succession from 2007-10, leaving Miller in an optimistic frame of mind before next Sunday’s penultimate race of the season at Sepang in Malaysia, which features two lengthy straights and numerous hard braking zones that play more to his bike’s strengths than the swoops and sweeps of Phillip Island.

“It’s nice to get back into the top 10 after my crash in Japan, which was my fault,” Miller said.

“It’s some momentum to take to Malaysia, a track where we’ve been in testing. I’m looking forward to comparing where we were in testing to now on the Ducati, because I think we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Top gun: Vinales ends Yamaha’s lengthy drought

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

It took Maverick Vinales four attempts to win the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, but the Spaniard has finally become Phillip Island’s top gun – and snapped Yamaha’s most barren run in the MotoGP world championship in the process.

The 23-year-old Vinales, teammate to seven-time premier class world champion Valentino Rossi, has endured a difficult season at Yamaha’s signature squad, both riders unable to cope with the metronomic speed and consistency of Honda’s Marc Marquez, who annexed his fifth MotoGP title in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. But with Marquez out of the picture after an early incident in Sunday’s 27-lap race, it was time for his fellow Spaniard to shine.

Vinales took Yamaha’s first race win for 25 Grands Prix when he passed the chequered flag 1.543 seconds ahead of pre-race favourite Andrea Iannone (Suzuki), while Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso rounded out the podium in third.

Australia’s Jack Miller matched his Phillip Island-best result of last year with another seventh place after dramatically taking the lead on the opening lap, the 23-year-old Ducati rider finishing 6.7secs behind Vinales.

Vinales, who won three of the first five races of last year before fading in the championship as Yamaha struggled to cope with Dovizioso’s surging Ducati and Marquez’s brilliance, was overcome with emotion after his fifth MotoGP victory, and his third podium in succession at Phillip Island after back-to-back third-place finishes in 2016 and 2017.

“When I crossed the line, there were tears on my face,” he said.

“It feels amazing. It has been such a difficult year for me, I could not realise that I win. The bike was perfect today, and I just pushed my best.

“Winning in Australia, a place I love to be …. I don’t know tonight if I will catch my flight.”

Marquez, starting from pole for the fifth straight year in Australia, was demoted to second by Miller at turn four on the opening lap of the race, the Australian scything through under brakes to repeat his early surge at the Island a year ago, when he led for the first four laps.

The Spaniard regrouped and looked to have the race pace to add to his victories in Australia in 2015 and 2017 before a terrifying crash with Yamaha rider Johann Zarco on lap six, the Frenchman misjudging his braking point into the fearsome 270km/h Doohan Corner, clattering into the back of Marquez’s Honda at over 280km/h.

Zarco skittled through the gravel trap after being pitched from his bike, which broke the seat and suspension on Marquez’s machine and forced the world champion into the pits and an early retirement.

The non-finish continued Marquez’s hot-cold relationship with Australia, where he’s never finished the race the week after he’s been crowned champion in Japan a week earlier. He crashed out of the lead at Phillip Island in 2014 and 2016, and while Sunday’s non-finish wasn’t of his own doing, he was counting his lucky stars that both he and Zarco escaped with little more than bruised pride.

“It was one more time in Phillip Island with zero points, but this time it was not my mistake,” Marquez said.

“I feel very lucky … it was a racing incident. The most important thing is that both riders are OK.”

Vinales, who had a slow start from second on the grid and dropped to 10th on lap one, gradually clawed his way back into contention, and passed Dovizioso for the lead on lap seven and quickly broke away, his lead peaking at four seconds with five laps remaining.

Iannone, who Marquez felt was the pre-race favourite after showing fearsome long-run pace in the four practice sessions across Friday and Saturday, briefly threatened late, but Vinales steadied to banish Yamaha’s historically barren run.

Miller Time: Nearly, but not quite

Jack Miller writes about his second successive seventh place at his home GP, and a Phillip Island weekend that was close to being much more memorable.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Same result after a different approach this time … to be honest, not the way I was hoping my home GP at Phillip Island would work out. I was patient, didn’t overcook the tyres like last year, but I ran out of grip again. So, still seventh position. I’m not too happy, but on a bike that wasn’t in the top 10 here last year, I’ll take it.

I didn’t expect to be leading as early as I did when I passed Marc (Marquez) on the first lap, but the opportunity arose, so I put myself there. I was really just trying to save the tyre. For the first three-quarters of the race, the bike was really slow off the corners, and I was actually happy with that. I had a really dull (engine) map and tried to preserve the tyre as much as I could, but it wasn’t enough. I was on the softest map known to man, I think. So, happy enough with the result, but especially because of how conservative I was in the early laps, I expected a little bit more. But it was still a good weekend for me.

There’s nothing like racing at home for me. OK, there’s a lot of commitments and people pulling you this way and that way, but I remember what it was like when I was struggling to make a name for myself, the early 125cc days and when things weren’t going all that well when you were happy that some people even knew who you were … This is so much better. Some people get distracted by the crowds and family being here, the media and all of that, but I’m fine with it. Yes, it adds some pressure but I put plenty of pressure on myself each weekend anyway, so it’s not that much of a change. It’s mostly positive energy so I’ll take it. I always just hope that people have a good time and that the weather doesn’t ruin it for the fans, which is always a massive factor down here. The crowds were big this year too, I was told more than any year since Casey (Stoner) had his last race here in 2012, so that was awesome to see.

I’ve had good results at the Island in the past of course, and last year when I led the first four laps (and to be honest, had no idea how to play the race once I got up the front) was one of the best moments of my career. It’s such an awesome circuit and it can be a challenge with the wind and whatnot, but that’s the same for all us riders. I just feel comfortable here and it’s such a challenge that you’re locked in for every lap.

I was right up there from the first practice, although some of you would have seen my old mate Cal (Crutchlow) wasn’t all that happy with me after FP1 when I was second by about three-hundredths of a second to Maverick (Vinales). He and I were at a barbeque on Thursday night before the race and he decided he was putting a bet on me to lead FP1, I think I was paying $26 or something … I’d have been annoyed too!

It sucked for Cal to have his accident on Friday where he fractured his ankle, and it sounds like he might be in Melbourne for a while recovering as he has some more treatment to come after his surgery. Hs wife Lucy is down here now too. Cal and I are good mates as everyone knows so it was a shame he wasn’t racing on Sunday with us, and he’s handy around the Island as well. Cal being Cal, he was on the phone Saturday morning giving me tips on how I could race with the guys up the front … As soon as he stopped being the opposition, he was on my side. He seems to be in good spirits and you know him, he’ll do everything he can to get back on the bike as soon as possible. Whether that’s this year … it’s hard to say. There’s a lot of healing he needs to do first.

I went into the race still thinking a podium was achievable after qualifying … another second-row start here, but that qualifying was a scary one when it started spitting with rain just as it started. I’m not going to lie, it was heart-in-mouth stuff. There was a lot of mist, more mist than rain, sticking to your visor, so you didn’t really know how wet it was which is actually worse than it being full wet. At least you know what to expect when it’s properly wet. You were going into the darkness, you just didn’t know. So to bring it home in sixth position, with how the conditions were, I was happy to be in one piece. My elbow got a bit of a workout keeping me upright once or twice …

The other thing about this weekend? Who I rode for. I was a bit flat on Sunday after the Japan race when I arrived at the Island because I still thinking about a chance to ride something different that didn’t quite happen. When we were in Japan, Jorge (Lorenzo) pulled out with injury and was ruled out for the Island as well, so it looked like I may have an opportunity to have a ride of the factory bike alongside ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) at my home GP. Before the race at Motegi, that was the plan we’d decided on with Ducati. But then it all went pear-shaped on Sunday in Japan for me; I crashed out of the race, and when ‘Dovi’ fell off and didn’t score any points, Ducati were more keen to me to stay on my usual bike for Australia so we could try to keep the lead in the independent teams’ championship with Alma Pramac Racing, because the manufacturers’ championship for Ducati was more or less out of reach after no points in Japan.

They put (Alvaro) Bautista on Jorge’s bike for the Island instead, so it probably wasn’t much of a surprise that I was a bit disappointed after Motegi when the plans changed and I’d ended up on my bum in the gravel and stuffed my own race. I got over it quickly enough, but you had to wonder what it would have been like. Aussies on red factory Ducatis tend to go alright at Phillip Island, don’t they …

Anyway, there’s no point looking backwards. It’s onwards and upwards, looking forward to getting my hands on the factory bike starting at Valencia in the last test of the year. But first comes Malaysia and next weekend. I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

High-five for Marquez after mastering Island mist

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Unbeatable at Phillip Island? The coastal circuit’s capricious microclimate, which chose the very moment qualifying started for the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix on Saturday to sprinkle intermittent rain onto one of the fastest and most challenging tracks in all of motorsport. And Marc Marquez, who took his fifth pole position in a row at the Island after finding the right mix of bravery and skill to assert himself when it mattered most.

Honda rider Marquez, who won his fifth MotoGP world title last weekend when he was victorious in the Japanese Grand Prix, made light of his relatively pedestrian practice pace to deliver a lap of 1min 29.199secs with six minutes remaining in Saturday afternoon’s 15-minute qualifying session, the Spaniard beating compatriot Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) by three-tenths of a second to take his 51st MotoGP pole position.

Frenchman Johann Zarco (Yamaha) rounded out the front row, while Australia’s Jack Miller pushed his Ducati to the very edge of its limits in “scary” conditions, nearly crashing at the final corner on his final lap of the session as the rain intensified to qualify sixth.

Marquez came into qualifying after setting just the sixth-fastest time in the opening three practice sessions, and after a scrappy opening day of practice on Friday when he fell at the treacherous downhill Turn 10 and ran off at Turn 6 as he attempted to find the limits of a skittish Honda. But he took control of qualifying after Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the early running, making the most of a lap on the limit where the drizzle briefly abated to take his sixth pole of 2018, and third in succession after topping qualifying in Thailand and Japan.

“On one lap it completely stopped raining and I give everything on that lap,” the 25-year-old said.

“We are nearly all the lap 200(km/h), and when you see small drops of rain on your visor, you don’t know where is the limit.”

Miller was comfortably the fastest of the eight Ducati bikes in the 24-bike field, out-qualifying the likes of Valentino Rossi (Yamaha, seventh) and fellow Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (ninth), who sits second behind Marquez in the championship standings.

The Australian, who typically revels in the type of half-wet, half-dry conditions seen at the Island on Saturday, attempted to reprise his shock pole in similar weather in Argentina earlier this year, but barely hung onto his GP17 machine as it thundered through the final corner at over 270km/h on his last lap, lifting his right leg skywards to regain his balance.

“As I went in there at full angle, it was a little bit slicker than I expected and I had to hold (the bike) up with my elbow,” Miller said.

“It was scary out there, heart-in-mouth stuff. There was a lot of mist, more mist than rain, sticking to your visor, so you didn’t really know how wet it was. You were going into the darkness. So to bring it home in sixth position, with how the conditions were, I’m just happy to be in one piece.”

Marquez, who rode in a pair of Mick Doohan-replica boots on Saturday in a nod to his fellow five-time MotoGP world champion, has a curious record at Phillip Island. Despite his qualifying dominance, Marquez has converted just two of those five pole positions into victories, winning in Australia in 2015 and again last year. He crashed from the lead in 2014 and again in 2016, races that both came one weekend after he’d won that year’s championship in Japan, as he did at the Motegi circuit last weekend.

“I won in 2014 in Motegi and I arrive here and I felt I could do everything, and I crash during the race,” he said.

“In 2016, I start to feel different, and then again I crash in the race. It’s something I need to control myself because it is a circuit that I love, but I feel more relaxed.”

As the sun finally broke through late on Saturday afternoon, Miller was similarly at ease with his prediction that he’d be in the fight for the podium earlier this week, and confident he could snap a barren run for Ducati at a fast, flowing circuit that doesn’t play to his bike’s strengths.

A rocket-ship on lengthy straights, of which Phillip island has none, the Ducati tends to perform best at tracks with hard braking and tighter-radius corners than the majority of those found on Phillip Island’s 12-turn layout. Since Casey Stoner won his fourth Australian Grand Prix in a row for Ducati in 2010, just one Ducati rider (Iannone in 2015) has finished inside the top three in Australia, but Miller feels well placed to aim for the rostrum after finishing two of the four practice sessions this weekend inside the top three.

After leading for the opening four laps last year before fading to seventh place, he’s expecting more of himself 12 months on.

“I don’t think it’ll be a crazy-fast race from the get-go, it’ll wind up with five or six laps to go,” Miller said.

“I think a podium (finish) is definitely within touching distance, so I’m looking to take my experience from last year and hopefully turn it into a better result this year.”

Harder, better, faster, stronger: Miller’s four-part plan

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

The scars on Jack Miller’s shoulders from countless collarbone surgeries show that he’s hard enough, the flashes of speed he’s shown throughout his four-year MotoGP career demonstrate that he’s fast enough. But learning to ride smarter is the next step in Miller’s evolution from front-running interloper to bona fide championship contender, and the Australian is getting a high-speed education in race craft every time he’s near the front of a MotoGP race.

The 23-year-old from Townsville, who starts his fourth Australian Grand Prix in motorcycle racing’s premier class on Sunday, was in rare air this time a year ago at Phillip Island, qualifying an equal career-best fifth on a second-string Honda before storming into the lead of the race for the first four laps, leaving the likes of world champion Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi in his wake. It didn’t last – Miller battled wearing tyres and faded to seventh place – but as he sees it now, it was the race that first alerted him to how much he still has to learn, a theme that has carried over to 2018 and his maiden season riding for Ducati.

“Last year at the Island was more a controlled race than a flat-out sprint, but I didn’t realise it at the time,” Miller admits.

“The guys behind me were riding smart while I was going all-out. It wasn’t the right way to do that race. Me and the team never contemplated what I’d do if I got out the front, it was never discussed because we didn’t expect to be there. I was making it up as I went along.”

Last year’s Island cameo was a surprise sidebar to the main event, the championship showdown between Marquez and Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso that went the way of the Spaniard. Twelve months on, a year of fighting at the front more regularly for Miller has given him all the information he needs on how to capitalise on being in the podium fight. Making what he’s learned pay dividends is still, as he puts it, “a work in progress”.

Having never qualified better than fifth in three years before 2018, Miller showed the step he’d made as a rider with a brilliant early-season pole position in Argentina, where he finished fourth. He was second on the grid to Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo at the San Marino Grand Prix in September, and just last weekend, lined up third after a stunning qualifying lap in Japan.

His results in those latter two races? Eighteenth at Misano after crashing out three laps in and remounting, and finishing his race in the gravel trap after 11 laps last Sunday at Motegi, his decision to race with the soft-compound Michelin tyres backfiring after he lost grip rapidly as he tried to keep the pace.

Before 2018, any strong Miller race was seen through a lens of over-achievement, largely because of the second-tier machinery he was riding. Now, on a stronger bike, riding the Ducati GP17 used by Dovizioso to harry Marquez all the way for the 2017 title, he’s finding himself at the sharp end of races more often. Finding the right mix of red mist and grey matter is something he’s still working on.

“I’ve run up the front in Moto3 and other championships but this is different, these are the best guys in the world,” he says.

“I’ve been up with Marquez, Dovizioso, Lorenzo, Rossi, Maverick (Vinales), Cal (Crutchlow) and those guys. There’s a lot of experience I’ve taken from those guys who have done it more than me, fought for much bigger things than me.

“When you’re actually in the front pack instead of watching it from behind, it is different and there’s a lot for me to learn.

“The riding is a lot more controlled than what it looks from the outside because of the way the tyres work. I’ve made some mistakes doing that and have cost myself plenty of points. You just can’t ride the whole race at 100 per cent, flat out every lap. You might be able to take it physically, but you can spin the tyre off its head like that. If you do that, you end up like I was in Thailand when I was 10th. I was right near the front for a lot of the race, but ran out of grip near the end and basically went backwards.”

Miller sits in 13th place in the standings with 74 points heading into the 16th race of the 18-round campaign on Sunday, but it’s a tally that many, Miller included, feel should be higher. A top-10 championship result and more than 100 points, surpassing his career-best haul of 82 last year, were pre-season goals. While the former seems fanciful given 10th-placed Suzuki rider Andrea Iannone has 113 points with three races remaining, Miller would have already scored 101 points even if he’d finished in the same positions that he’d started races, even without making progress up the order. “There’s probably 40 points I’ve given away so far,” he concedes.

Gaining smarts to align with his natural speed is the next step for Miller, who has made big changes to his life off the track in the past 18 months as he morphs from Moto3 tearaway to a rider Ducati expects to be able to develop its GP19 machine next season. Part of that evolution has been a renewed commitment to training away from the track, with friend and former teammate Crutchlow showing him the way.

Nine years older than Miller at 32, Crutchlow has a base in the Isle of Man and counts professional cyclist Mark Cavendish as one of his closest friends. The hard-as-nails Brit took Miller under his wing in the Australian’s maiden MotoGP season in 2015, showing him the off-track commitment required to become a regular front-runner.

Crutchlow, the 2016 Phillip Island race-winner who’ll miss Sunday’s race after fracturing his right ankle in a practice crash on Friday, is an avid cyclist who doesn’t give a second thought to a six-hour bike ride. Miller grins when he remembers their early training days. “I’d go home exhausted to sleep after we’d been out for three hours, and he’d stay out there and knock off another three …”

While eyebrows the length of the pit lane were raised after Miller defied the form guide by qualifying second at Misano last month, Crutchlow wasn’t the least bit surprised – and hinted at bigger things for the Australian if he can align his speed to a more professional, intelligent approach.

“Within three years I think Jack can win the world title, if he’s clever enough and does the right thing,” Crutchlow said.

“He’s talented enough on a motorcycle. I don’t think there’s anybody in the championship as talented as him. He knows how to ride a bike, he’s not stupid.

“You have to really look, but he’s on a very good, neutral bike that does everything now. That’s one of the keys, to have a bike that’s easy to ride.”

Miller admits Crutchlow’s comments caught him off-guard, but gave him an insight into how he’s perceived by his peers.

“Cal’s been a real mentor for me, he’s always been there for me to answer questions or to give some advice,” Miller says.

“He’s shown me the best way to do things. He didn’t have to, so he’s been really valuable for me.

“He’s always said he has a lot of belief in me and my working style. I think that’s half the reason he helps me out the way he does, we have a similar style of working.

“He made the big call at Misano, that I could be world champion if I put my head down and kept learning. It definitely got my attention. Let’s hope he’s right …”.

Left, right: can Marquez march to another Aussie win?

Marc Marquez is fast everywhere, but has a special affinity with Phillip Island, like every other anti-clockwise track …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It was a bit of light-hearted fun at the end of the pre-event press conference at this year’s Austrian Grand Prix, where a number of MotoGP riders were handed a sheet of paper and a marker to draw their ideal track. Jorge Lorenzo’s was simple, Valentino Rossi’s more elaborate, Andrea Dovizioso’s a mixture of both. Marc Marquez? The Spaniard drew an oval, added a directional arrow, and wrote five words: ‘Left corners and very slippery’. Those in attendance laughed, but as Marquez’s records show, the joke is on everyone else.

The 25-year-old Spaniard has done plenty of winning in the premier class since joining MotoGP in 2013; his victory last time out in Japan secured a fifth world title in his first six seasons, the victory his 43rd in that span. They’re astonishing stats in themselves, but crunch the numbers a little further and you discover where he really makes his rivals pay. Because for Marquez, with his flat-track dirt-bike racing background, it’s right to go left.

Phillip Island, home of this Sunday’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, is one of just five of the 19 circuits featured on the 2018 calendar that goes ‘left’, in that it has more left-hand corners than right-handers. And when a circuit runs anti-clockwise, time seems to be up on the chances of Marquez’s rivals, none of whom have been able to hold a candle to him.

Before the race in Aragon this year (a left-hand track, where Marquez won), cycleworld.com analysed his stats at all tracks, which make for scary reading for his rivals at the ‘left’ ones. Before Aragon, Marquez had won 39 per cent of his MotoGP starts, and 25 per cent of those on clockwise, right-handed circuits – a formidable set of numbers by themselves. On left-hand tracks, that goes up to 71 per cent – and pole position 84 per cent of the time.

Remarkably, Marquez has never been beaten in MotoGP in the USA between the Circuit of the Americas, Indianapolis and Laguna Seca; all left-hand tracks, where he’s a perfect 10-for-10. At the Sachsenring in Germany, the undulating, twisty track that features 10 lefts and just three rights, he’s taken pole and won in all six visits on MotoGP machinery, and won for the three years before that in the Moto2 and 125cc classes. At Aragon (10 lefts, 7 rights), he’s won four times in six years, crashing out the other two times. And at the season finale in Valencia (nine lefts, five rights), he’s been on the podium every year, won in 2014, and secured his 2013 and 2017 titles at the compact Spanish circuit.

How that does that shape his chances for Australia and Phillip Island, where seven of the 12 corners are left-handed? He won both no-holds-barred Australian GP classics in 2015 and 2017, crashed from the lead in 2014 and 2016, and was disqualified while leading in 2013 after being black-flagged for not changing tyres at half-distance of a race where pit stops on safety grounds were mandatory. He’s been on pole at the Island each of the past four years, set the fastest lap of the race twice, and has the circuit record lap of 1min 28.108secs in 2013.

All of which is why, with a fifth MotoGP championship in his pocket before he gets to Australia, he has to be considered the favourite for a track he holds in special esteem.

“It’s one of my favourite circuits, I’m always fast there and I’m enjoying a lot, it’s an incredible track,” Marquez says.

“It’s difficult because it’s very physical, with many hard and fast changes in direction, but I enjoy it a lot every year.”

When those changes of direction are more lefts than rights, it’s easy to see why …

This story was originally published on motogp.com.au and has been reproduced with permission.