Jack Miller

Miller Time: Saying goodbye

Jack Miller writes about finishing up his 2017 season with a strong result in Spain – and his first taste of Ducati power later this week.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

That was a pretty good way to end the year, that’s for sure. There was a lot going on for everyone at Valencia on Sunday – always is when you have the usual massive crowd there and there’s a Spanish rider in the championship fight like there was with Marc (Marquez) against ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) – but it was a big day in our garage too. And it was a pretty decent way for me to close out a couple of pretty memorable years.

I’d known I was leaving the Marc VDS team for a while now of course, because we all knew I was off to Pramac Ducati for next season for the last few months. But Sunday was different because this was it, the last time I’d ride for them after two years. After I broke my leg in September, my main reason for hurrying back as fast as I did was to get back for my home race and the Island, but being there at the end of the season for the team was important too. I mean, whatever happens to me from here, I won a MotoGP race with these guys, so I wanted to finish up properly with them. And to finish seventh in the dry at Valencia and have really good pace all weekend – great way to end up.

Valencia isn’t the easiest track for us MotoGP riders because it’s so narrow and you’re always turning the bike, there’s only one decent-length straight. It’s a short track too, so 30 laps around there feels like forever if the bike is hard to ride. I’ve never had a decent MotoGP race there before, so to be up there all weekend, making Q2 again, fighting with Vale (Valentino Rossi) and (Andrea) Iannone and them in the race for a decent result, that was pretty much perfect. Couldn’t really hold onto them and Alex (Rins) who came through at the end there, but seventh means I finished top 10 in the last three races of the year. That would have been decent even if I hadn’t busted my leg, so pretty happy.

By the time you read this we’ll probably be well on the way to have a decent celebration with the team – which is why I’m writing this now! It’s the last race here for my teammate Tito (Rabat) as well, so they have a pretty different look coming next year. These guys have been great for me, and to know I was the rider who gave them that first MotoGP win last year at Assen, that’s pretty special. They’ve done a lot for me and helped me grow up as a rider (even as a person, I know that’s hard to believe but they have), and I’ll always be thankful for that. The year I spent with my engineer Ramon (Aurin) this year has been huge for me, he’s a done a lot to make me a smarter rider and his experience has been great for a rider like me, what I needed for sure. He’s someone I’ll definitely miss working with day by day.

Of course, it all moves so quickly in MotoGP, and we’ll all be back here in two days with about 100,000 fewer people watching to get 2018 started with the usual post-race test. I remember how it felt two years ago when I left Lucio (Cecchinello) and his team to come down to Marc VDS, and as weird as that was, I was still on a Honda and things felt fairly normal. Thinking that I’ll be on a Ducati on Tuesday, in a new garage with a new team … it’s a lot to take in. Really up for it though, and then it’ll be time for a bit of a break and to get my body right.

Thanks for coming with me for the ride this year. Finishing 11th for the season in the end was just short of the top-10 goal I set myself, and that was after missing a race injured too. So, not too bad I suppose. But I’ll want more next year, and it’ll be good to let you know how it all goes.

Cheers, Jack

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Who wins the MotoGP crown, and why?

It’s Marquez vs Dovizioso for the biggest prize in two-wheel motorsport – here’s five things you need to know before their final-round showdown in Valencia.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

After nearly eight months, 17 Grands Prix, 399 racing laps, five race-winners and 10 different riders on the podium, the 2017 MotoGP season comes down to this – 30 laps in Valencia on Sunday to decide who will wear the crown as the king of two-wheel motorsport. Some 32 riders have taken to the grid for some or all of the 2017 campaign, but Valencia is all about just two.

For Marc Marquez, being in contention at the pointy end of the season is nothing new. In a whirlwind four MotoGP seasons before this one, the Repsol Honda man has won three titles, and leads this year’s championship by 21 points coming into Valencia.

Marquez knows what it’s like to be atop the table coming into the last race; in 2013, he led Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo by 13 points heading to Valencia, a third place as Lorenzo won the race seeing him win the crown by four points. Marquez has done it the easier way too; his 2014 title came in Japan with three races to go after he’d won the opening 10 Grands Prix of the season, while last season, he also secured the title at Motegi with three races remaining.

For Andrea Dovizioso, 2017 has been a breakout campaign for a rider who had managed just two premier-class victories in nine seasons before this one. Like Marquez, the Ducati rider has taken six victories so far in 2017, and no matter what happens in Valencia, he’ll top his previous-best championship finish of third, which he earned riding for Marquez’s current team back in 2011. It’s been 13 years since Dovizioso could call himself a world champion, which came when he won the 125cc title for Honda in 2004.

What are the mathematical implications of this weekend? What must Dovizioso do to pip Marquez at the post? Who’s hot and who isn’t? And what role could teammates Dani Pedrosa (Marquez) and Lorenzo (Dovizioso) play, let alone the likes of factory Yamaha pair Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, among others? Here’s what to watch for, and why.

The maths

To say Marquez is in the box seat is an understatement. With a 21-point advantage over Dovizioso, the Spaniard need only finish 11th or better to win the title no matter what the Italian does. In 17 races so far this year, Marquez has finished 14 of them (he crashed in Argentina and France, and had an engine failure in Great Britain), and 11 of those finishes have been podiums. Sixth in Italy has been his worst result.

Dovizioso has been more dependable (he’s finished 16 times in 17 races, equal with Johann Zarco for the most finishes this year), and the one DNF wasn’t even his fault, taken out mid-race by Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro in Argentina in round two. ‘Dovi’ has finished on the podium eight times, but picked a bad time for his worst result of the year last month at Phillip Island, when he finished just 13th as Marquez won the race to see an 11-point championship deficit balloon to 33.

The Valencia records

For all of his dominance elsewhere, Marquez has a surprisingly modest MotoGP record at Valencia, winning just once (2014) in four attempts. But before Ducati fans get too excited, it’s worth pointing out that Marquez made the podium on the other three visits – third in 2013, and second in 2015 and again last year.

Valencia is also home to perhaps Marquez’s most mesmerising world championship performance; in his final Moto2 race before graduating to the top flight in 2012, he was sent to the back of the grid for a practice infringement and started 33rd – and won anyway, his first lap that day one that still has seasoned onlookers shaking their heads in astonishment …

By contrast, Dovizioso has been super-consistent – he’s finished in the top 10 for nine consecutive years at Valencia – but has just one podium (third in 2011) on his CV. But that was the Dovizioso of old – who knows what this year’s re-booted version could achieve?

The recent form

Marquez has led the standings after eight races this season, Dovizioso two. More recently, over a snapshot of the past five races, it’s Marquez 108 points, Dovizioso 78. Included in that quintet of Grands Prix are three wins for Marquez (San Marino, Aragon and Australia), and two for Dovizioso (Japan and last time out in Malaysia, both of which came in wet conditions). In fact, the front-running duo have been so dominant that the last rider other than Marquez or Dovizioso to win a race this year was Rossi, way back in round eight at Assen in June. Since then, it really has been a two-horse race. Expect Dovizioso and Ducati to be doing a rain dance this week …

The teammates

What could Pedrosa or Lorenzo do to influence the title race? Lorenzo’s role in particular came under the microscope in Malaysia, when he led for much of the race before making a mistake at the final corner with five laps to go, Dovizioso steaming through to take the win. Afterwards, Lorenzo claimed he didn’t see a dashboard instruction from Ducati to let his teammate by to take the extra five world championship points that come with a victory, but added “I already knew, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what to do in this situation”.

What brings Lorenzo into play here is that the Mallorcan has been the dominant force at Valencia in recent times, winning three of the past four races there to go with his other triumph at the tight Spanish track in 2010. He secured the 2015 title – the only one not won by Marquez since the Honda rider came into MotoGP – with victory from pole. Rain, hail or shine, Lorenzo shapes as a factor at Valencia, which could help his teammate.

Pedrosa also has success to draw upon at Valencia, but not recently; the last of his three wins there came in 2012, while last year, he crashed out on lap seven after qualifying a lowly eighth.

If either teammate is figure prominently in Valencia, it’s likely to be Lorenzo – and especially if it rains.

The sideshows

While it’s all about the top two in Valencia, there’s several other storylines worth keeping an eye on.

With 197 points in 16 of the 17 races (he missed Misano with a broken leg), 2017 is already guaranteed to be Rossi’s lowest-scoring season in five years since he’s been back at Yamaha. Worse could be yet to come – should Pedrosa outscore him by 13 points in the final race, ‘The Doctor’ would fall to fifth in the championship, his worst finish on a Yamaha in 12 seasons. The Italian hasn’t won at Valencia in 13 years, and has just one podium (second in 2014) in his past six starts.

For his old Yamaha teammate Lorenzo, 2017 shapes as the first season in his 10 MotoGP campaigns that he hasn’t won a race; second last time out in Malaysia was the best of his three podiums so far in red.

And for Aussie fans, keep an eye on Jack Miller, whose goals coming into the season were to stay healthy after an injury-ravaged 2016, and to finish inside the top 10 overall. He very nearly managed the former before a broken right leg saw him miss the round in Japan, but he’s bounced back since with strong top-10 runs at home in Australia and in Malaysia a fortnight ago. As for the latter: Miller sits 12th on 73 points coming into Valencia, two points behind Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista, and just 11 behind Yamaha’s Jonas Folger in 10th, with the German set to miss the season finale with illness.

Fifth – and topping his season-best to date of sixth at Assen and in Misano – would do it for Miller, depending on what Bautista can manage.

Miller Time: Wanting more in Malaysia

Jack Miller writes about a race at Sepang that was equally good and bad, and the one box that can still be ticked with one MotoGP race left this season.  

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Two top-10 finishes in a week? Normally I’d be pretty happy with that – actually, very happy with that. But as I started to cool down after Malaysia (or try to anyway, the humidity here isn’t the easiest for that), I was a bit disappointed in a way. Eighth is good, especially in a race like that when it’s wet and it’s so easy to make a mistake and end up with a zero. But there were definitely a few ‘what if?’ moments that I kept thinking about.

The start was one. I was 11th on the grid, but it’s such a long run to Turn 1 at Sepang that you can make up a heap of places if you get it right. I got off the line well and went tight down the inside and held my line, and was probably up to around fourth or so. Looking good. But then we got to Turn 2, there were people everywhere and a bit of contact, and people were coming inside of me, outside … I had to sit up a bit which didn’t help, and the next thing you know I’m 10th at the end of the first lap. The first lap was like being pinballed around – I was just too slow and couldn’t find the grip. Has some contact with Maverick (Vinales), and a few others actually – I was a bit of a roadblock.

And that’s how it felt for the whole race, until maybe five or six laps from the end – I knew I could be faster but just had no grip. When I was on the left-hand side of the tyre especially – even staying upright felt like a challenge. The tyre finally started to come good for me after that, and my best lap with five laps to go was the sixth-fastest of the race, so it shows that pace that was there – maybe I needed them to wear faster for me or something. By then though I was too far back and while I was able to get (Alvaro) Bautista and Scott (Redding) to get to eighth, I was too far back from Vale (Valentino Rossi) to seriously give him a challenge for seventh, and that was that.

Malaysia probably has the most changeable weather of anywhere we go, even Phillip Island, so I was hoping the weather would hold for the race. We had good dry-weather pace, and I was pretty quick in the morning warm-up. But then half an hour before we started, it bucketed down and threw everything up in the air. Some guys went backwards, other guys like Danilo (Petrucci) came from the very back after his bike broke down on the way to the grid and somehow finished sixth, right behind Dani (Pedrosa) who was on pole! It was a strange one alright. I go pretty good in the wet as you know, but I wanted it to be dry as our pace was strong, very strong actually. What was possible in a normal dry race? Top six, definitely. Maybe a bit more than that, if I’m being greedy. So happy with eighth, but a bit frustrated.

At the start of the year, I set myself a goal to try and finish in the top 10 in the championship, and that was looking good until the races after Assen, where I only scored three points from Sachsenring to Silverstone. Missing Japan after breaking my leg didn’t help either, I suppose. But the last two races mean I’ve scored 17 in a week, and I’m now only 11 points off Jonas Folger in 10th, and he’s not riding at the last race in Valencia. I 100 per cent wrote a top-10 off before Australia, but it could be back on again. I’d need my best result of the year to do it, fifth or better in Valencia, but it’s a chance. For that to even be a topic with one race left, that makes me really happy. It’s within reach, and while it’ll take a really solid effort from me and the team in Valencia, I believe we can do it.

The break between here and Valencia is pretty important for me, considering I’ve done these last two races while getting used to the plate and screws in my right leg and clearly not being 100 per cent. I can now get back to Andorra and launch into some physio this week, which I’m going to need after how physical Sepang was. It’s a week more into my recovery than Phillip Island was, but the Island was easier in some ways as the track goes left and the corners are mostly fast and long corners. Sepang goes right, there’s heaps of stop-start stuff where you’re standing the bike up, so definitely harder on the right leg. If I can get some better range of motion for Valencia, I should be a lot better.

It’s been a pretty full-on couple of weeks and the team is in a good mood to celebrate because Franco (Morbidelli) won the Moto2 championship today, so I reckon it’s time to stop talking and go for a beer with those guys, and then get back to Europe tomorrow. One more to go and one more thing I’m after for this year – I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

Miller learns a lesson, but leaves a mark

Stunning early-race pace shows how far Jack Miller has come – and how far he has left to go.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

Three weeks after snapping his right leg in a training accident, one week after he was in too much pain to even throw his leg over a motorcycle, and one day after he’d qualified a career-best fifth on the grid, Jack Miller surged to the lead at the first corner of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, scything past none other than three-time world champion Marc Marquez to send the Phillip Island crowd into delirium.

Which posed one problem. What to do next?

Miller has led a world championship Grand Prix before – he memorably won the Dutch TT at Assen last year in weather better suited for boats than a Honda capable of nudging 350km/h – but this was something entirely different. Leading a race on merit in bone-dry conditions at home? With a plate and eight screws in his leg? This wasn’t in the script. And while he faded to seventh place in a race won by Marquez after 27 frantic laps of the Phillip Island circuit on Sunday, Miller felt finishing just five seconds from the victory was his most convincing MotoGP performance yet – and one that taught him a valuable lesson.

The Townsville 22-year-old stormed away from the rest of the pack at such a fearsome pace on Sunday that he led for the opening five laps, keeping vastly more experienced riders on superior bikes in his wheeltracks. But then the realisation that he’d need to preserve his Michelin tyres for later in the race if he was to snatch a shock home podium dawned on him, and Miller admitted afterwards that the thrill of leading his home Grand Prix might have clouded his thinking.

“I was thinking ‘is this really happening?’,” he said. “Being in the lead felt like forever for me.

“I got a decent start, and then Marc ran wide and opened the door for me, so I pushed through. I thought there was no better place to be on the first lap than first, especially into (Turn 4) with all of the others behind me. I had a really good opening couple of laps and was able to pull a gap on the other guys. But I might have got a bit carried away.”

By the time Miller “took the brain out of neutral”, he knew that his best chance of earning a second MotoGP podium finish had become a long shot as the rest of the pack started to gnaw at his advantage.

“On the third lap, I buttoned off a little bit – whoever was behind me, I just wanted them to come through because I wanted a marker, someone to set the pace so I wasn’t out there spinning the tyre off its head and destroying it,” he said.

“Once I got a few laps in behind Marc, and understood what he was doing on his tyre, I started trying to do that, but it was probably too little too late. I’ve learned what I need to do for next year.”

MotoGP riders, by their very nature, are rarely satisfied, Miller admitting to being mildly annoyed on Saturday after equalling his career-best qualifying effort of fifth, given fourth-placed Andrea Iannone (Suzuki) was just two-hundredths of a second faster. But just seven days after being forced to watch the Japanese Grand Prix on TV from his mum’s couch in Townsville and barely being able to walk without a limp, seventh place – and those early laps – gave Miller cause for pause.

“The cocky, confident person inside me was saying ‘you’ll be right’, but the real me was thinking ‘this isn’t going to be easy’,” he said of his expectations for his home race so soon after surgery.

“To come back here and, let alone ride, but be as competitive as we were, wasn’t what I expected. I haven’t had that many strong dry races – we’ve been there or thereabouts, but never for the whole race. Today was just a really good run and I felt really comfortable. Maybe I need to break my leg more often …”

Marquez puts one hand on the title

A Phillip Island win and a disaster for ‘Dovi’ has Spaniard on the brink of a fourth MotoGP title.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

For the past five years in MotoGP, Marc Marquez has been the Phillip Island benchmark. But for much of those past five years, the Honda rider has routinely left Australia disappointed, just one win on his CV scant reward for his searing pace around one of the world’s most daunting race tracks.

Sunday at the Island changed all that, the Spaniard converting his fourth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix into a hard-fought victory – and with it, putting himself in the box seat to win his fourth MotoGP world championship in his first five years in the category next weekend in Malaysia.

Marquez came to Australia with a slender 11-point championship lead after being beaten by Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso in a frantic head-to-head fight at last week’s Japanese Grand Prix, but the Honda rider’s sixth win of 2017, combined with Dovizioso finishing a season-worst 13th, saw Marquez extend his championship lead to 33 points with a maximum of 50 remaining in the final two races of the season at Sepang and Valencia. Game, set, and almost match.

Marquez’s victory, after he’d topped the timesheets in all but one on-track session in every weather condition imaginable over three days at Phillip Island, didn’t come easily. The Spaniard was ambushed into the first corner by the typically fast-starting Australian Jack Miller, and was embroiled in a frantic eight-bike fight for the podium places that raged until the final five laps, when he was finally able to break away.

Marquez crossed the line 1.7 seconds ahead of Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), the six-time Phillip Island winner surging through the field from seventh on the grid. Rossi’s teammate Maverick Vinales stole the final podium position on the line from dynamic French rookie Johann Zarco, Vinales edging his Yamaha stablemate by 0.016 seconds.

Miller, racing just three weeks after fracturing his right tibia in a training accident near his European home base of Andorra, unexpectedly led for the opening five laps before fading to seventh, finishing just five seconds from the victory after qualifying an equal career-best fifth on Saturday.

Marquez, whose exuberant post-race celebrations went up a notch when he realised where Dovizioso had finished by stealing a look at a trackside big screen on his way back to the pits, knew that he’d gone a long way to becoming a four-time MotoGP world champion by the age of 24.

“‘Dovi’ was struggling a little bit this weekend, and I was feeling really good,” he said.

“In the race, I was just waiting, waiting, and then I push hard for three or four laps. The bike was amazing.”

Like Australian Casey Stoner before him, whose retirement in 2012 opened the door for the baby-faced Marquez to join the crack Repsol Honda squad, the sweeping curves of the seaside Phillip Island layout mesh perfectly with the Spaniard’s all-action style; unlike Stoner, who won six straight times at home from 2007-12, Marquez has rarely been able to make his dominance count on race day.

Disqualified while running at the front on his Australian MotoGP debut in 2013, Marquez crashed out while leading in Australia in 2014 and again last year, his win in 2015 a rare reward for his mastery of one of the world’s toughest tracks. Sunday’s victory, which came after he dropped to fourth place 10 laps from home, was even more crucial given Dovizioso’s Island misery continued.

The 31-year-old Italian has enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017, winning five Grands Prix to emerge as an unlikely title contender, and twice having the measure of Marquez in last-lap battles in Austria and Japan. But Dovizioso never figured at the front on Sunday, a heavy crash in final practice before qualifying on Saturday denting his confidence and seeing him qualify just 11th.

Running wide at the blindingly quick Doohan Corner at Turn 1 on the second lap dropped Dovizioso to 20th, and while he made his way back through the midfield, he relinquished places to fellow Ducati rider Scott Redding and Marquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa on the final lap to score just three world championship points. In 10 MotoGP appearances at the Island, Dovizioso has managed just one podium finish, a third place in 2011.

While seventh for Miller wasn’t his best result of the season – the Townsville tyro finished sixth in wet races at the Dutch TT and in San Marino – it was by far his most convincing performance of the year, the 22-year-old featuring in the top 10 on the timesheets in every on-track session, and scoring nine world championship points to surpass his 2016 season total of 57 with two races remaining.

Miller Time: Now that was fun …

Jack Miller writes about leading his home Grand Prix and learning a valuable lesson after his dramatic comeback at Phillip Island.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Well, I definitely didn’t expect that. I mean, how could you? When I woke up at Phillip Island on Sunday morning, it did make me think that this time three Sundays ago, I was basically coming out of surgery after breaking my leg. At that stage, riding anything seemed a bit far-fetched, and here I was about to go into my home Grand Prix fifth on the grid, and feeling way better than I expected to. I’d been quick in the wet and the dry, I’d been in the top 10 in every session, and I was pretty optimistic that the adrenaline of racing again – and racing at home – would carry me through 27 laps at the Island without needing a painkiller.

And then the start happened.

I generally start pretty well anyway, but to be first into Turn 1 after Marc (Marquez) opened the door for me, that absolutely wasn’t in my plans. Heaps of people afterwards asked me if I’d heard the crowd go up because I’d taken the lead, or wondering if I’d been pushed along by the crowd – not at all. I was a bit bloody surprised to be in the lead, and I definitely had a ‘is this really happening?’ moment as I came towards Turn 4 on the first lap. All my family and heaps of mates were at Turn 4 all weekend, and I’m guessing they were all as shocked as I was. Turn 4 here on the first lap can be a pretty hairy place to be if you’re in the middle of the pack, so to be up front, and not expecting to be, that worked out pretty well.

You saw what happened after that. I definitely went for too much in the first few laps, led almost five of them before Vale (Valentino Rossi) and Maverick (Vinales) came past me on the straight so fast that they almost pulled the stickers off my bike, and then settled into that front group of eight that was setting a pretty ferocious pace. I knew even then that I’d probably taken too much out of the tyres with the excitement of being in the lead, and that I’d probably pay for that later in the race. So to finish seventh after leading, in one way, was a bit of a shame. But I learned a big lesson, and did that while finishing five seconds off the win, and three and a bit seconds from the podium. Three weeks after breaking my leg? I’d have signed up for that with a body that wasn’t injured, let alone one that was.

Someone asked me afterwards whether it felt like I was only in the lead for a second or two and then the pack came past me, but it was the opposite – it felt like forever. Being in the lead and not really knowing what pace I should set or how hard I should be pushing was actually pretty difficult, so I buttoned off a bit after three laps and hoped that someone would come through so I could see the pace they were running. I didn’t know how hard I should have been pushing. If I’d kept going the way I was, I’d have spun the tyre off its head and definitely not made the finish. So I learned something today.

With three laps to go I decided to have another little dig and close the gap to ‘Crutch’ (Cal Crutchlow), but I just started spinning too much, and that the caused the tyre to go down to the base rubber. On the last lap I threw it into Turn 2, I was maybe half a second behind ‘Crutch’, I flicked the bike over quite aggressively and she nearly came around on me. The tyre was finished on the left side. Done. But when you consider that I haven’t had that many strong dry races – we’ve been there or thereabouts, but never for a whole race – today was just a really good run.

I was so into it that I realised that during the race, I hadn’t noticed my leg a lot. Adrenaline is better than any painkiller you could take, for sure. My leg didn’t really give me any grief, and I didn’t really notice it up until I went to do a burnout in front of my fans at Turn 4 – when I straightened my leg out, it was a bit stiff. But on the bike, it was fine.

The whole weekend was just really strong from start to finish. I was a bit worried on Saturday when it was cold and rainy, because I just couldn’t get warm all of a sudden. I just felt really cold all day, and wondered if I was starting to get sick or something. I spent a week at my parents’ place in Townsville because I missed Japan, so coming to the Island from there … the week home in a t-shirt might have softened me up! I had an early night Saturday night, literally grabbed some takeaway and slept. Felt heaps better on Sunday, and as much as I don’t mind riding in the rain, I was pretty happy when the sun came out for the race. That circuit in sunny weather, it’s something else.

Sunday was obviously good, but Saturday, to do that lap in qualifying in the 1:28s, that was pretty awesome. Fifth on the grid was way more than I’d expected coming in. I mean, how can you expect anything much when three weeks ago to the day you’re coming out of an anaesthetic in hospital after having eight screws and a plate put into your leg? The good thing was that I was actually bit shitty with how the end of qualifying went, because me, Marc, Dani (Pedrosa) and Pol (Espargaro) were all waiting around for a tow and none of us managed to get any benefit out of it. Nobody really wanted to go; I gave Marc a slipstream and he didn’t return the favour – that was pretty nice of him … But fifth, same as the best I’ve done in MotoGP that I did at the Island last year, was really good. Shame to get so close to (Andrea) Iannone and miss a best MotoGP qualifying by two-hundredths, but maybe that was a sign that I’m getting better, that it went well and I still wanted more …

It’s definitely been a whirlwind of a week, but a really good one as well. Sepang next weekend will definitely be two things – a lot hotter and a lot quieter for me! A lot more people wanted to see me and talk to me this week, and while you’d get exhausted or maybe a bit distracted if it was like that every week, it’s your home race – and not everyone gets one of those. It’s a privilege to have one, and to have one at a track that every one of us riders loves (and we’re not just saying that to be nice like we sometimes do!), that’s a bonus.

Thanks to everyone that came out, and I hope we put on a good show for you. I know I enjoyed it …

Cheers, Jack

Marquez flies as Miller defies the pain barrier

Saturday was a good day for Marc Marquez – and an even better one for Australian Jack Miller.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SUNDAY AGE NEWSPAPER

Statistically, Marc Marquez can’t win the MotoGP world championship this weekend, but psychologically, the Australian Grand Prix always shaped as a decisive moment in his late-season tussle for the title with Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.

Phillip Island suits the mercurial Spaniard’s gravity-defying style arguably more than any other stop in the 18-race world championship, and the Repsol Honda rider underlined his Down Under dominance with a fourth consecutive pole position at the picturesque seaside circuit on Saturday.

Marquez, who arrived in Australia with a tenuous 11-point championship lead over Dovizioso, made his searing practice pace count when it came to setting the grid for Sunday’s 27-lap race, firing in a last-gasp lap of 1min 28.386secs in qualifying to snare his seventh pole position in 16 races this season.

The three-time world champion finished three-tenths of a second ahead of compatriot Maverick Vinales (Yamaha), while dynamic French rookie Johann Zarco (Yamaha) rounded out the front row of the grid.

Marquez’s joy after qualifying was in stark contrast to Dovizioso’s dark mood at Ducati, the Italian never regaining his momentum after a massive crash at Turn 10 in the final practice session that left him unhurt, but with his bike in pieces.

The 31-year-old, who brilliantly beat Marquez in a last-lap showdown last weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix to take his fifth win of the season, could manage just 11th on the grid, his worst qualifying performance since round four of the season in Spain five months ago.

If Marquez was the biggest winner at Phillip Island on Saturday, Jack Miller wasn’t far behind him. The 22-year-old Australian, returning to the track just three weeks after breaking his right leg in a training accident near his European base in Andorra, defied the pain barrier to qualify an equal career-best fifth, matching his performance at Phillip Island a year ago.

Miller, who missed last Sunday’s race in Japan in an optimistic bid to be fitter for the challenge posed by the daunting 4.4-kilometre Phillip Island layout, made the top 12 shootout for pole position for just the fourth time this year, and had designs on a front-row starting spot when he trailed only Marquez and Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone after the opening laps of qualifying.

Late improvements by Vinales and Zarco bumped him to the second row, and the Honda rider finished an agonising two-hundredths of a second behind Iannone for what would have been a career-best fourth, a position he admitted was unthinkable when he snapped his right tibia while out training with several other riders, good friend Vinales one of them.

“Fifth on the grid is more than expected, considering three weeks ago to the day I was coming around after an anaesthetic,” he beamed afterwards.

“I couldn’t ask for more. I always want a challenge, especially when I come home to the Island, but this (result) is exceeding any expectations I had.”

That Marquez made the Island his own once again shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the Spaniard has taken the baton from the rider he replaced at the Repsol Honda squad, Australian Casey Stoner, as the modern-day master of one of the most revered circuits in the sport.

In five MotoGP visits to the Island, Marquez has been on pole four times, won the race in 2015, and crashed out while enjoying commanding leads in 2014 and again last year, when he had already wrapped up his third world title a week earlier in Japan.

By contrast, Dovizioso’s stats in Australia make for short and not particularly inspiring reading; he has just one podium (2011) here in nine premier-class outings. Sunday shapes as Marquez’s time to shine, no matter what Phillip Island’s capricious microclimate serves up late on Sunday afternoon.

Miller, who won the Dutch TT at Assen last year in a deluge for his sole visit to a MotoGP podium, could be excused for hoping the Island’s trademark weather makes an appearance on Sunday, but given his physical condition, he’s hopeful of a dry race – and optimistic he can continue the form that has seen him inside the top 10 in every practice and qualifying session this weekend.

“When I’m on the bike and the adrenaline starts flowing, my leg is alright, so I’m hoping over the race distance that it won’t be too much of a problem,” he said.

“Sitting fifth on the grid, I want to get out with a decent start and tag along with that front group, and try to stay there as long as possible to see how the race develops. A top-five (finish) would be lovely, but anywhere inside the top eight I’d be happy with.”