Red Bull

Miller Time: Going down the long road

Jack Miller writes about a Qatar GP that produced a top-10 finish on his Ducati debut, but showed there’s plenty more in the pipeline.


Hi everyone,

It’s a long season. It’s a long season. It’s a long season … yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s what I’ve been saying in my head since I got off the bike here in Qatar after the first race on Sunday night. Starting 10th and finishing in the same position after 22 laps isn’t going to get anyone that excited, especially me, and especially after how well the pre-season went for me – I was expecting quite a lot more. But it’s a long … you get the drift.

The whole weekend was one of those ‘nearly, but not quite’ weekends where you feel you can just about touch a good result, but it never quite gets there. Friday, I had some dramas with tyres in practice and it didn’t look good back in 14th, especially seeing as though I’d been six-tenths of a second faster  in the test a couple of weeks back. But I knew I had more pace than that, there was a reason I was back there, and it was nice to show I was right on Saturday in qualifying. I finished top of Q1 and made it through to Q2, and then did a 1:54.449 on my last Q2 lap and managed personal bests in three of the four sectors, so really happy with that. Felt like a lap that could have been on the second row of the grid, to be honest. But the pace was crazy fast and I was back in 10th; not terrible, but could have been better for the first race.

Tyre wear at Losail is always an issue on this surface and being in the middle of the desert like we are, so it wasn’t the first few laps that would set up everyone’s races on Sunday, it was the last seven laps or so. I was in OK shape hanging onto the main group for the first bunch of laps, but got a bit of a warning at the second-last corner eight laps in when I had a decent moment, and you could tell I needed to manage the front tyre life a bit more. That was when my pace dropped off, I never did do a lap of 1min 55secs after that, and the pack got further away from me. I was hardly the only one to drop back; Johann (Zarco) led the race for most of it from pole and fell back massively at the end to finish eighth, while someone like Maverick (Vinales), who started behind me and was a fair way back from me in the early laps, ended up flying through and finishing sixth. How much tyre you had left at the end was the deciding factor, really.

Compared to last year, I finished a tenth of a second (literally 0.108secs, someone told me) further back from first place than here in 2017, which isn’t great. But it’s not all bad, because last year I was pushing like crazy and maxed it out to get to eighth, and this year I know we have way more potential than that and I was still the same 14-ish seconds off the winner. Didn’t feel like I could have done much more last year, but there’s way more to come from me and this Ducati. It’s one race of 19. Long season … The team seemed pretty happy, and for me, it’s natural to be disappointed because us riders always want more, even the guy who wins wishes he could have won by more most of the time. But we’ll be OK in the long run.

Argentina comes next, but that’s three weeks away yet which is a bit frustrating. It’ll be my 50th MotoGP race too, so that’s a bit of a milestone. Should be a better one than it was here too. I’ll catch up with you then.

Cheers, Jack


Jack Miller’s 2018 season in a snapshot

On a new machine and with a new lease of life – is this the year the Aussie MotoGP hard-charger takes a big leap?


Time is always in short supply in any MotoGP pre-season, and up and down the pit lane, you’ll hear teams and riders wishing they had more of it before the lights go out on the first race of the year in Qatar on March 18. Jack Miller? He’d probably gladly line up at Losail tomorrow if you asked him. And it’s not because the 23-year-old lacks the necessary patience to persist with the pre-season grind – he’s ready to get racing for something real right now. And it’s easy to see why.

Miller has had a spring in his step ever since he stepped off a Honda and onto a Ducati with Alma Pramac Racing for the first time in last year’s late-season test in Valencia, and sported a smile to go with it after three days of testing in Malaysia late last month, finishing fifth on the overall timesheets while coming nowhere close to his potential as rider and machine get better acquainted.

“I don’t feel like I have to go crazy or ride over the edge to get a lap time out of it, which is a huge positive,” he said of the Ducati GP17 after Sepang, and he’s looking forward to this week’s second pre-season outing at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand to confirm that early promise was real a month out from the season start.

Looking further ahead than Thailand, what does 2018 as a whole have in store for Miller? What’s on his mind ahead of the 19-race campaign? And what does our crystal ball tell us about his fourth season in the top flight, and where he’ll be at the end of it?

Here’s our 10-point preview for Ducati’s Townsville tearaway.

What happened last year
Miller’s 2017 campaign had more rises and falls than a lap of the Sachsenring. Fortunately those falls weren’t of the 2016 variety, when he missed five races with assorted injuries from high-speed tumbles, but he started up (three top-10 finishes in the first three Grands Prix), flattened off (just three points in four races between Germany and Great Britain), missed a race (Japan) after breaking his right tibia in a training accident, and then finished with a three-race flourish while compromised physically in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia, the high point coming at Phillip Island when he qualified an equal career-best fifth and led his home race for the first time. The pre-season goal of a top-10 finish in the championship just went begging (he was 11th, just two points behind Yamaha’s Jonas Folger), but it was his most convincing season to date, even taking into account that he won his first MotoGP race at Assen a year earlier.

Miller’s MotoGP seasons
2017: 82pts (11th), 2016: 57pts (18th), 2015: 17pts (19th).

2017: in his own words
“These guys (Marc VDS) 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 … 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. He’s someone I’ll definitely miss working with day by day.”
– Miller, writing for on his two years with Marc VDS Honda before heading to Ducati

2017: an expert’s view
“The irony of Honda not renewing Miller’s factory contract this year is that the straight-talking Aussie enjoyed his most impressive campaign in his third season in the premier class. Even if there was no repeat of his 2016 Dutch TT victory, Miller was much more consistent, finishing inside the top 10 on nine occasions despite the limitations of his machinery. Forced to miss Motegi with a broken leg, he excelled when he returned at Phillip Island, leading the opening laps – and in the final two races he beat the man who took his HRC contract for 2018, Cal Crutchlow.”
– Miller’s review in Autosport’s Top 10 MotoGP riders of 2017, where he ranked 10th.

Home pressure? What home pressure?
While Assen is the circuit where Miller has scored more of his MotoGP points than any other courtesy of that 2016 victory, Phillip Island is, statistically, his strongest track. Three MotoGP races, three points finishes, 16 points in all (a tally matched in Malaysia) and his two best qualifying performances (fifth in 2016 and again last year) means Miller has more love for the Island than most.

On the flip side …
For all of that positivity, we have to acknowledge the bogey tracks, and for Miller there’s two, Silverstone and Jerez. After three starts at each, he’s yet to score a MotoGP point …

Still a young gun
Miller may be about to start his fourth MotoGP season, but only Suzuki’s Alex Rins (22 years old) is younger than the Aussie in the 24-rider field.

The burning question
There’s no such thing as a small year in MotoGP, but when you’ve lost your Honda factory backing and signed up on a one-year deal to ride a satellite Ducati for 2018, the pressure is on Miller to deliver. With teammate Danilo Petrucci looking for a factory ride (at Ducati or elsewhere) for 2019, Miller has a golden opportunity to impress this year on a bike Petrucci took to four podium finishes a year ago, three of them coming in the wet. Miller, as we know, isn’t averse to a pinch of precipitation himself (filed under ‘Assen 2016’). Can he step onto the rostrum if the opportunity presents itself? It’s not critical for his MotoGP future, but it can certainly help.

Miller’s outlook
“Last year I set my goal of finishing inside the top 10 for the season and didn’t quite make it, but it’s hard to factor in things like injuries and whatnot. So staying injury-free is a goal, and breaking 100 points for the season for the first time is too. Whatever happens after that, I’ll take it.”
– Miller after the Malaysia pre-season test

We’re predicting …
We chickened out on getting too bullish on Miller’s 2017 season in this space last year, which we’ll admit with the caveat that he spent plenty of the previous season hurting himself (or recovering from hurting himself), which made pre-season prognostications difficult. So we’ll stick our neck out this time; all signs point to that top-10 championship finish Miller craves, and we’d not be surprised in the slightest with a couple of podiums before the year is out, and not necessarily in wet races.

Jack Miller talks testing, 2018 and life at Ducati

The all-action Aussie MotoGP rider has a big year ahead of him – and if testing tells us anything, he’s on the right track.


If consistency is the key to success, Jack Miller is on the right road.

The Townsville 23-year-old, along with the rest of the grid, assembled in Malaysia last week for the first of three pre-season MotoGP tests, and expectations were modest for Miller as he bedded himself in with his new team, Alma Pramac Racing, and on a Ducati GP17 after three years of riding for Honda. And while the post-test headlines focused on the fledgling days of Marc Marquez’s title defence and the progress of Yamaha with Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, Miller certainly turned heads at the Sepang International Circuit.

Fifth on the timesheets on all three days, his best-ever lap of the challenging Sepang layout that was well inside the magical two-minute mark (1min 59.346secs on the final day) and 123 laps (more than six Grand Prix distances) in all gave Miller plenty of cause for optimism after the first official hit-out of 2018. As he sees it, Sepang was a good start, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and those gains are already within touching distance as gets more familiar with riding a Ducati.

“The main difference for me is that I feel more in control of this bike than I ever did with the Honda, because the Honda felt like it was on a knife-edge the whole time,” he says, making the most of a break in the pre-season schedule to scurry back to the Miller family home just outside of Townsville.

“Most of the time on the Honda for the last couple of years I didn’t feel like I had much margin to play with and maybe be able to use to get that last little bit of lap time out, but on this bike I’m more controlling it, you could say. The way to get those last tenths (of a second) off seems like it’s more in my hands, and the better lap times are coming more easily to me in some ways. I don’t feel like I have to go crazy or ride over the edge to get a lap time out of it, which is a huge positive.

“The Honda was pretty good in the change of direction stuff, but would always want to pop the front wheel coming out of the slow-speed corners. The Ducati seems to handle those a lot easier, so I’m having to change my approach on how to ride, but that’s a good thing.”

After three years across two Honda teams, Miller’s Ducati move sees him partnered with Italian Danilo Petrucci, who impressed with four podium finishes last year riding the GP17 bike Miller will campaign this season. Petrucci will ride a GP18 to provide development support and feedback to Ducati factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, and coming into a new set-up where he’s already friendly with the rider on the other side of the garage has only helped what has been a smooth transition.

“It’s only been a short time with the new team, but it feels pretty comfy already,” Miller says of the satellite Ducati operation.

“Working with the team, getting to know how they want to work and them understanding me a bit more day by day, it’s going well and the fit seems to be pretty good. They’ve welcomed me in and made sure I had everything I needed, and they’re a team of real racers who want to do well as a team, so that’s made it a fairly easy adjustment.

“(Race engineer) Cristhian Pupulin has been at Ducati for a very long time and he’s been really good for me so far, and they’ve had Aussies through there in the past, so it’s been pretty seamless.”

After spending time at home in Australia over Christmas, Miller packed up and headed to California in January, loading up on pre-season fitness work to ensure he’d hit the ground running in steamy Sepang, and to prepare his body for the 19-race season to come, a season where he’ll carry a reminder of last year wherever he goes.

Miller’s right leg still features a prominent scar, a legacy of the broken tibia he suffered in a training accident in his European base of Andorra late last year, and he’ll complete the entire 2018 season with eight screws and a plate in his leg before they’re removed in December. He feels the work done in the off-season paid dividends at “a bloody scorching” Sepang, and that extra fitness is sure to be put to the test in Thailand next week, when the MotoGP grid samples the Chang International Circuit for the first time ahead of Thailand’s debut GP in October.

For Miller, it’s all about leaving no stone unturned ahead of what shapes as a crucial year for him, and plenty of other riders besides. At 23 and out of contract at the end of the season, Miller knows this is the most critical year of his world championship tenure to date.

“There’s no excuses for me this year,” he says.

“It’s my fourth year now so none of this is new, I’m in a different team and on a different bike, and there’s a lot of the grid out of contract at the end of this year, including me. So it’s a big one for me to get right. I feel it’s started well and the getting used to the new bike couldn’t have gone much smoother, so definitely a case of so far, so good.

“Last year I set my goal of finishing inside the top 10 for the season and didn’t quite make it, but it’s hard to factor in things like injuries and whatnot, and I had to miss one race with the broken leg and wasn’t 100 per cent for a few of the others.

“So staying injury-free is the first goal, and breaking 100 points for the season for the first time is one too. Whatever happens after that, I’ll take it.”

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.


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

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.  


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 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.


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

5 things to watch at the Australian MotoGP

A tense title fight will take centre-stage at Phillip Island, but there’s storylines to follow wherever you look as MotoGP roars onto our shores.


Andrea Dovizioso’s last-lap pass of Marc Marquez to win the Japanese Motorcycle Grand Prix last Sunday at Motegi was, by itself, something special – so special that it’s already in the conversation for best final lap of all-time. But it wasn’t just the Ducati man’s defeat of Honda’s reigning and three-time world champion that gave Australian two-wheel fans something to shout about; the points ‘Dovi’ picked up for downing the modern-day master of MotoGP means Marquez’s lead atop the riders’ standings now sits at just 11 points with three races left.

The next of those races? This weekend at Phillip Island, a special track at any time, but one that’s elevated to an even higher stratosphere when there’s a genuine world title fight on the line.

The Australian GP won’t decide who wins the 2017 world title – the points table is too tight for that – but it will go a long way towards deciding who’ll become world champion as the series moves on to Malaysia before its final stop at Valencia in Spain on November 12.

Can ‘Dovi’ do it again? What does Marquez have left in reserve? Who else can muscle in at the front at this most particular of tracks? And what role will local hopeful Jack Miller, just three weeks after breaking his leg, play at his home GP, one held on a circuit where he’s typically shone?

Here’s our top five storylines to watch ahead of the action at the Island, which kicks off with two free practice sessions on Friday October 20.

1. And then there were two …

That Marquez and Dovizioso come to Australia separated by just the afore-mentioned 11 points is testament to the adage that there’s more than one way to win a title.

Marquez’s approach is one we know well; since 2013, when he won the crown in his rookie year, he’s been routinely on the ragged edge, taking risks few others would contemplate, and coming up with all manner of ways to save what would be certain crashes for others by using his elbows, knees or both.

The Dovizioso of 2017? An entirely different animal. The Italian has always been known as the last of the late brakers, and his pass of Marquez that won him the race in Japan – downhill into the 90-Degree Corner in the pouring rain with tyres that were shot to bits – was something few could have pulled off. But there’s a more aggressive approach to his riding in head-to-head battles this season, and winning bare-knuckle last-lap brawls with Marquez in Japan as well as Austria back in August is something that would have been hard to contemplate before this season.

Like his main rival, Marquez also has five wins in 2017, but his one-lap pace – he has six poles to Dovizioso’s zero – and 10 podiums in 15 races proves means he has a combination of speed and consistency that sets him apart. In the past nine races, Silverstone – when the Spaniard suffered a rarer than rare Honda engine failure – is the only time has hasn’t been on the rostrum. By contrast, Dovizioso has just one DNF (back in round two in Argentina) on his stats sheet, and has finished eighth or better in every race since.

The other wildcard for this weekend is the Island itself, and upon examination of their records in Australia, this round shapes as one where Dovizioso will be relatively content if he doesn’t haemorrhage too many points to Marquez. The Italian’s stats in Australia make for short and not particularly inspiring reading; he has just one podium (2011) here in nine premier-class outings, and admitted last year that Phillip Island was “not one of my favourite circuits because of its characteristics”.

On the other hand, Marquez has visited Australia four times on MotoGP machinery, and should have arguably won all four. In 2013, he was disqualified for failing to pit within the mandatory 10-lap limit to change bikes and tyres imposed on the field for safety reasons after a calamitous miscalculation by his team, while the following year, he was leading comfortably but fell victim to the plummeting track temperatures and crashed after starting from pole. In 2015, he careered away to win from pole, while pole last year ended in pain again when he crashed – again from the lead – at Turn 4 on lap 10. When it comes to pace Down Under, Marquez is indisputably on top.

2. But wait, there’s another two

Between them, Marquez and Dovizioso have won the last seven races of the 2017 season – which makes it somewhat surprising that two other riders step onto the Island this week with their championship chances still alive.

Maverick Vinales must be shaking his head at how his season has unravelled; after five races, the Yamaha new boy had won three Grands Prix to have a handy 17-point championship advantage after Le Mans. He’s not won a race since, has visited the podium just three times, and comes to Australia after a nightmare weekend in Japan, where he had his worst qualifying (14th) and second-worst race result (ninth) of the season.

The Spaniard sits 41 points behind compatriot Marquez, and is hanging on by his fingernails. His record in Australia is good – Vinales finished third on his second premier-class start at the Island last year – but he needs to step up and hope Marquez and Dovizioso stumble if he’s to play much of a part in the riders’ standings after Malaysia.

The other rider in mathematical contention with three races left? Marquez’s Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa, but with a 74-point deficit to the top with a maximum of 75 available, it’s time for the diminutive Spaniard to turn his attentions realistically to next year, even if this year is still numerically alive.

3. The odd man out

The fifth of the five riders who broke clear at the top of the standings earlier in the season who we haven’t mentioned? Valentino Rossi, who was officially eliminated from title contention when he crashed out in Japan last weekend. More realistically, ‘The Doctor’s’ chances of the coveted 10th world championship that has eluded him since 2009 were over the moment he broke his right leg in a training accident ahead of Misano, and while he stunned the paddock with a front-row start and fifth-place finish on his return at Aragon after missing just one race, the tricky conditions at Motegi, allied to the Yamaha’s chronic lack of rear grip in colder conditions, proved a bridge too far.

Australia has been one of Rossi’s happier hunting grounds – he’s won here in the premier class six times, most recently and memorably in 2014 – and while the 38-year-old can now turn his attentions to being fully fit for the start of next season, he’ll want to overhaul the two-point deficit to Pedrosa in the standings for fourth place before Valencia is over. Fifth overall – where Rossi sits in the riders’ race with three Grands Prix left – would be his worst Yamaha campaign in 12 seasons.

4. Jack back on

Break your leg in a training accident, miss a race and then get back on the horse – that’s the model Rossi followed for Aragon, and one Miller will emulate this weekend as he rides at home after missing Motegi. The Australian insists he would have ridden this weekend no matter where the race was being held, but the fact it was at Phillip Island would have given him plenty of enthusiasm to attack his rehab over the past fortnight.

This season shapes to be the best of Miller’s three-year MotoGP tenure to date – two more points will see him overhaul last year’s 57-point tally – and his record at home is good, winning at the Island in Moto3 in 2014, and qualifying a premier-class best fifth here a year ago with what might have been his best single lap of the entire year under immense pressure.

The spotlight of riding at home can cause some to wilt, but ‘Jackass’ clearly thrives on the energy of his home fans and the masses of family who sit trackside clad in orange Miller merchandise (keep an eye peeled for Jack to acknowledge them as he rides through Turn 4 at the start of every on-track session).

In his third-last race for the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS team before heading to Pramac Ducati for 2018, a home top-10 finish is absolutely in play, compromised preparation or not.

5. Don’t discount the defending champ

It’s been a season of few ups and plenty of downs for Miller’s good mate Cal Crutchlow in 2017, the LCR Honda rider enduring his worst campaign in three years. Other than fourth at Silverstone in August, the British rider has just four points to show from Austria to Motegi last weekend, where he managed to crash twice en route to a second-straight DNF.

It sounds like the beginning of an unwanted trend, but don’t expect that to continue at the Island, a circuit where Crutchlow generally thrives. The 2016 Australian race-winner has two of his 13 career podiums in Australia, has qualified on the front two rows for five successive years, and has to be considered a serious threat this weekend despite sitting ninth overall in the standings. A top-three finish would be a surprise, but only a mild one.