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Also-ran to eternal: Jack Miller's Island story

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Jack Miller's early days at his home Grand Prix were anonymous at best, but he's made his mark – more immediately and forever – since …

Moto3™ race-winner. MotoGP™ podium-finisher. Early-race interloper. Pain-ignoring patriot. They're all accurate (and hyphenated) descriptors of Jack Miller's home Grand Prix history at Phillip Island, but they're only chapters in that story.


Chapter 1 of Miller's Island tale? Anonymity.

Let's rewind. It's 2012, and there might have never been a better day at the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix for 99 per cent of the Aussie fans.

Arthur Sissis finished third in Moto3™, while Ant West was a spectacular second – splitting Pol Espargaro and Marc Marquez – in Moto2™.

In MotoGP™, Casey Stoner took his sixth home victory in a row in the penultimate race before his retirement from the sport.

Miller? In the second-last race of his first full-time world championship campaign, the-then 17-year-old was 68 seconds behind race-winner Sandro Cortese in Moto3™, crossing the line in 21st place.

If he'd kept riding his Honda back to the rented house in Cowes he was sharing with his parents that weekend, nobody would have noticed. Australia was ready to party, and Miller wasn't invited.

Fast-forward 11 years, and reassess. Stoner wrapped up his career as a two-time world champion and as a bona fide legend of the sport, and his Repsol Honda team signed Marquez to take his place – a transaction that worked out for everyone.

West was stripped of his Island podium after testing positive to a banned substance. Sissis never stepped onto a world championship podium again, leaving Moto3™ for good midway through 2014.

And Miller? He returns to the Island this October as a multiple MotoGP™ victor with two manufacturers, a veteran of over 150 starts in the premier class and more than 200 Grands Prix in all, and with a world championship career that, next year, will equal Mick Doohan's in duration.

From being absolutely anonymous in his early days at the Island to having a corner at one of the world's greatest racetracks named after him after Turn 4 became Miller Corner 12 months ago, it's been quite a ride.

Australia is just one stop in a global series, of course, but it's been a significant one for the Townsville native, Phillip Island the site of so many significant moments on his CV.

In 2014, after inking a contract to ride for lightweight-class kingmaker Aki Ajo in Moto3™ – a deal a 19-year-old Miller cheekily did himself – he took one of the more memorable Island victories in any category, winning the Moto3™ race at his home track by two-hundredths of a second in a field that featured no fewer than seven of the current MotoGP™ grid.

More tentpole moments soon followed. In 2016, riding a second-string Open-class MotoGP™ Honda, Miller qualified what was then a career-best fifth with a lap that came from the clouds.

A year later, again on a Honda, Miller missed the previous race in Japan after a training mishap, needing a plate and eight screws in his broken right leg to steel himself to even race at the Island … and memorably led for the first five laps before finishing seventh in a bruising battle pack.

In 2019, then riding for Pramac Ducati, Miller had become a regular visitor to the rostrum, and it was at the Island where maturity, speed and a smattering of good luck saw him finish third, benefitting when Maverick Vinales crashed his Yamaha on the final lap fighting Marquez for the win, and joining his best MotoGP™ mate Cal Crutchlow (Honda) on one of the Island's more memorable podiums.

And then came 2022, when Miller was – unusually for him – lost for words when Linfox, the Island circuit's owners, told him Turn 4 would be renamed in his honour.

Having sections of the track named after prominent Australians isn't new – Gardner Straight leads into Doohan Corner at Turn 1, and then onto Stoner Corner at Turn 3 – but Miller was immensely proud and a little sheepish when the honour was bestowed upon his family name.

"It sounds good when you put it like that, but you look at the world championships between us … I'll happily take one of Mick's, but I don't think it works like that," he laughed.

"This year (wife) Ruby and I get to take our own kid to their first Grand Prix and there's a corner with their name on it too, a corner at maybe the best race track in the world. You feel proud, and then you wonder what you did to deserve any of it.

"I'm not going anywhere yet, we still have a bit of time on my hands to see if we can try to get one (championship) before the end so I don't look like a complete dickhead ...".

Last year – as anyone sitting at the newly-named corner needn't be reminded – didn't end as well as it started at home for Miller after he was taken out by a contrite Alex Marquez nine laps into a race where a repeat rostrum visit was in play. Miller being Miller, the setback only steeled his resolve and – once his groin stopped throbbing after being slammed into the fuel tank of his Ducati – had him looking forwards.

KTM's history at the Island isn't much to get excited about – a pair of 10th-place finishes for Bradley Smith (2018) and Brad Binder last year is the best the Austrian marque has managed so far – but with KTM on the upswing as Honda and Yamaha flounder, it's conceivable that Miller and Binder will be the most likely threats to Ducati this October, especially at a circuit where only Stoner's genius has paid off for the Italian manufacturer in Australia.

A third podium for Miller at home? It wouldn't be the last chapter of his Australian story given he still has a year to run on his KTM deal, but it would be an immensely popular one. And 11 years after being an Island afterthought, it would spark a party he certainly wouldn't be missing out on this time.

Island highs and lows: Jack Miller's AGP CV

2022 (MotoGP™, Ducati): qualified 8th, did not finish (accident, lap 9)
2019 (MotoGP™, Ducati): qualified 9th, finished 3rd
2018 (MotoGP™, Ducati): qualified 6th, finished 7th
2017 (MotoGP™, Honda): qualified 5th, finished 7th
2016 (MotoGP™, Honda): qualified 5th, finished 10th
2015 (MotoGP™, Honda): qualified 15th, finished 15th
2014 (Moto3™, KTM): qualified 8th, finished 1st
2013 (Moto3™, FTR Honda): qualified 10th, finished 5th
2012 (Moto3™, Honda): qualified 23rd, finished 21st
2011 (125cc, KTM): qualified 28th, finished 23rd