Program feature: The highest five

The legacy of Mick Doohan

Mick Doohan Phillip Island MotoGP

This article is taken from the Michelin® Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix 2018 Official Program. Get yours for $10 at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit.

When Marquez, Rossi, Miller and their two-wheeled cohorts blast off down Phillip Island’s Gardner Straight on Sunday, it’ll be 20 years almost to the day since Michael Doohan AM won the 1998 Argentine Grand Prix – his 54th and final victory at the end of his fifth 500cc World Championship in a row.

It was the end of an incredible era of domination no Australian – and indeed no other rider – has since equalled. Not even Marc Marquez or Valentino Rossi can match Mick Doohan’s relentless win rate during their respective championship years, nor can they keep up with Doohan’s prolific podium appearances. Interestingly, only Casey Stoner came close, and we’ll forever be left wondering how much greater he could have been had he not chosen to retire from MotoGP™ racing at the end of 2012.

The first of Doohan’s five World Championships in 1994 was emphatic. He won nine of the season’s 14 races – including six on the trot through the middle – and never finished off the podium. His 317 points for the season were almost double his nearest rival Luca Cadalora’s 174 points. We can only wonder if Honda’s former sponsor Rothmans – which left Honda to join Williams in Formula One – regretted its decision, because new sponsor Repsol has never looked back! 

Doohan started 1995 by winning the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix for the second time, and then won again in Malaysia to open an early points lead. But another Aussie, Daryl Beattie on the Suzuki, would beat Doohan in Japan and again in Germany to snatch the World Championship lead. Doohan then strung four wins together in Italy, The Netherlands, France and Great Britain to take back the lead, and then won the penultimate race in Argentina to secure his second World Championship. Daryl Beattie finished second, 33 points adrift of Doohan’s 248.

In 1996, Doohan won eight races, and would have equalled his 1994 record of nine wins in a season but for an infamous collision with his Repsol Honda teammate at the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Eastern Creek. Doohan and Alex Criville had spent much of the race first and second, the plucky Spaniard refusing to surrender each time Doohan tried to pull a gap. Then, on the last lap Criville tried to go inside Doohan at the hairpin and only succeeded in knocking them both off. Both got up and finished – Doohan 8th and Criville 6th – but it wasn’t the finish Australian race goers wanted to see.

Doohan’s fourth World Champion in 1997 was his most dominant. He won 12 of the first 14 races, finished second the other two times, winning the World Championship with a quarter of the season still to run. Again the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix – this time at Phillip Island – would be the last race of the season, and again Australian fans would go home disappointed not to see their idol win. This time, Doohan’s crash at Turn One was of his own doing. Despite leading by more than six seconds after a dozen laps, Doohan pushed too hard and lost the front end.

In 1998, Doohan collected eight victories and three second places. Three retirements, including one in the first round, left the World Championship door ajar for 500cc rookie Max Biaggi, but a disqualification at the Catalan Grand Prix – the 12th of 14 rounds – cost him dearly. 

The penultimate round of the 1998 season was at Phillip Island, and this time fans got what they wanted. Mick Doohan had enough of a lead going into the last lap that he spent most of it waving to the crowd. He monoed over the line to take the chequered flag, and his fifth World Championship. 

His last race win came in the next and final round of the season in Argentina. He won it from pole, the 58th of his career.

Twenty years later, Mick Doohan’s achievements remain unbeaten. He was a racer the likes of which we may never see again.

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