MotoGP Phillip Island: Miller heads home for a five-rider fight

| | MotoGP
Picture: GeeBee Images

MotoGP returns to Australia for the first time since 2019, and with five riders split by 40 points as the season nears climax.

It’s an overused phrase, but there truly is nowhere like Phillip Island. A Grand Prix circuit so perfectly poised to deliver great racing – and serve up an incredible experience in the saddle – that it’s almost a myth unto itself. There could be no better stage to kick off the next double header. If that wasn’t enough, there are also now five riders within 40 points, with 75 still up for grabs. Monster Energy Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo remains the championship leader, Ducati Lenovo’s Pecco Bagnaia is now within just two points, Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro within 20, Gresini’s Enea Bastianini 39 and, last but by absolutely no means least, Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo) is the rider at a deficit of 40. But they say there’s no place like home…

Miller will be firmly in the spotlight this weekend as he rides with the factory Ducati on home turf for the first time, and he has chance to turn that into even more momentum. Of the top five in the title fight he’s scored the most points across the triple header – 56, with the next best being Bastianini on 42 – and over the two flyaways it’s a whopping 45/50 for the number 43. For comparison, across Motegi and Buriram, Bastianini has scored 17, Bagnaia 16, Quartararo eight and Aleix Espargaro just five points. It’s close at the top as one rider or another has faltered, but Miller has chased down that gap because he absolutely hasn’t. So what has he got on home turf?

Far enough back to ride without too much pressure from the standings and with good speed shown at the Island, he’ll be one to watch, and in terms of pressure the same can be said of Bastianini, although the Italian doesn’t have the best record at the track. Aleix Espargaro has a pretty good one and Bagnaia impressed the last (and first) time he rode a premier class machine there, and then there’s Quartararo. The Frenchman hasn’t had the best results or luck Down Under, but he’ll be hoping to turn that around at a circuit that should be much more Yamaha, flowing territory.

When it comes to track records, however, there are two names that immediately stand out. The first is Aprilia’s Maverick Viñales, who brought a Yamaha win drought to an end in 2018 and was then the only rider able to stay anywhere near Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez in 2019 before a crash as they battled on the final lap. Viñales returns to the track on a newer machine to him, but one he’s getting more and more consistently fast on. Is Phillip Island underlined as another real shot at victory? At Silverstone he was less than half a second shy.

The other name is the aforementioned Marquez, and the number 93 has been miraculously, poetically fast Down Under. As his return continues to gain momentum, it would be no surprise to see Marquez fire up a little Jaws music for the rest of the field this weekend. Is it too soon? Is it just soon enough? Physically, the circuit flows in a kinder layout to take on when not at 100%, and it’s a leftie tailor-made for the king of anti-clockwise circuits. It would be quite a story, but if there’s anyone who loves writing a story on a motorcycle, it’s Marc Marquez.

Experience could also work in the favour of the more veteran riders on the grid – including Marquez – as the field once again prepare for a first visit since 2019. The list of those who’ve never raced Phillip Island in the premier class is longer than just the 2022 rookies, with even the likes of 2020 debutants Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda Castrol) facing it down for the first time. In terms of racing you can also add the second KTM of Miguel Oliveira to that list as he was unfit for Sunday on our last visit, and even, arguably, Quartararo. The Frenchman didn’t make it to Stoner Corner on lap one.

In terms of the full-blown rookies, it will be a big weekend for Tech3 KTM’s Remy Gardner as he races on home turf, and the Aussie will want some more points after a tougher season. Phillip Island could prove be the deciding showdown in the fight for Rookie of the Year, with Mooney VR46’s Marco Bezzecchi fresh from his first premier class pole position, facing another shot at that title.

The Teams’ Championship is on the line too, with Ducati Lenovo ahead and needing to outscore Aprilia by 16 points to tick off two out of three in their mission to take the triple crown. Top Independent Team rider could also be wrapped up by Bastianini, although the Italian isn’t too far clear of Prima Pramac’s Johann Zarco. As it stands. Zarco is also in play as Pramac look to secure the Independent Teams’ title. Finally, another one to watch of a different kind is the return of Suzuki Ecstar’s Joan Mir, as he plans to try and get back on track at Phillip Island, a circuit that holds some good memories for the two-time World Champion.

Five riders, 40 points, and one ribbon of poetry written in tarmac. This weekend the Animoca Brands Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix promises much and will likely deliver even more, with too many headlines already drafted as we make the journey south to Phillip Island. Join us for another stunner on Sunday at 14:00 local time (04:00BST) as the screw turns on the title fight once again.