Australian motorsport ready for Miller era

·4-min read

The opening practice sessions of the new MotoGP season in Qatar have only enhanced the tantalising possibility that this might just be the launch pad for a new Australian motor sport rocket man.

Could this really be Miller time ... Jack Miller time?

The cheeky kid who learned to ride as a dirt tracker on the family cattle ranch in Townsville has come so far in motor bike racing that he's now tagged as favourite to graduate to the sport's biggest prize on his sleek factory Ducati.

Nothing that happened in Friday's practice for Sunday's season-opening Qatar grand prix in Losail suggested otherwise as Miller finished fastest in the second, most telling session, just as he had on the same circuit in preseason testing.

Of course, it's probably far too early yet to project that Miller, who's only previously won one MotoGP race, is ready to join Australia's elite band of motor sport world champions.

Yet the 26-year-old Queenslander, who's never been short of the confidence to accompany his considerable talent, isn't fazed by anyone touting the idea that he's ready to join Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Casey Stoner as a global two-wheel champ.

"I enjoy it a lot ... it's a fantastic feeling," Miller says when asked about having to handle the pressure of favouritism in what looks a wide-open championship with the once-in-a-generation serial champ Marc Marquez still currently sidelined after last year's injury woes.

And as for comparisons with the last rider to win the title for Ducati, his hero Stoner, 14 years ago, Miller doesn't want to know.

"I grew up idolising Casey and Troy (Bayliss), they were each great champions," he says of Ducati's previous favourite Australians.

"But I'm just here trying to do the best that Jack Miller can do.

"From time to time, I get a message from Casey, but to compare me to him is completely wrong. What he did in 2007 (winning 10 grand prix in one of the sport's great years) was definitely something spectacular and I don't think it will ever be repeated."

For his part, the two-time champion Stoner, the last man to win the world title in 2011 before a Spanish monopoly began, believes Miller is ready to step up now that he has the luxury of Ducati's factory backing.

"He's going to do a great job there, and I think Ducati have made the right choice," Stoner said when the celebrated Italian team decided to give Miller his big chance last May during a season which saw him finish seventh on a Pramac Racing Ducati.

"It's fantastic that Jack has got his opportunity, he fully deserves it."

He's certainly earned his stripes, Sunday being Miller's 100th MotoGP grand prix at the start of his seventh season during which he's had more than his fair share of injuries and spills. He even took a tumble in Friday's first session.

Yet part of the attraction for Ducati is the feeling they could have a superstar on their hands as Miller's a real character as well as a daredevil.

Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo laughs, "Jack's mad - just like me", while a couple of Miller's buddies on the grid, the great Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales joke it's more dangerous sharing a motorhome with the Aussie than riding a MotoGP bike at 350km/h.

Mick Doohan, Australia's five-time MotoGP champion, has noted how the country's motor sports heroes have tended to be under-appreciated by the public.

Yet the suspicion is the straight-talking Queensland flyer has the personality to win everyone over. Asked how he'd describe himself in three words, Miller says "funny, charismatic, energetic". It's a fair summation.

"The first time I was a title favourite was in Moto3 with the KTM Red Bull team, and I hadn't had a podium or a win or anything," he recalled this week of his second-place finish as a teenager.

"Now I'm definitely older and wiser than I was then. I feel as ready as I can be."

Ready, hopefully, to make it Miller time.