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Land of the Brave

Land of the Brave

Fast, flowing and just a smattering of hard braking make Phillip Island a very special circuit, one that favours the brave.

The Twin Ring Motegi and Phillip Island circuits are worlds apart, the Japanese track’s defining feature is hard braking whereas the Australian track is all about keeping the throttle open for as long as one dares. Motegi requires technical precision and finesse. Above all else bravery is what’s needed at Phillip Island and as such some surprises can emerge, as happened on the opening day of practice. FP1 saw home hero Jack Miller end in fifth, improving his time to a 1’30.127 in FP2, good enough for 11th.

Miller has shown speed throughout the year but fifth in a dry session on an Open bike is a remarkable achievement, if there’s one thing Miller has in ample supply it’s courage and he’s able to put it to use.

Throughout his career, Miller has always treated the Australian GP as ‘any other race,’ never concerned by the pressure or expectations put upon him. In 2014 he produced one of his best rides in the Moto3™ class, defying the odds and taking a magnificent last lap victory. Again the home crowd seems to be boosting Miller, the Townsville born rider lifting his game for the home fans despite what he often claims.

Many may think that Miller has local knowledge handing him the edge in Phillip Island, but having spent the majority of his road-racing career in Spain and Germany he had almost no experience of ‘The Island’ before 2011.

Doubt was cast over Miller’s move from the lightweight class directly to MotoGP™, the last notable rider to make the jump was Garry McCoy back in 1998. The opening day of practice at Phillip Island, along with his early charge in Silverstone and Motegi, demonstrate that buried beneath the crashes is a fast and talented rider, a diamond waiting to be polished.

The old adage, often attributed to the great Kenny Roberts Snr., goes ‘You can stop a fast rider crashing, but you can’t make a slow rider fast,’ a philosophy that worked with the likes of Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo upon their move to the MotoGP™ class. Miller is the next in a long line of riders who have been labelled ‘a crasher’. Having just announced his plans for 2016, Miller can now focus purely on achieving strong results to end 2015. Where better to return to winning ways than at your home race?

Another brave rookie who flew in Phillip Island was Maverick Viñales, thrusting his Team Suzuki Ecstar GSX-RR into third overall. Throughout the year the Suzuki has struggled for power, Motegi a particularly difficult track due to the heavy acceleration and this lack of power. But, as with Miller and his underpowered Open Honda, courage has made the difference in Australia. A mere 0.135s split Viñales from Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who led the session.

Viñales has had a much steadier rookie season than Miller; a calmer approach has seen him fail to finish only twice. The two are ying and yang in many ways but do have one trait in common: bravery. They’ll both need as much bravery as they can muster when they sweep through Doohan’s and into the Southern Loop for the first time on Sunday.

MotoGP, 2015, PRAMAC AUSTRALIAN MOTORCYCLE GRAND PRIX, Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller

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