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By Steve English

2018: the year of the dark horse?

Steve English looks at those with an outside chance at hitting the front this season - or maybe, for some, it's not an outside chance at all

Steve English has been working in motorcycle racing paddocks around the world since 2011. First interested in bikes and racing from a young age, Steve became a full-time journalist in 2013 – and is also a talented photographer. Branching out even further in 2016 as he joined the Dorna World Superbike commentary team, Steve’s knowledge and insight into MotoGP™ and WorldSBK is second to none.

MotoGP™ has become a meritocracy in recent years. Since the start of the 2016 season there have been nine different race winners, 12 different riders have led a race and 13 men have stood on the podium. On any given Sunday the amazing can happen and on 19 Sundays this year we can expect the unexpected.

While it will come as little surprise when the likes of Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi or Andrea Dovizisio are battling at the front this year for Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, there is plenty of room for the rest of the grid to spring a surprise or two. The last two years have seen Independent Team riders battle at the front of the field and the success enjoyed by Jonann Zarco and Cal Crutchlow is now the benchmark for independent runners.

View Zarco, Iannone and Rossi's battle in 360 OnBoard

Last year, Zarco shocked the paddock by leading in Qatar and opening a gap to the field before a small mistake was heavily punished with a crash. There is an inevitability surrounding the Frenchman that says he will win in MotoGP™ sooner rather than later. It has been 19 years since there was a French winner of a premier class race - Regis Laconi at a damp Valencia Grand Prix - and with the recent news that Tech 3 will end their relationship with Yamaha, it would be very fitting if the team and rider were to break their ducks this year.

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Two years ago, Crutchlow shocked the world by turning around what had been a difficult campaign to win twice and prove the doubters wrong. Since then the LCR Honda rider has embraced his role as one of HRC's official riders and over the winter he was able to play a much more prominent role in the development of the RC213V. This could help give him an edge in the coming campaign as he tries to recapture the successes of 2016.

The last two years have also seen Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci hit the front of the field. Miller claimed his first premier class victory in the rain at Assen in 2016, while Petrucci confirmed his MotoGP™ bone-fides with four podiums last year. For 2018, they will be paired together at Alma Pramac Racing on Ducatis. The Italian machine has made tremendous strides in recent years, indeed Miller commented after his first test that the bike was much less physical than the Honda he had previously ridden.

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With less physicality required, that could be the difference for Miller and allow him to show exactly what he can do in MotoGP™. The Australian has shown flashes of his potential since making his debut in 2015, but the improvements he has made physically and mentally over the last three years have been huge. He's now looks ready to fulfil the promise he's shown since making the jump from a Moto3™ title contender into a MotoGP™ racer. Miller has a proven yardstick alongside him at Pramac, and with Petrucci riding the 2018 machine there will also be plenty of motivation on Miller's part to prove his worth to the Bologna factory.

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MotoGP™ has shown in recent years that you can tear the form book up once the red lights go out and the racing begins. There will be some shocks and surprises in 2018, make sure to watch them all.

The 2018 MotoGP™ season starts soon, and the dark horses will ride...So make sure you catch all the action, from all the angles, on the MotoGP™ VideoPass.