Test Subject

Posted on 17 Sep, 2014 by Scott Jones
Jack Miller montage

Please click on the above image to view it larger.

What would happen if you took a young (19-year-old), talented and brash rider who has experience in the lowest class of GP racing and put him directly into the premier class without the chance to gain experience in Moto2?

We’re about to find out. Jack Miller is officially going to LCR Honda alongside Cal Crutchlow, though the young Aussie will be on the Honda customer bike rather than the factory supported RC213V Crutchlow is taking over from Stefan Bradl.

I have written before about how strongly I’m against this move, or any instance of promoting young riders too quickly.

And I wrote earlier this week about how factories are trying to claim the best young riders for future service. No one does this more efficiently than Honda. For as much pride as Honda takes in its motorcycles, they know very well that in order to win regularly you also need the best riders.

Miller has a three-year contract with HRC, and will fulfill the first two years with LCR.

Each side in the bargain is gambling on how Miller will adapt without any Moto2 experience. Miller could take to the big bike as naturally as Marc Marquez did in his rookie season. But Marquez had two years of Moto2 to prepare for the larger machine. HRC is no doubt hoping that Miller will not be one of those riders who went quickly on the small bike but just couldn’t adapt to the larger one.

It’s a sound business decision for Honda as now they have all three Moto3 title contenders in line to serve HRC’s future plans. Alex Marquez and Alex Rins are already sponsored by Repsol, managed by Marc Marquez’ manager, and riding Hondas in Moto3.

If Miller doesn’t adapt well, HRC has other options. If he does, they face another embarrassment of riches for rider talent.

For Miller the gamble is a bit different. His best case scenario is adapting quickly and safely to the customer Honda MotoGP bike, to the new and more demanding sponsor requirements, and to the greater attention and scrutiny from fans and media. Some would say the larger bike is the lesser challenge.

I don’t care to dwell on how things might go poorly for Miller. What concerns me is that we have three classes of Grand Prix motorbike racings for some very good reasons. We have a minimum age for riders to join Moto3, although the powers that be feel free to ignore then rule when it suits them to do so. So far I’ve not heard talk of letting Fabio Quartararo go to the premier class next year, which is reassuring.

Before talk of Miller skipping Moto2 began, I was writing about how bright a future he had. I was assuming at least one year in Moto2 to refine his skill and adjust (to more power, more pressure, more scrutiny) before joining the premier class.

I still think he has fantastic potential. I just hope missing out on a year in Moto2 won’t mean he arrives at LCR next season too green to live up to expectations that have in the past proven too much for riders both older and more experienced than he. The folks at Honda certainly know more about young motorcycle riders than I do, so I will keep my fingers crossed for a great rookie season and successful premier class future for Jack Miller.

Photograph: ©2014 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved

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  • alistair_t 2014-09-19

    Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Eddie Lawson, (hope I haven’t missed any) don’t remember them going through the lower classes first. It was the European riders who seemed to need this stepping system to survive the rigors of the top class, in the past at least. If your good, your good, if not we’ll find out. At least they’ve given him 3 years to work it out. Go Jack.

  • Scott Jones 2014-09-20

    Alistair, thanks very much for the comment. I’m glad you mentioned his three year contract, which is, to me, one of the better things about this deal.

    I’m also glad you mentioned those names, because that made me do some Wikipedia research to learn more about the histories of these riders.

    Kenny SR did a season of 250 in 1974, wasn’t ready for the top class, and came home to develop. He then came to back to GPs four years later as AMA national champ, ready to race and win at that level.

    Gardner did his first race at 18 years old, then entered GP racing six years later (age 24), and became world champ in his 7th GP season (age 31, if my math holds up).

    Rainey did a year of 250cc in 1984 with poor results before coming home to develop for another four years. He returned in 1988 as a matured rider and was successful for the extra experience.

    Lawson didn’t race lower classes in GPs but did several seasons on 250s at home and came to Team Roberts as multiple national champion.

    Doohan appears to have skipped an extensive smaller bike program (difficult to tell from Wikipedia) and began his domination as world champ in his 6th GP season. However, that was a different time and environment for a new rider. Consider all the talented riders who have appeared in GPs for a season or two only to disappear after posting poor results on inferior equipment. At least Miller has a 3-year contract!

    Freddie Spencer certainly moved up very quickly and was world champ at 21. If Miller accomplishes the same thing, I will tip my hat to him. I will also hope that he handles the period after being so successful better than Spencer did. One can only speculate that his difficulties as a retired racer were due at least in part to being world champ so young. It would not surprise me if there was some connection.

    Schwantz is another case for speculation, but I think one could argue that his rivalry with Rainey, 4 years his senior, pushed him into GPs sooner than was good for him. Had he put his own development as a racer ahead of his need to beat Rainey (admittedly an impossible ask for a young talented motorbike racer), Schwantz might have become multiple world champ instead of managing one title  (the season Rainey’s Misano crash took him out of the chase). In spite of Schwantz’s undeniable talent, Rainey was the more mature rider and he has the titles to prove it.

    The examples of successful young riders aside, we should also consider the greater number of riders who had a brief shot at the premier class, only to fail to impress team bosses and sponsors and move quickly to other series. I’d hate to see Miller become another John Hopkins, who had the raw talent to win world titles but not the maturity and experience. I’m more concerned that Miller may fall into this category for skipping Moto2 than I am thrilled by the possibility that he’ll turn out to be then next Freddie Spencer.

    Some who have criticized my stance on this issue have commented, If you get the chance Miller has, you take it. This is exactly correct. But that doesn’t mean it’s right in the bigger picture. Young motorcycle riders aren’t components to be used and discarded the way brake levers and foot pegs are. Whether fans, managers, team owners, journalists, or whatever role we play in helping motorcycle racing to continue, we all share responsibility for what happens to the young people we encourage to entertain us as they chase their dreams of stardom. Personally I’d rather see Miller (and Vinales, and Quartararo et al.) develop more slowly and have longer careers as a mature riders than move up too quickly and burn out.

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