A two-pronged Aussie assault, The Doctor transitioning into The Boss, Ducati dominance, Maverick mania and a return to the island, the 2022 MotoGP season is sure to be compelling viewing.

Flying Frenchman Fabio Quartararo starts his MotoGP title defence under lights at Qatar this weekend as the series returns for its biggest season ever.

The 2022 championship will feature 21 rounds for the first time, including races in Finland after a 39-year break and in Indonesia after a 24-year absence.

Valentino Rossi might have hung up his racing leathers, but the battle for this year’s title is looming as one of the most competitive ever:

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IT’S TIME, JACK

While Quartararo, Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez (if fit) are being touted as contenders for the title, 27-year-old Aussie Jack Miller shouldn’t be too far away.

Miller had his best season in 2021 – fourth in the championship and two victories. But he took a while to find his stride on the factory Ducati and four race retirements didn’t help.

The Queenslander is now entering his eighth season in MotoGP and the pressure is on to deliver. It doesn’t help that teammate Bagnaia was given a contract extension to 2024 but not Miller, who is getting increasingly grumpy when asked about it.

A few early wins would help.

THE KIDS ARE MORE THAN ALL RIGHT

The influx of five rookies – including Aussie Remy Gardner – and second-year stars has made MotoGP just about as competitive as it’s ever been.

The likes of Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini are set to shake the series up and signal a generational change after the retirement last year of the legendary Rossi after 26 years.

ROSSI THE BOSS

Did someone mention Rossi’s name? “The Doctor” has become “The Boss”. His VR46 team has competed in Moto2 and Moto3 before but now he moves up to the big league. Marco Bezzecchi and Marini – Rossi’s half-brother – will ride for the team, with Rossi watching on from the pits. No pressure!

DUC IT OUT

Ducati motorcycles will comprise one third of the grid this year with four teams running the “Bologna Bullets”. Mark down May 29 in your calendar for the Italian GP at Mugello. Speaking of Italian motorcycles, could this be the year Aprilia becomes truly competitive? If Maverick Vinales finds his mojo, anything could happen.

WHO WILL RISE?

Pramac Ducati Jorge Martin showed signs in 2021 that he could cause problems to the big names. The 24-year-old won at the Red Bull Ring in Austria last year and could be pushing to take Miller’s seat in the factory Ducati team. Best rookie for 2022? Take your pick but expect Bezzecchi and Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati) to be jostling for the podium at some stage.

SO WHO WILL WIN?

Fabio Quartararo showed maturity beyond his 22 years to claim the title and will be in contention this year on the factory Yamaha. Doubts continue over Marc Marquez’s health but if fit, he could ride the tyres off a postie bike. He still won three races on the Honda last year to finish seventh in the championship even though he missed four races. Bagnaia is the rider with rising form, while hopes are high in the Suzuki camp for 2020 champion Joan Mir.

ISLAND COUNTDOWN

Finally, buy your tickets, book your accommodation and lock in October 14-16 at Phillip Island. Barring a pandemic aberration, fans will return to the island after three years. With Miller and Gardner on the grid, it’s going to be epic.

Rookie doesn’t want legendary dad ‘yapping in my ear’

Australia’s latest MotoGP rider Remy Gardner has told his world champion dad, Wayne, to stay away from his races.

“I don’t need him yapping in my ear,’’ Remy said.

“He’s in Monaco, I don’t want him at the track, not with me.’’

The good-natured banter between father and son comes as the 24-year-old prepares to make his MotoGP debut at Qatar this weekend after winning the Moto2 title last year.

Remy is determined to emerge from his father’s shadow and forge his own career.

He has signed a two-year contract with the Tech 3 KTM team and will aim for a season of consolidation in the top flight.

Remy was born six years after his father retired from the 500cc world championship series in 1992 after a decade racing for Honda at the top level, including the world title in 1987.

Wayne has always championed his boy and backed-in his son’s talents.

“Remy has the ability, he just needs the right bike,’’ Gardner told News Corp back in 2019.

That right bike came along in 2021 when Remy raced to the Moto2 world crown, securing five wins and claiming the championship by four points ahead of teammate Raul Fernandez.

Gardner, who is nursing a broken right wrist this weekend, joins compatriot Jack Miller (Ducati) on the MotoGP grid, the first time two Aussies have been on the grid since 2009.

MotoGP qualifying will be held early on Sunday morning with the first race of the 21-round 2022 season at 2am (AEDT) on Monday.

* Another Australian, Joel Kelso from Darwin, will race in Moto3 on a KTM for the CIP Green Power team.

The 18-year-old secured his seat on the French team after four wildcard rides in 2021.

Aussie ace troubled by injury ahead of MotoGP debut

Aussie MotoGP rookie Remy Gardner has admitted he won’t be 100 per cent fit for this weekend’s season-opening race in Qatar.

The 24-year-old KTM rider broke his right wrist on January 15 in a motocross training accident.

He conceded the injury could hamper him on the demanding 5.4km Losail track after a final pre-season hit-out on the bike in Indonesia two weeks ago.

“It’s so-so, not great. I’ll be better than it was at the test, that’s for sure,’’ he said.

Gardner and compatriot Jack Miller will be the first two Australian riders to compete at top level since 2009 when Casey Stoner and Chris Vermeulen rode for Ducati and Suzuki respectively.

Gardner had two screws inserted in the wrist during surgery in Barcelona and at the weekend tested the injury during a dirt bike session with Miller in the Andorra hills.

“I was riding trials with Jack and it got a bit sore towards the end but I’ll be OK.’’

The challenge will be made even tougher by the KTM RC16 bike which Gardner said took a bit of manhandling.

“The bike’s OK, probably not the easiest bike in the world to ride.’’ he said.

“It’s a very physically demanding bike. But it’s OK, we just need to find the right direction for me.’’

Gardner, son of 1987 500cc world champion Wayne, won the Moto2 title last year and is one of five MotoGP rookies this year, including his Tech 3 teammate Raul Fernandez.

The Qatar opener under lights will be followed by the first race at the Mandalika track in Indonesia on March 20.

This year also marks the return of a full, and even extended, calendar with 21 rounds, following just 14 races in 2020 and 18 in 2021.

Last year, the series did not race in Argentina, Finland, Japan, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia.

The Australian round is scheduled to return in 2022 to Phillip Island on October 16 after a three-year pandemic-forced break.

Originally published as 2022 MotoGP season preview: Fabio Quartararo defends title as Jack Miller, Remy Gardner lead Aussie charge

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