Catching up with Jack at his home MotoGP test at Phillip Island.
Jack Miller is a new man. Don’t worry – the trademark quick wit, razor-sharp responses to difficult questions and ability to make people laugh hasn’t gone anywhere over the off-season; what has changed about Miller is the shape he’s in physically, and the space he’s in mentally. And, if this week’s MotoGP pre-season test at Phillip Island is any indication, both changes are very much for the better.
In the penultimate pre-season hit-out before next month’s opening Grand Prix in Qatar, the 22-year-old from Townsville was a permanent fixture in the top 10 of the timesheets at the Island on his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda over three days, which bodes well for the campaign ahead. But what left Miler more buoyant was the knowledge that his hard work away from the track in the off-season has paid off, and that he can approach his third MotoGP campaign in a good brain space, after last year’s undeniable progress was halted time and time again by injury.
“I’ve had a lot of motivation, and that’s carried me through the off-season. I’ve been busier with training than I ever have,” Miller says.
“I spent some time at the W Training Facility in California and got right into it there. That’s a great gym and set-up, and it’s easy to be motivated in there when you’re working hard and you can see the results. And when I came back home after the first test in Malaysia to Townsville, I was out on the bike, cycling every day. I’m at 67-68 kilos now, and I haven’t been that lean since my Moto3 days, so I feel really good.”
Injuries meant Miller made it onto the starting grid of just 13 of the 18 Grands Prix last year, a season where he broke through for a memorable first premier-class win at Assen, but one that left him frustrated more often than not. Starting the season with a clean slate medically and an uncluttered mind has his energy levels – even by his usual hyperactive standards – sky-high.
“At the end of last year I was sort of getting it together, but there was a feeling of surviving race to race physically for a lot of the second half of the year, and that wears you out mentally as much as anything,” he explains.
“Getting the plates taken out of my leg last year was a big thing – I could have the time off, recover, and sort of start from scratch again. My energy levels were high after that, I couldn’t wait to get back into it again, and that helped me get into a good headspace. Just need to stay there now.”
Miller’s week at the Island, which was unusually bathed in sunshine and not shrouded in mist and rain as it seems to be every October when the MotoGP circus returns for the Australian Grand Prix, was methodical, matter-of-fact and largely under the radar, which was just what the doctor ordered. As his team’s only rider after teammate Tito Rabat was forced to miss the test after injuries sustained in a crash in Malaysia last month, Miller had a hefty workload, but attacked his to-do list with relish.
Front tyre and front fork assessments on day one saw him happy in ninth place, while he lopped half a second off his best Wednesday time 24 hours later to be within a second of flying first-place Spaniard Maverick Vinales, who made quite the impression in his new colours at the factory Yamaha outfit. After 93 more laps on Friday and the ninth-best time overall, it’s little wonder Miller described the test as “really positive”.
“It was just a really good test for us start to finish,” he says.
“We learned a lot, tried a heap of things, I had no crashes, and I was top three in terms of number of laps done every day, so that’s a great result.
“I feel I can aim a fair bit higher in the championship this year because I’m coming in healthy and I feel ready to put in a solid season, a consistent season. There’s no reason why I can’t. We showed we have speed and potential in these two tests so far, so now it’s up to me to do it week to week.”
While Miller’s physical changes are obvious to the eye, his relationship behind the scenes with new crew chief Ramon Aurin is blossoming day by day behind closed doors. Aurin has worked side-by-side with a who’s who of MotoGP riders – Alex Criville, Loris Capirossi, Max Biaggi, Troy Bayliss, Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden to name but a few – and most recently was with Repsol Honda star Dani Pedrosa before joining forces with Miller.
It’s early days, but Miller feels the burgeoning relationship with the vastly experienced Spanish engineer can only make him a stronger rider.
“He’s got a serious wealth of knowledge behind him and I’ve learned a lot already with him, he’s got so much to offer,” Miller says of Aurin.
“He’s teaching me more every day, and everything we try settings-wise seems to work. There’s not much he hasn’t seen with the experience he has with MotoGP generally and with the Honda especially. He’s going to be a big plus for me.”
Fit, focused and in form, Miller – like the rest of us – can’t wait for the 2017 campaign to start. Having to wait another five weeks for Qatar in late March, as he sees it, will be worth it in the long run.
“I’m just ready to go racing today, forget five weeks,” he laughs.
“Testing is all well and good, but I’m itching to go racing now.”
This story originally appeared on redbull.com
Photos courtesy of Marc VDS.