On the best bike of his career and with big goals in mind, the Australian made an immediate mark at MotoGP testing in Malaysia this week.

Jack Miller didn’t exactly come into the first MotoGP test of 2019 in Malaysia this week with a spring in his step – a haematoma on his thigh courtesy of a motocross off while riding with Chad Reed in the off-season put paid to that – but mentally at least, the Australian feels he’s never been more ready for a season. Which, given the potential prize for getting said season right, is a good thing.

Miller’s name was close to the top of the timesheets right throughout the test at a sweltering Sepang, where riders didn’t so much blow away the off-season cobwebs as have them melt away – track temperatures nudging 60 degrees across all three days made this test one of the more gruelling back-to-school assignments imaginable.

The Alma Pramac Ducati rider’s week in Malaysia wasn’t without its hiccups – a small fire temporarily barbequed one of his GP19 machines on Friday and he had two crashes at the same corner (Turn 9) on the opening two days, but his pace suggested there’s more to come from the Australian in his fifth MotoGP campaign. “I know I’ve got a lot more up my sleeve,” was an ominous throwaway line after the second day of running, where Miller used a blistering late lap to launch himself into the top three.

That prize we mentioned? A potential seat at the Ducati factory team for 2020, with Ducati sporting director Paulo Ciabatti saying in January that the marque has “three good candidates” to partner incumbent Andrea Dovizioso at the red squad for next year in either current factory rider Danilo Petrucci, Miller, or 2018 Moto2 champion Francesco Bagnaia, who embarks on his maiden premier-class campaign this year as Miller’s new teammate. Every year in MotoGP has been big for Miller to date, but this one carries extra weight.

After an eight-hour test day and a solid stint on the massage table, Miller took refuge in the air-conditioning to debrief with redbull.com.

redbull.com: You prepare for the new year as much as you can in the off-season, but how do you pull up after more than two race distances per day in Malaysian heat and on a track that’s nudging 60 degrees?

Jack Miller: It’s definitely hot in this part of the world at this time of the year – all the times of the year really – so it’s a positive that I feel pretty good from day one. Light massage, plenty of fluids, ice bath … all pretty standard recovery, but no more than that. Arms, legs, all of that pretty good for 50-something laps per day. If it wasn’t for the haematoma on my thigh I’d probably be jumping around …

You left Australia early to get into your training in California – was that a case of knowing that 2019 is a big one for you?

JM: Yeah, I got out there on the 28th of December last year, straight after Christmas back at home in Townsville, and that was the longest time I’ve ever been out there getting ready. Stayed an extra week, basically. Did a lot of cycling, mountain biking, some motocross, got off my phone a fair bit … just got the mind right. Some of the cycling with the guys out there, it was pretty full-on. So I’m feeling well prepared and mentally strong; that’s the thing with the cycling that has really helped me, the mental side of it. The guys I ride with … they’re all strong, so some days you can go out there and feel on top of everything, and then another day they’ll push to a new level and you feel completely shit. It humbles you. They challenge you to be better, and that’s good.

It’s a different build-up to the season for you, coming into it knowing you’ll be riding a current-spec 2019 Ducati, and having Ducati rely a lot more on you for technical feedback on the direction of the bike. Does that extra responsibility make things feel different for you?

JM: For sure, it definitely does. You arrive here at a test with actual items to test, a big old list, rather than just riding around adjusting set-up. You come to a test with a bigger purpose than just looking at doing a lap time. So that’s nice, you feel more a sense of involvement out of it, and you get to help decide the direction where your bike is going to go for the year. You feel more valued and that you’re making a contribution for the factory.

Let’s look back at last year; you came into it looking for 100 points and a top-10 finish and narrowly missed both, but there was a pole in Argentina and some really strong races like France, Argentina and Australia. Do you look back at the good points, or are you someone who dwells on the ones that got away?

JM: You see the positives now – things like Argentina, the qualifying at Misano (second on the grid) and Motegi (third), things like that. But you can’t just sweep away the negatives that happened, they were my mistakes and I have to learn from them – Misano, Motegi, a few other points where we really should have gone better. I left a heap of points on the table and that’s frustrating when you look back at it. I definitely feel more mature this year and more in a position to ride the factory bike the way it needs to be ridden, and make sure I take advantage of the times I put myself in a good place to begin races.

We haven’t even started this year yet, but there’s going to be focus on the second factory Ducati seat for 2020 with Danilo being on a one-year contract there, you on a one-year deal here, and Pecco coming in alongside you. Does that up the ante?

JM: People aren’t projecting too much about 2020 yet from the outside, but I’m projecting towards that, definitely. That factory seat is my goal, there’s no secret about that. It’s what I want. I have to start this season well, have a solid first few races and get some performances on the board early. Whatever I have to do to try to secure that spot, I will. It’s big stakes, but I’m ready for that. Start well, few mistakes, build from there and give it everything.

There’s a lot of Australian MotoGP fans very positive about what you can do this year, and where that might lead you as we just discussed – do you feel that?

JM: Definitely, I notice it all the time in the comments on social media, the Aussies you meet at the tracks, the testing, everywhere. Most of the time it’s really positive, people seem to want me to do well. It gets a little bit more, a little bit bigger every year, and you definitely feel it. The Aussies really want to see one of their own do well, and that definitely makes you feel good, I feel the love from home. I mean, there’s no excuses now. I’m in a good position. I’ve had a couple of really hard years physically and I’ve definitely done my apprenticeship, so I feel it’s about time I started giving them something to cheer about. I’m 24 now, have done the hard yards, have the experience and all of that. I think it’s going to be a good year, and I’m really looking forward to it.

This story originally appeared on redbull.com

Photos courtesy of Alma Pramac Racing