Jack has a big year ahead of him – and if testing tells us anything, he’s on the right track.
If consistency is the key to success, Jack Miller is on the right road.
The Townsville 23-year-old, along with the rest of the grid, assembled in Malaysia last week for the first of three pre-season MotoGP tests, and expectations were modest for Miller as he bedded himself in with his new team, Alma Pramac Racing, and on a Ducati GP17 after three years of riding for Honda. And while the post-test headlines focused on the fledgling days of Marc Marquez’s title defence and the progress of Yamaha with Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, Miller certainly turned heads at the Sepang International Circuit.
Fifth on the timesheets on all three days, his best-ever lap of the challenging Sepang layout that was well inside the magical two-minute mark (1min 59.346secs on the final day) and 123 laps (more than six Grand Prix distances) in all gave Miller plenty of cause for optimism after the first official hit-out of 2018. As he sees it, Sepang was a good start, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement, and those gains are already within touching distance as gets more familiar with riding a Ducati.
“The main difference for me is that I feel more in control of this bike than I ever did with the Honda, because the Honda felt like it was on a knife-edge the whole time,” he says, making the most of a break in the pre-season schedule to scurry back to the Miller family home just outside of Townsville.
“Most of the time on the Honda for the last couple of years I didn’t feel like I had much margin to play with and maybe be able to use to get that last little bit of lap time out, but on this bike I’m more controlling it, you could say. The way to get those last tenths (of a second) off seems like it’s more in my hands, and the better lap times are coming more easily to me in some ways. I don’t feel like I have to go crazy or ride over the edge to get a lap time out of it, which is a huge positive.
“The Honda was pretty good in the change of direction stuff, but would always want to pop the front wheel coming out of the slow-speed corners. The Ducati seems to handle those a lot easier, so I’m having to change my approach on how to ride, but that’s a good thing.”
After three years across two Honda teams, Miller’s Ducati move sees him partnered with Italian Danilo Petrucci, who impressed with four podium finishes last year riding the GP17 bike Miller will campaign this season. Petrucci will ride a GP18 to provide development support and feedback to Ducati factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso, and coming into a new set-up where he’s already friendly with the rider on the other side of the garage has only helped what has been a smooth transition.
“It’s only been a short time with the new team, but it feels pretty comfy already,” Miller says of the satellite Ducati operation.
“Working with the team, getting to know how they want to work and them understanding me a bit more day by day, it’s going well and the fit seems to be pretty good. They’ve welcomed me in and made sure I had everything I needed, and they’re a team of real racers who want to do well as a team, so that’s made it a fairly easy adjustment.
“(Race engineer) Cristhian Pupulin has been at Ducati for a very long time and he’s been really good for me so far, and they’ve had Aussies through there in the past, so it’s been pretty seamless.”
After spending time at home in Australia over Christmas, Miller packed up and headed to California in January, loading up on pre-season fitness work to ensure he’d hit the ground running in steamy Sepang, and to prepare his body for the 19-race season to come, a season where he’ll carry a reminder of last year wherever he goes.
Miller’s right leg still features a prominent scar, a legacy of the broken tibia he suffered in a training accident in his European base of Andorra late last year, and he’ll complete the entire 2018 season with eight screws and a plate in his leg before they’re removed in December. He feels the work done in the off-season paid dividends at “a bloody scorching” Sepang, and that extra fitness is sure to be put to the test in Thailand next week, when the MotoGP grid samples the Chang International Circuit for the first time ahead of Thailand’s debut GP in October.
For Miller, it’s all about leaving no stone unturned ahead of what shapes as a crucial year for him, and plenty of other riders besides. At 23 and out of contract at the end of the season, Miller knows this is the most critical year of his world championship tenure to date.
“There’s no excuses for me this year,” he says.
“It’s my fourth year now so none of this is new, I’m in a different team and on a different bike, and there’s a lot of the grid out of contract at the end of this year, including me. So it’s a big one for me to get right. I feel it’s started well and the getting used to the new bike couldn’t have gone much smoother, so definitely a case of so far, so good.
“Last year I set my goal of finishing inside the top 10 for the season and didn’t quite make it, but it’s hard to factor in things like injuries and whatnot, and I had to miss one race with the broken leg and wasn’t 100 per cent for a few of the others.
“So staying injury-free is the first goal, and breaking 100 points for the season for the first time is one too. Whatever happens after that, I’ll take it.”
This story originally appeared on redbull.com
Photos courtesy of Alma Pramac Racing and Red Bull Content Pool