It’s been nine years since Jack Miller tasted the winning Prosecco in front of home fans. We catch up with the talented Aussie ahead of his first home race on KTM’s RC16
All in all, it’s a decent time to be Jack Miller. The Australian is nearing the end of his first year as a factory KTM rider, a project that has undoubtedly moved forward since his arrival. Having married partner Ruby Mau last October, the pair welcomed their first child – Pip Florence – into the world on 14 September. And he returns to race on home soil with something of a point to prove after last year’s cruel ending.
“We left some unfinished business there last year,” he says.
The 28-year old hasn’t been on the easiest run of late. In some ways, Miller has been the victim of his own early success after a truly impressive start to life as a KTM factory rider. Just a fortnight on from ending the final preseason test 17th, Miller flew out of the blocks, breaking the lap record on just the the second practice session of the year, before finishing the first ever Sprint race fourth, just off the podium.
All in all, the season’s first half was decorated with nuggets of promise: three front-row starts at Jerez, the Sachsenring and Silverstone, and the two Sprint podiums in Jerez and the Sachsenring again as well as running in the podium battle before a crash out of the main race in Austin, and backing up teammate Brad Binder on the podium at Jerez. Despite jumping off Ducati’s peerless Desmosedici last November, there were even indications KTM’s RC16 was better suited to his riding style.
Yet since the Dutch TT, Miller has struggled to hit those early heights. Having taken a wrong turn with bike set-up, he found himself on the back foot as the season restarted after a lengthy summer break. With Ruby back in Australia, preparing for Pip’s birth, Miller was going to these races without her by his side.
“We know we can ride. The bike is good. It’s just getting my confidence with the front and comfort level back up there,” he said recently after a disappointing weekend at Misano. The potential of racing KTM’s new carbon-fibre chassis after test-rider Dani Pedrosa debuted it so brilliantly at the San Marino GP is one reason to look at the remainder of the season with promise.
AMCN sat down with Jack on the eve of the San Marino Grand Prix – seven days before the birth of daughter Pip Florence – to talk about 2023 so far, just how far KTM is from challenging for the MotoGP world title, and how he’s out to avenge the heartache of last year’s Australian GP, when he was taken out of the victory fight by another rider.
It seems it’s a great time in the personal life of Jack Miller, recently married, with a first baby on the way…
Yeah. It’s been an amazing couple of years.
Like you say, we’re seven days out from the birth of our first child. I can’t wait. These are exciting times, not to mention the motorcycle racing. But from a personal side, it’s really, really cool. It’s been tricky the last couple of weeks having the wife back in Australia, and me being on this side of the world.
Has it been tough not having Ruby around in recent weeks?
To a degree. But not really. At the end of the day, you’re able to compartmentalise. Of course, things are always at the back of your mind, but once I’m here I do my job and get on with it. I’ve been doing this so long that it is second nature.
It does take a lot of your focus, and it is tough, finding the balance. But it’s just another thing to look forward to. I can’t wait to have it and to share this experience with Ruby. I don’t think it’s harder. There’s a lot of time in the day, and a lot of energy to put out there. It’s definitely not (affecting me) too much.
We’re almost two-thirds of the way through your first season with KTM. Are you roughly where you expected to be?
Even if those lows are to be expected, you’re always disappointed. That’s just the way it goes in this business. The highs, I didn’t expect them to be as high and as soon. But they were definitely welcome. At the end of the day, that’s what you want, what you wish for.
But call me pessimistic or something like that, I thought it would be more difficult. I was prepared for a more difficult time after watching just the past few seasons. The guys that had transitioned to the KTM just struggled more. But with the help I had from the crew, and the guys that I brought across, and having the right attitude and approaching this whole project in the right mindset. The support of the people around me, with Thomas and Ruby and everyone in my team, it’s been very easy to make that transition, and has made the load a lot less heavy in terms of getting to grips with the bike and trying to extract what we need.
We know KTM’s RC16 differs quite a lot from Ducati’s Desmosedici. You’re able to kick the rear out on the RC16, while the Ducati was more wheels in line. But how do the factories differ in terms of culture and rider management? Are they poles apart?
I wouldn’t say it’s the polar opposite. But they are opposites. At the end of the day, whether you’re here or over there, the team wants to succeed and that’s why they’re spending millions and millions of dollars – to go out there and do well, have a successful race team and a successful brand.
In that aspect it’s quite similar, but the way they go about it is quite different. These guys have a different approach for good and bad. It’s a very Italian mindset over there (at Ducati) – there’s a lot of Italians, as you can imagine. The KTM brand is more a mix of people, a mix of staff, be it Italians, English, Aussies, Kiwis, as well as Austrians and Germans. It’s one big mixing pot. I feel you really get the best out of everybody in that, especially for me and Brad (Binder).
Being Australian and South African, being in a team where the majority speaks English, you feel one step more at home already. You’re constantly in all the conversations, you’re not singled out sometimes – it’s a very inviting atmosphere. In terms of racing and working-wise, these guys are highly motivated. They will give their all for it. It’s something that’s shared across the board – in that aspect they’re similar again. There are many ways to skin a cat. For sure, there’s a different way over here.
Since it joined MotoGP in 2017, KTM has developed a reputation for being extremely quick to react to a rider’s needs. Have you found that so far?
For sure, to a degree. It’s also something that when you’re in that position you have to do that, it’s a mindset you have to have. When you’re starting something new, or struggling, in racing you have to be reactive. It’s the only way to go forwards. These guys have a lot of resources, as well as having everything quite close, by the time the parts are made, getting them from one side of the world to the other is definitely not easy. But Austria being so close definitely helps. Whatever we need, they’re more than willing to try and fix that.
After your two third places at Jerez, you gave a special mention to your doubters (“Thanks to the people who doubted us – I love it”). Many did doubt whether your switch to KTM would be a success. Did that add a little coal to the fire in terms of motivation?
For sure. They’re always there. It’s always the same. The Ducati people had a very short memory of what the Ducati I got on (was like). It wasn’t the Ducati that I got off. It wasn’t the hottest property when I got on it by any stretch… and it definitely was when I got off it.
It’s the same now over here. In such a short amount of time it’s gone from being probably not the hottest bike to be on, in terms of a lot of people talking shit essentially. And the guys that were getting on with it, such as Brad and Miguel (Oliveira, KTM’s factory rider in 2021 and ’22), were doing really well. Then jumping over here, (I was) reading a lot of comments, saying are people even hearing it, and so on.
It just feels it a little bit more to say, why can’t it be done? Why can’t we do this? Again, it comes back to having the right mindset, the right attitude, and the right working mentality. And the right people for sure helps. You’re constantly getting doubted. I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky or anything. But when you put yourself out there like I do, then you’re constantly the one getting the shit as well.
For example, this week. I’ve had a couple of podiums (this year) if you include the Sprint races and some really decent results in, what, just 11 races on this bike. And I’m the one that’s meant to be going home for half the season next year (note: a few stories from unreliable sources had emerged prior to Misano, stating Moto2 champion-in-waiting Pedro Acosta would be taking over Miller’s factory berth in 2024, meaning the Australian would be relegated to a testing role – which is completely untrue). The only thing I can work out now is it’s the only thing that’ll get their websites clicks, so that’s the reason why they put it in there. I couldn’t really give a shit.
There are a few similarities to the Ducati you found in 2018 when you joined and the KTM of this year. Can you compare the situations at all, and what have you been able to bring immediately to the KTM project which you maybe couldn’t as soon as you joined Pramac Ducati just under six years ago?
(The situations were) Quite similar. Definitely when I was making the decision (last year) and I put it to Aki (Ajo), my manager, to do the swap over. From outside looking in, you can see the bones of the project and understand there are some good foundations there. Even just sitting in behind the bikes and understanding that was something I could work with. That’s what I saw with KTM last year already. We were discussing around that time, do we continue going down this route with Ducati one year at a time, and see where we are this time next year, and be back in the same situation. Or do we start something different? That was basically the only thing that caught my attention, this project, and what I could bring to it.
For sure, I wasn’t bringing the same amount of experience when I went to Ducati. I had three years on a Honda and a very basic customer Honda at that. We weren’t testing new parts or anything like that.
But I’d done a lot of that by the time I finished up my five years at Ducati. There was a lot of experience I knew I could bring across to this in terms of a testing and development role, in terms of being able to build the racebike. And that’s what we’ve been able to do, I think throughout the winter, after the one day of testing we had (at Valencia). And then throughout the winter testing. That’s another thing, doing that change in this point of time was massive because we don’t get as many days. We don’t get nine days before the season starts, or three days at the end. We had one day around Valencia to make some key decisions and that was it. It’s not been the easiest. But it’s the same for everybody and we get along with it. For me it makes the whole story of it that much cooler.
At one point this year Brad was a title contender. Overall, this year KTM has scored four podiums in Sunday races and has been a podium contender at almost every racetrack we’ve visited. How far away is the factory from fighting – and winning – the MotoGP World Championship?
They’re very close. Very, very close. Brad’s done an amazing first half of this year. Unfortunately for him, he would’ve pulled back some serious points in Barcelona with Pecco dropping out, but he had that mechanical. Obviously, it’s not over. This championship, as we saw in Barcelona with the crash, six bikes going out and Pecco having that massive
highside, this championship is far from over.
There are so many ups and downs left before the end of the year with the Sprint race, with the level of everybody, with how hard everyone is pushing – they’re all on the ragged edge. I don’t think they’re too far off it. They’ve got a fantastic package overall. Brad’s riding amazing. I’d like to be there pushing with him more consistently throughout the year. We’re learning our way through and getting there. I think it’ll definitely come in the near future.
Your Australian Grand Prix last year had a bit of everything: drama, excitement and ultimately disappointment. How do you remember that?
And how does it feel returning home to race with KTM for the first time since you won your home race in 2014 in Moto3?
It was a real shit ending (to last year’s race), that I can tell you! But it wasn’t to be. After getting the corner named (after me) and then ironically getting T-boned there. But that was what it was. It was still an amazing weekend and an amazing atmosphere down at the Island.
I’m super keen to be heading back there again this year with the KTM. The last year we were there with the KTM in 2014, it was an amazing weekend. Probably one of the better ones in my career, remembering back to winning at the Island, it was unreal. We left some unfinished business there last year. I think with the bike we’ve got, how it reacts to the high-speed changes of direction, it’s super stable, it doesn’t get affected as bad by the wind, which is always a key factor there at the Island.
And she’s got some decent power on it. So, I think it’s definitely a bike that can work well at Phillip Island. I’m really, really looking forward to heading down there and seeing what we can do.
Interview Neil Morrison + Photography Gold&Goose