“It’s nice to feel wanted”
As Jack Miller prepares for his first home GP in three years, we grab a quick word about his switch to KTM, his new fiancé and how he feels about racing at home.
For the first time in years, Jack Miller can look ahead to a future settled, both professionally and personally. It’s been a busy year for the Australian on both fronts. Having learned there was no room for him in Ducati’s factory team in 2023 at the Spanish Grand Prix in May, the Australian inked a two-year deal with KTM a fortnight later. Away from the track, he has made plans to settle down with partner Ruby Mau after getting engaged in March.
Both factors have given the 27-year old peace of mind. Signed to one-year deals in each of his five seasons at Ducati – “a young man’s game” as he described it – Jack Miller was forever dogged by questions regarding his future plans. “I remember coming to (Misano) last year and a journalist asked me what my plans were for 2023 – what the f***?! We hadn’t even gotten through 2021, let alone 2022,” he said.
It wasn’t always easy to remain calm in such circumstances. But with a contract signed for 2023 and ’24, the Jack Miller AMCN encountered on the eve of the San Marino Grand Prix appeared a more relaxed, assured figure than before. There is an awareness of his strengths and his weaknesses, and an honesty when speaking of them. And there is still a bite, too. A Ducati employee sat in on our interview held just after Ducati confirmed Enea Bastianini as Miller’s replacement. After speaking of his move to KTM, Jack was advised to limit comments on next year. To which he replied, “I can say whatever I want, I don’t need any protecting. You guys have your new rider.”
After seven and a half seasons scrapping in the premier class of motorcycle racing, Miller has found what does and doesn’t work for him.
“I know what I’m doing for the next two years, I know I’m sorted,” he told AMCN. “I go into each weekend with a clear mind. I can just focus on what I need to do which is enjoy myself on the motorcycle. When I do that, I’m generally fast.”
Little wonder then he’s enjoying arguably his best spell in MotoGP to date. After an up-and-down start to the season, Jack Miller found some real consistency on the back of a successful test in Barcelona in June. Since then, three podiums came in five races. Misano was the only blip, but even then he crashed out of the lead after scoring a first pole position since 2018. A simple coincidence this run has come after his future has been sorted both on the track and off it?
Miller certainly finds himself in a good place going into his first race in front of home fans in three years. Would he say he’s in the sweetest moment of his career?
“Definitely,” he said without hesitation. “If you look at the last four races since the Barcelona test, even the one where I wasn’t on the podium – Assen, I had a long-lap penalty and came through and just mistimed my overtake on (Maverick) Viñales, otherwise it would’ve been another podium.
“For sure, it’s probably the best moment I’ve been in personally. I already have five podiums this year. I feel like the streak can continue. It’s definitely a good moment. It’s nice to start the second half of the season in this form and to be feeling this strong on the bike.”
Back to square one
The turnaround in Miller’s fortunes can be traced back to mid-June. Two bad races at Mugello (15th) and Barcelona (14th) preceded a one-day test just outside the Catalan capital. The morning and afternoon there offered Jack Miller and his crew a chance to go another way with set-up.
“Honestly, I’ve been riding this bike for such a long time now, I was quite far away from the other guys in terms of base setting,” Miller told AMCN. “Fundamental stuff, like the engine position, steering position, stuff like that. We were so far removed because of the old bike and we sort of followed our trend (our setting from 2021), basically. It just took a moment where we had had those two shit results in a row and I just could not pass. [At the test I said] ‘let’s go back to step one, try these other boys’ bikes and see what we’ve got to do here.’ Pretty much since we’ve done that, we’ve been fast.”
Away from the track, Jack Miller now enjoys stability that wasn’t always present in the past. One of the more telling comments he made in recent times came after success at last season’s Spanish GP. Having scored just 14 points from the first three races, he came to Jerez in poor form. Already he was up against it. But a pre-race pep-talk from Lucy Crutchlow – wife of good friend and semi-retired MotoGP racer Cal – gave him the confidence boost that was required. Self-confidence is something he admits does not always come naturally.
“I know myself. I do lack it quite a lot,” he admitted. “If I was going to pinpoint down one of my weaknesses, that’s definitely one of them. I put this coat on where it looks like I don’t give a shit. But that’s all false.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human, we all come from the same stuff and have the same issues, insecurities and anxieties. Then you go and do stuff on this stage. It’s always on a higher scale and you put yourself out there more. You’ve got to take the good with the bad. But sometimes it does take someone to just bring you down and say, ‘Hey, you got here for a reason. You weren’t gifted it. You worked your arse off to get here and you deserve it.’ Sometimes you do forget that, when you’re caught up in the moment, you have like a tunnel vision.”
Living in Andorra, on the other side of the world from family, can feel a long way from home. This is one area where his relationship has helped.
“Having Ruby with me has helped me understand what’s really important in life. The one thing I’ve focussed on my entire life is riding a motorcycle to the best of my abilities. But it’s not the be-all-end-all. There’s a massive chapter afterwards.
“Having her around and understanding that side of things for sure has changed my outlook or the way I approach weekends, the way I approach the championship. It helps to just take my mind off it a little bit when it comes down to the race weekend. You don’t get yourself wound up into a big ball of stress and anxiety, (thinking) ‘I hope this is going to work, what’s the weather going to do?’ All that sort of shit. At the end of the day, you can’t change any of it so there’s no point in losing sleep or winding yourself up or letting yourself get too nervous about it.
“[In Andorra] you’ve got no family. You can’t go home and go to your grandparents’ house and have dinner, or whatever. It’s not like that. Especially in the past, I’d just go home after a shit result and just and sit by myself for two weeks and stew on it, basically, and try to understand what to do better. Whereas now, things are a little different. You understand there is more to the world than just riding a motorcycle day in day out.”
The KTM switch
After coming away from a chaotic opening five races with a mechanical retirement, a fourth, a 14th, a fourth and a crash to his name, Ducati management decided his place in the factory team would go to either Enea Bastianini or Jorge Martin in 2023. A return to Pramac, Ducati’s satellite team was on offer for Jack Miller. But KTM soon made its move to lure the Australian over to its own factory squad to partner Brad Binder.
“We had just finished second in Le Mans but already there on the Saturday night, I was talking and discussing and had my heart set on what I was going to do,” he said.
The switch does, however, represent something of a risk. Through the past year and a half, KTM has struggled to recreate the form of 2020, when its lead rider finished just 36 points off the world championship winner. Ducati, meanwhile, is clearly the most advanced package on the grid with four of the top six in the title race Bologna-backed men.
Does Miller therefore feel it could take some time to get KTM fully up to speed?
“I haven’t even put the question out there because I know those guys are working their arses off to understand what’s going on and what needs to be done in order to have a competitive package next year,” he said. “They started the season with a second in Qatar and then won the second race. I mean, it hasn’t all been shit.
“I think going in there with a positive attitude is one of the biggest things and understanding that there is a big job ahead. But by surrounding myself with the right people and working toward a greater goal, which isn’t just about me succeeding, but about building the brand up to get them to where they want to be in MotoGP, which is fighting for championships. I’ll try and do my bit to help.”
His recent experience in bringing Ducati to the level it’s currently operating at is a source of great satisfaction for Miller. And he feels that experience will serve him well in the two years to come.
“If I put my name to it and try my best to get them to that point… Much as I did when I came across here, to Ducati,” he said. “The bike was not ultra-reliable then. It was not the most desired bike on the grid. I took a pay cut but I knew I could build myself up here. I’ve been able to do so in the past five seasons.
“I feel like now, there are eight of them on the grid. If you speak to nearly every rider, they’d want to have a go on it at least. I think being a part of something pretty cool here at Ducati – I’m not there designing parts, but I’ve had to test them, I’ve had to run them in race simulations and race situations. To get the bike to where it is now, I feel a big sense of pride in the work of these engineers to get this bike to where it is.
“Going across to KTM, it motivates me in that sense. A lot of people have talked a lot of shit about it. But I feel they have the right attitude. They have the right mindset. They’ve already proven themselves and won a few races. And they’ve done some dominant shit in the short amount of time they’ve been in MotoGP. They have the will to win so I feel that’s what motivates me more than anything – to be a part of that project and try and help with my understanding and experiences I’ve had in my time here.”
And, thanks to his two-year deal, he won’t be fielding questions early next year about his plans for 2024.
“It’s nice to feel wanted, to not feel like you’re going into the first round or even the winter tests trying to protect yourself, or trying to prove yourself year after year,” he admitted. “It just stops the hassle, the niggle. Like I said earlier, we’re all humans, shit builds up in us. For sure, getting that out, getting those questions away, you’re not always trying to sell myself and prove myself to people or to whoever.
“It was a young man’s game when I came in and I did it. It was something that worked out great for me. But at this point in my career, I just want to get on with the job and focus on what’s important, which is the racing. To have that option of being in a two-year deal and seeing a long-term programme with it, it’s really cool.”
A lot has changed since Jack Miller last raced in front of a home crowd. The world has gone through, and mostly recovered from, a global pandemic. He has joined a factory team and added two premier-class wins and 13 further podiums to his career tally. Expectations will understandably be high.
Not least as Phillip Island has often been a happy hunting ground for the rider from Townsville. His here in 2014 while in the midst of a Moto3 title fight was up there with his very best. And he led the 2017 encounter here before scoring a stirring home podium on Australian soil back in 2019, the championship’s last visit to Australia.
So how does riding at home compare to racing in Europe?
“It’s different for sure! Phillip Island, the whole vibe of it is different compared to pretty much every other grand prix on the calendar,” Jack Miller said. “We’re all in houses and you’re kind of isolated out there on the island. But it’s an awesome event – I love it. It’s one I look forward to every year. You are busy. You pass out every night because you’re exhausted from the events, catching up with family, doing whatever.
“Pre-Covid, it was our annual family meeting point because a lot of my relatives and grandparents are all in New Zealand. They make the trip out to Phillip Island and that was basically like Christmas to us. You go, and you try and meet up with everybody and by the time you’ve done all that, done the PR events and ridden the bike and everything else, you’re pretty knackered by the end of the day.”
“For sure, it’s a stressful one. But I also feel it brings the best out of me. I don’t know why I thrive off the vibe there. The atmosphere and the whole weekend are just really cool. To have been up there the last few years as the only Aussie (in MotoGP at the time) – now Remy’s here – and to have stood on the podium there the last time out is something I’ll never forget for as long as I live.”
“That was probably the coolest moment of my career, and I’ve won Grand Prix and things like that. To stand on the podium with the track invasion was really something spectacular and something I’d love to do again. But it’s one of things where the pressure is what makes it more special. You know it’s building up on you right toward the race. I’ve been there spewing before the race because you’re just that nervous and you’re trying not to mess up.”
And of the glorious track, which counts as a favourite on nearly every rider’s list, Jack Miller quipped: “All pros. No cons!” when asked to surmise the 4.45km layout.
“The only con would be the wind. Every now and then you know it can start blowing there down on Phillip Island! But the rest is just great. From the minute I roll out in FP1 from the minute I roll off after the race, it’s just one of the coolest grand prix weekends of the year. It’s fast, flowing – really cool corners. You can really attack most of the track. It’s really a lot of fun.”