THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE MARCH ISSUE OF INSIDE SPORT MAGAZINE. FOR MORE, CLICK HERE.
Casey Stoner’s exit from MotoGP at the end of the 2012 season left a void for Australian fans in top-flight two-wheel motorsport, but it’s a void Jack Miller hopes to fill before too long. The gregarious 19-year-old from Townsville has made a name for himself with two promising seasons in Moto3, the entry-level world championship category, and earned a promotion to the Red Bull KTM Ajo squad that has dominated the smallest class in recent seasons for 2014.
What’s his story?
Like so many Australian road racers who’ve competed internationally, Miller cut his teeth in motocross, winning his first national dirt bike title at the age of 10 before graduating to tarmac in 2008. It didn’t take long for Miller to make the adjustment to the black stuff; he won the Australian 125cc title in 2009 before heading to Europe, and he combined a full season in the German national 125cc category with a handful of world championship appearances in 2011.
Miller’s first full season on the global stage came in 2012 in the newly-rebadged Moto3 class, and while he finished just 23rd overall, he showed his potential with a brilliant fourth at the Sachsenring in Germany in treacherous wet conditions. But it was last year that Miller came of age, dragging an under-powered FTR-Honda towards the front in a category dominated by Spanish riders and the KTM bike that won all 17 races.
Miller was seventh in the standings, qualified inside the top five nine times, and finished a season-best fifth twice, firstly in San Marino and again at his home Grand Prix at Phillip Island, a thrilling race that saw the top six riders separated by just 1.077 seconds after a furious 23-lap battle. No less an authority than motorcycle bible Motocourse rated Miller as the 10th-best rider across all three world championship categories for 2013, the Australian being the only Moto3 rider to make the list along with the likes of MotoGP stars Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and new wunderkind Marc Marquez.
Miller says spending the past two seasons on less-than-ideal machinery has seen him mature as a rider.
“I think I grew up because I had to do something different – there was no chance I was going to overtake the others, get to the front and pull away,” he says.
“I had to sit back, let the race unfold and not make any mistakes until the last five laps, and only then put the pedal down and try to make some moves. It made me really have to think about every move I made, so last year was a huge learning year because it rounded me out as a rider.”
Miller wasted little time in making an impression as soon as he threw his leg over a KTM, setting the fastest time on the opening two days of pre-season testing at Jerez in Spain despite re-breaking his right collarbone he’d broken three months earlier at Indianapolis. It was yet another display of his talent and toughness; the latest bad break was the tenth time Miller has snapped one collarbone or the other.
Who’s he like?
Still growing at 175cm and 60kg, Miller is fast-becoming too big for the machinery he’s riding. With a Moto3 bike and its rider needing to weigh in at a minimum of 148kg, every extra kilo costs lap time in the junior classes, and it’s not until riders progress to the monstrous 1000cc rocket-ships in MotoGP that the likes of Rossi (182cm) and Dani Pedrosa (160cm) can truly compete on equal footing.
Miller’s tangle of arms and legs can make his riding technique look a little ungainly compared to the smooth sliding style mastered by Stoner in his time in the sport, but the stopwatch shows the speed is there – and it’s not just on the bike that Australia’s next big thing differs from our most recent MotoGP champion.
Off it, Miller’s distinctive Queensland drawl, penchant for dyeing his hair and the word ‘Jackass’ amusingly stitched into the seat of his riding leathers have made him one of the up-and-coming characters in a sport not lacking for personalities. As the resident clown prince of MotoGP, perhaps Rossi noticed as much when he invited a bunch of riders including Miller, 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden and Miller’s Australian mate and Moto3 rival Arthur Sissis to his ranch in the Italian town of Tavullia last September for an impromptu weekend of dirt-bike riding.
“Valentino’s a really cool dude. Someone on his level, he lets you into his house, has a heap of bikes for you to ride and just wants you to come and do some laps with him … it doesn’t get much better than that,” Miller laughs.
“You had to pinch yourself and wonder ‘am I really here with the best that’s ever been on a motorbike?’ – it was unreal.”
What do they say?
“Jack’s been a breath of fresh air for the sport; he’s got plenty of energy and he’s always happy and jovial, so that’s a great asset along with the talent he has. I’ve got no doubt about his determination – what he did with that bike last year was nothing short of amazing.”
– Mick Doohan, five-time 500cc world champion and winner of 54 Grands Prix
“I think he’s got great ability. Last year you could see where he lost out in speed with the machine he was on down the straights, but generally in the tight stuff, he’s every bit as good if not better (than his rivals). I think we’re going to see great things from Jack if that KTM continues to be competitive.”
– Daryl Beattie, three-time Grand Prix winner and Network Ten analyst
“I think everyone has seen that (Jack) is one of the biggest talents for the future in the world championship.”
– Aki Ajo, former rider and owner of Moto3 team Red Bull KTM Ajo