Vastly experienced MotoGP engineer Ramon Aurin says Jack Miller has what it takes to make it to the top of MotoGP.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE SUNDAY AGE NEWSPAPER
How good is Jack Miller really? Is he just another Aussie racing hopeful scratching around in the middle of the MotoGP pack for a few years before fading into obscurity? Or is there a genuine chance the Townsville tyro could join such two-wheel luminaries as Gardner, Doohan and Stoner as riders who’ve emerged from Down Under to stand atop the world? One MotoGP insider thinks he knows the answer.
As chief engineer to Miller at Honda’s Marc VDS MotoGP team, Ramon Aurin has brought a sense of calm and a wealth of experience into the 22-year-old’s garage this season. The bespectacled 52-year-old has worked side-by-side with a veritable who’s who of MotoGP race-winners and world champions including Alex Criville, Loris Capirossi, Max Biaggi, Troy Bayliss, Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden, to name but a few, and joined forces with Miller this year after five seasons alongside perennial MotoGP front-runner Dani Pedrosa. In short, Aurin knows talent – genuine top-line talent – when he sees it.
Riders spend more time with their chief race engineers than anyone else at a race weekend, the engineer providing the technical bridge between rider and bike in the ever-elusive search for the missing tenths of a second that separate the stars from also-rans. And while Aurin’s time with Miller will end at the conclusion of the 2017 season as the Australian moves from Honda to the Pramac Ducati team, the Spaniard has seen enough be able to predict Miller’s future with some certainty.
So how good is Jack Miller really? Aurin is in no doubt.
“In my opinion, I think he will arrive (at the top),” Aurin says emphatically, his stilted English accentuated by his right index finger prodding a nearby table to emphasise his point.
“How long this takes, I don’t know. One year? Two years? It’s not easy to say. But he will arrive. First, he’s super-young still, and will still be young for some years. And he’s fast. He has the speed to get there. The experience? Not yet. The technique? In some areas, no. But he has speed that you cannot teach, so I think Jack can arrive, and be one of the best riders in MotoGP when he does.”
With Miller a factory-contracted rider for Honda Racing Corporation, and because of Aurin’s decade of experience with Honda’s top flight Repsol-backed team that fields Pedrosa alongside reigning MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, the veteran engineer has access to the telemetry of all three riders to see what Miller is doing right, and wrong. And he says the numbers paint a revealing picture.
“We have the data from Dani, from Marc, and we know where Jack loses time compared to them,” Aurin explains.
“Some riders will lose out to the top riders in braking, acceleration, corner speed … everywhere, basically. The top riders are just a little bit better in everything. But with Jack, it’s easier to see. His acceleration is good, and his braking points, it’s like Marc, as good as Marc, and Marc is a three-times MotoGP champion.
“It’s all corner speed for Jack at the moment, and he’s missing maybe a little bit of confidence in the front tyre to carry the corner speed that the data says he maybe can. But this is experience, and that is why I think he has another step to make. It’s one he can do. It’s not like he’s reached the limit of his potential; he’s nowhere close to this.”
Marquez exploded onto the MotoGP scene in 2013, winning six races and the title as a 20-year-old. The Honda rider’s assault on the record books has barely abated since, winning the championship in 2014 and again last year, and leading this year’s title chase heading into the third-last round at Phillip Island. Aurin laughs when he suggests all rookies before Marquez – and those, like Miller, who have come onto the scene since – are now unfairly judged because of the mercurial Spaniard’s achievements. The career path of Marquez’s chief rival for the 2017 title, 31-year-old Ducati rider Dovizioso, makes for a more realistic blueprint, he argues.
“It’s hard to compare anyone to Marc, because Marc isn’t like other riders, like any rider in history,” Aurin says.
“Every other rider who has come to MotoGP since him, everyone expects them to be rookies and achieve what Marc achieved, or be judged against what Marc achieved. Marc is not normal. But if you look at ‘Dovi’, what he has achieved, and it was constant progression over eight years, 10 years. That is more normal. Now, he wins races, he fight for the championship. Nobody can place a question-mark against him.
“For me, this is like Jack’s first year in MotoGP. He’s so young still, still only 22. In 2015 he was on the Open (second-tier) Honda which was not really a MotoGP bike, and then last year he was always injured, or coming back from an injury. Last year, it was hard for him to learn. Maybe in Moto3 you can ride when you are not fit or carry some injuries, but in MotoGP, if you are even two per cent off physically, you are one second behind, and then you are 15th and nowhere.
“Every rider here is an amazing rider. It’s not only the riders at the front, and then the ones at the back are not so good. The talent, the depth, from first to 20th or the back, is very, very high. But Jack has time and the potential that maybe not every rider has.”
That potential, should it be realised, won’t come with Aurin as Miller’s right-hand man. Next season, with Miller riding the Ducati GP17 that has propelled Dovizioso to within touching distance of the world title – and alongside Pramac’s incumbent rider Danilo Petrucci, who has taken four podium finishes this season in the strongest campaign of his six-year MotoGP career – will reveal the length of the strides Miller has made.
“I think the Ducati will fit him better next year than the Honda,” Petrucci says of Miller.
“With Jack, he has a lot of time because it’s his third year in MotoGP, but he’s very young. But he showed in Moto3 before MotoGP that he’s very strong and has no fear of nothing, so I think the Ducati for him will be the best solution.
“Experience is really important in MotoGP, and he’s getting it. I think he will be faster on the Ducati. Hopefully not faster than me …”
Aurin, who admits he’ll still take a keen interest in Miller’s progression when he becomes a rival, says the signs are good.
“As an engineer he’s easy to work with because he doesn’t think he knows all of the answers, he always wants to learn,” Aurin says.
“He always ask questions and he wants to try your suggestions. Make a suggestion to him about set-up, and he’ll be open to it and he will try. Some riders, maybe they ask for advice and maybe they still go their own way. But Jack knows he is young and doesn’t have the experience of the older riders, the more experienced riders. He’s going about it the right way.”