Jack Miller

Miller Time: Going down the long road

Jack Miller writes about a Qatar GP that produced a top-10 finish on his Ducati debut, but showed there’s plenty more in the pipeline.


Hi everyone,

It’s a long season. It’s a long season. It’s a long season … yes, I know I’m repeating myself, but that’s what I’ve been saying in my head since I got off the bike here in Qatar after the first race on Sunday night. Starting 10th and finishing in the same position after 22 laps isn’t going to get anyone that excited, especially me, and especially after how well the pre-season went for me – I was expecting quite a lot more. But it’s a long … you get the drift.

The whole weekend was one of those ‘nearly, but not quite’ weekends where you feel you can just about touch a good result, but it never quite gets there. Friday, I had some dramas with tyres in practice and it didn’t look good back in 14th, especially seeing as though I’d been six-tenths of a second faster  in the test a couple of weeks back. But I knew I had more pace than that, there was a reason I was back there, and it was nice to show I was right on Saturday in qualifying. I finished top of Q1 and made it through to Q2, and then did a 1:54.449 on my last Q2 lap and managed personal bests in three of the four sectors, so really happy with that. Felt like a lap that could have been on the second row of the grid, to be honest. But the pace was crazy fast and I was back in 10th; not terrible, but could have been better for the first race.

Tyre wear at Losail is always an issue on this surface and being in the middle of the desert like we are, so it wasn’t the first few laps that would set up everyone’s races on Sunday, it was the last seven laps or so. I was in OK shape hanging onto the main group for the first bunch of laps, but got a bit of a warning at the second-last corner eight laps in when I had a decent moment, and you could tell I needed to manage the front tyre life a bit more. That was when my pace dropped off, I never did do a lap of 1min 55secs after that, and the pack got further away from me. I was hardly the only one to drop back; Johann (Zarco) led the race for most of it from pole and fell back massively at the end to finish eighth, while someone like Maverick (Vinales), who started behind me and was a fair way back from me in the early laps, ended up flying through and finishing sixth. How much tyre you had left at the end was the deciding factor, really.

Compared to last year, I finished a tenth of a second (literally 0.108secs, someone told me) further back from first place than here in 2017, which isn’t great. But it’s not all bad, because last year I was pushing like crazy and maxed it out to get to eighth, and this year I know we have way more potential than that and I was still the same 14-ish seconds off the winner. Didn’t feel like I could have done much more last year, but there’s way more to come from me and this Ducati. It’s one race of 19. Long season … The team seemed pretty happy, and for me, it’s natural to be disappointed because us riders always want more, even the guy who wins wishes he could have won by more most of the time. But we’ll be OK in the long run.

Argentina comes next, but that’s three weeks away yet which is a bit frustrating. It’ll be my 50th MotoGP race too, so that’s a bit of a milestone. Should be a better one than it was here too. I’ll catch up with you then.

Cheers, Jack


10 fearless predictions for the MotoGP season

Want to know what will happen on two wheels in 2018? We’ve peered into the crystal ball …


Testing? Done. Takeaways from testing? On record. The season start in Qatar? Merely days away. Which means it’s time. Time to stick our neck out and come up with 10 fearless predictions for the coming MotoGP season.

Who wins the title? Who has no chance? Who will spring a surprise for the right or wrong reasons? Which rookie will shine brightest? And is there anyone who can unseat Marc Marquez from his throne as the king of MotoGP?

We’ve dusted off the crystal ball and peered into the future to come up with our cast-iron guarantees (or, if you like, best educated guesses) for 2018. Deep breath, here goes.

1. Pedrosa is a title contender

Yes, we know he’s been in the premier class for 12 years and hasn’t finished third or better for five seasons. Yes, we’re aware three of his teammates (Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner and Marquez – four times) have won the championship where he hasn’t managed it once. And yes, he’s 33 years old in September. But Dani Pedrosa’s pre-season pace has been eye-catching, and if you were going to choose someone to give Marquez a run to the title, what about the rider on the same bike on the other side of the same garage? Any Pedrosa predictions have to come, history tells us, with an asterisk for injury, but we’re backing him in.

2. More wins for Jorge, more points for Dovi

Jorge Lorenzo’s first year in Ducati red was underwhelming in the extreme, particularly when compared to that of teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who snared six victories to the Mallorcan’s zero to become Marquez’s major (and unlikely) rival for the title. The metronomic ‘Dovi’ crashes rarely and makes very few mistakes, and we’re predicting it’ll be that rather than outrageous speed that keeps the Italian in the title fight again. Can we see Lorenzo picking up a win or two more than his teammate? Absolutely. Will that be enough to be the highest-scoring Ducati rider over 19 races? We’re saying no.

3. Jack Miller will make podiums, plural

He’s stood on a MotoGP podium before, of course (who can forget Assen 2016 when the Aussie surveyed the view from the top step?), but that was a crazy race in crazy weather that owed itself to opportunism, sublime skill, a smattering of luck and a ‘what the hell’ approach. This year? Jack Miller’s pace in pre-season testing on a Ducati has been fierce and not at all fleeting – he’s been a top-10 constant in Malaysia, Thailand and Qatar – and you sense he can make the top three in races (plural) this year with or without inclement weather aiding his cause.

4. Johann Zarco will lead Yamaha’s charge

This is bold, but the Frenchman who adopts a ‘better the devil you know’ approach to his racing might just fly while the factory Yamaha squad flap about with aerodynamic tweaks, wondering which chassis to use and managing the expectations of Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, who often want very different things from the same motorcycle. One thing we know: Zarco won’t want for wondering. What effect, we wonder, will Yamaha’s end-of-year divorce with Tech 3 have on his chances as the season progresses? (We’ll be using that as our asterisk, incidentally, if this one doesn’t come true).

5. Rossi will ride on

OK, so this one isn’t so bold. Indications suggest ‘The Doctor’ will keep making house calls on the MotoGP calendar for the next two seasons, which will take him into his 40s. For anyone else, signing a multi-year deal at that age and stage of a career would seem unlikely and lucky in equal measure – but the biggest drawcard in the sport (still) will be competitive for as long as he’s around. Let’s hope it’s for a good while yet.

6. The silly season won’t be very silly

Rossi likely to re-sign with Yamaha’s factory squad, Marquez already locked in at Repsol Honda, Vinales staying at Yamaha until 2020 … will there be much intrigue over this season as to who rides where next year? Other than what happens to Zarco when the Tech 3/Yamaha alliance ends, we might know more about next season before this one really gets underway, especially at the pointy end of the field.

7. Rins will rise

We never got to see the best of Suzuki rookie Alex Rins last year, one injury after another scuppering his chances of playing himself into the top flight alongside experienced Italian Andrea Iannone. But there were signs the 22-year-old was learning fast towards the end of the season, top 10 results in Japan, Australia and Valencia (where he finished a career-best fourth) giving cause for optimism, and he’s been the pick of Suzuki’s riders in testing, save for Iannone’s first two days at one of his strongest circuits in Qatar. Iannone can blow hot and cold, but the more consistent Rins will end up as the team’s primary charger.

8. Taka takes a turn in the top three

Ten of the riders on this year’s grid have never stood on a MotoGP podium, and based on the above, Rins looks best placed to get there first. But keep an eye on Takaaki Nagakami, the Japanese rookie who has stepped up from Moto2 to partner Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda this season. A surprise in the top 10 at the Thailand test, the 26-year-old has impressed the battle-hardened Crutchlow already, the Briton telling reporters in Buriram that “he’s a good kid and he’s got a big future ahead in MotoGP”. If you’re looking for a smoky to make a top three this year, Taka’s top of the list.

9. Thailand will be the GP of the year

Argentina will be manic, Mugello magic. Assen will be, well, Assen, and Phillip Island will probably produce the race of the year, if recent Australian Grands Prix are any indication. But the event of 2018? Let’s give the ‘trophy’ to Thailand now, shall we? A nation obsessed by bikes, desperate to see the world’s best riders ply their trade and a debut world championship race in Buriram? If the crowds at pre-season testing were any indication, look out in October when MotoGP returns for real.

10. The Marquez masterclass will roll on

Can four titles in five years become five in six? Let’s answer one question with another: who or what stops him?

What do we know about the 2018 MotoGP season?

Testing is over – and with the countdown on to the Qatar season-opener, here’s five pointers about the year to come.


We’ve reached the finish of the start – the end of pre-season testing for MotoGP before the 2018 season roars into life in Qatar on March 18. Over nine days of testing between Sepang in Malaysia, a first look at the Buriram circuit in Thailand and Losail in Qatar, riders and teams have fine-tuned machines, tried and tested (and discarded) new aerodynamic directions, and blown the cobwebs away from the post-season ahead of this year’s 19-race campaign.

So what do we know as the build-up starts to Qatar in less than a fortnight’s time? Do we trust the timesheets? Do we place more stock on history and pedigree than form and momentum? And will the real story only start to emerge after a handful of races on more traditional tracks back in Europe, given Losail counts as neither?

Here’s some of what we can deduce from testing – and a few pointers of what to look out for when the lights go out for real on the season proper.

Qatar won’t tell us everything

Qatar pays a lot (really, a LOT) of money to host MotoGP’s season-opener, held in a desert at night with very few people watching trackside. If you’re looking for atmosphere, this isn’t the race. And if you’re looking for a pointer of what’s to follow, Qatar probably isn’t the race either.

We saw some of that in pre-season testing, where a rider like Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone, nowhere in the preceding tests in Malaysia and Thailand, suddenly vaulted to the top three on the timesheets on the first two days at Losail before missing the final day with illness. Is there a world in which Iannone challenges for the podium in Qatar in two weeks’ time? Absolutely. Are there a majority who’ll guarantee he’ll finish ahead of fast-rising teammate Alex Rins in the standings over the course of the season? Not really.

The location, circuit layout, time of day and other peculiarities of the Losail track making drawing conclusions from one race difficult and unwise at the same time. It’s just one chapter in a 19-race story.

Yamaha found more questions than answers

If you’ve made any sense of Yamaha’s pre-season, you’re smarter than us – and possibly Yamaha, after the comments of their riders in Qatar. Consider this sequence of numbers: 14-1-18-11-4-12-1-7-5 – they’re the finishing positions of Maverick Vinales on the timesheets on the nine days of testing across three very different tracks, a steep rollercoaster that left the Spaniard perplexed.

On the final day of the Qatar test, with Vinales commenting that he was riding at “50 per cent” before the last hour because he had no confidence the bike would stay on the track, Yamaha elected to revert back the base setting of the bike he’d tried three days prior – and he immediately leapt into the top five.

“We finished with the same bike that I started with on the first day … (and) I did the lap time without trusting the front,” he told the assembled media afterwards.

“It’s quite strange for me,” he said. “Now it looks like we lost one day, one-and-a-half days to try other things. We have to pay a lot of attention to the things we changed. Because nothing changed on the bike, it’s just the same bike as the first day. The second day we tried other things and we lost the way. So my feeling was that I could not push. Even now I feel like I can push more, I still can’t give my best.”

Vinales’ teammate Valentino Rossi, who finished the Qatar test strongly, wasn’t getting carried away with his second-fastest time, either.

“There have been too many ups and downs this winter,” Rossi told the Italian press. “This means that from one track to another, the difference between the bikes will change a lot, and we have to avoid that we suffer too much at our worst tracks.”

Johann Zarco, the Tech3 Yamaha rider who narrowly missed shattering Jorge Lorenzo’s decade-old pole record with a 1min 54.029sec lap on the final day, is running Yamaha’s 2016 chassis this year, and his single-lap pace was a massive quarter of a second faster than anyone else. Which is all very well until you consider his race pace, given the Qatar GP is held over 22 laps, was nowhere near as strong. “When I tried to find the race pace, I was a bit slow,” he admitted.

Could we see a Yamaha or two on the podium for the season-opener? Yes. But it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Rossi, Vinales and Zarco didn’t make the top five in a fortnight’s time. Their guess is only slightly better than yours.

Jack is legit

Jack Miller has almost been counting the days down until the first race in Qatar from the moment he stepped onto a Ducati Desmosedici GP17 for the first time in Valencia last November, and comes into the 2018 campaign in great shape, his confidence sky-high and his expectations for the season needing to be recalibrated.

Remarkably, the first day in Qatar (when he was 12th overall) was the only day he didn’t feature inside the top 10 across nine days of testing, while his long-run pace came relatively easily, leaving him in no doubt that there’s more to come. He’s been right on the pace (and sometimes faster than) Alma Pramac Racing teammate Danilo Petrucci too, remembering that the Italian is on the updated Ducati GP18 that will be campaigned by Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory squad.

Miller’s best qualifying and race results at Losail came last year (started 16th, finished eighth) – and it’ll be a huge disappointment and something of a surprise if he’s not able to eclipse that in two weeks.

‘Dovi’ knows he can do it

There’s a big difference between thinking you can do something big and knowing you can, and that’s why Dovizioso’s pre-season makes for such interesting analysis. After his belated breakout season in 2017, when the 31-year-old won six races in one season where the previous nine years had yielded just two victories, there’s a sense of calm around the Italian these days, and he approaches his craft with a minimum of fuss – no headline times in testing (he never led a day across the nine), few crashes or runs wide into gravel traps or onto tarmac escape roads, and no big proclamations of what’s to follow. Consistent and methodical lap times while understanding why he’s fast (as opposed to just being fast) was the aim, and those boxes were ticked.

After day two in Qatar, ‘Dovi’ pulled back the curtain – ever so slightly – to reveal the inner confidence that will surely see him stay a title contender this year. “My best time I set in a mini long-run of 12 laps which I did this evening, and I have to admit that the times came quite easily …,” he said.

“We are in a better situation then we had last year, so I’m really happy about that.”

Marquez is favourite, but …

Miller gave the media a first-hand insight into Marquez’s brilliance at Qatar, after he followed the reigning world champion on track during the second day of running and watched the Repsol Honda rider push to – and beyond – the limits reserved for mere mortals.

“I watched him lose the front I think six times in the space of two laps,” Miller said, shaking his head.

“I thought ‘he’s down, he’s down’, and then he stood it up and kept going again! But I followed him the lap before through the fast three corners, and he lost the front each time.

“It was amazing to watch from behind, there was smoke and stuff coming off him …”

Marquez’s ability to manhandle a bike that isn’t quite where he wants it in conditions that aren’t quite the optimum means, yet again, the Spaniard will be the man to beat this year. We might not get a repeat of the nine race winners that made the 2016 season one of the more memorable in the sport’s history, but we could see an increase on the number of riders to make the podium this year, if testing is any guide.

It’ll be a tall order for anyone to unseat Marquez, but the number of contenders nipping at his heels looks set to rise – which can only be a good thing.

Thai takeaways: what the riders thought of MotoGP’s new track

Marquez, Rossi, Pedrosa, Miller and more weigh in on the newest circuit to join the MotoGP calendar in Buriram.


It’s been a while since we had a completely new circuit join the MotoGP calendar – the Red Bull Ring in Austria re-joined the world championship in 2016, while the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina came on stream two years earlier.

So it was with much anticipation (and plenty of cold water) that MotoGP arrived in steaming hot Thailand last week for a three-day test at the Chang International Circuit, located at Buriram, a little over 400 kilometres northeast of the country’s capital, Bangkok.

The 4.6km track, which has played host to World Superbikes for the past three years, will hold its first world championship Grands Prix in October this year, meaning riders and teams were keen to bank as much knowledge as they could over three days of running, and to familiarise themselves with the 12-turn layout. “I’ve adapted to it pretty quickly, and the circuit itself is very fast,” said Alma Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller after the second day of the test, adding “it’s a little bit like Austria, minus the elevation changes.” We’re presuming he meant minus snow-capped mountains, lush green fields and a giant bull statue, as well …

The comparisons between Austria and Buriram are valid – the Thailand circuit is 300m longer, has two more corners and is just as wide (12m) as the Red Bull Ring – but while Austria has been Ducati territory for the past two seasons, Buriram was all about Honda, factory rider Dani Pedrosa setting the fastest time of the test (a lap of 1min 29.781secs on the final day), and becoming the third Honda to top the timesheets after Cal Crutchlow led day one, and Pedrosa’s teammate and reigning world champion Marc Marquez set the day two benchmark.

Pre-season testing times should be taken with a grain of salt – who would have thought Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo would struggle so much after dominating the Malaysian test just two weeks previously? – but the timesheets can tell us that Johann Zarco is plainly the fastest man on a Yamaha, factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales have a lot of head-scratching to do between now and the final test in Qatar in a fortnight’s time, and Miller and Ducati appear to be the perfect marriage, the Aussie backing up his strong showing at Sepang by finishing sixth overall – and the fastest Ducati rider – in Buriram.

That’s what the stopwatch says, but what did the riders themselves think of the new circuit? Here’s what they had to say, and where they finished after three days of sweltering action in front of grandstands that were routinely packed, the locals showing their love for all things two wheels before racing starts in earnest in eight months’ time.

Dani Pedrosa
Repsol Honda Team (1:29.781, 1st overall)
“The circuit is quite narrow, so it’s important to use the right lines and carry speed. We’re working to find the best balance in order to be quick in both the fast sectors and the more twisty ones.”

Marc Marquez
Repsol Honda Team (+0.188secs, 3rd)
“Regarding the track layout, it seemed quite fast to me when I lapped it on a scooter yesterday, but today riding my bike, I realised it was slower that I was expecting, with many second- or third-gear corners. Still, there are some hard acceleration and braking points, and it will probably be challenging to manage tyre life, so we’ll work on that as well.”

Jack Miller
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.404secs, 6th)
“The layout of the circuit is fascinating. I expected it to be more dirty, especially in the morning, but I had the feeling of having a good grip right away. It’s a fast track and it’s nice to race here. To do the best lap time you have to be patient and you have to give up a bit in braking to get the acceleration, especially on the Ducati. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that at the moment. But being patient isn’t one of my strong points …”

Andrea Dovizioso
Ducati Team (+0.411secs, 7th)
“The Buriram track is very unusual and it wasn’t easy to get used to its layout. There are three corners which are virtually hairpins and then the rest is quite a pretty straightforward run. It’s quite a slow track for our bike, but it’s always interesting to try new circuits.”

Maverick Vinales
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.493secs, 8th)
“I like the track a lot, it fits my riding style quite well with these flowing corners.”

Danilo Petrucci
Alma Pramac Racing (+0.586secs, 9th)
“I liked the track right away. We were expecting to find a circuit with a lot of aggressive braking but many curves turned out to be fast.”

Tito Rabat
Reale Avintia Racing (+0.695secs, 11th)
“I like the circuit and I had a lot of fun. It has several parts that reminded me of Qatar, others of Texas… it has some long straights and the asphalt is okay, although at the beginning of the day it was a little bit dirty. But the first impression was very good.”

Valentino Rossi
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP (+0.730secs, 12th)
“First of all, the feeling with the track is not too bad, I expect worse, but first of all the track is in a good condition. It’s clean and the asphalt has good grip. This is very important. And also the layout. I remembered [this track to be] more similar to Austria, so I was very worried. But when you ride maybe it is more similar to Argentina. It’s good to ride, you have a good feeling, you enjoy. The track is not very difficult but anyway it’s fun. Technically it’s quite easy, but it’s not boring.”

Aleix Espargaro
Aprilia Racing Team Gresini (+0.920secs, 14th)
“To be honest, the track surprised me. I had more fun than I thought I would. The first part is not particularly interesting with all the straights connected by braking sections, but overall it is a nice track.”

Alvaro Bautista
Angel Nieto Team (+1.102secs, 17th)
“It’s a track that has a couple of good points like Turn 4, where you go into it very fast and you have to go down a couple of gears and enter quickly. The circuit reminds me a little of Austria; it’s varied and fun. I thought it looked easier, on paper, but riding a MotoGP bike complicates everything a bit more. The last two sectors are critical; they are narrow and you have to clearly choose the line because otherwise you can lose a lot of time.”

Jack Miller’s 2018 season in a snapshot

On a new machine and with a new lease of life – is this the year the Aussie MotoGP hard-charger takes a big leap?


Time is always in short supply in any MotoGP pre-season, and up and down the pit lane, you’ll hear teams and riders wishing they had more of it before the lights go out on the first race of the year in Qatar on March 18. Jack Miller? He’d probably gladly line up at Losail tomorrow if you asked him. And it’s not because the 23-year-old lacks the necessary patience to persist with the pre-season grind – he’s ready to get racing for something real right now. And it’s easy to see why.

Miller has had a spring in his step ever since he stepped off a Honda and onto a Ducati with Alma Pramac Racing for the first time in last year’s late-season test in Valencia, and sported a smile to go with it after three days of testing in Malaysia late last month, finishing fifth on the overall timesheets while coming nowhere close to his potential as rider and machine get better acquainted.

“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,” he said of the Ducati GP17 after Sepang, and he’s looking forward to this week’s second pre-season outing at the Chang International Circuit in Thailand to confirm that early promise was real a month out from the season start.

Looking further ahead than Thailand, what does 2018 as a whole have in store for Miller? What’s on his mind ahead of the 19-race campaign? And what does our crystal ball tell us about his fourth season in the top flight, and where he’ll be at the end of it?

Here’s our 10-point preview for Ducati’s Townsville tearaway.

What happened last year
Miller’s 2017 campaign had more rises and falls than a lap of the Sachsenring. Fortunately those falls weren’t of the 2016 variety, when he missed five races with assorted injuries from high-speed tumbles, but he started up (three top-10 finishes in the first three Grands Prix), flattened off (just three points in four races between Germany and Great Britain), missed a race (Japan) after breaking his right tibia in a training accident, and then finished with a three-race flourish while compromised physically in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia, the high point coming at Phillip Island when he qualified an equal career-best fifth and led his home race for the first time. The pre-season goal of a top-10 finish in the championship just went begging (he was 11th, just two points behind Yamaha’s Jonas Folger), but it was his most convincing season to date, even taking into account that he won his first MotoGP race at Assen a year earlier.

Miller’s MotoGP seasons
2017: 82pts (11th), 2016: 57pts (18th), 2015: 17pts (19th).

2017: in his own words
“These guys (Marc VDS) have been great for me, and to know I was the rider who gave them that first MotoGP win last year at Assen, that’s pretty special. They’ve done a lot for me and helped me grow up as a rider … I’ll always be thankful for that. The year I spent with my engineer Ramon (Aurin) this year has been huge for me, he’s a done a lot to make me a smarter rider and his experience has been great for a rider like me. He’s someone I’ll definitely miss working with day by day.”
– Miller, writing for redbull.com on his two years with Marc VDS Honda before heading to Ducati

2017: an expert’s view
“The irony of Honda not renewing Miller’s factory contract this year is that the straight-talking Aussie enjoyed his most impressive campaign in his third season in the premier class. Even if there was no repeat of his 2016 Dutch TT victory, Miller was much more consistent, finishing inside the top 10 on nine occasions despite the limitations of his machinery. Forced to miss Motegi with a broken leg, he excelled when he returned at Phillip Island, leading the opening laps – and in the final two races he beat the man who took his HRC contract for 2018, Cal Crutchlow.”
– Miller’s review in Autosport’s Top 10 MotoGP riders of 2017, where he ranked 10th.

Home pressure? What home pressure?
While Assen is the circuit where Miller has scored more of his MotoGP points than any other courtesy of that 2016 victory, Phillip Island is, statistically, his strongest track. Three MotoGP races, three points finishes, 16 points in all (a tally matched in Malaysia) and his two best qualifying performances (fifth in 2016 and again last year) means Miller has more love for the Island than most.

On the flip side …
For all of that positivity, we have to acknowledge the bogey tracks, and for Miller there’s two, Silverstone and Jerez. After three starts at each, he’s yet to score a MotoGP point …

Still a young gun
Miller may be about to start his fourth MotoGP season, but only Suzuki’s Alex Rins (22 years old) is younger than the Aussie in the 24-rider field.

The burning question
There’s no such thing as a small year in MotoGP, but when you’ve lost your Honda factory backing and signed up on a one-year deal to ride a satellite Ducati for 2018, the pressure is on Miller to deliver. With teammate Danilo Petrucci looking for a factory ride (at Ducati or elsewhere) for 2019, Miller has a golden opportunity to impress this year on a bike Petrucci took to four podium finishes a year ago, three of them coming in the wet. Miller, as we know, isn’t averse to a pinch of precipitation himself (filed under ‘Assen 2016’). Can he step onto the rostrum if the opportunity presents itself? It’s not critical for his MotoGP future, but it can certainly help.

Miller’s outlook
“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. So staying injury-free is a goal, and breaking 100 points for the season for the first time is too. Whatever happens after that, I’ll take it.”
– Miller after the Malaysia pre-season test

We’re predicting …
We chickened out on getting too bullish on Miller’s 2017 season in this space last year, which we’ll admit with the caveat that he spent plenty of the previous season hurting himself (or recovering from hurting himself), which made pre-season prognostications difficult. So we’ll stick our neck out this time; all signs point to that top-10 championship finish Miller craves, and we’d not be surprised in the slightest with a couple of podiums before the year is out, and not necessarily in wet races.

Jack Miller talks testing, 2018 and life at Ducati

The all-action Aussie MotoGP rider 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.”

What we learned from the Malaysia MotoGP test

The 2018 Ducati is a rocket, Honda is lurking, Miller’s pace is real, and other takeaways from three sweltering days in Kuala Lumpur.


MotoGP, oh how we’ve missed you. The months (well, month and a bit) of silence as 2017 became 2018 were finally broken when Yamaha’s Johann Zarco became the first man to hit the track at Sepang in Kuala Lumpur last week to start the first official pre-season test of the year, and that sweet sound of 260-horsepower MotoGP engines soon filled the air as we quickly forgot about last year.

We have 19 races ahead of us between now and November, but there’s plenty that can be learned – and plenty of head-scratching as we try to decipher what’s real from what isn’t – from three days of testing at one of the world’s toughest tracks for man and machinery.

Riders sweltered, new parts were tried and tweaked, timesheets were scrutinised and conclusions were arrived at – so to that end, what did we really learn from the initial sparring that is the ‘phoney war’ of testing?

Plenty, but there were as many questions as answers as MotoGP packed up to head to Thailand for pre-season test number two from February 16-18.

1. Who looks good?

Assessing pre-season testing pace isn’t as simple as scanning a timesheet to see who’s on top and who’s not; unless you’re on the inside of a team, judging such variables as fuel loads, tyre age, how much a rider is really pushing and how much they’re leaving in the tank and a million other variables becomes a matter of joining the dots without ever knowing the full story.

The timesheets, for what they’re worth, showed us that Ducati are plenty fast – so fast in fact that Jorge Lorenzo’s final-day session-topping lap time (1min 58.830secs) was the fastest-ever lap of Sepang on two wheels, and over two-tenths of a second faster than Dani Pedrosa’s circuit-best lap on a Honda set in 2015. The long straights of Sepang play perfectly to the Ducati’s preference for tracks where straight-line grunt gets the greatest reward, and while Lorenzo was quick to temper any commentary with the usual caveat of “it’s only testing”, he couldn’t hide his delight after suffering through a winless campaign in his first year in Ducati red last season.

“The bike turns better and I can open the throttle before (earlier),” he told reporters after the final day.

“If the bike itself turns better and you can open the throttle better, you can be faster. Let’s say that during the last year, I made 80 per cent (of the difference), and now during this winter to this test, as I predicted, Ducati made the difference this time.”

What of the other manufacturers? Pedrosa topped the timesheets on day one and was just 0.179secs adrift of Lorenzo on the final day as Honda appeared to be both fast and reliable, and while Repsol Honda teammate Marc Marquez finished seventh overall on all three days, don’t expect the four-time and reigning world champion to be anywhere near that spot once the racing starts for real in Qatar in March, especially with LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow doing so much donkey work testing new parts for the factory.

Yamaha? Maverick Vinales led the standings after day two, and while he and factory teammate Valentino Rossi felt the 2018 version of the TZR-M1 was better than the 2017 model that proved hard to fathom, both riders knew they had plenty to do in the coming tests. One Yamaha rider who has already set out his stall for 2018 is Tech 3’s Zarco, the Frenchman confirming he’ll continue to race the 2016 Yamaha he performed on so superbly during his rookie campaign last year, opting for the greater grip offered by the ’16 bike than the extra feedback he gleaned from the ’17 model.

The other manufacturers (Suzuki, Aprilia, KTM) still look some way off the top three, but what order that top three find themselves in after the first test (and will do after the first race) remains something of a mystery.

What is more clear? The award for the hardest-working rider in Sepang, which was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Bradley Smith. The Briton logged 77 laps on the final day alone – the equivalent of nearly four race distances – and produced his best lap of the day on the 71st of them. A big tick to his off-season fitness regimen, then.

2. There’s no going back for noses, is there?

It appears not, if some of the aerodynamic devices fitted onto the front of various bikes over the three days are any indication …

Ugly? Perhaps. But as any engineer or rider will tell you, the only truly beautiful bike is a fast one …

3. Is Jack Miller’s pace real?

It certainly appears to be. The Aussie made the switch from Marc VDS Honda to the newly-named Alma Pramac Racing squad to ride a Ducati GP17 this season, and while teammate Danilo Petrucci rode a full-factory GP18 machine to provide technical back-up for Ducati factory riders Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso at Sepang, Miller flew on the ‘old’ machine, finishing inside the top five on all three days and producing his first-ever sub two-minute lap of the circuit on day two (1:59.509), a time he lowered by another 0.163 seconds on the last day.

He had a small tip-off early on the final day, but just went faster and faster. “When we put a new tyre in I’m able to improve more and more, taking a few risks here and there but still feeling pretty much in control,” ‘Jackass’ said after the test wrapped up.

“The more I ride the bike, the more I understand it and get the feel for it.” Exciting times for the Aussie, who turned 23 in the lead-up to the test.

4. Can you push too far in testing?

Absolutely yes. There’s an old adage that you’ll never know where the limit is unless you push past it from time to time, but KTM’s Pol Espargaro might have taken that a little too far with a crash on day two that saw him rendered a spectator for the final day, leaving test rider Mika Kallio to do much of the heavy lifting for the Austrian squad. Still, to hear the Spaniard describe his off, it could have been much, much worse …

“Honestly I feel lucky … I crashed before T4 (Turn 4) under braking and hit the outside wall with plus-250km/h. Seems nothing is broken, but I feel pain,” he said.

Little wonder. The good news? He’ll be back for Thailand in a fortnight’s time, and thanking his lucky stars …

5. Is Sepang a useful testing venue?

On balance, you’d have to say yes – after all, there’s not too many circuits in chilly late-winter Europe in late January/early February that could provide track temperatures of 54 degrees …

Pre-season venues are always a compromise for teams – one of the criticisms, if you could call it that, of using Phillip Island the past two pre-seasons was that its balls-out fast and flowing layout was so atypical to the rest of the tracks on the calendar that teams left Australia wondering whether their bikes could get stopped and power out of slow-speed corners, of which the Island has precisely two.

Sepang, with its long straights leading into hairpins at the first and final corners, and its twisty middle sector where a nimble bike can make up huge slabs of time, is as good of a compromise as it gets. Even if the weather can turn upside-down in an instant.