Jack Miller

‘You could see what was about to happen’: Jack Miller on Catalunya

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON JACKMILLER43.NET

Hi everyone,

Fifth place here at Catalunya – the way the weekend was shaping up before Sunday, I’ll definitely take that. It wasn’t something I saw coming after how tricky Friday and Saturday had been, so I was more hoping for a top-10 finish than expecting one – so I’m pretty happy with fifth.

The race for me came down to the first lap, and then avoiding what happened on the second lap. I had a great first lap and got past a heap of people – I gained four spots by the time we got to Turn 1 and then another three by the end of the lap, so 14th on the grid became seventh, which was a place I could actually do something from. It wasn’t like I had an incredible launch or a great start, but I was able to cut through some people pretty well and get to where I did, so definitely one of my better first laps.

Fair to say I didn’t expect to be third by the end of the next lap, but I wasn’t the only one surprised with what went down. I saw Jorge (Lorenzo) coming out of Turn 9 on the second lap and heading down the back straight on the white line down the inside … you could see what was about to happen before it did, so I kept to the outside to try to cut back underneath any drama that happened. It happened alright, you saw the result when Jorge took down ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso), Maverick (Vinales) and Vale (Valentino Rossi). So, managed to avoid all of that, and pretty glad I saw it coming before it did and had my escape route planned …

I felt I had good pace all weekend, but I could never get a lap together – Friday we had some frustrations with tyre choices and Saturday I was quick enough, but just never managed to hook it all together. So to do it on race day and finish fifth … really nice to show that although we didn’t have the one-lap pace, we’d worked really hard to get used tyres to work, so it was nice to bring it all together.

The whole race was managing tyres, which I haven’t done all that well a few times this year to be honest. Just being very gentle. I honestly thought at the end of the race that I’d start to come back towards Fabio (Quartararo) and (Danilo) Petrucci because they were spinning much more than me, but it wasn’t to be, which was really strange. I was a bit disappointed with how my tyre behaved because I was being so gentle with it, I’ve never been that careful in my life. I was able to stay with them while being gentle to the tyre, I didn’t get nervous and overdo it, but I wasn’t able to reel them in. The track was in way worse condition than last year and the heat didn’t help, the track temps were up over 50 degrees today, so it was a real bad one in terms of grip level, and the lap times were a lot slower.

We have a one-day test back here tomorrow to get stuck into, and I have a few little items to test and some more time on the bike, so it’ll be good to get back into it. That’s four finishes in the top five this year in the races I’ve finished, so that’s the key part – the finishing bit. We’ll try to keep that ball rolling in Assen in a couple of weeks.

Cheers, Jack

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Miller Time: Getting faster, being smarter

Jack Miller writes about his third top-four finish in just five races this season at Le Mans, where he took the lead before learning some valuable lessons …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

So how am I supposed to feel about that, another fourth place at the French Grand Prix after finishing fourth last year too? Happy that I led the race and challenged Marc Marquez for a while, or pissed that I finished fourth and missed the podium? Let’s say I’m in the middle of happy and annoyed. Good to be up there, but a shame to not get a trophy for the team to take home.

I was 2.9 seconds from Marc at the end on Sunday, and last year it was 6.3 seconds (he won last year, too). So that’s progress you can measure with a stopwatch, but for me, this race was more progress because I learned a lot running with those front guys, and actually being one of those front guys. What I learned mainly was about managing the tyres on a cold track – it was only 18 degrees track temperature here today – and how to do that on a track with a lot of stop-go corners where you have to accelerate out after a hard braking zone, and not spin the tyre off its head.

The tyres started to become a factor after the first 8-10 laps, but it wasn’t so much in the fight I had with Marc, where I took the lead on lap five for a couple of laps, and then we had a fight for a few corners on lap seven before he took off. It was more catching Marc where I hurt the rest of my race, the laps I did narrowing the gap to him. I knew I had to try to slow down the pace after I’d passed him as I could tell I’d get some warning signs before too long, but he got back past me and I realised then that beating him, unless he made a mistake, wasn’t going to happen. He kept opening up the gap in the final sector of the lap so I concentrated on keeping calm, trying not to make any mistakes, and I think I was able to do that.

I had ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) right behind me itching to get past, so I let him go by about 10 laps from the end so I could sit behind him to see what he had. Danilo (Petrucci) was pretty keen to get past to have a go at ‘Dovi’, so I thought I’d let them have their fight and see if I could benefit from that. That didn’t happen, and while I had Vale (Valentino Rossi) closing on me at the end, I felt I had that one under control even if I was on the limit with grip and how hard I could realistically push.

The surprising part about the race was that it didn’t rain; we’d prepared for it to rain and got told it would probably hit around 2pm, the start of the race, and it got really overcast around the back of the circuit as we did the warm-up. But it never happened, and by the time we had the race, did the media and debriefed with the team it was still dry. Maybe didn’t help me, because I tend to move forwards in the wet, so maybe that was a chance that went begging for us.

Us riders always focus on what we could have done better when we get off the bike, straight away at least, so I should probably be more excited for a fourth place. But maybe that’s a good thing too, in that I know we have the bike and I know I can do it now, that’s all three races I’ve finished this year in fourth or better. Last year here, fourth was a bit of a lonely race and felt like a bit of a bonus; this time it feels completely normal to be up there fighting for those big points. I expect that of myself. Maybe it’s not completely normal leading a MotoGP race – not yet anyway, but we’re working on that …

We’ll get more of an idea with how far I’ve come with the next race in Italy, because I’ve had a shocker at Mugello all the times I’ve been there with MotoGP – only one point so far in four years. The speed was there last year but I managed to come off pretty early in the race, so this time we have to fix that – and I’m pretty confident based on what we’ve done so far that this is the year I can do that. Sixth in the championship going in, some good results banked already … about time, I reckon.

Cheers, Jack

Miller Time: It’s great to be back

Jack writes about his first dry-weather MotoGP podium in Austin, and why he’s as much relieved as elated after a result a long time coming.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

This one is late and going to be quick, but I think you probably know why. It’s taken a while for me to get that first dry-weather podium, so at least I’m consistent …

It’s such a good feeling to stand up there on the podium after the weekend we’ve had here in Austin, and after the speed we showed the whole way through. I’m over the moon with that. Right from Friday I was inside the top four and fastest of the Ducati guys, and it was a bit like Argentina last time when I was up there all weekend but just missed the podium. I didn’t think I rode that smart that day, I felt I was in fights I didn’t need to be in early on and that might have cost me in the long run, but today worked out great in the end. Just, but still great.

Starting fourth and finishing third when two guys in front of you crash out … maybe that doesn’t sound as good, especially when Alex (Rins) came through from seventh on the grid and beat all of us. But I’ll take it, don’t worry about that. It was a hot pace out the front early on, and you know what Marc (Marquez) is like, he’s always pushing everywhere but especially here, and the pace was really fast early on. Four of us, Marc, Vale (Valentino Rossi), Crutch (Cal Crutchlow) and me all took off out the front and Marc was setting a hot pace. I didn’t want to let them stretch away but we were on the limit from the first laps, especially me and Cal, from what it looked like tucked in right behind him.

Cal crashed pretty early and then Marc a few laps after as you all saw; it was a bit of a shock in some ways to see him on the ground but maybe part of the reason he crashed was that he cooked the front tyre because of the early pace. I knew pretty early on that the pace was going to be too much for the soft tyres I chose for 20 laps, so after he went down I knew I was third and had a decent gap behind me, and I wasn’t thinking about second or better at that stage, I knew I just had to get it home. Even now, I’m still sitting here pondering what might have been if I’d chosen to race the medium, but I’ll still take it.

They’re sometimes the hardest races when you have more time to think and you’re not in a battle; second was out of reach and I just needed to keep concentrated to keep third. With about nine laps to go I saw ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) had got past Franco (Morbidelli) into fourth, and he was about five to six seconds behind me at that stage. I knew he’d be coming and that his tyres would be in better shape than mine when he got there, so I made sure I still had something left if I needed it, but it was tight. The laps just seem to take so long, and all you’re focused on is saving that front tyre, because I had massive graining on the right-hand side. At the end it was less than a second between us, so I was definitely stressing in those last few laps.

It’s a relief in some ways to get up there again, it had been so long since Assen in 2016, but for most of that time I didn’t really have the bike to fight for the top three. Right from pre-season testing this year I knew that I did, and then you have something happen like in Qatar when the seat breaks loose and you know you can do the pace of the guys at the front, and you wonder if that’s your chance gone. Argentina was solid and then this weekend was better, but it’s still nice to confirm that you can do it. It’s a reward for the all the hard work, both for me at the team. You probably heard that I lost my voice by the time I did the first TV interviews because the guys on the team were so pumped up when I got back to parc ferme, and after doing more TV interviews and a press conference and talking to a million other people, the voice is pretty much gone … and we haven’t begun celebrating properly yet …

There’s more to come from us I think, I don’t see this as being a one-off and it won’t hopefully be three years between podiums like it was last time … we have some good tracks coming up and I feel comfortable and confident everywhere at the moment, so hopefully I can get more used to this celebrating thing and maybe get better at it.

I’m right on the edge of the top five in the championship now, and that’ll be the goal once we get to Jerez in a few weeks. It’s a GP that typically hasn’t gone that well for me since I’ve been in MotoGP, but this is starting to feel like a year where we can change a few things. I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

Miller Time: Making it count

Jack Miller writes about a race weekend in Argentina where his practice pace paid off with a superb fourth place in Sunday’s second GP of the year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It definitely feels good to be talking to you after a strong weekend from start to finish in Argentina, not just one that went well until Sunday like it did in Qatar. And when you can do a race when your seat doesn’t come off after two laps, that’s always a good thing too …

Fourth is my best result since France last year which was a bloody long time ago, and I was fourth last year here in Argentina too. It feels good and a bit of a relief too after Qatar, we had such good pace there but I left with nothing because of the seat coming loose and the other dramas that followed that.

We’ve been working really hard as a team and the bike is good, and we’ve been doing the most laps of anyone in practice and spending a lot of time working on our race pace, and today it paid off for us. To have it go to plan is nice, and you want to get the monkey off your back and get off zero points, there’s nothing worse than leaving the first race with 0 next to your name. To get so close to the podium – I was only 1.6 seconds behind ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) – is a bit frustrating in some ways, but we’re right there. It’s just a matter of time if we keep working the way we are, I think.

I’m learning a lot with this new bike for me every time I ride it, and I learned in the race today too with how I approached it. I got stuck in a couple of battles that, now I’m looking back at it, I probably didn’t need to get into, and maybe that cost me a chance of a podium. So, you learn from the experiences at the front.

I was the only rider in the front group to be on the medium front tyre, and that was a problem because three laps in I had a warning light come up on the dash that the tyre had got up to 91 degrees, which is off the scale when you look at the temperatures we try to aim for. The track caught us all out I think because the sun was pretty hot and we’d had pretty cloudy weather all weekend, so the track temps were a bit high. I had a few moments because of that, so I focused on saving the rear tyre as best I could. It seems like I had a lot more tyre than some of the guys around me at the end of the race, and I was back in sixth with five laps to go, but felt I had a bit more than (Alex) Rins and (Danilo) Petrucci in front of me. I got Petrucci with three laps left and then Rins on the second-last lap to get to fourth, and I was able to pick them off quite efficiently.

I’m really enjoying riding this GP19 Ducati. I never raced the ’18 last year, and this bike is a big step. I said to someone that I feel like I’m bringing a gun to a gun fight now, and that’s the best way of explaining it. The speed is easier to come by and you don’t feel you’re riding it right on the ragged edge every corner just to get a lap time out. That’s why Qatar was frustrating; with the way ‘Dovi’ rode that race and controlled the pace, I reckon I could have stayed with the front group and been in a position to do something in the last few laps. In the first few laps on this bike is when I notice it, you’re not constantly over-braking and cooking the front tyre just to stay with those guys, and not trying to make up for not being able to stay with them on the straights. I can manage the tyres better because the speed of the bike is there, that’s probably the biggest factor.

Fourth for me was a highlight on Sunday for sure, but I had to get down before the podium of the Moto2 race to congratulate Remy Gardner for coming second, it’s always great to see an Aussie up there. Super cool for him, unreal. He’s been in Moto2 trying hard for a while now, and it’s his first year on a decent bike, and the results are showing. He just missed out in Qatar and then to get second here – and he just about could have won it too – that’s great for him that his hard work is paying off. I think he’s matured a fair bit as well as getting a better bike, and I’m really happy for him.

You guys would have noticed that I did something with the livery on the bike this weekend, with my number 43 looking different. I wanted to pay tribute to the people in Christchurch for the terrible thing that happened there a few weeks ago, my parents and a lot of my family are from New Zealand and it’s a place close to my heart, and it really hit close to home for me. To have that on the bike and get a good result, maybe it brought me a bit of luck. It was an important gesture for me to do, and I’m definitely thinking of the people back there because it’s been such a tough time for everybody.

We’re off to Austin next, once we actually get out of Argentina – it’s quite a big journey to get back to the US from here, and I’ll stay in California and do some training. And try not to injure myself like I did there last year … I’ll do my best to keep myself in one piece this time.

Cheers, Jack

6 things we learned from the Malaysia MotoGP test

Ducati dominated the top of the timesheets, but Honda kept its powder dry as the riders sweltered across three sizzling days at Sepang.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

First days back at “school” don’t get much tougher than last week’s first MotoGP pre-season test for 2019 in Malaysia, where the riders and teams sweltered at a baking Sepang circuit where the track temperatures topped out at nearly 60 degrees – no misprint – on all three eight-hour days.

While we got an early read on the off-season developments of the teams and manufacturers over the break since Valencia last November, the brutality of the conditions also gave us some instant feedback on who had spent the off-season training hard to whip themselves into shape, and which riders didn’t quite manage to get the gym/nightclub balance just right …

All 11 teams and 21 riders – Repsol Honda star recruit Jorge Lorenzo sat out as he continued to recover after fracturing his left wrist in a January training accident – took to the circuit across the three days, with a raft of new aerodynamic parts sprouting from almost every machine, and the usual pre-season games of secrecy (closed garage doors) and subterfuge by teams taking place to throw their rivals (and the media) off as everyone tries to work out where they stand in the pecking order.

With three different manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha and Ducati) topping the timesheets after the three days, the pre-season picture remained murky as the clouds gathered over Sepang on the final day of testing, the heavens finally opening after a long week an hour after action wrapped up on Friday evening.

Who’s fast? Who has problems to solve? Who can be optimistic? Who will wish there was more time available before the 2019 season roars into life in Qatar on March 10? Analysing what really happened at Sepang requires more nuance and context than simply scanning the timesheets, so here’s six things we learned from Malaysia that might give us a sign of what’s to follow.

1. It’s wide open, but …

Reigning world champion Marc Marquez sat atop the timesheets on day one, while fellow Spaniard Maverick Vinales had Yamaha flying highest on the second day. On the final day, Danilo Petrucci led a Ducati domination at the sharp end as the test wound down. What can we read from that mixed bag? A little, with a lot of asterisks.

A little over two months removed from left shoulder surgery, Marquez wasn’t his usual gravity-defying self in Malaysia, but still managed to lead the way on the first day. Trackside, it was evident that building strength and stability in his left shoulder remains a work in progress, and he was more cautious than usual in some of Sepang’s sweeping switchback sequences, not daring to risk a crash that would set him back. Of course, because he’s Marquez, he was plenty fast enough, but he wrapped up each day early after 30-odd laps, choosing to focus on recovery while his rivals were churning out 70-plus laps a day in the scorching heat. “Of course, I would have liked to ride more but we had to take it a bit easy,” he said. “I’m happy because I was riding easy, not in my riding style, but I was able to ride more.”

Vinales was in an upbeat mood after Yamaha, which won just one race last season, looked to have started 2019 closer to the front than the equivalent test last year. “I made some laps behind our rivals, so I could compare how our bike is working, and it’s not bad,” he said. “There are just some small details left and that’s the most important. Last year they were some steps ahead, and now we are closer.”

The final morning of the test started under the shade of some rare cloud cover, and with track conditions more suited to a qualifying simulation run than tyre preservation in the baking heat, an impromptu ‘happy hour’ exploded into life, and Ducati made quite an impression. Six riders went beneath Lorenzo’s circuit-best time of 1min 58.830secs set at the Malaysia test last year, and four of them – the first four – were Ducatis, Petrucci’s 1:58.239 standing as the best time of the test.

Alma Pramac Racing rookie Francesco Bagnaia was a head-turning second, just six-hundredths of a second adrift, while his teammate Jack Miller (+0.127secs) and Petrucci’s stablemate Andrea Dovizioso (+0.299) rounded out the quickest quartet. As much as Dovizioso tried to play down Ducati’s pace afterwards with the usual disclaimers about it only being testing and so on, it was quite the statement of intent for the manufacturer that has finished runner-up the last two seasons.

Another reason for Dovi’s discretion was that we never saw Honda’s true pace, what with Lorenzo not in Malaysia, Marquez not at full power, and Cal Crutchlow taking his own (literal) tentative steps back from injury after snapping his ankle horrifically in practice at last year’s Australian Grand Prix weekend. Takaaki Nakagami, Crutchlow’s teammate, finished the test inside the top 10, but the Japanese was riding a 2018-spec RC213V, not the new model to be raced by Marquez and co. in Qatar in four weeks’ time.

2. Yamaha are on the way back

Vinales was the fastest Yamaha (fifth overall), and while factory teammate Valentino Rossi was five places and half a second behind at the end of the three days, the two sides of the garage were largely in harmony about the team’s engine direction for 2019, and the ground it has gained over the northern hemisphere winter.

“It’s good, because it’s the first test and we improved some things, but we have a lot of work to do,” Rossi said, calling Vinales’ day two time (1:58.897) “unattainable”.

“The gap is quite big, so we need time. I’m happy about the atmosphere and especially about the ideas inside the garage; it looks like Yamaha are very much concentrated on improving, so this is important.”

Rossi, who turns 40 on February 16, shows no sign of slowing down nor tiring of the constant attention he faces as the star attraction in MotoGP 19 years after his debut in the premier class. The off-season training is harder, but he’s right up for it. That said, the Malaysian heat was a wake-up call. “I used the used tyre a lot, but I didn’t make a long run because, f**k, it’s hot!” he laughed after the second day, when he turned 51 laps (more than two-and-a-half race distances at Sepang) before retreating into the air-conditioning.

3. Jack’s ready to make a splash

Miller looked fit and ready to fire in Malaysia, getting around the hotel on the day before the test in a replica singlet of NBA sharpshooter Steph Curry, perhaps a signal that he intends to be equally on target this season. The Aussie left his family Christmas celebrations early in Townsville to head to California for a month of tough training, where he indulged in his new favourite off-track sporting pursuit, cycling.

“The guys I ride with … they’re all strong, so some days you can go out there and feel on top of everything, and then another day they’ll push to a new level and you feel completely s**t,” he said. “It humbles you. They challenge you to be better.”

Miller was sore at Sepang, courtesy of a thigh haematoma from a motocross spill while out riding with Aussie dirt-bike star Chad Reed, but was very quick, finishing third on the second and third days of the test, and third overall. Things came in threes for the 24-year-old; he had a spill on each of the three days, the last one in the final laps of a race simulation on the last afternoon, but was happy to escape unscathed, and to see the easy speed he’s been able to unlock from the GP19 machine so far.

“I’m 24 now, have done the hard yards, have the experience and all of that,” he said of the season to come. “I think it’s going to be a good year, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

4. KTM doesn’t lack for ambition

Seemingly the busiest factory outfit at Sepang was KTM, the third-year team throwing a vast array of parts to test at 2018 returnee Pol Espargaro, new recruit Johann Zarco, and the team’s test rider Mika Kallio across the three days. Returns on the stopwatch were modest – Zarco was the best-placed of the trio in 17th overall – but Sepang was more about the Frenchman getting accustomed to the brutal acceleration of the KTM compared to the buttery-smooth satellite year-old Yamaha he’s been riding for the past two seasons.

Where Espargaro’s nature is to take whatever he’s given and quickly try to find its limits, Zarco is a more analytical rider, one who wants to understand what he has beneath him before unleashing his searing speed. It’s a contrast of approaches in order to achieve the same goal, and the camaraderie in the team, and the open relationship between the teammates, makes this look like a combination that can work.

Zarco has a two-year deal with KTM and feels the team will be in contention for bigger things in 2020, but he’s not backing away from a surge up the grid this season.

“I think it would be good to be around the top 10 in every race; this can be a possible target,” he said.

5. Rins is ready for the top step

Testing times can mask a lot; Alex Rins’ position on the overall timesheets (12th, 0.941secs off Petrucci’s best time) doesn’t look all that impressive until you dig a little deeper. The budding Spanish star, who finished the final six races of 2018 inside the top six to end up fifth in the championship, sounds and looks (courtesy of his blown-out hairdo) like a new man this season, and his race pace on old tyres on the second day – where he described his rhythm on tyres that had done 20-25 laps as “incredible” – raised eyebrows up and down the pit lane.

The Spaniard has mastered the Lorenzo-like quality of being fast without looking all that quick; trackside, it never really appeared he was pushing that hard until you checked the stopwatch, where he was routinely churning out 1min 59sec laps for fun in his race simulation.

Suzuki was one of two factories (KTM being the other) not to have a rider inside the top 10 after three days, but don’t expect that to last for long – and from Qatar, Rins should be in any conversation about potential race-winners at every Grand Prix.

6. MotoGP riders are a different breed

OK, we know this already, but the toughness of the 21 riders in such difficult conditions across three days has to be applauded, even for the riders who arrived in Malaysia fully fit.

Watching Marquez scurry from the Honda garage to debriefs and back trying to avoid over-enthusiastic fans from patting him on his tender left shoulder showed you the discomfort he must be in, while Crutchlow’s mangled right ankle looked red-raw at the end of each day, his first laps since breaking it at the Island quite the ordeal. “I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus every morning I wake up,” he said, adding: “when I’m on the bike I’m alright, it’s when I get off …”.

Ducati’s Tito Rabat, coming back to action after breaking his leg at the British GP last August, could barely walk before he got on the bike each day … and still did 175 laps across three days in conditions that weren’t exactly akin to a Spanish winter’s day in February. Yes, a different breed indeed.

‘It’s big stakes, but I’m ready’: Jack Miller talks 2019

On the best bike of his career and with big goals in mind, the Australian made an immediate mark at MotoGP testing in Malaysia this week.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Jack Miller didn’t exactly come into the first MotoGP test of 2019 in Malaysia this week with a spring in his step – a haematoma on his thigh courtesy of a motocross off while riding with Chad Reed in the off-season put paid to that – but mentally at least, the Australian feels he’s never been more ready for a season. Which, given the potential prize for getting said season right, is a good thing.

Miller’s name was close to the top of the timesheets right throughout the test at a sweltering Sepang, where riders didn’t so much blow away the off-season cobwebs as have them melt away – track temperatures nudging 60 degrees across all three days made this test one of the more gruelling back-to-school assignments imaginable.

The Alma Pramac Ducati rider’s week in Malaysia wasn’t without its hiccups – he had two crashes at the same corner (Turn 9) on the opening two days and fell at Turn 7 within two laps of finishing a late-afternoon race simulation on the final day – but his pace suggested there’s more to come from the Australian in his fifth MotoGP campaign. “I know I’ve got a lot more up my sleeve,” was an ominous throwaway line after the second day of running, where Miller used a blistering late lap to launch himself into the top three.

That prize we mentioned? A potential seat at the Ducati factory team for 2020, with Ducati sporting director Paulo Ciabatti saying in January that the marque has “three good candidates” to partner incumbent Andrea Dovizioso at the red squad for next year in either current factory rider Danilo Petrucci, Miller, or 2018 Moto2 champion Francesco Bagnaia, who embarks on his maiden premier-class campaign this year as Miller’s new teammate. Every year in MotoGP has been big for Miller to date, but this one carries extra weight.

After an eight-hour test day and a solid stint on the massage table, Miller took refuge in the air-conditioning to debrief with redbull.com.

redbull.com: You prepare for the new year as much as you can in the off-season, but how do you pull up after more than two race distances per day in Malaysian heat and on a track that’s nudging 60 degrees?

Jack Miller: It’s definitely hot in this part of the world at this time of the year – all the times of the year really – so it’s a positive that I feel pretty good from day one. Light massage, plenty of fluids, ice bath … all pretty standard recovery, but no more than that. Arms, legs, all of that pretty good for 50-something laps per day. If it wasn’t for the haematoma on my thigh I’d probably be jumping around …

You left Australia early to get into your training in California – was that a case of knowing that 2019 is a big one for you?

JM: Yeah, I got out there on the 28th of December last year, straight after Christmas back at home in Townsville, and that was the longest time I’ve ever been out there getting ready. Stayed an extra week, basically. Did a lot of cycling, mountain biking, some motocross, got off my phone a fair bit … just got the mind right. Some of the cycling with the guys out there, it was pretty full-on. So I’m feeling well prepared and mentally strong; that’s the thing with the cycling that has really helped me, the mental side of it. The guys I ride with … they’re all strong, so some days you can go out there and feel on top of everything, and then another day they’ll push to a new level and you feel completely shit. It humbles you. They challenge you to be better, and that’s good.

It’s a different build-up to the season for you, coming into it knowing you’ll be riding a current-spec 2019 Ducati, and having Ducati rely a lot more on you for technical feedback on the direction of the bike. Does that extra responsibility make things feel different for you?

JM: For sure, it definitely does. You arrive here at a test with actual items to test, a big old list, rather than just riding around adjusting set-up. You come to a test with a bigger purpose than just looking at doing a lap time. So that’s nice, you feel more a sense of involvement out of it, and you get to help decide the direction where your bike is going to go for the year. You feel more valued and that you’re making a contribution for the factory.

Let’s look back at last year; you came into it looking for 100 points and a top-10 finish and narrowly missed both, but there was a pole in Argentina and some really strong races like France, Argentina and Australia. Do you look back at the good points, or are you someone who dwells on the ones that got away?

JM: You see the positives now – things like Argentina, the qualifying at Misano (second on the grid) and Motegi (third), things like that. But you can’t just sweep away the negatives that happened, they were my mistakes and I have to learn from them – Misano, Motegi, a few other points where we really should have gone better. I left a heap of points on the table and that’s frustrating when you look back at it. I definitely feel more mature this year and more in a position to ride the factory bike the way it needs to be ridden, and make sure I take advantage of the times I put myself in a good place to begin races.

We haven’t even started this year yet, but there’s going to be focus on the second factory Ducati seat for 2020 with Danilo being on a one-year contract there, you on a one-year deal here, and Pecco coming in alongside you. Does that up the ante?

JM: People aren’t projecting too much about 2020 yet from the outside, but I’m projecting towards that, definitely. That factory seat is my goal, there’s no secret about that. It’s what I want. I have to start this season well, have a solid first few races and get some performances on the board early. Whatever I have to do to try to secure that spot, I will. It’s big stakes, but I’m ready for that. Start well, few mistakes, build from there and give it everything.

There’s a lot of Australian MotoGP fans very positive about what you can do this year, and where that might lead you as we just discussed – do you feel that?

JM: Definitely, I notice it all the time in the comments on social media, the Aussies you meet at the tracks, the testing, everywhere. Most of the time it’s really positive, people seem to want me to do well. It gets a little bit more, a little bit bigger every year, and you definitely feel it. The Aussies really want to see one of their own do well, and that definitely makes you feel good, I feel the love from home. I mean, there’s no excuses now. I’m in a good position. I’ve had a couple of really hard years physically and I’ve definitely done my apprenticeship, so I feel it’s about time I started giving them something to cheer about. I’m 24 now, have done the hard yards, have the experience and all of that. I think it’s going to be a good year, and I’m really looking forward to it.

6 storylines to watch in MotoGP for 2019

The new MotoGP season promises to be compelling, but what are the stories we can’t wait to see play out in 2019?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

We’re around a month away from MotoGP testing beginning in earnest for the upcoming season in Malaysia, but the turn of the calendar to 2019 only heightened the anticipation for what’s ahead. It’s a 19-race campaign where the schedule mirrors the one that preceded it, but elsewhere, it’s all-change as the world’s premier two-wheel category gets set for what’s sure to be a compelling season.

Everywhere you look, there’s storylines we can’t wait to watch play out. With just two teams retaining the same rider line-ups year on year, it’ll take some time get accustomed to familiar names in unfamiliar colours, while several riders face career-defining (or perhaps career-breaking) seasons, and there’s a host of exciting new talents set to strut their stuff in the big-time for the first time.

But what are the most compelling storylines for 2019? What really moves the needle on the excitement meter, and what has us intrigued? There’s plenty to choose from, but we’ve picked out a top six. Let’s count them down.

6. Who’ll be the rookie to turn heads?

Last year’s battle for the best of the new boys was close (for the record, Honda’s Franco Morbidelli edged Yamaha’s Hafizh Syahrin by four points for the rookie of the year title after 19 races), but not enormously compelling, given Morbidelli won it with 50 points for the season and a best race result of eighth place. This year? There’s four gun graduates from Moto2 set to step up, and there’s legitimate reasons to think each will have their time to shine.

Spaniard Joan Mir makes the move to the top flight after just one intermediate-class season and looks set to be on the best bike after replacing Andrea Iannone at the factory Suzuki squad, while Pecco Bagnaia’s progress at the Alma Pramac Ducati team will be watched closely on Australian shores, as last year’s Moto2 champion rides a Ducati alongside Townsville tearaway Jack Miller.

Elsewhere, a pair of new riders for ‘new’ teams will surely make their mark; Fabio Quartararo had a pre-world championship career so glittering that he was spoken of as the next Marc Marquez, and after breaking through for his maiden Moto2 win last year, joins Morbidelli in an all-new line-up for the start-up Petronas Yamaha SRT squad. Also in a ‘new’ team, of sorts; perennial Moto2 front-runner Miguel Oliveira, who’ll ride for Tech3 as the French team switches from Yamaha to KTM machinery alongside Syahrin.

You’d back Mir to be the best debutant if you were down to your last dollar, but not with any great conviction – which points to an intriguing battle within a battle on the 2019 grid.

5. 2019 has to be Miller time

No MotoGP season is a small one for any rider, but 2019 shapes as a very big one for Miller, who goes into his fifth MotoGP campaign with a lengthy to-do list to check off. Item one is to see off Bagnaia, who’ll be riding a GP18 machine while Miller gets his first taste of current-spec Ducati machinery, riding the 2019 bike that will be campaigned by factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. Two is to stay injury-free and on the bike more often, as Miller’s four years to date have seen momentum regularly interrupted by crashes that have led to squandered points or broken bones. Item three? Impress Ducati’s top brass to the extent that he’s considered for a promotion for 2020. Miller, who turns 24 later this month, isn’t the new kid on the block anymore, and while his speed isn’t in question, a top-10 championship finish has remained elusive so far. Can things change this season? Speaking of which …

4. Ducati’s big decision

What we know about Ducati’s factory team – Dovizioso is, quite appropriately, the Italian manufacturer’s main weapon in the fight against Honda and Yamaha, and the 32-year-old comes into 2019 off back-to-back runner-up finishes in the championship and 10 wins across the past two years. But with Jorge Lorenzo’s jump to Honda (more of which later), who is the best-placed rider to ride shotgun with ‘Dovi’ long-term? Is it Petrucci, who has a one-year deal with the team and is, as he said himself, betting on himself to earn a more lucrative payday by declining an option for 2020? Is it Miller, who has a race win (Assen 2016) and a pole position (Argentina last year) to his credit while not showing Petrucci’s consistency in their season together in 2018? Is it Bagnaia, who, at 21, won a world title in the lead-up to his premier-class career, something neither Petrucci nor Miller could manage? Or is it someone else entirely?

3. Which horse does Yamaha back?

Yamaha had, by its usual lofty standards, a tough 2018, where Maverick Vinales’ win in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island was the only victory for the team all season. Yes, Valentino Rossi (third) and Vinales (fourth) featured prominently in the standings by season’s end, but their finishing positions were earned more through consistency and stealth in a campaign where Honda took 10 wins and Ducati seven to Yamaha’s sole success. Which means Yamaha needs to catch up – but how?

The past exploits of Rossi, who turns 40 in February, means he’s a legend of the sport. Vinales, 24 this month, is a junior-class champion who represents the future. On the basis of their post-season testing comments, both riders agree the bike needs improving to match it with the likes of Honda and Ducati, but have differing opinions on how; Vinales was happy with the consistency of the new 2019 engine, while Rossi felt the bike struggled to maintain pace as tyre wear became a factor, among other things.

Which rider will the team listen to most? Can Yamaha appease both while skewing its development direction more from one rider’s feedback than the other? Can whatever direction taken vault the team back into the fight for race wins and titles, rather than sporadic visits to the podium? There’ll be a lot of eyes on the blue-hued team in 2019.

2. Is Marquez beatable?

With five titles in six MotoGP seasons to date, Marquez casts an imposing shadow over the rest of the MotoGP grid. Qualifying speed, race craft, ability in flag-to-flag races, an appetite for the fight, gravity-defying saves … the Spaniard has the lot, and a consistency that means that, even on his off-days, he’s likely to finish on the podium. Yes, he crashes (Marquez fell 23 times last year, more than any other rider), but he rarely bites the dust in races; his first DNF last season came in round 17 in Australia, the race after he’d won the title in Japan a week earlier. Can anyone topple the 25-year-old from the summit?

1. Can Lorenzo beat Marquez?

If anyone can, could Lorenzo? After all, he’s on the same bike as MotoGP’s unstoppable force, ditching Ducati after a stuttering season last year where he barely scored points in the opening batch of races, rattled off three race wins and beating Marquez in a breathtaking head-to-head fight in Austria, and then spent most of the season half of the year absent or compromised with injury after huge offs in Aragon and Thailand. Lorenzo concedes he isn’t sure if can win a fourth MotoGP title in his first year on a Honda alongside Marquez, but you know he won’t be intimidated by the enormity of the task at hand, given he’s the only other rider to lift the championship trophy in the Marquez era after he won in 2015.

Season 2019 is Lorenzo’s biggest challenge yet, and his partnership with Marquez is, by some distance, THE storyline to watch.