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|07-21-2015, 03:10 PM||#1|
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New Old School | Jack Miller Profile
Despite being only 20 years old and a distinguished member of the youngest generation of up-and-coming riders, Jack Miller—in terms of character—belongs to the old school. Most of his rivals dispense polite smiles and insipid quotes for the ubiquitous cameras and sponsors, while the 2014 Moto3 runner-up rekindles the spirit of the long-gone era when racing was more of a game than a business. He is both colorful and controversial, unabashed and unfiltered, poised between honesty and rudeness—and fast enough to convince Honda to offer him a MotoGP ride straight out of the cadet class.
“I was given an opportunity and decided to take it, despite having several question marks,” Miller said. “I knew that it’d be hard to handle physically, and it represents a big change, but bikes are basically all the same, with two wheels and an engine.”
The brief chuckle that accompanies these last words unmasks an unsurprising bit of youthful naiveté behind a faint tinge of braggadocio, but the Honda LCR rider also displays a rare (for his age) combination of determination, clarity of purpose, and self-confidence. “We each have to choose our path, and my goal has always been to race in MotoGP, so I didn’t want to lose the opportunity,” he said. “Moto2 would have helped me to gain experience on a midsize bike, but I guess I’ll just do it in the top class directly.”
In the past, only a handful of riders have jumped directly from the smaller to the top—most notably, Pierfrancesco Chili and Garry McCoy. In Miller’s case, grit is arguably what convinced HRC to sign him.
The LCR Honda team turned off all of the electronic rider aids during Miller’s first ride on the MotoGP bike but, with each test, gradually bumped the control up so that Miller could understand where they could help and where they couldn’t.
“There are many interesting riders in the lower categories, so usually gut feelings apply when it comes to picking one,” HRC’s Team Principal Livio Suppo said. “For me, each class’ propaedeutic value has more to do with the quality of the roster rather than the bikes themselves. We chose Jack based on his mental approach, first and foremost.”
The Australian’s fierce character also turned into a major selling point.
“To be great, at this level, riders need to be ‘animals,’” LCR Team Manager Lucio Cecchinello added. “They have to possess some kind of inner conflict, some rage, some utter motivation. Bringing Jack to MotoGP from Moto3 is a gamble, but I always liked challenges.”
At his debut in the Valencia tests, Miller finished 2.773 seconds behind leader Marc Marquez, taking a second off in between sessions. Compared with the nimble Moto3, of course, his Honda RCV1000R was a rather different animal to tame. “I went out of the pit lane and in between turn one and two, I got in and went, ‘Oh, s—t! That corner came up quickly,’” Miller recalled. “Everything comes up fast. It’s hard to describe how. It’s almost out of this world. You’re coming out of a corner, playing with the rear brake to keep the front down, and you think you may be all right. Then you click the fourth gear and it does a little wheelie. Then you hit fifth, and it wheelies again. It’s massive. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before; there was just so much anticipation.”
Something other than horsepower, however, surprised the young debutant.
Jack Miller is following in the footsteps of another fast Aussie—two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner—by starting out in MotoGP with the LCR Honda team, as well as being looked after by Stoner’s former crew chief Cristian Gabarrini (right).
“The speed was a shock at first, and it’s difficult to describe the change from 60 horsepower to the 230-and-something we have now, but after two or three exits you get used it,” he said before adding, “Nothing can get you prepared enough for the brakes though. It’s an incredible feeling. They just want to tear the bike from underneath you, and you have to hold your breath. It feels like they’re sucking the oxygen out of you. It’s been amazing to ride this bike. I had the best days of my life.”
The Australian, who trains mostly off road in his spare time, proved his dedication to learning the ins and outs of his new bike with 108 laps combined in just the first two days with the team.
“I’ve never ridden a 600cc or anything, so the Moto3 was the biggest bike I’ve ridden until these tests,” he admitted. “Of course, it was difficult. Early on I was trying to be smooth like in Moto3, but you can’t do it at all. You really have to stop the bike and make it turn with the rear, approaching corners in a V-shaped line. I’m happy with the progression we’ve made. Every time we hopped on a bike we kept improving, and I’m closer than I expected.”
Miller has been putting in the time to get accustomed to the MotoGP bike, running a total of 108 laps in two days at Valencia and then 120 laps during a three-day test at Sepang a few weeks later.
Given their radical performance, Bridgestone tires are generally the biggest obstacles to overcome, both physically and psychologically. “It was not as bad as I was expecting,” Miller said. “They seem to work really well. I was able to go within 0.4 seconds of my best time on heavily used tires, so I’m happy. Also, the harder front tire took away a lot of our braking problems. I was behind Marquez for a couple of turns [at Valencia], and to see how much he loads the front gives you a rough idea of what these tires can withstand. I’m touching elbows a lot more than I’ve ever done in my life. You really have to find the limits of the bike, and we haven’t reached them yet.”
During the initial tests, Miller’s crew kept the electronic controls at the minimum, with standard torque curves and only the most basic inputs from the software to ensure safety. A somewhat surprising move that mimics the approach Honda adopted with Marquez as a rookie two years ago.
“I didn’t have traction or wheelie control; they wanted me to learn to ride the bike without the electronics first,” Miller confirmed. “It’s an incredible feeling when you go through turn 13 (a long, blind, downhill left-hander at the Valencia circuit) with the whole thing bent like a banana. I asked for a bit more controls, but they said, ‘No, son, you gotta keep learning and have a long way to go yet before you get any of these helps.’”
LCR Honda MotoGP team manager Lucio Cecchinello (right) will have a two-rider team in 2015, with rookie Miller joined by hard-charging Brit Cal Crutchlow. Miller is on the Open-class RC213V-Ride Smart while Crutchlow is riding the customer-spec RC213V factory bike.
At any rate, Miller seemed to like the chance to tame a wild animal with his bare hands.
“In Moto3, you have to ride smoothly, while with a MotoGP you have more opportunities to be the boss of the bike,” he said. “But it can also change quite quickly, and it becomes the boss of you. We’re working hard, looking at data, and we’re still not taking advantage of the bike’s full potential.”
In a rather odd twist of fate, Miller followed the footsteps of his fellow countryman Casey Stoner, who debuted in MotoGP with the same team manager, Cecchinello, and crew chief, Cristian Gabarrini.
“Cristian is a really good guy,” Miller said. “We seemed to get along from the very beginning. He has his way of working with people, and he’s had a good feeling with Australians in the past. There’s no language barrier, and I couldn’t think of a better person to have next to me and teach me the ropes. He pushes you to ride the bike on your own and fight it a little bit. It’s hard at the beginning, but in the end it’ll pay off.”
Gabarrini, who supervised the Open-class RCV1000R project on track in 2014, acting as a direct link between the staff on track and the engineers at Honda’s headquarters, was just as enthusiastic about the newly formed partnership.
“The first outing was very positive,” he said. “Jack was eager to listen and showed a nice personality. Casey is like a younger brother for me, while Jack and I just met, but I’d say they share a versatile approach and a focus on substance before the minute details.”
In just three days, Miller dispelled any doubts and reinforced Gabarrini’s beliefs.
“For me, despite getting second place, he was clearly the best rider in Moto3, and he’s the right rider for this kind of switch,” the Italian added. “I think he’s unbelievably talented. For example, he quickly was able to control the rear spin just with his wrist, and it’s essential to learn how to slide with this kind of bike.”
Miller shares another thing with Stoner: His racing roots dig deep in the dirt. “My father, who rode but never raced, had an old farm bike when I was little, and I enjoyed to be on it with him,” Miller said. “He finally bought my [older] brother a bike, and I started to ride it more than him, so that’s how it began. My first ride was a PeeWee 50 when I was three. I started racing on dirt track, then I went straight to motocross when I was seven, and finally moved to road bikes when I was 14.”
The biggest bike that Miller had ridden previous to the Valencia test was his 250cc Moto3 machine, but he quickly adapted to the MotoGP bike, finishing less than three seconds slower than the quickest times at both the Valencia and Sepang tests.
Miller’s progression in Moto3 was quick. In three seasons, he went from 23rd to second in the championship, scoring six wins and eight pole positions in his final year, missing the title by only two points to Alex Marquez.
“My Moto3 career was full of many ups and many downs,” Miller said. “The final round was like a boxing match, with just me and Alex left in the ring. Marquez won the title, but I couldn’t think of a better way to finish the season. I’ve won twice as many races and did all I could to fight for the championship. I’ve made a few mistakes and also had a little bit of bad luck.”
Meanwhile, Miller made a name for himself with his one-handed wheelies, nac-nacs, and other bold—some say beyond the limit—antics, all of which earned him the moniker “Jackass.” His unassuming, down-to-earth demeanor without leathers on, on the other hand, only partially overlaps with his racing persona, painting a layered picture.
“I’m just a normal guy, I guess,” Miller said. “I don’t think of myself as a showman, but I enjoy getting the attention. I just love to do wheelies and ride a bike. For a guy like me, to do it for a job is a dream come true.”
In MotoGP, by all means, it will not be easy for Miller to keep his feet on the ground—or the footpegs, for that matter—but he is keen on maintaining a realistic mind-set. “My goal right now is just to get comfortable with the bigger bike and, of course, be happy at the end of the year,” he said. “The main goal is to learn, but we must also avoid making silly mistakes and destroying our body by trying to take everything too quickly. But it’s easier said than done.”
To this end, conditioning also plays a role, and Miller will have to work just as much off the track. “We are starting a new program, but, in the end, I don’t think we need to build different muscles,” he said. “Rather, I have to make the ones that I’ve got leaner and stronger. After two days of testing [at Valencia] I was a bit tired but only had some blisters in my hands, which are already strong because of the motocross training anyway.”
Of course, some things can be learned by example. To this end, Miller went to Valentino Rossi’s ranch during the summer and lapped with the nine-time world champion and many “colleagues” on his famous dirt track.
“Valentino is a ,” Miller said. “He’s my hero. The stuff this guy does on a bike is incredible. And he’s still learning. I believe Rossi is as fast as he’s ever been in his whole career. To be able to be such a legendary rider and continue to learn is really impressive.”
A young, unconventional Australian is ready to take MotoGP by storm on a privateer Honda with his love-it-or-leave-it attitude. History often repeats itself, but it would be unwise to call it a déjà vu. If anything, Miller has proved to have a unique, zesty personality to go along with his talent. His future success is unpredictable, but, for sure, people will not get bored. The new old school has just held its first session.
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