The ‘gamble’ that turned Aussie into MotoGP star

Australian MotoGP ace Jack Miller is the first to admit his season was on the verge of going south.

A pair of ninth-place finishes in Qatar to open the year was followed by a crash in the third round in Portugal. In between that, there was an operation to relieve arm pump, a muscle and nerve condition that causes pain and swelling, as the expanding muscle cuts off blood flow.

All of that left Miller’s MotoGP campaign looking very sick, as he trailed championship leader Fabio Quartararo by a massive 47 points.

“I was in a big hole, no doubt about it, I was in the trenches,” Miller told Wide World of Sports.

“Even after the second Qatar race, when I was only five seconds behind the winner, I just wasn’t happy.

“I wasn’t able to perform the way I wanted to the whole way through the race with the arm, so I got that sorted.

“I trained my arse off before we went to Portugal, and it was shit weather, really bad, and because I was on the podium there last year I was hoping we could really turn it around there, which didn’t happen.”

Wind the clock forward a month and things are very different. Miller is now a genuine title contender, having won consecutive races in Spain and France, cutting the championship gap to just 14 points.

It turns out MotoGP wins are just like London buses. Having won in Holland in 2016, Miller had to wait five long years for his next victory, only to find two came along at once.

With the momentum very much in the Australian’s favour, he’s now the favourite to make it three in a row at Mugello this weekend.

“The one at Jerez was definitely something more special, something I’d worked my arse off to get and it was one of my best ever rides,” he explained.

“And then coming to Le Mans I felt a massive sense of calmness, no stress, I knew I had decent pace and in the wet it was a matter of staying on the bike.

“But to go back-to-back, if you’d said that a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Miller and teammate Francesco Bagnaia are in their first season with the works Ducati team, which came under fire for its decision in 2020 to replace both its riders.

Out went the experienced Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, replaced by Miller, 26, and Bagnaia, 24, with just a single MotoGP victory between them at the start of the season.

Miller and Bagnaia, were teammates at Pramac Racing before joining the factory team, and it’s a partnership that’s bearing fruit.

“He’s doing a fantastic job, we’re first in the teams championship, so that’s a massive bonus for the team,” Miller explained.

“I think they copped a lot of stick at the end of last year when they were bringing on two younger guys into the factory team, they took a bit of a gamble and I think a lot of people wanted it to fail.

“But I think they’ve been proved right.”

So much so that the team this week moved to extend Miller’s contract for another season, taking him through until 2022, although he revealed Ducati was keen for a longer deal.

“We’re just using the option we had for 2022, which is good,” he said.

“They wanted to try and put another option in place, but I wasn’t feeling it, because I would have been out of swing with everybody else.

“I’d just rather wait and try and do it again next year, when we can talk for a longer term and be on the same swing as the rest of the riders.”

Although Miller’s start to his 2021 campaign was nothing to write home about, he found himself at the centre of controversy after the second race in Qatar, following a series of clashes with reigning world champion Joan Mir.

Mir made contact with Miller as he attempted to pass, which was followed by the pair again touching at nearly 200km/h as they came onto the main straight, after Mir ran wide and attempted to rejoin, only to find Miller occupying the piece of tarmac he wanted.

Mir labelled Miller’s move “intentional” and “dangerous”.

“I’d been tapped a few too many times,” Miller explained.

“He ran wide, and decided he was coming back on the track, but I put my bike where he wanted to put his.

“I was like, ‘Hey, you need to pull your head in.’

“He passed me three times in that race, and all three times there was contact. He made contact with Pecco (Bagnaia), he made contact with Fabio, and I was like, ‘There’s no need for it, why are you hitting everybody that you pass?’

“The hit was bigger than I expected, I didn’t want it to be like that. But people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If you want to ride like that, givers must be takers.

“But there’s no dramas, it’s water under the bridge, I’m not one to hold grudges.”

Miller named Bagnaia and Quartararo as his two biggest championship rivals, Bagnaia for his consistency and Quartararo for his outright speed.

But one factor that’s likely to play a big role in the title race is the ongoing COVID-19 situation, with the possibility that not all of the scheduled 19 races will be held.

“It’s kind of hard,” he said.

“I’m actually trying not to think about it. All I’m worried about is bringing home the maximum number of points that we can each weekend, and we’ll see where that leaves us at the end of the season.”

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