Jack Miller is the man of the moment. The two consecutive victories at Jerez and Le Mans have helped him to take that leap he was still lacking in MotoGP. A journey that began long ago, in 2015, when the Australian left Moto3 to enter the premier class, without going through Moto2. It was the then HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto and Livio Suppo who wanted him in Honda, and the Italian now tells us how that crazy idea was born.
"Nakamoto and I noticed him in 2014, the year in which he was dominating in Moto3 even though Alex Marquez then won the title - Suppo remembers - It seemed to us that he had a riding style that could adapt well to MotoGP, in Moto2 there wasn’t anyone that particularly excited us, so we decided to focus on a very young rider but with characteristics suitable for riding a MotoGP bike”.
"Taking Miller from Moto3 to MotoGP was a risky move, but not madness"
To accept the jump from Moto3 you also need to be a bit mad, were you afraid that he would say no?
“In fact, he didn’t think twice about it… (laughs). For sure if he had been hesitant we would not have insisted, instead both he and his manager, Aki Ajo, were happy with the proposal. Jack was very young and having HRC offer you a 3-year contract is certainly an important opportunity, it meant we believed in him. Among other things, he had come up through the ranks, so that offer also represented for him an economic peace of mind that, when you arrive from the low-life, reassures you. I think it was a risky move, but not crazy. The results that Jack has achieved, not only now but in general, show that we did not burn up his career ”.
Did you ever have any second thoughts about that decision?
“Jack has the strengths and weaknesses he would have had if he had had a different career. There can be no counterproof, but he has always been talented and, perhaps, if he hadn't immediately worked in a MotoGP team, which is more professional and where there is more control, perhaps it would have been more difficult for him to find his maturity. He was a hothead, he admits it too, as I always say he was the only rider I have ever fined in my 22-year career. We had reached that point because I, Lucio and Nakamoto no longer knew how to make him understand that he could not do damage every Sunday evening (laughs) ”.
"At the beginning he trusted his talent too much, MotoGP made him aware that sacrifices are needed"
What was Miller like in those years?
"At first he didn't train enough, he trusted his talent too much. Maybe, with a move to Moto2 where his talent would have allowed him to go fast without doing anything, he would have lost his way. In MotoGP he immediately clashed with a very professional reality that first made him understand that to get certain results you have to make sacrifices ”.
In Jerez we saw a soft side of Miller, did you know that?
“He wears the mask of a Gascon, but enough to live as he lived in the paddock with the Crutchlow family, he was very affectionate with the child, underneath he is a big softie. He is a very different Australian from Casey Stoner, but even from Troy Bayliss or Mick Doohan, it's not like they can be the same just because they're Australian. Jack is hard-headed”.
Was there an episode in which this stubbornness of his particularly came out?
“In 2016 I worked myself to death for him, in Austria, in the tests, we discovered that he had a cracked vertebra and he missed the race. I am very sensitive to that type of injury, as I was very close to Filippo Preziosi, I am very aware of the risks, but the Dorna doctors gave him the go-ahead to race at Silverstone. I had all the exams given to me and had them checked by various doctors who told me that it was very risky, there was a big chance of him getting hurt if he fell. Jack, however, absolutely did not want to know and his manager did not help me. Whenever he went out on the track, I was scared. At Misano I had an insight, I went to his motorhome and told him: 'you say you have no problems, but you're going slowly, so everyone thinks you're a jerk and not that you have a bad back'. That reasoning helped him understand and I was able to convince him to stop. He is hard-headed and like all riders he is not afraid of anything ”.
"Miller was close to losing his way, but he managed to get in line."
Did you imagine that Miller could achieve certain results this year?
“Already at the end of last year he had done some very good things and in the winter tests he had been strong. He was a bit lost in the first two races due to his arm problems, but he was good at not panicking in such a difficult start to the championship and, this too was a sign of maturity. You could see that he had a lot of talent, even when we decided to take him from Moto3, in recent years he has been good at growing. For example, Pedro Acosta is certainly a phenomenon but to become a champion there is a process of growth involved, many get lost along the way. Jack came close to losing his way, but he managed to get back in line and for a couple of years we could see that he could be in front. "
So it wasn't a surprise for you?
“I would have been surprised if he hadn't done well. As for Bagnaia, if we remember what he did with the Mahindra, then the title in Moto2 and his debut in the Sepang tests with the MotoGP, I was more surprised to see him struggle than to go fast. They are two very strong riders who are bringing a wave of enthusiasm to Ducati ”.
"Miller and Bagnaia have brought enthusiasm to Ducati, but Quartararo is the strongest at the moment"
Do you like this team?
"As I said, you can see that there is enthusiasm. When a rider like Dovizioso stays with Ducati for a lot of years without reaching the goal they set for themselves, he just missed out on it in 2017 and then two second places without being in a fight, it is inevitable that the team will lose faith in the rider and vice versa. By now they had become gangrenous in this situation which then meant that last year, in which they had a great chance to win the World Championship, they had a season far below their possibilities. In my opinion it happened because there was this climate in which they couldn't stand each other. Right now it seems to me that Ducati is in love with its two riders and that the riders are in love with Ducati, it's one of those things that make the difference. From the outside it is easy to judge and criticize, but in today's MotoGP, where there is a great levelling up, the belief of a rider that he is in the right conditions to be able to win maybe eliminates that tenth, that tenth and a half, per lap that means starting in the first two rows instead of being out of Q2 ”.
Will this Ducati be able to repeat what you and Stoner did: win the World Championship?
"Actually, only Stoner did it (laughs). So far I have been very positive on Ducati but, if I have to be objective, Quartararo had the potential to win four of the five races so far. At Jerez, without the arm problem, he would have won and in Le Mans in the dry it would have been difficult to beat him. Ducati has a very good chance of winning the title, but at the moment Quartararo is still a little stronger. Racing twice in Austria will be an advantage and Ducati has three riders who are strong and who can take away a lot of points from Fabio on that track. Those who say it's a problem to have so many riders who go fast are wrong, if they weren't on the Ducati they would be on another bike and you would have them as your opponents.”