Miller: ‘Heaps of fun, full contact sport, heart rate 190’

Jack Miller backed up his shock P1 in Friday practice by leading Saturday’s inaugural MotoGP Sprint on his KTM race debut.
Miller, Bagnaia
Miller, Bagnaia

While the Australian had proved his Friday form was no fluke by qualifying in a strong fifth, the 12-lap Sprint looked to be another matter.

But after losing ground on the opening lap, Miller rolled up his sleeves and set the fastest lap of the race before muscling past Miguel Oliveira, Marc Marquez, former Ducati team-mate Francesco Bagnaia and race leader Jorge Martin.

A dream victory was on the cards but his rivals retaliated and Miller was back where he had started, in fifth, as the penultimate lap began. Miller then gained a place when Oliveira ran wide, and crossed the line less than 0.1s from Marquez and a podium.

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“Heaps of fun. A full contact sport out there. I enjoyed it a lot,” Miller said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, with the race distance and everyone being on the soft tyres, if somebody was going to conserve the tyres, or what the plan was going to be. My plan was to go flat out and see what would happen!

“I didn’t get the best of starts. To be honest, I couldn’t really hear my RPM with the other bikes around. I let the clutch out a little bit too quick, killed the RPM and got swallowed. But I was able to fight through and it was a lot of fun.

“With this bike I feel confident now, on the last day of the test and rolling on from that through Friday and Saturday here we’ve been able to find even more confidence with the front. Even though I dumped it in Q2, that was simply my own fault.

“You’ll have seen in that race I could charge forward and make overtaking moves when I could. The bike’s got great grip, even with the soft-soft tyre combination – generally the KTM never uses the soft front and we made it work for the 12 lapper.

“Okay, I was missing a little towards the end, mainly from the front end. But definitely I was able to carry some decent corner speed through 4. It was a lot of fun. The heart rate was 190 all the time.

“With a lot of wind around and the bikes passing you into T1, you had to keep two and a half metres to the kerb because the wind coming off the front of the bike would shift you at least 2 metres across. It was pretty impressive.

“The boys kept it clean. It was a good race. I think we enjoyed it as much as you guys.”

‘95% of the people on the internet thought it was going to be shit’

Miller admitted that going into this weekend “95% of the people on the internet thought it was going to be shit” after a winter spent at the lower end of the timesheets on the KTM.

So what was behind this weekend's transformation?

“Nothing. Testing is testing. Racing is racing. That’s what we’re here for: I’m here to be a racer. I’m not going to go and risk life and limb when we have a race ten days later.”

But there have also been improvements in electronics and engine braking.

“The biggest thing’s been the electronics for sure,” he said. “I essentially hopped on this bike in Valencia and could’ve ridden this bike with an on-off switch for a throttle, instead of a throttle on a tube, because you couldn’t use the throttle like you should. And now we can ride the bike more like a normal bike.

“In terms of engine braking… I don’t know if you can see with the KTM but the thing is like this (sideways) into the corner. They’ve been able to give me the sliding performance, but with the deceleration like a bike that is dead straight. It’s not locking and slipping so it’s good.”

Miller also seemed able to fight the Ducatis on the straight, which he credited to drive grip.

“I think today was not a clear understanding of outright speed because we had 15kph headwind. If we could get good drive, which I could because the bike had incredible drive through the last corner, I hit the straight with a lot of speed. That, as well as using a lot of slipstream, I was able to pass.

“But if you put the two bikes side by side, I know which one would come out on top. It wouldn’t be me. But we’ve made a massive step in the right direction in terms of rideability, the bike had incredible rear grip. Not only that but I was really punishing that rear tyre and it was able to stay with me for all 12 laps.”

Nonetheless, Sunday’s 25-lap main event will be a leap into the unknown for Miller.

“I haven’t done a race sim on this thing so let’s see!” smiled the Australian.

Team-mate Brad Binder, struggling with neck pain after his testing accident, was the next best RC16 rider in twelfth.

“Awesome to see!” he said of Miller’s form. “I’m really happy for Jack and it’s so great to see him fighting up front because that was our goal and we made the steps that we need. I’m looking forward to joining him up there soon.”

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