Miller’s MotoGP journey: from scrounging used tyres from bins to MotoGP title contender


There were tears of joy for Jerez winner Jack Miller and tears of anguish for arm-pump victim Fabio Quartararo

Jack Miller, 2021 Spanish MotoGP

Finally! Miller can’t hide his delight at Jerez, while team-mate Pecco Bagnaia debriefs in the background


Jack Miller’s Jerez MotoGP victory was his first, because unless you only win one MotoGP race in your life, a wet-weather win means nothing and until Sunday Miller had only stood atop the podium once, at rainy Assen in 2016.

The Australian’s latest victory meant a hundred times more, which is why he got all teary in parc fermé, on the podium and during the media conference. The race may have been dry but the post-race certainly wasn’t.

Miller has come a long way to get this far, around 12,000 miles in fact, which is about as far as you can come unless you are not of this world.

Aussie motorcycle racers have been travelling halfway around the globe to seek fame and fortune on the racetracks of Europe since the 1950s.

In those days they boarded a boat in Sydney or Melbourne, with or without motorcycles stashed deep in the hold, and six weeks later they arrived in Southampton, shivering in the cold and wondering why the sky was grey instead of blue.

Then, unless they’d brought their own bikes, they made their way to the Norton factory in Bracebridge Street in Birmingham, where they blew their life savings on a 350cc and 500cc Manx, then sallied forth into Europe, touring the Continent like gypsies, racing around one town circuit one weekend and another the next, existing like circus performers, but making less money and taking more risks.

“My dad was ready to strangle the team owners. It was a shit year and by the end of 2012 I thought it was all over”

Miller is significant, not only because his Jerez victory announced him as Australia’s latest contender for the MotoGP world title, following in the wheel tracks of Casey Stoner, Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner, but also because a decade ago he was the last Aussie to put a couple of motorcycles on a boat to Europe and hope for the best.

Since Miller, mum Sonya and dad Peter came to Europe everything has changed. Nowadays, instead of mums and dads re-mortgaging their houses and gambling their financial future on a distant dream they get their kids into the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the Asia Talent Cup, the Northern Talent Cup or the British Talent Cup and hope for the best.

GP racing has simply become too expensive for anyone but multi-millionaires to spend their way to the top.

When the Millers arrived in Europe in 2010 they had two Honda RS125s which they towed behind a motorhome, camping out in race paddocks around Europe.

Admittedly this was luxury compared to their immediate forebears. Gardner spent his first few months in Europe sleeping in the back of a car and on the floors of friends and friends of friends. The Stoners lived in a tiny old caravan, also relying on the kindness of strangers.

One of Miller’s RS125s was blessed with newish pistons and tyres, for races, the other with worn pistons, worn tyres and worn everything else, which Jack used for track days. The idea was to get him asphalt time because in Australia pretty much all he had ridden was dirt track and motocross.

Miller had huge fun with that well-worn RSRS125 during weekday track days, showing track-day heroes on Suzuki GSX-Rs and Yamaha R1s how fast is really fast. Then on race weekends him and his dad trawled the paddock, scrounging used slicks from wastebins.

Jack Miller, 2011

Miller making his mark on his Honda RS125 in 2011

Miller Archive

The scruffy kid and the scruffy RS started getting results, good enough for serious teams to take note, but already money was running low. That first summer in Europe cost mum and dad almost 200,000 Euros.

In 2011 Miller got a few 125 GP rides with the Caretta Technology team, which cost 7000 Euros a race. A full 2012 Moto3 season with Caretta cost 250,000 Euros and that was very nearly the end of his career.

“The bike wasn’t what we wanted and my dad was ready to strangle the team owners. It was a shit year and by the end of 2012 I thought it was all over.”

And it would’ve been if Dorna and teams association IRTA hadn’t chipped in to fund his 2013 season, which still cost the Millers 175,000 Euros.

“My dad re-mortgaged the house again and by the end of the season we had ran out of money, so my aunties and uncles were chipping in.”

Miller shone in 2013. He didn’t even score a podium but he did enough on his Honda NSF250 to excite Aki Ajo, who put him in the factory Red Bull KTM team in 2014.

Related article

Now fast forward: 2014 Moto3 title runner-up, HRC MotoGP rider from 2015, the Assen win, then the move to Ducati in 2018, when factory team boss Davide Tardozzi was already convinced that Miller has what it takes to follow Aussie forebears Troy Bayliss and Casey Stoner.

Miller signed for Ducati’s 2021 factory team last summer but had a horrible start to the new year: a deformed rear tyre in round one, arm-pump in round two and a tumble in round three which hurled him to the ground, exploding the stitches from the emergency arm-pump op he’d undergone after the second race.

Already the critics were circulating – including one former MotoGP champ – announcing he would never make it unless he tried harder.

Miller likes to enjoy life and in the past, he perhaps enjoyed himself too much but not anymore.

“I knew I couldn’t live that kind of lifestyle and be a successful motorbike rider,” he told me a couple of years back.

“Turn One on the slowdown lap was disbelief, Turn Two I started to cry, Turn Five I was screaming”

These days MotoGP is too fast, too close for riders to have much fun. They need to be pitiless on themselves: narrowing their focus to a pinpoint, stripping everything out of their lives until there’s nothing left apart from training to get their body ready for racing and thinking to get their mind ready.

The paddock is no longer a party place; hasn’t been for years. Old-school carousers like Barry Sheene wouldn’t even recognise the place.

“I’ve never been so strict and so narrow on myself,” Miller said at the start of last weekend. “I’m trying everything I can to turn the ship around and get the momentum coming back my way. I’ve never been so desperate to do it in my life. Sure I’ve been in worse shit before, but we’re in the shit at the moment, simple as that.

“Everything is there – the speed is there, everything is there, I just need to pull it all together. Time will tell if we can do it or not. I’m working on it I and I’ve got to try to do it.”

Finally it all came together on Sunday, when Miller scored Ducati’s first Jerez victory since 2006, chased to the finish line by team-mate Pecco Bagnaia for a rare Bolognese one-two.

Crutchlows, Jack Miller LCR Honda

Cal and Lucy Crutchlow have been Miller’s biggest supporters since Cal and Jack rode together at LCR Honda


When he took the chequered flag the memories of the last decade washing over him like a tidal wave of emotions.

“Turn One on the slowdown lap was disbelief, Turn Two I started to cry, Turn Five I was screaming,” he said. “Honestly I can’t believe it. You try something your whole life – the one thing you think about 90% of the time – and when it finally happens you don’t believe it, because you’ve been wrong so many times before.

“I’m sorry to look like a big softy on TV. I was trying to fight the tears but hearing everyone in pit lane clapping me I couldn’t hold back. I try to be the most genuine person I can be. I know a lot of people want me to do good, so it meant a lot today. Dreams come true – it’s f****** cool!”

Miller revealed that the person who played a significant part in the greatest success of his career so far was Lucy Crutchlow, wife of his closest racing friend Cal Crutchlow.

“The criticism I’ve had the last few weeks hasn’t been easy to live with. I’ve been angry, frustrated and not trusting myself. I’ll say one massive thing. I now have a new life coach. It used to be my mum but now it’s Lucy, calling me out the blue throughout the weekend, telling me, ‘You are fucking good! You can do it!’. Quite aggressive! So I have to say a massive thank you to her. It feels good to hear stuff like this because sometimes you need it because at the end of the day we are all human and we all have doubts.”

Although Ducati hadn’t won at Jerez since Loris Capirossi won the opening round of the 2006 championship Miller denied that Gigi Dall’Igna and his engineers have only just found the secret to winning there.

“We proved last year that this can be a Ducati track – [Andrea] Dovizioso and I were third and fourth in the first race here last year and Pecco could’ve won here if he hadn’t had that mechanical. This year’s bike is pretty similar and works pretty good around here.”

Miller spent much of the 25 laps chasing an on-fire Fabio Quartararo, who worked his way to the front so quickly and clinically that a third consecutive victory seemed assured. All Miller could do was give chase and use the Frenchman’s speed to pull him clear of the pack, so at least he could take his first podium of the year.

“I was thinking Fabio is going to demolish us, so I threw out the hook to get towed around for a few laps to get a decent enough gap, so I could wobble around for the last few laps and get a podium. Then he wasn’t going away anymore. The biggest surprise was when I came around the lap after I passed him. I saw +0.6 on my board – I thought, ‘you’re kidding!’”

This was Ducati’s first one-two since Brno 2018 when Dovizioso led Jorge Lorenzo over the line. This made Jerez an important day for Ducati, but could it be that the Bolognese factory now has its best rider MotoGP line-up? Certainly, the result vindicates the decision of Ducati chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna to create an all-new team for 2021.

Miller is 26, Bagnaia only 24, and they both have their own ways to hustle the once recalcitrant Desmosedici around racetracks.

Ducati Corsa, MotoGP 2021 Spanish GP

Ducati celebrates at Jerez on Sunday – is this the factory’s best-ever MotoGP team?


After the race the pair discussed their different approaches to making the bike work – Miller uses the front end harder, Bagnaia the rear.

“We have two completely different set-ups but we ride quite the same,” said Bagnaia, who has yet to win his first MotoGP race. “I think I’m stronger in braking, because I can stop the bike very quickly, but maybe Jack is faster in corner entry. I sit more to the back of the bike.”

Miller’s style is more old-school. “I have to sit closer to the front of the bike because you see where I put my arse in the corners! Pecco leans out with his shoulder, while I go out with my arse, trying to be more like Mick Doohan. Pecco is more like modern era.”

Bagnaia’s main worry after the race was Sunday night – the team party. Miller may have learned the art of self-restraint but last night was going to be different, even if he is due to test at Jerez today.

“I’m going to drink about 30 beers and hopefully wake up without a hangover so I can ride tomorrow – nine before nine and you can wake up fine,” laughed Miller, while Bagnaia fidgeted nervously alongside.

“Tonight will be very difficult with Jack,” he grinned. “I remember Phillip Island a few years ago. We were together at the Sunday night party and he was very angry with me because I didn’t like the tequila and he wanted to give me tequila – I have to pay attention with him!”

Miller, Bagnaia and the Ducati certainly deserved a celebration last night, but it’s worth remembering that the real reason for their one-two was Quartararo’s arm pump, which had the Frenchman hanging on for dear life, lapping two seconds slower than his potential.

Arm pump is an affliction that has haunted motorcycle racers since the 1980s. The physical stresses of riding a 500cc GP bike or a MotoGP bike are so overwhelming that riders overuse certain muscles, causing those muscles to build and grow until they are constrained by the non-stretchy membranes that hold them in place. This restricts blood flow and then the problems begin.

Related article

Arm-pump surgery slices through the retaining membrane to give room for the muscles to expand and for the blood to flow.

That’s the theory at least. Quartararo, like most riders on the grid, has had arm-pump surgery of one kind or another. He had his op halfway through his rookie MotoGP season in 2019. Now the nightmare is back and no one seems to know why.

Quartararo had no arm-pump problems at Jerez last July when he won back-to-back races at the track. Likewise, he had huge arm-pump problems at Portimao last November, but nothing last month, when he took his second win of the year.

It’s a mystery and it’s bizarre that after so many decades fighting arm-pump that there’s no hard-and-fast science that can help riders fix the problems.

Miller believes his arm-pump issues in the second race at Losail were purely due to the Covid-truncated preseason testing programme, which was too much of a shock to his body after several months off a MotoGP bike.

“It’s definitely strange,” he added after the race. “Fabio’s had the surgery but maybe the membrane closed back up again. Then you look at Valentino Rossi and he’s never had the problem and he’s been riding these bikes, for what, a hundred years? So I think it depends on your body type.”

I had arm pump just the once when I was racing, during the Le Mans 24 Hours in the 1980s. The affliction shut down my right arm as I braked into corners, so that when I went to release the brake I couldn’t – my fingers were curled around the brake lever like a dead man’s around a pistol trigger. Finally the fingers freed up and away I went.

In these topsy-turvy times of MotoGP not even Dall’Igna knows how the reds will go next time out at Le Mans next week. But the Jerez one-two, the new rider line-up suggests that Ducati has as good a chance of the title as anyone else this year.

Miller and Bagnaia won Sunday’s MotoGP race while Franco Morbidelli came out on top of the historic pre-2020 class aboard his 2019 Yamaha YZR-M1, crossing the finish line less than a second ahead of Takaaki Nakagami, riding a 2019-spec Honda RC213V.

World champion Joan Mir was another second back in fifth, after finding himself stuck in a traffic jam. Jerez is so twisty there’s barely a moment when the bikes aren’t on their sides, so overtaking is tricky unless you have some decent straight-line speed, which Suzuki’s GSX-RR doesn’t.

Aleix Espargaró and Aprilia’s RS-GP were next, just 2.5 seconds off the podium, their best yet. Then Maverick Viñales, who was never in the groove, then Johann Zarco and Marc Márquez. The six-times MotoGP king finished ten seconds behind the winner, three seconds closer than at Portimao, despite two brutal crashes on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Not easy to find positives from a couple of 115mph/180kph crashes but in fact these tumbles, however painful, were a kind of good news for Márquez: they proved his right humerus is back to full strength. Don’t count him out yet…