Published on August 6th, 2014 | by Mark Bracks
PIGGY IN THE MIDDLE – JACK MILLER & OTHER MOTOGP TALES
Jack is nimble, Jack is very quick, but hopefully he’s not too quick to jump over the candlestick into MotoGP just yet.
Or, he might be a true “Jackass.”
There have been many media beat-ups in the past weeks about Miller heading straight to the premier class if he wins the Moto3 championship.
It is the usual mid-season speculation-fest powered by a need to fill column-inches with anything remotely news-worthy. The assumption also, is that he will win the title, which is just a tad presumptuous at this stage, too.
As for going to play with the big boys, if he does go, many feel that – to use a bit of Aussie vernacular – he is “a bloody idiot.”
If it does happen, it will be a move motivated more by money than common sense.
It will also be a first, as no one has leap-frogged Moto2 to race in the premier category. Fellow Australian, Garry McCoy, jumped from the 125s to the 500s, but bear in mind his first season was on a 500cc V-twin. Also, his career was very nearly over that first year when he and Mick Doohan had a massive coming together at the Czech GP round at Brno. He still suffers the aches of that and some other monumental accidents that shortened his career.
“I sure think that it is not the right decision if he does go to MotoGP next year. He should be thinking about winning the Moto3 title before he starts thinking about anything else,” McCoy explained when he was asked about the speculation.
“If I was mentoring him, I would be making sure he goes to Moto2 first. He has plenty of time to get to MotoGP. If he was to go now, he will be with a second-string team on a second-string bike up against Lorenzo, Marquez and the rest of them. He might be lucky to get a couple of results but if he doesn’t, he might be back here [in Australia] looking for a real job.
“If he does well in Moto2 – and he has the talent to do it – his bargaining power will increase and when he goes to MotoGP he will be on one of the best bikes and teams.”
Wise words from the five-time Grand Prix winner but, to be fair to Jack, the chatter is not all his own doing. There are movements behind the scenes trying to influence others to thrust Miller into the MotoGP spotlight sooner than he is ready.
In the end it will be his decision, but many can not help think that if he does go to MotoGP, it will be a decision based on short-term financial gain, rather than career consolidation and long-term championship success.
Speaking to his mother, Sonya, she is, naturally, tight-lipped about Jack’s prospects in 2015 and beyond, saying that they are considering all offers and there has been no firm decision on the path to take in his immediate future, whether it lies in Moto2 or MotoGP.
The contract-signing soap opera started last year when Miller (evidently) signed a pre-contract deal with Marc VDS for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons. It was through this connection that the ride with the Red Bull KTM team came about. The team is managed by Aki Ajo and he is now Jack’s personal manager.
Miller has denied he signed anything and in the last couple of months that agreement has soured with Miller having no chance of riding for the team in the future but, no matter what has happened, it is not the end of current kerfuffle.
Was it coincidence that when this happened and Miller made the claim that he didn’t sign at the German GP, the rumours of the MotoGP ride came up?
As in every drama, it depends who you talk to as there are two sides to it. I have spoken to both sides and some of the information is off the record and as professionals we are not going to jeopardise long term relationships for a short term story
There must be something to the claims of contractual obligations as the Marc VDS team released a statement on 4 July.
For whatever reason the partnership has been voided, it is a sad state, as the team is, arguably, the best team in the Moto2 paddock and would provide a perfect environment to progress.
The road to MotoGP has gained plenty of exposure of late, but while Miller can’t be blamed for wanting to dive into the big pool next year, there are others keen to see him there.
Like the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC), a government-backed concern who is the promoter of the MotoGP event at Phillip Island.
It has been worried about spectators for a few years now. Let’s call it the “Stoner Effect” and, that is nothing to do with pulling too many cones after a dozen beers.
It started before the 2012 Phillip Island GP when it was known that Stoner would retire at the end of the season.
It was a great year for ticket sales – only bettered by the first two events in 1989 and ‘90 – as people flocked to the track to see Stoner’s swan song at his home round.
But even before the circus arrived in Australia in 2012, the AGPC was fretting about what would happen in 2013 when there was no Stoner for fans to watch as the maestro of the island smoked up the back wheel at Stoner Corner and a few of the other 11 corners of that magnificent ribbon of 4.45km liquorice strip that he owned for six victories on the trot.
Its fears were not unfounded as 2013 was the worst crowd in nearly 15 years.
It is not lost on the commercial rights-holder, Dorna either, who realises how important it is to have an Australian (or a non-Spaniard) near the front of a MotoGP field.
Dorna’s nurturing of Spanish talent has come back to bite it, as with all classes dominated by Iberian natives, world-wide TV ratings are in a huge downhill slide as viewers switch off, particularly the podium presentations.
The official word out of the AGPC is that they are not trying to influence anyone to promote Miller to compete in MotoGP next year, but you can bet your arse there has been some correspondence between Dorna and the AGPC exploring the avenues of trying to push an Aussie, presumably Miller, to be there sooner than later, rather than let natural progression through the ranks unfold.
It begs the question, if they are looking for an Australian rider, have they all forgotten about Broc Parkes? He is still relatively young and sure knows how punt a bike around.
This year in his maiden year in MotoGP, he is on a machine that is slower than most superbikes and is an ill-handling bitch. Plus, he has shown that he has the ability. This was amply demonstrated at the rain-affected Assen GP, and also his recent form at the annual Suzuka Eight-Hour race, where he finished fourth with Josh Brookes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
Another unfortunate Aussie in MotoGP last year was Bryan Staring who was fed to the wolves and discarded after just one year. His only fault was that he, like Parkes, was that he was so keen getting in the premier category that he accepted a ride on CRT shitbox.
There is also another consideration that has been overlooked. “The Stoner Effect Part Two”, that has to do with Australian television.
When Stoner was at the top of his game, the Ten Network’s One HD paid a vastly inflated figure for the MotoGP rights after an ongoing bidding war with the rights holder at the time, Foxtel.
The station did this under the belief that the massive spend would be worth it as Stoner would bring them ratings on One HD for a lot of years.
The first mission statement of One HD was to be a pure sports station as digital TV was unleashed to Australian homes in answer to the pay-to-view Foxtel, and MotoGP was one of the main attractions.
They were caught unawares (like the rest of us) when Stoner retired and since then ratings, along with the event ticket sales, have haemorrhaged.
Also, when Casey retired, the attitude of Ch10 to viewers, considering the amount it paid to get the rights in the first place, became more contemptuous and dismissive, prompting many complaints about its crappy coverage.
Sadly this year, in a follow-on from its disinterest in MotoGP, One HD free-to-air viewers have been denied seeing Miller’s progress; it sold the rights to the two feeder classes before the season started to Foxtel for a pittance.
Overall, Network 10 is bleeding in ratings and advertising income so it was a no-brainer that they would not rebid for the rights. After years of pitiful Grand Prix coverage on OneHD, in 2015 the TV rights will return to Foxtel, so it is important to them that they have a larger Australian presence in MotoGP, so people will be enticed to buy a package that includes SPEEDTV.
Either that or spend around $200 for the year to watch the live streaming via the MotoGP website.
Jack is the “piggy in the middle” of all of this.
Now let’s look a the kid’s options for where he might ride in 2015, if he makes the leap.
There are a couple of places he could end up and they all have a Honda in the team. The one that is talked about the most is the Lucio Cecchinello-owned, and managed, LCR team.
Loveable Lucio is one of the true grafters of Grand Prix racing and after years of hard work, surviving on the smell of a hopeful huge multi-million-dollar sponsor, the persistence has paid off for him. He was a great mentor of Stoner, looking after him in the 125cc and 250cc ranks before taking him for his first year of MotoGP in 2006.
For 2015 he has just signed a multi- million dollar contract with British company, CWM World. The company has been a minor sponsor of the LCR Team at a few GP’s this year, so obviously it is happy with what it has seen.
This has opened up the tea- chest of funds and opportunity for the team. Whether Stefan Bradl has been let go or decided to jump before he was pushed with all the paddock gossip going on, he has signed with the Forward Yamaha Team to replace the retiring Colin Edwards.
As CWM World is a British company, it explains the sudden appearance on the horizon of the swashbuckling Cal Crutchlow. It’s a win-win as Cal finally gets on a very competitive prototype bike after suddenly walking out of his contract with Ducati. Don’t slam the door on the way out, please Cal.
This will be welcomed by Ducati as it saves millions of dollars on a rider that doesn’t want to be there as well as lessening the running expense next year when it can bring in Andrea Iannone to have just a two-bike factory team.
With this new sponsor, Lucio now has enough funds to run the second bike that he has coveted for so long, albeit a production Honda. Enter Jack, or Maverick Vinales, depending who you talk to.
The other option for Jack in MotoGP is the Gresini Team. Ex-125cc Wold Champion, Alvaro Bautista will be let go and is being courted by Aspar and Aprilia. Scott Redding who is on the production Honda will move to be on the prototype next year, so Jack could take that seat.
Jack is a very popular boy, as Honda wants him, too. They took notice of him in 2013 on the pile of crap Honda he battled against the KTMs in Moto3.
But it goes deeper than that. A few years ago one of the big Honda bosses told me how much they like having Australians on the team. Four Aussie heroes all raced for Honda with Gardner, followed by Mick Doohan, Daryl Beattie and then, Stoner, all providing various amounts of success to the company.
Honda can see the value in having Miller, as he is a real character and a natural joker that can combine an intense commitment to race but still have a lot of fun along the way, as well as having a long future in the sport, barring injury. As I was told at the time, having an Australian on a Honda at the front of the field helps sales worldwide; such is the appeal of an Aussie. Bizarre, but true.
There also a number of Moto2 teams that are showing Jack the love, offering deals for next year and beyond, with the most attractive option – now that the Marc VDS offer has evaporated – the Paginas Amirillas HP 40 Pons team that Maverick Vinales is leaving to move up to MotoGP.
Pons is a great team and on a par with MarcVDS. Sito Pons is a national hero in Spain, so like “Aspar” Martinez, he doesn’t have a lot of trouble attracting sponsors. Paginas Amirillas is the Spanish Yellow Pages.
This move is the arguably most sensible for Miller in the long-term and will give him a massive opportunity to win the intermediate title.
Also, after a season or two with them, he will be able to sound even more like a wog in his pre-race chats.
But seriously, it makes a lot of sense to hang around in Moto2 and hopefully win that. If he is being tempted by the dollars signs at the moment, and he went to MotoGP with two world titles tucked in his leathers, imagine the amount of bargaining power he would have then – just like McCoy said.
As for the difficulty inherent in leap-frogging Moto2 and going to MotoGP, you can count on one finger the rider who has made a big and immediate impact in MotoGP after coming through the smaller classes.
For many, Marquez stamped his greatness at Motegi in 2012: He clicked neutral on the grid and was left stranded, very lucky not to be “Liberaced.” He got away stone motherless last and on the opening lap, scythed his way through the field with more determination that a suicide bomber to be ninth after one lap.
As for Miller’s aspirations, let’s reflect on the past history of other Moto2 riders to “crystal ball” a glimpse of his possible future.
Stefan Bradl is a Moto2 World Champion and has scored only one podium in two-and-a-half years. For 2015 he is going to an Open machine team. Maybe he will suit the Yamaha.
Mika Kallio tried MotoGP on the Pramac Ducati and scurried back to Moto2, dinged and bruised. He presently sits second in the title on a Marc VDS Kalex.
Scott Redding went close to a Moto2 title last year for Marc VDS and has hardly been heard of riding the production Honda this year. Maybe next year will be different when Honda fulfils its promise to supply him with the prototype bike.
Bradley Smith, a 125cc GP winner, came through the ranks and is struggling on the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha.
Bautista has done absolutely nothing, except take out other riders at crucial times in a race. He is a world champion but to the cynical, the only reason he is there is that he has money and is another Spaniard.
Current Moto2 championship leader, Esteve “Tito” Rabat has signed to ride another year in Moto2 with the Marc VDS team. It’s probably a very smart move as being a fellow Cataluñan he knows he is on a hiding to nothing in the Spanish press if he doesn’t give Marquez a few arse-kicks when he dives in the big pool.
Marquez has even been quoted as saying that Jack’s best option is through the Moto2 college as he has plenty of time to fulfil that potential. I am sure he is not worried about getting beaten by Miller in the short term, as no-one else can do it at all at the moment.
If the young Queenslander does make the move, there is no middle ground. When, and if, Miller throws his leg over a MotoGP beauty next year, he may well wrap his calloused hands around it and caress the 1000cc 240+ hp machine like a gentle lover as he slips and slides around the lengths of the GP tracks of the world to unexpected success.
Or, the beast will bitch-slap him to the bitumen, kick him in the balls a few times and dance on his tumbling body, then stand astride him and scream, “Is that all you got, big boy?”
The mantra might well be: Crash. Get up. Repair bike. Repeat.
After he does crash many times he may well be found in the foetal position, cowering in the office of Dorna boss, Carmelo Ezpeleta, drooling and mumbling, “No more master, please no more.”
Those in the know reckon that the 1000cc machines might be a tad “easier” to ride these days, but, at the moment, Miller is riding a bike that has a combined rider/bike weight of 146 kg with around 50 horsepower, compared to a MotoGP bike that has a minimum weight of 160kgs and over 240 hp.
He has to quickly adapt to the added weight and extreme horsepower as well as different rubber with more grip than Araldite. However, when the grip lets go, the bikes bite with more venom than a truckload of taipans.
A MotoGP racer can have all the technology underneath him to make the bike more rideable, and if you stick to the GPS-logged optimum racing line, all will be mostly, fine. Get off that line, over cook a corner entry or exit, and there is a massive chance you will be spat off to tumble through the kitty-litter feeling like cat shit. There are plenty in the paddock that can back that statement.
There is only so much technology the boffin nerds can do to make it rideable. In the end it still all comes down to the rider.
It is a very fine line.
Look at how Lorenzo struggled in his first year on a MotoGP bike, or the low flying object that two-times Superbike World Champion, James Toseland became. Ben Spies is another case in point.
It is not easy to ride a MotoGP bike.
Wayne Gardner, who had his fair share of being body-slammed into the tarmac, is not only worried about Miller’s riding future but also his well being, saying, “The jump he is making is just too big. He will crash a lot. Riders struggle coming from Moto2 and he will have so much to get used to. I really hope he does a couple of years in Moto2. What’s the rush?”
For Miller, it will either be ship-shape or shit-shaped. If he does make the jump, he could go backwards a lot quicker than what his rise has been and he could become just another racer who has been fed into the mincer that is MotoGP politics and racing.
No one can blame Jack for wanting to jump on a MotoGP bike. He has now hit his straps in Moto3 and no doubt his confidence is sky-high.
But surely sense has to prevail. There are a few MotoGP riders who openly laugh at the suggestion that Jack is ready for MotoGP. The general consensus from those vastly more experienced is that in the first test in Malaysia, Jack will “do a Toseland” and fly so high they will have to divert aircraft as they take off from the nearby international airport to avoid a mid-air collision over the Sepang circuit.
In 2015, Jack will be just 20-years-old, so he has plenty of time to build up momentum in the Moto2 category and win it, before moving onto further greatness in MotoGP, all the while adding to his allure as well as gaining increased public, and media interest.
Jack is a massive talent and with the correct guidance he could well eclipse everything that Casey Stoner achieved, as well as what a few other riders have done.
Let’s hope that sense does prevail over the clouded judgement of dollar signs and Miller serves his apprenticeship in Moto2 and “Jackass” is a nickname, not a label.