7 months ago
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For the first time ever at the Circuito de Jerez-Angel Nieto, Ducati bagged a 1-2 thanks to Jack Miller (Ducati Lenovo Team) and teammate Francesco Bagnaia. It was an emotional Sunday in Andalucia, as the Australian banished some early season demons and silenced his critics to stand on the top step of a MotoGP™ podium for just the second time.
It wasn’t just Ducati’s first 1-2 in Jerez though. It was the Bologna factory’s first 1-2 since Brno 2018, a day which saw Andrea Dovizioso lead Jorge Lorenzo over the line, and it was also the first Ducati win at the famous ribbon of asphalt since 2006 – Loris Capirossi the winner on that day.
But Miller and Bagnaia’s 1-2 has a deeper, greater meaning behind it. A lot of the riders we see on the Grand Prix scene sharpen their racing skills in the FIM CEV Repsol Championship, and Ducati’s red duo are part of the elite group that have – so far – made it right to the very top. If we rewind 10 years, their careers were just starting to take off.
At the Circuito de Albacete, on the 11th of September 2011, a 14-year-old named Francesco Bagnaia won his first 125GP in the then-named Spanish Championship. The young Italian, riding for the Catalunya Caixa Repsol team that also had Alex Marquez and Alex Rins racing for them that season, beat a certain young Australian by six seconds. Yes, you guessed it, that young Australian was named Jack Miller. The latter enjoyed his first trip to a podium while Pecco stood on the top step for the first time. Who knew that almost 10 years down the line they would be doing it again, in MotoGP™, for a factory team.
Incidentally, the topic was brilliantly touched upon in the post-race Press Conference. “The most fantastic thing I think I’ve seen this weekend is on the TV. They keep playing it, talking about the Spanish Championship, and I’ll never forget it,” began Miller, talking about a video of himself, Bagnaia, Alex Marquez, Rins, Joan Mir, Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, Miguel Oliveira and Pol Espargaro talking about their great memories from the Spanish Championship/CEV days on motogp.com.
“It was my first podium, also Pecco’s first podium, in the Spanish Championship. The problem was I was about the same height as I am now, and honestly Pecco was up to about here on me (points to hip), tiny little guy and if I look back on this moment and think, you know. I always thought this young kid, how old were you? 13, 14? Eh, if you think back, to then, and think that we would be teammates in the factory Ducati Team and be 1-2 in Jerez in 2021… you don’t believe it. You say you don’t believe it, but dreams do come true. Yeah, 10 years… that’s pretty impressive. That’s cool, that’s f*****g cool.”
Without using Miller’s well-timed expletive, it really is cool. It’s the victories and podiums like these that make all the sacrifices worthwhile for the likes of Miller and his competitors. Everyone saw the flood of emotions etched across Miller’s face and in his voice when he was in parc ferme; riders dedicate their lives to this sport, sometimes doing so thousands of miles away from home.
This business, like many others, is tough. Very tough. Up until Jerez, Miller’s life as a factory rider came under early scrutiny after a below-par start to the 2021 campaign. Tipped as one of the pre-season title contenders, a pair of P9s at Losail – a typical Ducati stranglehold – and a crash in Portimao led to criticism of the Australian. Arm pump and tyre issues played their part in underwhelming performances, and that Turn 3 Portimao crash exploded the stitches in his right forearm from arm pump surgery.
But Miller is a fighter, and boy did he come out swinging at the Spanish GP. Capitalising on Fabio Quartararo’s (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) misfortunes with arm pump on Sunday, Australia’s latest MotoGP™ race winner held his nerve to secure 25 points he’s been craving ever since he left Assen on that famous wet and wild day in 2016. In the post-race Press Conference, Miller admits that the past few weeks have been tough, and how a close friend has been helping him to continue believing in his ability.
“I say I’ve been on a rollercoaster of emotions since the finish, but these last few weeks haven’t been easy. I’ve been angry, frustrated, not trusting in myself. I will have to say one massive thing, I now have a new life coach let's say,” said Miller.
“It’s usually my mum but she’s not really good. Lucy Crutchlow (wife of Cal Crutchlow) called me up out of the blue during the weekend and said ‘you are good, you are f*****g good, you can do it’, quite aggressive like this. And she even sent me a text this morning so I have to say a massive thanks to Lucy, because it feels good to hear stuff like this sometimes. You need it. At the end of the day, we’re all human, we all have doubts.” Those doubts will have been firmly put to bed.
In addition, Miller and Bagnaia’s 1-2 just goes to show how excellent the FIM CEV Repsol Championship was and continues to be for the next generation of riders, alongside all the other Road to MotoGP™ programmes that Dorna Sports and their partners are running so effectively. Bagnaia describes FIM CEV Repsol as “a great school”, and clearly, the Italian has been taught well – he’s now the MotoGP™ World Championship leader for the first time.
From one historic Spanish track in Albacete to another in Jerez, a 10-year journey of blood, sweat and tears has brought Miller and Bagnaia back together, sharing the top two podium steps for the first time in the premier class of motorcycle racing. Ducati will be hoping it’s the first of many for their factory pairing.
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