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"Small mistake" sours Miller's KTM debut in Portimao

Monday, 27 March 2023

Seventh for Jack Miller in Portugal exceeded pre-season expectations but left the Australian frustrated with the podium within reach.

Jack Miller was left to rue a "small mistake" that had big consequences in the opening round of the MotoGP™ season in Portugal on Sunday, the Australian finishing in seventh place on his debut for KTM after being powerless against the straight-line speed of his Ducati-powered rivals.

Miller qualified fifth for the 25-lap race and briefly sat third after Marc Marquez (Honda) skittled Miguel Oliveira (Aprilia) on the third lap, but the 28-year-old was demoted to fourth on lap six by Ducati's Marco Bezzecchi before an error put him into the clutches of fellow Ducati rider Alex Marquez.


As Bezzecchi cleared away to an eventual third-place finish, Miller duelled with former Moto3 title rival Marquez lap after lap, regularly passing the Spaniard at the tight first-gear Turn 13 before Marquez would blitz back past on the start-finish straight, the Ducati not even needing a slipstream to leave the KTM in its wake.

"Bezzecchi started to push and I made a small mistake at Turn 5 (on lap 7), missed a gear going down, and (Alex) Marquez was able to come past and I was stuck in that battle," Miller said.

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"It was really, really difficult. Every time I would pass, he would pass back on the straight so I wasn't able to ever get one lap clear. I pushed my maximum and did everything I could to make the pass stick, but it was impossible today."

It was a frustrating end to a weekend of promise for Miller, but one where KTM looked to have made big gains from a pre-season testing campaign that failed to reach any great heights.

"We were seventh today and I lost a little bit in the last laps, but we were eight seconds away from the first (place) even with the shame in the last couple of laps losing a lot of time," Miller said, adding that the weekend was "really positive".

"I know for a fact we can do better, will do better in the races to come. I was suffering a little bit more on the straight, fighting with these Ducatis, but apart from that the bike was working really well."

Miller's first race weekend with KTM began with a bang on Friday, when the 28-year-old finished fastest after the two practice sessions, earning direct entry into Q2 on Saturday. His qualifying time of 1min 37.549secs placed him fifth on the grid, 0.323secs behind surprise pole-sitter Marc Marquez, and was nearly two-tenths of a second faster than his Friday practice lap which shattered the circuit record.

In the Sprint Race, Miller was part of a five-bike breakaway group that featured Marquez, Oliveira and Ducati pair Pecco Bagnaia and Jorge Martin, with Miller briefly leading the race on lap 7 and losing out to Marquez by just 0.086secs for a place on the podium after 12 manic laps.

After the pre-season Portimao test when he failed to set any eye-catching lap times, Miller relished the advent of the Sprint Race format, and learned a lot along the way.

"I was weird because I didn't know what to expect," he said of the Saturday short-form race.

"I think we can say it was a success, I enjoyed it a lot and it was a big fight with all the boys, nobody was really able to break away. The heart rate felt like it was up around 190 (beats per minute) the whole time!

"I'm not someone who's a good test rider, I'm a racer through and through. I enjoy taking the risk when it's worth something, I'm not someone who's going to risk life and limb (in testing) when there's a race 10 days later."

It's a tight turnaround after a long off-season layoff for Miller and the rest of the MotoGP™ grid, with round two of the season set for Argentina next weekend (April 2).

The Queenslander has finished just off the podium in fourth on two previous visits to the remote Termas de Rio Honda circuit (2018, 2019), while he took the first of his two MotoGP™ pole positions in Argentina with a white-knuckle lap in half-wet, half-dry conditions in 2018 for Pramac Ducati.

Jack's Portuguese Grand Prix by the numbers

  • Qualified: 5th
  • Sprint (12 laps): 4th
  • Grand Prix (25 laps): 7th
  • Fastest lap: 1min 39.056secs (9th), lap 9
  • Points this event: 15
  • Points this season: 15 (5th in world championship)