We caught up with Jack at a steamy Sepang, where he put his new Ducati through its paces in MotoGP pre-season testing last week.
Jack's back – on his Ducati Desmosedici GP20, that is. Testing for the 2020 MotoGP season roared into life at a roasting hot (and occasionally rainy) Sepang Circuit in Malaysia last week, with Jack getting preparations for his sixth MotoGP campaign underway with three days of running under the Kuala Lumpur sun.
After embarking on a rigorous off-season training schedule in California soon after Christmas, Jack was ready to go for the first laps in anger for a new decade – so much so that he, along with good friend and Yamaha rival Maverick Vinales, were spotted running the 5.5-kilometre track in the afternoon sun the day before the test started… The timesheets never tell the complete story of testing, but the stopwatch made for positive reading for Jack, finishing as the fastest Ducati rider on two of the three days. He sat comfortably inside the top eight after all three eight-hour sessions despite a spill at the last corner on the final afternoon, and was second only to pace-setter Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) on day two.
Matt Clayton caught up with Jack at the test to see how 2020 was shaping up.
You've had your first few days back on the bike for the new year – how did you pull up physically?
You don't feel really "normal" physically until the Qatar race, to be honest. We only have two tests now, three days each, you're on and off the bike, there's weather … by the time you get to the Qatar race you're right, but Sepang isn’t an easy place to get back to work. Malaysia, you always go away from this one hurting, and that's normal. Putting your knees out, your groins … all sore because we've not used them like this for a few months. Mentally, it always takes a few laps for the eyes and brain to recalibrate and get used to the speed again, and everything coming at you so fast. It's the same for all of us, doesn't matter how long you've been doing it. It all seems a bit rushed and you don't feel on top of it for the first few laps, and then you look at the times and realise that you're actually going alright. It's funny how the mind adjusts like that. By end of day one, the speed felt normal again, but waking up for the second day, there's definitely some soreness there … being fit and being race-fit are two different things, that's for sure.
What's the feeling with the Ducati GP20 now the season is about to start? How was the bike out of the box after getting a taste of it in the post-season tests last year?
The bike's working pretty good, you know. We've had a lot of test items to get through which kept me on my toes. There's still plenty for us to work on and improve, and we wouldn't be motorcycle racers if we weren’t complaining about something … The new rear tyre, we need to get the balance of the bike working well because it tends to push the front a bit, it's very different in the way it works. There's a few things electronics-wise and with the engine character that we'll chip away at. But all in all, a good few days and a hot few days. The new bike, it's a little bit better in every aspect. Acceleration, turning, the electronics, the consistency … many different things. I can't see too many negatives with the bike, nearly all positives. And there's still more to be found which makes me pretty positive. We need to sit with the computers and see what they're telling us. It’s all well and good listening to me, but I tend to not know what I'm talking about…
Coming off a season like last year when you had so much success, does that make it easier to get back to work?
I put a lot into last season and it clearly went pretty well for me, so I was happy to have a break, get home and get some rest. But halfway through the stint I had at home, I was getting itchy feet to get back. That's a good sign. When there's some good momentum there, you’re more keen to get back to work than normal. I took some time at home to reset and recharge, and also to evaluate what we did in 2019. When you're in the season you're just going race by race, but after it was over I wanted to look back and be honest with the mistakes I made, and how I can avoid doing those again. The positives are great and easy to look at, but I mainly wanted to look at the things we needed to work on, what were our weaker points last year and work out how to get better. Last year was the best season you’d had and you made a big leap to be a regular contender for front-row starts and podiums in races.
Does that change your goals for 2020 and what might be the next step for this year?
The goalposts have shifted for me, definitely. Five podiums was awesome, and that makes you reassess what you might be able to do this time. Towards the end of last year, I was closer and closer to being able to challenge for the other two positions, as in second and first. I got closer the longer the season went, and I got to rub shoulders with Marc (Marquez) a few times. That's definitely where I want to be more this season. It's all learning for me, and I gained quite a bit from that. These guys are the best in the world, so understanding how they go about it and adapting that for myself is something I'm aiming for.
Australia has always been behind you, but last year that went to a new level with the success you had and the podiums, particularly Phillip Island. Do you sense that from afar, do you feel that extra support and people willing you on?
The Aussie support has definitely stepped up, I saw a real change in the number of fans at races with the flags and that sort of thing. It's an awesome sight to see. It's great for the profile of MotoGP back home and for motorcycling in Australia, and I'm happy I can be some sort of ambassador for the sport. Of all the good things that happened last year for me, the Phillip Island podium, being up there with my mate 'Crutch' (Cal Crutchlow), the fans went nuts … it was better than I ever dreamed being on my home podium might be.