After out-sparring his opponents with consistent podiums to reach the world championship lead, Joan Mir then unleashed what may well have been a 12th round knock-out blow with his first MotoGP victory at Valencia on Sunday.
Combined with a miserable race for his three closest Yamaha rivals, Mir more than doubled his title lead to 37 points, with just 50 still remaining.
Mir only needs a 26-point advantage to be crowned as Suzuki’s first premier-class champion since 2000 in next Sunday’s return Valencia event, with the Portimao finale still remaining.
“I feel amazing because we took finally that victory. It was hard honestly because every time the championship was getting closer and you always have to find a compromise between risk and speed,” Mir said.
“Today the bike worked in a super good way, I had a winning bike and I took the opportunity. Really happy. I can’t ask for more, honestly.”
Talk of Mir becoming MotoGP’s first world champion without a race win can now be forgotten.
“I was not worried but it was something on my mind that I want to do,” said Mir, who had been leading in Austria earlier this year only for the race to be stopped after brake failure for Maverick Vinales.
“What was key this season was that in some races where we were not the favourite, we’ve been on the podium. But when I had the opportunity for the victory today, I took it. It was today.
“In Austria maybe was also another chance, but I couldn’t get it. So it’s important the victory, but especially in this type of season a victory is good, but being on the podium is also nice.
“I’m also super happy for Suzuki, finishing first and second [for the first time since 1982]. At the beginning of the season this was something difficult to imagine. Let’s see if next weekend we can also continue in this shape.
“The championship situation is quite good.”
Shadowing his fellow GSX-RR rider for the next 13 laps, many wondered if Mir would risk a pass. But after eyeing up a possible move at the final corner, Mir grabbed an unexpected opportunity when Rins missed a gear and went slightly wide into Turn 11.
Free from the front-tyre heating turbulent air left by his team-mate’s wake, Mir upped his pace to build a small but safe lead which he protected to the chequered flag, becoming the record-equalling ninth different winner of the 2020 season.
“I wanted to try in all the moments to overtake, but Alex was really strong in the exit of turn 2,” Mir explained.
“I don’t know if it was him, the bike, the electronics but in that part he was stronger. It was curious because it was not in a corner, but where you accelerate [from turn 2-3] and so it’s difficult to understand.
“I was not able to accelerate in the same way, so I was losing probably one tenth and a half in that part,” Mir explained. “But I was able to recover in the other parts of the track and at Suzuki we share everything so we’ll look at the data for next weekend.
“What made the difference at the end today was that the medium front tyre becomes more soft when you are behind someone, because the temperature goes high and you feel more tyre movement.
“So when I was in front I started to feel better with the bike. I had probably three tenths more that allowed me to break a little bit away and this was the key.
“I’m happy because today he pushed at the beginning, I didn’t disturb him, I let him make his own race, but when I was able to do it I overtook him and tried to put my pace.”
With runner-up Rins now tied with Petronas Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo for second in the world championship, Mir has even more reason to study his fellow Spaniard’s data ahead of next weekend.
And given the form of the M1s on Sunday (best of 11th) it could well be down to Rins to try and at least delay Mir’s title celebrations – a strange situation for the Suzuki team, which might cause team director Davide Brivio’s heartbeat to rise above the levels shown on TV on Sunday.
“Davide had a heart rate monitor?!” said Mir, who didn’t know his boss had been wearing the device as part of the Dorna TV package.
“How many RPMs?” Mir asked.
Told that it didn’t seem to go over 130, he replied: “130 is not a lot! I expected more. This means we have margin to make the boss suffer a bit more! We have probably 60 RPMs more!”
Joking aside, Mir pledged that he will be more focussed than ever next weekend.
“Now more than ever we have to be really clever because we have a really good advantage in the points, but it’s not done. I think that we are in a good position because our bike is working well.
“Probably if I feel like today, I will try to get the victory also or fight for the victory and don’t think about [the title]. But in the case that I struggle, we will see what I can do.”
‘Real pressure is on people that can’t pay their rent’
Suzuki were already competitive last season, winning two races with Rins while Mir had a best of fifth during an injury-interrupted rookie campaign.
But speed alone won’t win a title and the most impressive aspect of Mir’s current season is not only the way he’s fought back from two early DNFs, but kept an ice cool head in the pressure-cooker environment of title leader for the past two rounds.
“I think we are showing that pressure is not a big problem for us,” Mir said.
“For sure we have pressure. We are playing with our life and we have to be really, really focused in what we do. But in the end it’s our job and luckily I don’t have real pressure, only good pressure.
“Because this year, if I win [the title] it will be super good for me. But if I don’t win, it will be also have been a good year.”
Mir may be an intensely focussed, well-paid motorcycling star, now standing on the brink of achieving a lifelong dream, but the 23-year-old has a commendable awareness for those living outside the (literal) MotoGP bubble.
“Real pressure is on the people that can’t pay their rent because of these conditions, the coronavirus and all of this, and that can’t bring food home,” Mir explained.
“For sure when I hear questions about pressure, I think about that and say, ‘I don’t have pressure. This is my job. I will be super good anyway’. So I’m privileged.”
And don’t expect the race victory to change Mir much.
“I thought that after winning a race I would maybe become a different person,” Mir said at the start of Suzuki’s zoom video call on Sunday evening. “I’m happy as you can imagine, but it looks like I’m just the same person!”
Needing a 26-point lead to seal the title next Sunday, a third place for Mir would suffice even if Rins or Quartararo win the race.