Round four of the 2020 season, in Austria, was the turning point that set Joan Mir and Suzuki on course for an historic MotoGP title triumph.
Mir came into the Red Bull Ring event having scored just 11 out of a possible 75 points after DNFs in two of the opening three races, leaving him 14th in the world championship standings.
But a debut MotoGP podium in the opening Austrian race gave Mir provided the missing dose of calmness and self-belief.
“It feels strange to think that after the first races of this 2020 season I was well behind the top riders in the classification, and now we’re celebrating the title. The season was so relentless with so many rounds close together, so it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Mir wrote in his Suzuki blog.
“Austria this year was a real turning point: I was really putting pressure on myself to get a podium and when it finally happened it was a huge relief – I had been bottling-up the tension inside myself and all of that was finally released when I stood on that podium.
“Once I had proven what I was capable of, it gave me a more relaxed and balanced feeling on the bike. If you asked me to pinpoint the secret to my success, I would say this: I always set a target and then once I hit it my hunger just gets bigger and bigger and I just can’t get enough of chasing my objective.”
The Red Bull Ring podium was the first of seven for Mir over the final eleven rounds, including a Valencia victory, consistency that even his more experienced rivals couldn’t match and the title was settled in the Spaniard’s favour with one round still to go.
While Mir has long been seen as a potential MotoGP star – hence the Suzuki-Honda-Ducati offers, while still a Moto2 rookie, in early 2018 – his debut premier-class season didn’t go to plan.
Mir scored points in just one of his opening five MotoGP races then, just as he was getting into his stride, suffered lung injuries in a massive testing accident due to a technical failure at Brno.
While Mir only missed two races, he was still experiencing breathing difficulties as late as the penultimate Malaysian round.
“Another reason that this season’s success feels so incredible is not just the struggles of the year in general with the terrible Covid-19 crisis, but also the troubles I had last year,” said the 23-year-old.
“When I think back to the crash I had in Brno I still re-live that same feeling of my breath being taken away, it was so scary. The crash itself and the injury was a tough moment, but the recovery was also very long and hard.”
Mir took a best race result of fifth last season, leaving him overshadowed by fellow newcomer Fabio Quartararo, who charged to seven podiums and Rookie of the Year honours.
While Quartararo won the opening pair of rounds this season, Mir’s momentum saw him take the points lead at Aragon (round 11 of 14), remaining on top for Suzuki’s first world title since 2000.
“Seeing my face amongst all the historic Champions of Suzuki is something magical and it makes me feel very honoured and proud,” Mir said. “All of us at Team Suzuki Ecstar are a part of history now, the history of an underdog company who came to MotoGP to challenge the biggest teams and finally…. WON!”
Renowned for his braking skills since his title-winning days in Moto3, Mir also revealed an interesting characteristic of riding the victorious GSX-RR; a long wheelbase gives excellent stability in the fast corners, but ‘you really have to make it turn’.
“I still remember my first experience with the GSX-RR: the speed was impressive, but the braking was something else! The stopping power really surprised me,” said the 23-year-old.
“And the bike itself is very long, much longer than a standard bike, to give better stability in fast corners, so you really have to make it turn, but this year we managed to find good traction, which helped a lot.
“The GSX-RR is a really complete and balanced bike, and it won the title with me thanks to this and its adaptability to all tracks and conditions. In such a strange year, consistency was going to be the key for success, and that’s what we managed to do.”
The published wheelbase figure for the GSX-RR is 1457mm, which compares with 1,420 for the GSX-R1000 Superbike.