Mir gets one hand on MotoGP title
When Joan Mir won Sunday’s MotoGP race at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, he not only claimed his maiden win in the class, he also saw his lead in the championship standings soar to 37 points and effectively put one firm hand on the 2020 title.
With his title rivals all having weekends to forget, it was the opposite for the Mallorcan – and Suzuki – and with only 50 points now available, the odds on him being crowned champion at the next round in just a few days time have dramatically shortened.
23-year old Mir has clearly been the most consistent rider in this year’s topsy-turvy championship and the only thing missing from a near-impeccable season was a victory.
But he put that right on Sunday with a magical performance to become the ninth different winner of the season and edge ever closer to giving Suzuki their first premier class crown in twenty years.
It was 2000 when the Hamamatsu factory last took the top spot with Kenny Roberts jnr but Mir – in just his second season in MotoGP – only needs 16 more points to follow in the American’s footsteps.
Having qualified on the second row in the difficult damp conditions on Saturday, he made a great start to slot into second place behind his more experienced team-mate Alex Rins and shadowed him until just before half race distance.
A mistake by Rins – a missed gear – was all it needed for him to move to the front and from there on it was nothing short of a master class. It was, essentially, the ride of a World Champion.
To say Mir’s lap times were consistent would be an understatement; they were simply metronomic, within one tenth each lap, and he finally got the win his riding deserved.
Rins finished second to give Suzuki their first premier class 1-2 since Randy Mamola and Virginio Ferrari finished first and second all the way back at the 1982 German GP.
The results also saw Rins move up to joint second in the championship and on current form, it seems almost improbable to see anything other than a Suzuki 1-2 in the final standings at the conclusion of the 15th and final round at Portimao on November 22.
Disaster for Yamaha
Valencia was an undoubted disaster for Yamaha – both on and off the track – and the wheels fell off their title challenge right from the word go when it came to light they’d run with illegal engines at the opening round at Jerez back in August.
Back then, Yamaha replaced a batch of faulty valves in their second batch of engines so differed from those in ‘the seals of a sample engine delivered to the MotoGP Technical Director.’
Subsequently, they were stripped of all of the points accumulated in both the manufacturers and team championship standings from the opening round at Jerez; but crucially, and perhaps, controversially, the riders kept their points to stay in the title hunt.
However, the problems at Jerez and the tightening of the 2020 rules also meant all four riders would have only three engines for the remaining 13 race weekends and would have to try and eke out 1500 miles with each engine rather than the usual 950 miles.
Something was bound to give and at Valencia, it was Maverick Vinales’ engine that cried enough. His Monster Yamaha team had to fit a sixth engine which meant he had to start the race from pit lane, five seconds after the other riders had passed.
That put him out of contention straightaway and all but ended his title aspirations and Fabio Quartararo’s disappeared soon afterwards when he crashed on the opening lap.
The Petronas Yamaha rider did remount but 14th was all he could manage at the chequered flag, one place behind Vinales, the duo disconsolate when they returned to their garage at the conclusion of the race, both riders realising their chances of winning the 2020 MotoGP title had all but vanished.
Valentino Rossi, back after missing the two Aragon GP’s after testing positive for coronavirus, ground to a halt on lap four with fuel pump issues and that just left Aragon 2 winner Franco Morbidelli.
However, his tyre choice of fitting the hard compound Michelin tyres backfired badly and he slid all the way back to 11th, a shadow of the rider who had dominated at Aragon two weekends before.
The only shining light for Yamaha was the performance of American Garrett Gerloff in Friday’s free practice sessions.
Deputising for Rossi whilst the Italian had his final COVID-19 test, Gerloff had never even sat on the bike before the first session but literally took the YZF-M1 by the scruff of the neck and posted some seriously impressive lap times to more than suggest he could make the step across from the World Superbike Championship to the premier class.
KTM continue to impress
Having made only steady progression in their first three years in MotoGP, years which only yielded one podium, it’s fair to say 2020 has been a breakthrough season for KTM.
That podium came for Pol Espargaro in mixed conditions at Valencia in 2018 and the Spaniard was back on the podium at the track this weekend, his fourth third place finish this year which saw him move up to an impressive seventh overall in the Championship, only 19 points adrift of second placed Rins!
Of course, the Austrian manufacturer’s biggest moments came at Brno in the Czech Republic at Brno and their home race at the Red Bull Ring when Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira respectively gave them their much-yearned for MotoGP wins, their first ever wins in the class.
They’ve clearly benefited from having two teams on the grid, to help increase the levels of data and subsequent development, and also from having a clear test programme where they’ve utilised the undoubted skills and talent of a proven MotoGP winner, Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard’s input cannot be underestimated.
The KTM RC16 now works well at all circuits and in all conditions, its speed and handling a match for anything else out on the grid and Espargaro may well be rueing his decision to leave the team and head to Repsol Honda for 2021.
If Valencia was a disaster for Yamaha, it was most certainly a disaster too for the British contingent with all four riders crashing out, Jake Dixon the first to go on Friday when the Moto 2 rider’s hopes of a podium disappeared when he crashed in qualifying and fractured his wrist.
Pole position in Moto 3 for John McPhee and third in qualifying for Moto 2 World Championship leader Sam Lowes lifted spirits on Saturday but they both crashed in their respective races on Sunday, the same fate befalling Cal Crutchlow in the MotoGP race later in the afternoon.
McPhee’s Moto 3 title aspirations are all but over but although Lowes lost his lead, he’s still only six points behind year-long rival Enea Bastianini and still has a great chance of adding the Moto 2 crown to his World Supersport Championship success in 2013 – if he can do that, he’ll be the first British World Champion in the intermediate category since Phil Read almost 50 years ago in 1971.
Crutchlow was an early faller with his injury hit and disastrous season continuing; having already lost his ride with LCR Honda, his MotoGP future remains in the balance.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.