Joan Mir: MotoGP’s Jekyll and Hyde


Why razor-sharp Mir and the Suzuki make easy meat of their rivals

Joan Mir, Suzuki MotoGP 2020

Mir and the GSX-RR in full attack mode at Misano


The 2020 MotoGP world championship is the year of the new kid on the block, with three first-time winners so far and a title challenger who only scored his first MotoGP podium last month.

Joan Mir’s stellar performances at the last four races – two seconds, a third and fourth – mark him out as the only rider with any real consistency and therefore the current title favourite in this topsiest-turviest of seasons, especially considering the fact that Suzuki had marked the Red Bull Ring and Misano as its bogey tracks of the truncated championship

Watching Mir and his Suzuki GSX-RR sweeping around a racetrack reminds me of something – 250 GP bikes.

In my opinion, the final decade of 250 GPs produced the finest racing motorcycles known to man. Those sublime two-stroke twins had 100 horsepower and weighed 100 kilos, so they were perfectly balanced and they allowed riders to do things they wouldn’t dare with other motorcycles.

At some circuits the 250s got close to the fastest 500 times, just because they could get into and through the corners so much faster than the doubly powerful 500s: rapier blades against battle axes.

Mir looks like he’s riding a 250 when he’s aboard the GSX-RR, not a 280-horsepower, 160-kilo four-stroke. He appears to be sat inside the bike, not on top of it, and he attacks corners with the kind of speed and commitment that made 250s so special. He is razor-sharp especially on corner entry, which is where he makes easy meat of his rivals.

I’m not the only one who sees the GSX-RR as a kind of MotoGP 250. That’s exactly what Aleix Espargaró thought when he rode the bike in its first two seasons, 2015 and 2016.

“The chassis is unbelievable!” the Spaniard told me back in 2016. “It’s like a 250: you can go as fast as you want into a corner and the bike turns more and more. It lets you turn where you want, lets you brake really late and lets you ride really aggressively.”

KTM rider Pol Espargaró, who Mir passed in the closing stages of Sunday’s race, is also impressed by the Suzuki, which is so rider-friendly that it allows riders to constantly flirt with the limit, a huge advantage over race distance.

“When I ride behind that bike – f**k! – it’s incredible the amount of mistakes those guys can make and still come back on line and still be able to play with the motorcycle. That’s really hard on a V4 – you make one mistake and you suffer for the next two corners.”

World championship leader Andrea Dovizioso sees the GSX-RR as the polar opposite of his Ducati Desmosedici.

“That bike is so balanced,” said the Italian at Misano. “From the outside it looks like it’s a bit easier compared to the other bikes to be consistent for the whole race, so at the end of races they are really fast because they use the tyre a bit less, so they can keep their speed. And for sure Mir is a very big talent,”

Joan Mir, Suzuki MotoGP 2020

Mir with crew chief Frankie Carchedi


Ever since 2015 Suzuki has kept the faith in creating a finely balanced, rider-friendly inline-four that has what it takes to beat the fire-breathing V4s, using superior cornering performance to overcome superior straight-line performance.

Mir’s ride on Sunday was spectacular. He started on the fourth row and spent the first laps slicing his way through the pack. By half-distance he was fifth, 7.1sec behind the race leader. By the end he was second, 2.4sec behind the leader, so if he hadn’t lost so much time in the early stages he would’ve had something for Maverick Viñales and Pecco Bagnaia.

He had it all: speed, commitment, consistency and that razor-sharp blade for attacking other riders.

In other words, all he needs to do is improve his speed in qualifying.

Last month at Red Bull Ring, Mir qualified on the second and first rows and was in the lead group in both races. And he is confident he can get closer to the front of the grid this weekend at Barcelona.

The only problem Mir and his GSX-RR have is too much rear grip, which of course is at its worst in qualifying, with new tyres. Too much grip at the rear creates a traction imbalance with the front, which causes difficulties in corner entry and exit.

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Braking into corners the rear tyre grips so well that bike balance shifts too far back, so the front tyre doesn’t grip properly, so the rider can’t turn the bike.

Accelerating out of corners, the rear tyre grips so well that once again bike balance shifts too far back so the front tyre barely touches the asphalt, so it can’t steer the bike.

“Joan finds it very difficult to get the rear tyre to spin because it’s got so much grip, which effectively just pushes the bike off the track,” says Mir’s crew chief Frankie Carchedi. “It gets better as the race goes on, so we need to find a better equilibrium so it’s a bit better at the start of races.”

“I’m quite proud of him for his Misano ride because it isn’t an easy place to overtake and he passed riders at lots of different corners: Turns One, Two, Ten and 14.”

Mir’s latest result makes him the highest-scoring rider of the last four races: 69 points against Dovizioso’s 53, Viñales’ 41 and Fabio Quartararo’s 24. The 23-year-old now stands fourth overall, one point behind Viñales and Quartararo and four behind Dovizioso. And he would almost certainly be leading the championship if he hadn’t been taken out by Iker Lecuona at Brno.

“There are two sides to Joan, like Jekyll and Hyde,” added Carchedi. “There’s the super-fast, aggressive side and then there’s the softer side, which is what we’ve been working on – looking after tyres and managing races. He’s getting better and better at that and then every now and again you’ll see him unleash himself when he needs to be aggressive.

Joan Mir, Suzuki MotoGP 2020

Mir has scored three podiums and more points than anyone else at the last four races


Mir’s speed and consistency are amazing considering his lack of experience. He only started GPs in 2016, dominating the Moto3 championship at his second attempt, then a year in Moto2 and into MotoGP last season. Compare that to Dovizioso, who’s been in GPs since 2002, Viñales who’s been around since 2011 and Quartararo who started one year earlier in 2015.

“The thing you’ve got to remember with Joan is that he’s still learning,” continued Carchedi. “We try to be really well prepared for every race, by watching previous races to see how people ride and the lines they use. Suzuki always works on improving the whole package of the bike, keeping it balanced, and they’ve created a decent package for 2020. But it’s Joan that’s made the big step.”

“I’m feeling quite positive about the next races, starting with Barcelona. Then Aragon is probably Joan’s favourite track and he was very fast at Valencia last year.”

Mir is ready for the second half of the 14-round season.

“Everything starts now,” he said at Misano. “I feel great with the bike. The Suzuki has a really good balance and more or less works everywhere. Also, I made one click in my mind after my first podium [at the Austrian GP], which has helped me to fight for the podium at every race. I’m not looking at the championship now, but let’s see if we can keep this consistency to the last race.”

Suzuki and Mir go to Barcelona full of optimism. Last year, the team had one of its best results at the track: Rins fourth and Mir sixth, his second-best result of an injury-blighted rookie season. And the GSX-RR headed the top-speed chart, with Rins quickest at 213.1mph and Mir third, thanks in part to the high-speed corner that precedes the straight.

“On paper I expect better at Barcelona than in Austria and at Misano,” Mir added. “But this year with different tyres and everything you never know. Only from FP1 will I start to understand how I can fight in Sunday’s race. The main goal is we need to start from the first two rows if we want to take the next step and fight for victory.”

Mir’s recent form gives him a great chance to score his first MotoGP victory at Barcelona and take the championship lead. On the other hand, considering the wildly erratic nature of MotoGP 2020, anything could happen.