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History points to Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar) twisting in this amazing season of MotoGP™ poker. Take the risk the history books may scream out, but this is a truly unprecedented season. Sticking may be the strategy to claim the biggest prize of them all.
Never in the 72-year-old history of World Championship racing has a rider won the premier class without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Only twice in all solo classes has a title been clinched without a victory.
The 23-year-old Spanish Ecstar rider arrives in Valencia with a precious 14-point lead in the Championship with just three rounds remaining. Six podiums, including three second places but no wins have given him the advantage. Eight opponents have won races with two riders grabbing two or more wins, but nobody has matched the consistency of the former Moto3™ World Champion. Mir won 10 Grand Prix in 2017 to clinch the World title with two rounds remaining. It is going to be an awful lot closer this time.
Mir happy to settle for third with the Championship in mind
How ironic, it was the mentor of the all-conquering Marquez brothers who was the last rider to win a World Championship without actually winning a race in the year of his success. Emilio Alzamora was crowned the 1999 125cc World Champion without a Grand Prix win, but consistency and 10 podium finishes in the 16 round title chase paid off.
The final round at Buenos Aires in Argentina summed up the season perfectly. Alzamora rode a brilliant tactical 23 laps to finish second by just 0.219 seconds behind Marco Melandri. It was enough to win him the title by a single point from Melandri who tried every trick in the book to prevent it happening. I wonder where those Marquez brothers learnt such skills.
Four years earlier Alzamora had won the 125cc race in Argentina and a year later was victorious in Assen. The year after his World Championship victory he won in Jerez and Estoril to finish third in the Championship.
It was another Spanish rider ten years earlier who was the first rider to be crowned World Champion without winning a Grand Prix the year of his success. Once again it was second place in the final race of the season that clinched the title. Manuel Herreros finished second to Herri Torrontegui around the Brno Circuit in the very last 80cc race in the World Championship. Riding the Derbi he finished 12 points in front of Stefan Dorflinger who’s Krauser team-mate Peter Ottl had won the three previous rounds before final showdown. Herreros had won two Grand Prix before his World title. In 1986 he won the 80cc race at the West German GP and a year later was a Grand Prix winner in Misano.
20 years ago: Alzamora and Melandri on Argentina 1999
Others have come close with just one win in their Championship season and none more so than Frenchman Jean-Louis Tournadre. He was crowned the 1982 250cc World Champion again by a single point from Toni Mang. He finished fourth at the final round in the race won by Mang at Hockenheim. I remember the one and only Grand Prix win of his career. I was summoned to the motorhome of Barry Sheene in the Nogaro paddock before the start of the 1982 French GP. All the top riders were there including 250cc Championship contenders Mang and Carlos Lavado. The assembled riders asked me to draft a letter to the Nogaro organisers saying they would not ride because the Nogaro circuit was not safe enough for World Championship racing. They duly signed the letter and went home. Tournadre felt obliged to race at his home Grand Prix and won from another Frenchman Jean Francois Balde.
So, twist or stick for Mir in those last three races? That decision depends so much on the performance of his opponents. He may have no choice but to twist.