Joan Mir admits the pressure is beginning to tell as he closes in on the possibility of becoming MotoGP world champion without winning a race.
With three rounds left, there are still 75 points available. Only 32 points separate the top six after a rollercoaster season truncated by the coronavirus and thrown wide open by the absence of six-time world champion Marc Marquez. The Spaniard hasn’t raced since breaking his arm in the season-opener in Jerez.
Meanwhile, Yamaha has been handed huge point penalties in the constructor and teams championships over an illegal engine valve dating back to that opening Spanish GP.
But they’ve been handed a late boost with star rider Valentino Rossi set to return after testing negative for COVID-19, with the veteran Italian still chasing a milestone 200th podium.
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Yamaha’s hopes of winning the constructors and teams honours suffered a blow on Thursday when they were penalised for “failing to respect the protocol required for technical changes”.
The International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) said the Yamaha company have had 50 world championship constructor points withdraw after an illegal engine was used at the season-opening Spanish GP.
The points deduction equates to double what it earned at the race for Fabio Quartararo’s victory.
Their factory Monster Energy Yamaha outfit have had 20 world championship team points withdrawn (for Maverick Vinales’ second-place finish) and the satellite Petronas Yamaha SRT team lost 37 points.
Yamaha drops from first to third in the constructors championship, with both SRT and Yamaha teams copping points penalties in the teams championship.
However, none of the individual riders were handed points penalties in the world championship race.
“For sure, there is the feeling of a little bit more pressure because the championship is getting older, so every one of us feels like it’s going to finish soon,” said Suzuki rider Mir, who has a 14-point lead over Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo.
“I don’t care about the others, I just care about my feelings. I have a great feeling on the bike.”
He may not have been a race winner, but Mir is the picture of consistency in 2020 with three second places and three thirds from 11 races.
French star Quartararo has three wins to his name in 2020 but the Yamaha satellite rider endured miserable back-to-back races in Aragon in October.
He was a lowly 18th and then eighth in races won respectively by Alex Rins on a Suzuki and Quartararo’s Yamaha teammate Franco Morbidelli.
At the same time, Mir picked up a couple of third-place finishes in a perfect summary of his year so far.
The Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia, just four kilometres in length, hosts the European Grand Prix this weekend followed by the Valencia GP seven days later.
The season will conclude with the Portuguese GP at Portimao on November 22.
“Anything can happen, 75 points in the game,” said Quartararo on Thursday. “I think all of the riders that are here can win the championship easily, we have to stay focused. Race by race is the only way to think about fighting for the title.” Yamaha factory rider Maverick Vinales, whose lone win in 2020 came at Emilia Romagna, is five points behind Quartararo.
He was fourth and seventh at Aragon, losing ground on Mir but closing in on his French rival.
“The last two races haven’t been bad honestly,” said Vinales who competed at Aragon without teammate Valentino Rossi, sidelined by COVID-19.
“Now we have three races where we can enjoy a lot, it’s a track I love and also Portimao is a track I like.”
He added: “Our strategy is very clear: finish ahead of those two guys (Mir and Quartararo). That will be the main strategy to close the gap in the championship.”
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Mir found support this week from Emilio Alzamora, who won the 125cc world title in 1999 without winning a race in the season.
“Sometimes because of the circumstances, you cannot win a Grand Prix but this does not mean you don’t deserve to win the championship,” he told motogp.com.
Despite the points penalties, Yamaha ended Thursday with some welcome news after 41-year-old Rossi returned a negative test for COVID-19.
“Rossi will take this opportunity to fly to Valencia this evening,” said Yamaha in a statement.
“Tomorrow (Friday) he will do a second PCR test and if the result is negative again, he will be able to reunite with the Yamaha MotoGP team and take part in this weekend’s Gran Premio de Europa.”
However, should Rossi test positive on Friday then standby replacement rider Garrett Gerloff will take his place.
Rossi is chasing a record 200th podium after two decades in the sport, stuck on 199 after a difficult 2020 campaign.
His long-term mechanic Alex Briggs told Foxsports.com.au Rossi’s still performing fantastically despite this season’s struggles.
“He is actually riding quite well this year, really well. The bike is working quite good, the team is working okay.
“Things just have not worked out, from crash[es] in races, lots of races where we should have been on a podium.”
Asked if Rossi could notch the milestone this season, he said: “Well we have three shots at it, you never know. You never know, so let’s say 202.”
Watch Fox Sports’ live coverage of the the Grand Prix Europe this weekend from the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Spain on Fox Sports 506 and KAYO.