Mir and Leopard had just completed a solid rookie campaign in Moto3 aboard KTM machinery. He had won a race, taken two further podiums and attracted the admiration of Tom Jojic, then the factory’s overseer of its junior class activities. But he wanted a change.

“He made one race with the Honda in Phillip Island in 2015 because Hiroki Ono wasn’t there,” says Lundberg. “He was fighting for the race win. He immediately loved the bike.

“He never had a good feeling with KTM from the beginning. He won one race in Austria, and he was fast. At the end of the season honestly we were fast with the KTM. Every race he was fighting at the front, and in the last race he was second. At Misano starting from 26th he made third position also.

“But he was loving Honda since 2015 so he asked us to change to Honda. If not, he would have left the team. We made a big effort. We had to buy everything new again. But in the end we were world champions so this was the important thing for us.” And Lundberg was sure to make a considerable investment and follow its rider’s desire? “Absolutely,” he says. “I was convinced from the first time I saw him on one of my bikes. Immediately! Immediately!”

Lundberg found that through 2017 too: “He was sure last season he was faster than everybody. Also he wasn’t afraid of the races. Maybe he started 16th on the grid but he would tell me, ‘Don’t worry. The bike is OK so tomorrow I will do a good race.’ He was really, really confident in himself. In the end, he didn’t really move the bike at all. He was looking at all the partial times on every lap, seeing where he could gain time. Only if there was a very big problem, he wanted to change the bike. He understood the circuit, the bike. It’s much easier to work like this.”

Work ethic

For a rider that has only recently entered his twenties, Mir takes physical preparation very seriously. He spends a lot of time on bikes away from the track, whether it be on supermotards or motocross machines. And with trainer Tomas Comás, with whom he has worked during his entire time in the world championship, by his side, Mir has incorporated yoga into a relentless training regime to increase flexibility – one of the key reasons behind Marc Marquez’s near bionic ability to avoid injury.

“He has a really good training programme,” says Lundberg. “When he’s training on the bike in Palma, he tries the same that Marquez does in MotoGP now. On Friday or Saturday maybe he crashes five times to find the limit but it’s difficult to see him on the floor on Sunday. When Joan’s training he’s always trying to save the front closing, to save the high-side. He’s pushing on the limit his bikes – supermotos, motocross, every bike. This helps.

“Also, he’s going to train with real focus. He’s not having fun. He’s training. Not many riders do this. They are going to have fun and to play with the bikes, but it is not training. Honestly, he really trains.

“He has a great control of the bike. Every time he had a high-side last year, he saved it. [Enea] Bastianini [Leopard Racing’s current Moto3 rider] now three high-sides and three times he was on the floor. He feels the limit much more than every other rider that I had before. The same as Marquez does in MotoGP. Not so many riders are doing this. His way of training is with this goal; to manage really complicated situations on the bike. This helps for sure in Moto2.”

This also helps in those last lap fights. Lundberg again: “This for sure it’s his brain. He can switch the brain and also ride. Not so many can ride on the limit with the brain switched on. He’s able to do this. It’s like multi-tasking. For other riders, when they’re on the limit, they can do nothing else. He was really focussed on the last laps.”

Behaviour

Off the bike, Mir comes across as softly spoken and polite. “He’s one of the most normal people,” says Benson. “He’s like Frankie [Franco Morbidelli, Benson’s rider in 2015 & ‘16] – very easy to get along with. He has a broad knowledge of life and also a good balance in life. As much as he wants to win races, he also has another side to him, where he has good fun and enjoys himself. He’s just an everyday kind of guy with a special talent.”

Temper tantrums are commonplace in grand prix racing. But Lundberg often found a calm head in his garage, even if things weren’t going well. “Sometimes he said, ‘The bike isn’t 100 percent, but leave it like this because I know it very well what it’s doing and for the race I can manage it.’ OK, maybe we had the solution but he didn’t want to change the bike because he knows the bike’s reactions in every moment,” says Lundberg. “It was safer for him to ride this bike than a different one in the race.”

How will he do in 2019?

So how will he get on in MotoGP? Benson is in little doubt: “He’ll adapt. He’s adaptable. He’ll figure it out. If he’s working with some people that will give him good guidance, he’ll figure it out pretty quickly. He’s got good people with him. He’s got a couple of guys that work with him all the time and they’re really, really sharp. He’ll get it figured out pretty quick.

“I think if he keeps improving the way he has been, he probably won’t have a lot to learn by the end of this year,” he says before adding with a smile: “He’ll probably get bored anyway so it’s a good opportunity.”

Lundberg agrees: “MotoGP is difficult and different. He must understand so many things like electronics. But I’m sure he will be there fighting very, very soon. Very soon. We will see. I trust that in two years he will be fighting with the best riders in MotoGP.”

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