Joan Mir Has Entered the Chat

To anyone walking in on the scene, it’d look like I was about to throw up my last meal and then some, but all I’m doing here is clipping my fingernails. I can hardly believe it, I think to myself (or maybe said aloud, I don’t remember and annoyance clouds the memory). I can hardly believe it because I feel like I just fucking did this like two weeks ago. Unlike hair clippers, I can trust myself to trim my nails — but like a jailed scrivener, I’d really prefer not to.

Before just now, I had no idea about most of the following: That’s the protein keratin you’re gnawing on. The fingernails of young children and pre-puberty tweens grow faster than those of adults; once that hits, growth slows by half unless you’re a pregnant woman, where hormones boost metabolism and increase circulation. If you go through chemo for cancer or catch green nail syndrome (which: maybe it’s time to give the jacuzzi a break), nail growth is liable to slow or even end as your nails fall out. The fingernails on your dominant hand and your longest fingers grow faster than your other nails. They don’t keep growing after death. Coca-Cola can dissolve a fingernail in less than a work week (unconfirmed but strange enough to be believed at face value because why would you lie about this). And for the purposes of my sanity, this last one is important: Fingernails grow somewhere in the range of 3-4mm a year, as much as four times faster than toenails. That doesn’t mean I trim them at that rate, but it’s heartening to know it’s not just me — I was just cutting these damned things, relative to my feet, anyway, and they were all gone and I looked away and the next time I looked down, there they were, grown right back and reaching further, waiting to be noticed.

– – – – –

A few years ago, an acquaintance gifted me a houseplant for my birthday. I can’t find the letter detailing exactly what kind it is just at the moment, though I think it had “weeping” or “hanging” or some such forlorn descriptor affixed to its name. (It was a nerve plant, actually, of course, in fact, that is, how I could I forget, bundled and tense and waiting for someone else.) Second best for a first best. Needs light and light watering. I’ve gone most of the last four years really preferring not to own it, but it’s not the plant’s fault it’s here and I guess I need the greenery to prove not everything in this place is dead, so I keep watering lightly and turning it for even sunshine and keeping it alive in spite of myself, in spite of the weight of looking at it that still never gets easier day in, day out.

Anybody who’s ever been responsible for a plant or even has the vaguest understanding of nature knows that a little water goes a long way. If I wait until the stems droop and the leaves fall and it looks like it’s about to die, then water it (I don’t do this intentionally, but it’s happened while I’ve been out on vacations), then watch, it’s incredible to see how quickly the plant reacts. You can watch it rise, slowly, growing. It’s life-giving to see life given — but if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to look down one minute and back up the next and all of a sudden, hey, look at that, the plant is alive and maybe I am, too. I should really trim these stems, come to think of it.

– – – – –

This might be the most unpredictable MotoGP season I’ve ever experienced, and I lived through 2016. We’re halfway into the year and the world championship point leader has won a single race with just one additional podium (a third place, bottom step, at that) to his credit; nobody has cracked 100 points yet. Six winners have taken seven races, four of them for the first time (the first time that’s happened since 1949, the official first year of the championship). The top four riders are separated by four points. In the void Marc Marquez’s broken arm left behind — and here it’s worth merely pausing to wonder if his otherworldly skill helped bring out the best in his competition, too — a glut of young talent has stepped up to make waking up at ridiculous Sunday morning hours virtually every weekend worthwhile. With seven races in nine weeks still to come, it’s all to play for and every weekend brings out a new story with a new protagonist.

After the Emilia Romagna and Rimini Grand Prix (aka Misano 2), it wasn’t the winner many people had on their lips. Maverick Viñales has been fraught with inconsistency this year and whether he could’ve caught Pecco Bagnaia had the latter not fallen remains a question we’ll never know the answer to. It wasn’t Pol Espargaro in third, either, gifted the place after Fabio Quartararo exceeded track limits. No, most people were curiously eyeing the man in second, a second-year rider and presumably the #2 man at Suzuki behind Alex Rins, a guy who remains winless in 24 starts and technically hasn’t even rode a full season yet.

Even a village idiot could see Joan Mir (no relation to the Soviet submersibles) was going to be special. The Balearic rider was an immediate threat in the junior-to-the-juniors Red Bull Rookies Cup in 2013-14, then stepped up to the all-Spanish CEV Moto3 championship and finished fourth overall in 2015. That year, he got the opportunity to sub for Hiroki Ono for the respected Leopard Racing squad in the Moto3 World Championship round at Phillip Island and was comfortably hanging in there with the midpack runners until a collision with John McPhee ended his race. He was, of course, brought on to the team for 2016 alongside Andrea Locatelli and Fabio Quartararo.

The highly touted Quartararo finished 13th in his second year at Moto3 and Locatelli was ninth, but it was Mir who actually scored a victory among the three and finished fifth overall by year’s end. Partnering Belgian Livio Loi in a return to Leopard in 2017, Mir promptly took 10 wins and beat Romano Fenati by nearly 100 points, the equivalent of four race victories. Loi finished 13th.

His year in Moto2 with the esteemed Marc VDS outfit went a little less smoothly, but he’d done enough with four podiums and a sixth place finished overall at year’s end to merit the attention of Suzuki, which signed him for a song out from under the noses of Honda’s shortsighted management, the latter having snagged a presumably world-beating combination for at least a couple of years to come in Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo.

Mir started off auspiciously with an eighth in Qatar but then alternately crashed or finished out of the points for the next four races as he got to grips with the big 1000cc GSX-RR. It wasn’t the bike’s fault; teammate Rins had finished fourth, fifth, won in Texas to become the first ever non-Marc Marquez winner at the track, second and 10th in France, so Suzuki were clearly working in the right direction. Mir was, too, as it turned out, and he started to gain some momentum after Le Mans, scoring top 12s in the next four races before a crash and a bruised lung kept him away for three races. After returning, he was never out of the points for the remainder of the year. He’d found some measure of consistency and glimmers of promise.

This year started pear-shaped for Suzuki. Rins, earmarked as a potential challenger to Marquez for the championship, broke his shoulder in a Saturday crash for the Spanish GP that kept him out of further proceedings. Mir qualified 10th but got bogged down in midfield at the start, couldn’t get settled despite gaining two positions in the ensuing lap and let the front wash out from him on the second lap. He was classified dead last. Back at Jerez a week later for the Andalusian GP, he again qualified 10th — but this time finished less than eight seconds off Quartararo in fifth. The promise was still there, even if a collision with Iker Lecuona in Brno again had him on the floor two weeks later.

Here are his qualifying and race results since:

Austria: 6, 2
Styria: 3, 4
San Marino: 8, 3
Emilia Romagna and Rimini: 11, 2

This doesn’t really tell the story of how he snuck past Jack Miller on the last lap at Austria or how he was the moral victor of the Styrian GP after running away with the lead before the Zarco/Morbidelli red flag that led to a restart, where he promptly finished in close attendance in fourth. It doesn’t tell how he ran out of laps catching Pecco Bagnaia for second at the first Misano race, or how he made the field look ordinary as he scythed his way through the top 10 for the second one. It doesn’t tell the story that over the last four races, Joan Mir has comfortably outscored the entire field.

Before the start of the year, Suzuki had expected Austria and Misano to be its worst tracks. Mir walked out of Austria with 33 points and was basically unstoppable in Misano. If Suzuki’s other theory that Barcelona and Aragon will be good to them, all Joan needs now is a good grid position. If he can do that, Quartararo’s concern that the Suzuki is perfectly balanced will be well founded and Mir’s laughing response (“I didn’t know they let Fabio ride my bike”) will feel a lot more ominous. The thing rides like a 250, with gobs of midcorner speed, so it’s not easy for others to get by. While everyone else is struggling to get either midcorner speed (Ducati, KTM, Honda) or outright top end down the straights (Aprilia, Yamaha), Suzuki is complaining of too much rear grip, a thing no one does.

What I’m saying is that Joan Mir has crashed out of two races early this year when you could afford to forget him and you might’ve been pleasantly reminded of his existence in Austria, but his rides through the field in Misano are no fluke. Maybe you’ve been looking away at Fabio Quartararo or Andrea Dovizioso or Maverick Viñales. It’s time to look again: Here is Joan Mir, grown and reaching further, waiting to be noticed.

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