JOHANN ZARCO TOP ROOKIE, TOP BLOKE
We caught up with MotoGP rider and rookie of the year Johann Zarco to get his take on what looked like an unequivocally awesome first season in Moto GP.
If MotoGP had you glued to your screens this season, like it did all of us here at Fast Bikes, then this man needs no introduction. But for those less familiar with the blue ribbon class of motorcycle racing, this here is Frenchman Johann Zarco who, after bagging back-to-back Moto2 championship wins in 2015 and 2016, signed for the independent Tech3 Yamaha Team and moved up to MotoGP for the 2017 season. But he didn’t just move up, he stepped up. He lead the first handful of laps in his first ever MotoGP race and despite crashing out of the lead in Qatar, went on to fight for the win on numerous occasions, bagging fantastic results including a 2nd at Le Mans and a repeat spectacle at 2017’s Valencia round finale.
With thanks to our friends at Shark and Furygan, who also happen to be Zarco’s sponsors, we snuck behind the scenes at Motorcycle Live and elbowed ourselves into his tight schedule for a quick chat. We got the ball rolling by getting his take on 2017.
“This year I got better results than I expected. Our main target was to be rookie of the year and I got that, but I got it in a very nice way. I was the first independent rider, was able to lead races, stand on the podium and battle for race wins. That is the best way, I love it. It’s really the way I want to race. I started the season well and I was happy for that but I was more happy about the way I finished the season. In my last four races I was so competitive for the full weekend; this is the best thing for me because it prepares me really well for the next season.”
It was clear that despite an awesome start to the season Johann felt much stronger towards the end, as though he had really got to grips with riding a MotoGP bike. We asked him how hard it was to adapt to the bigger and faster machinery in the early rounds, after hopping off a Moto2 machine.
“They are very different so it was a surprise for me to lead the first six laps of the Qatar race. That was a special moment; I saw the opportunity to lead the race and I took it. Unfortunately I crashed and I was disappointed when I was in the gravel, but a few days later I could see that there were positives to take from my performance in my first MotoGP. For example it gave me confidence that I could ride the bike fast and have good pace, but also that you must have more respect for the bigger bike. You cannot ride it like a Moto2 bike.”
Wise words, but what else would you expect from a man who’s bagged back-to-back world championships? A feat that is unlikely to happen again for a very long time, as most newMoto2 class champs step up into the premier class without any hesitation. But that wasn’t the case for Zarco, who explained he’d been in no rush to take a duff ride.
“First of all, if I jumped to MotoGP a year sooner it wouldn’t have been on a bike I wanted, and thinking about it now it probably was too soon anyway. I learnt so many things in Moto2 on the way to my second title, not just about riding the bike but how to control a GP race. I'm so pleased I was able to get the second title, but even if I wasn’t the champion at the end of 2016, I would have still learnt the same things. Winning races in 2016 taught me how to really push and now after such a good 2017 season I can see how much that has helped me.”
With numerous other Moto2 riders making the step up into MotoGP for 2017, including Brit Sam Lowes, Spaniard Alex Rins and
German Jonas Folger, the questioned begged was whether Zarco thought this was to his advantage, or whether it piled on the pressure to push to become the rookie of the year?
“It was good to move up with all the other riders from Moto2 because it was like we all had our own mini championship. It’s great because you have something to compare yourself to immediately. Having Jonas Folger as my team mate and on the same bike really pushed me. At the beginning of the year I knew I had to be in the top ten to be rookie of the year, and the Jonas pushed me so hard that it meant being top 10 was no longer good enough; I needed to finish in the top six. That was tough but once you fight with the top guys for podium positions in MotoGP things get even more tough. You have to learn the ways of guys that you have never raced with before like Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Valentino. I think I have learnt how to race these guys now and I know how to manage a race with them. This is very important.”
Fast as he proved, Zarco also picked up a reputation for being a bit rash at times, with Rossi going as far as to publicly brand him dangerous. But did Johann perceive such comments as factual or just bitter retorts to beating the big boys?
“I think it’s more that they don’t like the way I am pushing them. Maybe the way I was at the beginning of the year they say it is too much ‘this is not Moto2, you cannot ride like that in the MotoGP category’, but since the Philip Island race I reached a level and they say ‘okay we are fighting together but we are at the same level’. There was a group of us together for the whole race in Australia and we were all overtaking a lot, and from that point I felt that in their eyes, but most importantly of all in the eyes of Valentino, that this is the MotoGP way and you are racing it in the way we are racing. I felt part of them now and since that race I am really confident that I have been accepted as a top MotoGP rider. In Valencia the great thing was with the reputation I got during the season Marques didn’t dare to stay in front of me so I was able to lead 26 laps. He thinks ‘Johann behind is too much trouble’. I never got penalties so I was not breaking any rules, I was just maybe taking them to the limit, but for me I think it is a good reputation to have.”
And on that note, our interview came to an abrupt end, as a man with a headset and clipboard whisked him away in the direction of the main stage where an increasingly impatient James Whitham was waiting to grill him in front of hundreds of Motorcycle Live goers. As we didn’t get the chance to properly wish him luck for the 2018 MotoGP season, and I’m guessing Johann is probably a Fast Bikes subscriber (if he isn’t, then he should be), I think this would be a perfect opportunity to do so; so if you’re reading this Johann, good luck next season, let ’em have it! In all seriousness though, Zarco really will be one to watch in 2018. He has shown what he is capable of in his rookie year and with a shed load more experience and armed with a bike Rossi considered better than his own, he is only going to be more competitive. Will he achieve his first MotoGP race win in 2018? I bet you a pint he does.
Zarco had to push hard to be rookie of the year in 2017. : R O B G R AY/ P O L A RI T Y W O R D S : B O O T H Y IMA G E S
Zarco remains with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 MotoGP team for 2018.
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Johann’s reputation meant the other riders felt much safer behind him.