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.

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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.

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