It did not take long for the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team to realise that they had signed something special, and the weekend after they extended Johann Zarco’s contract with them, he went on and claimed his second podium in his fifth MotoGP race as a rookie, and it turned out to be extra emotional in front of his home crowd.
Front row start for the rookie
Zarco managed a front row start at the Le Mans Bugati Circuit in France after he qualified third alongside the factory Yamaha duo, Movistar Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales on pole and Valentino Rossi in second on the grid.
This itself was incredible, as during Free Practice 3, Zarco missed out on the top 10 as he was down in 15th, and had it not been for a top two finish in Qualifying 1, he would not have had the chance to progress further to Qualifying 2 never mind finishing in third on the grid.
Zarco leads ten corners into the French GP
Prior to the race, stood on the grid whilst they played his national anthem, Zarco seemed incredibly emotional and seemed to absorb each and every note. The Frenchman got a fantastic start and after chasing Vinales through the opening corners, he amazingly became the leader of the French GP when he passed the Spanish factory Yamaha rider at turn 10 of his home track.
The soft compound front and rear Michelin Power Slicks benefited him greatly at the beginning of the race, however they were not to last. He soon found himself under pressure from Vinales again who passed him, and then he fell victim to Rossi later on in the race.
Midway through the race it seemed that Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) had the potential to catch the leaders and contend for a podium, and when Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) crashed out he had a clearer track to build up his momentum, but Zarco had no choice but to sit it out and get to the end of the race in one piece.
Zarco collects extraordinary podium on home ground
Zarco had no choice but to watch on as a battle commenced between the two Movistar Yamaha teammates ahead of him. In the final laps both made a mistake running wide at different parts of the track and rescuing it, but then on the final lap of the 29 race, at turn 11 of the track, nine times world champion Rossi crashed out of the race.
Zarco inherited second position with just three corners of the race to go, and continued on to cross the line safely collecting 20 points and an important podium on his debut ride on home turf as a MotoGP rider. The emotion shone through for the Frenchman who was incredibly happy to claim his best ever MotoGP result, and even more amazingly in just five rounds of joining the elite class, and in France where he has wanted to showcase the sport more to his people.
No wonder they extended his contract…
The man oozes potential. Becoming the first double Moto2 champion as he retained his Moto2 championship title at the end of the 2016 season before progressing up to MotoGP where he has been exemplary so far, leading two races and claiming a second podium in such a period of time shows it will be a mere matter of time before this man is achieving even greater things.
Zarco felt conditions on race day in France were perfect
Afterwards Zarco explained how “the result feels so good” and that although there were “many words that [he] could use” that for him “today had been just great”. He thought that the “conditions were perfect for [him] in the race with the soft tyre” and he thought that it was “fantastic” that he found he was “able to run the pace” that he did and to also “lead a GP again.”
Whilst out there at the front he admitted he “had one flashback of Qatar” in his mind yet he felt “everything was better here than there”. He explained that after Vinales passed him that “from that moment” he was “just happy to stay with him” and knowing “he was fast” he thought that “this was the key for [him] to getting to the podium”.
He noted that “Rossi was also strong” and that it is “a bit complicated to fight in Le Mans because the track is so tight” and so he was thinking that “even third at the time was fantastic”. He also admitted that he thought that “if they fight like that maybe something will happen” and that he “could get a better position” and for him, “this came true”.
The French rookie thoroughly enjoyed his home GP
He said, “My result is super and it was so much fun today.” He mentioned how the “crowd made a lot of noise and there was positive energy”. Although he “didn’t feel it at the time” he spoke of how he realised afterwards that they “brought [him] to the top” and he aimed to “enjoy this moment”.
After the race he explained how he is “a rookie and [he is] not looking at the championship” as for him “the most important thing is to finish the races and collect points”. In Le Mans he collected 20 which he said is “fantastic”.
He said, “I am living in the present and enjoying every round”, and so he finished up thinking “if this second place gives [him] a good advantage in the standing, then [he] will take it.”
Zarco’s 20 points at the French GP means that he now sits fifth in the championship just three points behind 2016 MotoGP champion Marquez, with 58 points. Rossi and Marquez collected DNFs in Le Mans, allowing the French rookie to close right up to them. Vinales is leading the championship with 85 points, 17 ahead of Pedrosa in second with 68 points.