From the Blog

Who is Johann Zarco?

photo courtesy of MotoGp

It is impossible to have a conversation about MotoGp at the moment without someone bringing up the name of Johann Zarco. Indeed, he is probably the  most talked-about figure in the sport right now and that is hardly surprising.

Since bursting into the senior ranks last year and leading his first ever MotoGp race in Qatar the likeable Frenchman has made waves almost every weekend he has raced. Students of the sport are, of course, not surprised having watched his progress up through the ranks on his way to becoming the first (and so far, only) rider to win 2 Moto2 World Championships. Oh, and the most successful Frenchman in Grand Prix racing as well. So, a quick “potted” bio.

Johann was born in Cannes, in France, in 1990 so he is presently 27 years old, quite old to be just breaking in to the senior ranks compared to most these days. He raced mini bikes as a teenager and in 2007 he won the Red Bull Rookies Cup. He raced in the 125cc World Championships from 2009 to 2012 when he graduated to the Moto2 championship finishing the year as the top rookie. In 2013 he finished 9th in the championship and in 2014 he finished 6th.

In 2015 he rejoined the Ajo team he had raced a 125 for and rewarded them for their confidence by winning the Moto2 title. (8 wins, 14 podiums, 7 pole positions and a record points haul of 352 points). While many felt that there was little left for him to prove and a move to MotoGp was the logical next step, he managed his own career and decided to stay in Moto2 for another year. It was a dismal year for all other riders in the class as the popular Frenchman blitzed the class again, winning 7 races, putting the bike on pole 7 times and taking 10 podiums for a total of 276 points.

But it wasn’t just the figures that were impressive. For the most part he appeared to be “on rails” enjoying a huge superiority over his rivals. And, when it rained, it was even worse for them. Zarco perfected the “last gasp” pole position, often putting in the fastest time of qualifying after the chequered flag had fallen, a demoralising scenario for his rivals. In one of the final rounds, on a damp track, he waited till the very last lap of qualifying then put in his usual “blinder” to snatch pole and be TWO AND A HALF SECONDS faster than his nearest rival.

As a Frenchman it was always likely that he would end up at TECH III, the French owned and run satellite team of Yamaha, and that’s how it worked out. As noted, he immediately put the rest of the riders in the class on notice, leading his maiden GP before crashing out. What followed was a stellar maiden season. He finished 2nd at his home GP at Le Mans and scored his first pole at Assen. At the end of the season he was in 5th place in the championship and was named Rookie of the Year.

He has continued his sparkling form in 2017 and constantly features in the lead group, despite riding a year-old bike. He has finished 2nd twice in the four races run so far and is presently sitting in 2nd place on the championship ladder.

But these are merely figures, what matters is how Zarco goes about his racing. He has shown himself to be totally unintimidated by the riders of greater reputation than his and isn’t afraid to “mix it” in the rough and tumble of racing. Indeed, some feel that his style is a bit too aggressive but he is getting the job done. AND he is getting it done as the solo rider in his team, his team-mate, Jonas Folger, having to sit out 2018 due to illness. TECH III have hired the Malaysian rider Syahrin as Folger’s replacement but he is an absolute rookie, is in way over his head right now and cannot really be relied upon to provide the useful second set of testing data that two-rider teams have come to expect. So the results that Zarco is getting are almost totally down to him. As noted before, the bike is last year’s model (albeit with help from the Yamaha factory) but Zarco is humiliating the two Yamaha factory riders, constantly outpointing both Vinales and Rossi despite them being on 2018 latest-spec bikes.

Unsurprisingly there have been loud calls for Rossi, at 39, to retire and allow Zarco the prime factory seat but he has already made it known that that isn’t going to happen so Zarco has again shown his willingness to manage his own career path and has signed for KTM for 2019-2020. The fact that Yamaha has cast TECH III adrift after years of faithful service to the marque has no doubt influenced his decision.

So next year will see Zarco on a factory KTM as the lead rider with the brief to bring the orange bikes to the front of the pack. Many have questioned the wisdom of this decision but there is every reason to expect that his unerring ability to make the right choices will be proven again. He will be #1 rider on a factory team with access to KTM and Red Bull’s not inconsiderable resources. He will be able to continue the excellent development work that has been done by Kallio and Espargaro and I expect to see KTM win at least one MotoGp race next season.

As an unashamed Johann Zarco fan I am relishing seeing what he will do in 2019. In the mean time I hope he continues to stick it to the factory Yamaha team in 2018 and finish the season as the top Yamaha rider.