While Johann Zarco is out in Japan, testing the Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP bike, the 2017 MotoGP rider line up is starting to solidify further. Ironically, it is looking like Johann Zarco will not be the rider Suzuki selects to pilot its factory MotoGP bike alongside Andrea Iannone.
Team boss Davide Brivio is in Japan along with the test team to finalize their plans for 2017. At Barcelona, Brivio admitted to MotoMatters.com that he would be going to discuss Suzuki's choice of rider for next year. The Italian acknowledged that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins were under discussion, and though he declined to state a preference, he did say "It's clear what our choice is."
The announcement that both Aleix Espargaro and Alex Rins will be in the pre-event press conference in Assen is a further sign that an announcement is imminent. The most likely outcome is that Aleix Espargaro will announce he will be joining Sam Lowes in the Gresini Aprilia team next year, Aprilia dropping both of their current riders. Espargaro had multiple offers on the table – including at least one from a factory team in World Superbikes – but appears to have gone for a factory ride in MotoGP.
That leaves the field open for Alex Rins. The Spaniard has been the hot ticket for MotoGP teams, with several teams chasing the Moto2 rider's signature. Rins has made it clear throughout that his preference was to sign with a factory team, despite having the offer of a seat at Tech 3 with a contract directly with Yamaha. Rins is also a more exact replacement for Maverick Viñales, taking on the role of the fast young rookie from Viñales, who is departing for the Movistar Yamaha team.
So what of Johann Zarco? The Frenchman is still holding out some hope of a factory ride with Suzuki, but the omens are not good. The contract he has with Suzuki is to test the GSX-RR MotoGP bike, and then to race the Suzuka 8 Hours for the Hamamatsu factory. There are no guarantees of a seat in the factory MotoGP team for 2017.
That probably leaves Zarco at Tech 3. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss Hervé Poncharal has made no secret of his interest in Zarco, and having a French rider in a French team would be a logical match. There is no sign of Zarco reaching a deal with Tech 3 yet, however. That is likely to come after the announcement that Suzuki have signed Alex Rins.
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