MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Is Zarco complètement gaga?
Johann Zarco is one of MotoGP’s most talented riders, but he’s signed with a factory that hasn’t come close to the podium, let alone victory. Has the Frenchman lost his mind?
The normal trajectory for an up-and-coming MotoGP superstar goes something like this: prove your talent in Moto2 or show your skill aboard a so-so MotoGP bike, sign with a winning factory, then become MotoGP world champion.
Johann Zarco’s MotoGP stock couldn’t be higher than it is right now: the Frenchman is a front-row and podium regular on a second-hand motorcycle that was designed for the 2015 season, to work with Bridgestone tyres and tailormade factory electronics. And yet despite all this he might just become the first privateer premier-class world champion in the 70-year history of Grand Prix racing.
So how come Zarco has done a deal with a MotoGP factory that has yet to come within a quarter of a mile of winning a MotoGP race?
The closest KTM came to victory in its rookie MotoGP season was 14 seconds behind Marc Márquez at Aragón last September. So far this year, the RC16’s average deficit to the winner has been 29sec. And KTM isn't only seconds behind; it is years behind. The company has been racing in MotoGP for 18 months, compared to Yamaha which has been in the premier class for 45 seasons, while Honda and Suzuki have been there for 40 seasons each and Ducati for 17. KTM’s four main competitors have won a total of 645 races in the 500cc and MotoGP classes.
In other words, the Austrian marque has a huge mountain to climb. KTM is barely in the foothills of the MotoGP world championship; it has merely established its basecamp. In the far distance, partly obscured by clouds, is the summit it plans to conquer.
So does Zarco really believe he can win on KTM’s RC16?
“I hope so,” he told me at Jerez. “My coach trusts that it’s a good bike and he trusts that KTM can develop the bike a lot. He also trusts that if I get on the bike that I can push it to the limit. I don’t think too much and analyse what KTM are doing now. I will see when I try the bike in in November…”
Zarco’s coach is Laurent Fellon, a former racer and tuner who became the youngster’s mentor and manager 11 years ago when the teenager loaded up his 50cc scooter and rode 150 miles to live at the Fellon household, where racing is everything.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.