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.
How will Johann Zarco go on the Honda as he returns to MotoGP?
The Frenchman is on his way to Phillip Island with his brand-new Alpinestars LCR Honda leathers. So is this judgement day for Johann Zarco?
Johann Zarco expected to watch MotoGP’s final few races from the comfort of his sofa in the south of France. Now, thanks to Takaaki Nakagami’s troublesome right shoulder injury – sustained at Assen when he got sideswiped by Valentino Rossi – he will spend the last three races sat somewhat less comfortably on the Japanese rider’s 2018-spec LCR Honda.
Before we wonder how Zarco will fare on the RC213V, we should ask why this is necessary. Why is Nakagami going under the knife when the 2019 championship isn’t over?
The Japanese – who undergoes surgery in Tokyo this week – is a victim of the ever-growing MotoGP season.
Thirty years ago Grand Prix racing’s 1989/1990 off-season lasted 27 weeks, plenty of time for riders to get fixed up by surgeons for the next season. Even ten years ago MotoGP’s winter of 2009/2010 lasted 23 weeks. This year’s offseason lasts only 15 weeks, between Valencia on November 17 and Qatar on March 8.
Of course, a rider’s winter is considerably shorter than that with postseason and preseason testing, hence Nakagami’s decision to skip three races to give him an extra three weeks to recover before the opening 2020 test in February.
This isn’t ideal. Motorcycle riders get hurt, it’s the inevitable downside of their job, so most of them have physical issues that need addressing at the end of each season: an op to fix an injury or an op to remove metalwork from an old injury. It’s almost like a queue forms outside the surgery of MotoGP’s go-to surgeon Xavier Mir’s as soon as riders park their bikes at the end of each year.
But what’s bad for Nakagami is good for Zarco. The Frenchman has had a horrible 2019. Mentally broken by KTM’s RC16, he told factory bosses he would leave the team at the end of the year. On the eve of last month’s Aragon GP, those same bosses sacked him with immediate effect.
At the worst, Zarco’s MotoGP career could be over. Thus, this LCR Honda ride is a lifeline, which may keep him on the grid if he’s able to show flashes of his old brilliance at three circuits where he’s always gone well.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.