Johann Zarco

2017 Le Mans Sunday Round Up: An Age Of Champions

It sucks being the best rider in the world. Just as you believe you have everything under control and can dominate your rivals, along comes some jumped up kid with ideas above his station, determined to administer a king-sized kicking to your behind. That kid has answers to all the tricks you learned to use to beat your rivals, and now you have to reinvent yourself, push harder than you wanted just to stay in the game.

Back in 1998, for example, a cocky Italian swaggered into the 500cc class and threatened the supremacy of Mick Doohan. Doohan finished Max Biaggi off at the end of that year, but he had to dig deep. After Doohan retired, another cocky Italian took his place to rough Biaggi up, just as the Roman Emperor thought he owned the premier class. After a string of titles, Valentino Rossi, the cocky Italian in question, found himself facing a couple of rookies giving him real trouble. Casey Stoner beat him at the second time of asking in 2007, then Jorge Lorenzo took the fight to him inside Rossi's own team, getting the better of him in 2010.

Just as Lorenzo was settling in to take what he considered as his rightful place atop the MotoGP pile, along came a cheeky-faced Spanish youngster on a record-breaking spree, winning his second race and the title at his first attempt. After winning two titles in a row, then an impressive third last year, Marc Márquez suddenly finds himself grappling with an improbably fast Yamaha rider with steel in his soul and the name of a warrior (albeit a fictional one). And in addition to Maverick Viñales, Márquez has to contend with Johann Zarco, who has sprung from Moto2 like a jack-in-the-box, scaring the living daylights out of the regulars.

This is the circle of racing. Every racing series is in a state of permanent revolution, where the newcomers dream up new ways of usurping the established riders, and the old guard have to adapt or die. The moment you get comfortable is the moment your era has passed. The ultimate reward for being top dog is to ride around with a massive target on your back.

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Zarco's Brilliance, Rossi's Non-Retirement, And Miller's Mental Fortitude

It has been a tough weekend for a lot of people at Le Mans. The weather has done just about everything to confound and perplex the riders, conditions changing every session. Friday went from wettish to very wet, Saturday went from drying to almost completely dry. There hasn't been a single session of stable weather with a consistent and unchanging track.

That has caused a lot of problems, especially in MotoGP, shaking up the qualifying system based around the combined times through all three free practice sessions. For the fans, though, it's been fantastic, producing two of the most exciting qualifying sessions we have seen for a while. Tricky conditions in free practice put Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, and local hero Johann Zarco into Q1, producing fireworks in the battle for who gets through to Q2. Then, in Q2, the battle happened all over again, this time in a straight up slugfest for the front row. That went right down to the wire, the first three safe only once the dust had settled.

The weather reignited the debate over MotoGP's qualifying system, a common complaint among several riders, and also a regular topic at the Safety Commission, the meeting where riders and organizers gather to discuss how to make racing safer. Andrea Dovizioso voiced the concern on Saturday, despite having made it through Q1 and into Q2. "It’s really stressful, these rules for everybody because every practice has to be a qualifying," the Ducati rider said. "You have to be in the top 10 because the weather can change."

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Preview: Rough Nights, More Grip, And Hayden In Our Hearts

There are few circuits on the calendar whose names ring so loudly through the annals of history as that of Le Mans. Only Assen, the Isle of Man, and Indianapolis are as inextricably associated with motor sports as Le Mans is. Like Indy, though, Le Mans is more associated with four wheels than with two. The 24h Du Mans endurance race is truly one of the landmark events of the motor sports year.

The glamor of that event rubs off on the 24-hour motorcycle race as well. That race is arguably the biggest race on the FIM EWC endurance calendar, and victory there adds extra shine to any rider's record. It is a highlight not just of the endurance racing year, but on the motorcycle racing calendar, marking the rhythm of the racing season as loudly as Jerez, Assen, the Isle of Man TT, Mugello, Phillip Island.

It sets a high bar for the French Grand Prix at Le Mans to live up to. Despite the deep and entrenched love of endurance racing in France, and especially at Le Mans (they have a 24-hour event for everything there, a taxi driver once told me: 24-hour car, bike, truck, and mountain bike race, 24-hour literary festival, even a 24-hour tiddlywinks competition), more spectators flock to the Le Mans circuit for MotoGP than for the 24-hour race. Last year, over 99,000 attended.

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2017 Le Mans MotoGP Preview Press Releases

Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin ahead of the French Grand Prix:


Movistar Yamaha MotoGP set to come out fighting in France

Setup

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP‘s Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales have recharged their batteries after the Spanish GP and the Official MotoGP Jerez Test and are ready to continue challenging during the Grand Prix de France staged at the Le Mans Bugatti Grand Prix race circuit this Sunday.

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Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Vive le Zarco!

Finalement, France has someone to cheer in MotoGP. Rookie Johann Zarco has lit up the 2017 season and will be going all-out at Le Mans this weekend

MotoGP has never seen anything like it; at least not since Marc Márquez arrived in 2013. Two weeks ago at Jerez, reigning Moto2 champion Johann Zarco rode the first few laps like he was the king and the rest were rookies. He charged past Valentino Rossi (twice), Cal Crutchlow, Maverick Viñales, Andrea Iannone and Márquez in just a few laps, finding gaps where others could find none.

“Zarco reminds me of me when I arrived in MotoGP,” grins Márquez. “He is really aggressive, he pushes to the limit and sometimes he nearly crashes. This is the way to learn, you need to push, so he’s working in a good way.”

Zarco’s pace and bravery at Jerez were magical and will bring tens of thousands of French fans to Le Mans. It’s about time France had someone to cheer in the class of kings. During 69 years of Grand Prix racing the nation has won only three races in the premier class – that’s an average of one victory every 23 years. Compare that to 230 victories by Italians, 154 by Americans, 137 by Britons and 135 by Spaniards.

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Guest Video Blog: Freddie Spencer's Rider Insights - Jerez

MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. Every week after each MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.

In this edition of Freddie Spencer's video blog on MotoGP, the former 500 and 250 world champion gives his view of events at Jerez. Spencer explains the difficulty of racing at Jerez, given the changing levels of grip at the circuit. He gives his view of the crashes involving Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow.

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2017 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Fast Hondas, Deceptive Yamahas, Losing Winglets, and Orange Elation

Coming into the weekend of Jerez, we knew several things to be absolute certainties. 1. Jerez is a Yamaha track. 2. Ducati always does terribly at Jerez. And 3. The Hondas will struggle against the might of the Yamaha. After qualifying, a swift dose of reality has flushed those preconceptions out of our systems, showing them up for the fallacies that they are.

After qualifying at Jerez, we have an all Honda front row. Two Yamahas start from the second row, but their performance during both qualifying and free practice was far from convincing. The first Ducati sits on the third row, but during practice, Jorge Lorenzo made the Desmosedici GP17 fly, finishing second in FP3 and fourth in FP4.

Where did this shake up come from? The issue is mainly one of grip. After the rain on Friday, there is very little rubber on the track, and the warmer track temperatures has made Jerez its normal, greasy self. The Yamahas perform well when grip is high, whether that be in warmer or cooler temperatures. Extra grip merely helps the RC213V want to wheelie, something for which it needs little encouragement anyway. Robbed of its winglets, the Ducati needs extra rear grip to get good drive out of corners, and exploit its strongest point.

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2017 Jerez MotoGP Thursday Notes: Aprilia's New Chassis, New Tires, Ducati, KTM's Big Bang

A full paddock marks the return to some semblance of normality for the MotoGP circus. This is why the riders and teams regard the first European round as the "real" start of the season: the riders sleep in their motorhomes rather than hotels, the teams eat in hospitality units instead of makeshift tents, those hospitality units adding a touch of vibrant color which is missing from overseas rounds. At the rounds outside Europe, the paddock is so obviously a workplace, a temporary spot which is only filled during the day. Inside Europe, the paddock becomes a village again, noise, music, and chatter filling the daytime and the night.

The return to Europe also saw an immediate return to work. Aprilia headed to Mugello, to a wasted private test where cold temperatures and the threat of rain kept Aleix Espargaro and Sam Lowes huddled inside their garages. "Every time we headed out of pit lane, it started spotting with rain," Lowes joked. He was frustrated at not being able to get many laps, but especially because Aprilia had spent money to hire the whole track for two days, and that money had basically been wasted.

Espargaro was exasperated by the sheer amount of testing Aprilia are doing. "We have many days of tests," the Spaniard told us. "Too much, actually. For example after America, I landed on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I jumped on the bike, and it was a disaster because I couldn't sleep, I was super tired." Aprilia are testing almost on a weekly basis until Valencia. "I go two days home and then on Monday I fly to Le Mans, we test here in Jerez, then we have a test in Barcelona... We have many tests."

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