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Johann Zarco has made an incredible impact on his debut in MotoGP. He started his MotoGP career off by leading the race in Qatar for six laps, before crashing out. But he learned from that, and has learned more at every race this year, culminating in his first MotoGP podium at the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team's home race at Le Mans.
It has been an interesting debut, as at 26 years of age, most team managers, media, and fans had considered him to be too old to be competitive in MotoGP. Sure, Zarco had two Moto2 titles, but he was getting beyond the age where a move to MotoGP was still worthwhile. The biggest example of this thinking was Suzuki, which chose Alex Rins over Zarco, despite already having offered Zarco a contract. If Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo had come into the premier class at 20, the thinking ran, then Zarco at 26 was too old.
At Mugello, I spoke to Zarco about his debut in MotoGP, and how he has adapted to racing a heavier, far more powerful machine on very different tires. But we started off with the question of age. Why was the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider so fast at a relatively advanced age?
Q: When did you start riding?
JZ: Really seriously I was 13, almost 14. So these guys already racing when they are six years old, seven years old. For me, 14, I was almost six years late. That’s why I could be on my best form and big enough, good enough to be champion at 25. When they are first champion they are 17, 18, 19. Me, I was 25. But being 25 years old and seeing what is doing Valentino after 35 years old, I’m thinking that I’m in the best age to push and to use the experience I got and energy I have from my age.
So yes, I’m looking what all these riders did when they came in the best category, but I’m comparing the performance not the age. Because when I look at Lorenzo, he was very young when he came in MotoGP in 2008. He did incredible things but then he did such big crashes that he injured himself a lot. He did it because he was 20 years old. Also Marquez did it with many crashes. He has been more lucky than Lorenzo was. Me, I want to push like them, but because I’m 27, I don’t want to do this mistake that we can do when we are 20. At the moment thinking and managing in this way, it brought me the podium last weekend.
Q: As you say, that age, that maturity, do you think that is a big factor in your success as well?
JZ: Yes. It could be a break, like when you start to think too much or go slower, like me, I’m able to give all what I can give on the bike, invest all myself in the bike, but then when you need to think, be able to think. When you are 20 you give all, but when you stop to think you don’t think and you crash. So fighting anyway for two titles and for the second title in Moto2 helps me to manage how much you can give yourself and how much you have to wait.