After having matematically clinched the Rookie of the Year title in Australia, Johann Zarco offered another magnificent performance last Sunday at the Malaysian GP. The Frenchman finished 3rd, scoring his second podium finish in the premier class, thus securing the top Independent Team rider title. We will now make a short recap of Zarco s 2017 season.
Johann Zarco lined up 4th on the grid under the lights of the stunning Losail International Circuit for the first round of the 2017 season and his first GP as a premier class rider. The two-time Moto2 World Champion shocked the audience by taking the lead in the very first lap. The Yamaha Tech3 rider managed to slowly but surely get away from the other competitors, but, during the 7th lap of the race, disaster struck – the Frenchman slided out of the race.
This mistake could have seriously damaged his morale, as he threw away a great chance of winning his first ever MotoGP race – but this was not the case for Zarco. The 2015&2016 Moto2 World Champion impressed again in both Argentina and Austin, as he rounded up the top 5 on each occasion.
The first European round of the year, held at Jerez, brought another magnificent performance from the rookie, who finished as the best Yamaha rider and scored a new personal best in the class, a 4th place. This was a warining for the rest of the MotoGP pack that his first podium finish is approaching quickly.
And that was the case indeed, as Zarco scored his first ever podium finish in MotoGP in the very next round – his home GP in Le Mans. Starting from 3rd (his first front row start in the category), Zarco managed to defend his starting position thoughout the whole race, and, in the final lap, he was rewarded for his efforts, as he went up in P2 after the crash of Valentino Rossi. After this excellent result, Zarco increased his lead to 17 points ahead of teammate Jonas Folger, his main rival in the Rookie of the Year battle.
Zarco managed to increase this difference again in the next 2 races. A much more difficult Italian GP brought a 7th place finish for Zarco, but the Frenchman came back to the Top 5 in the next race. The Catalan GP brought a first one-on-one duel between Zarco and Folger. The German held 5th place for the main part of the race, but Zarco made a decisive move on him in the last lap and took P5 away from him.
Up next was the Dutch GP at the historic Assen circuit. Johann Zarco managed to achieve another milestone in that week-end, as he scored his first ever pole position. Unfortunately, race day was pretty much filled with disappointment. The race was a wet one and, after a few laps, Zarco entered the pits to put on the slicks, in the hope that the track might dry out. That was not the case and the Frenchman ended the race in P14.
The following GP at the Sachsenring was another tough one for Zarco, who qualified only 19th. However, he was at his best on race day and made his way through the pack to cross the line in P9. With Jonas Folger scoring an impressive 2nd place finish, Zarco entered the summer break with a slight 13 point lead over his teammate in the Rookie of the Year battle.
Another disappointing race followed in Brno, with Zarco finishing only 12th, but the rookie came back much stronger in Austria and Silverstone, where he finished 5th and 6th, respectively. Jonas Folger did not gather any points in these rounds, so the difference between the two Yamaha Tech3 riders increased considerably – 32 points.
A wet San Marino GP caused Zarco to struggle again, as the Frenchman finished 15th, clinching the last point available. The Aragon GP was a different story, with Zarco coming back in the top 10. He crossed the line in P9, with Folger outside the point zone in P16.
Zarco entered the Asia-Pacific triple header with a 33 point lead over Folger, when the sad news of the German s health problems were revealed. The German had been infected in the past with the Epstein-Barr virus and it seemed like it came back to him. He was taken to Germany for further check-ups, missing the Japanese, Australian and Malaysian GPs.
Zarco took advantage of this and scored his second pole position of the year in Motegi, converting it into an 8th place in the race.
The Australian GP was probably the most exciting race of 2017, with no less than 7 riders battling for the podium positions; and Zarco was one of them. The Frenchman was close to his second podium finish of the year, but he was pipped on the last straight by Maverick Vinales. However, the 4th place was enough to secure the Rookie of the Year title, as the difference between him and Folger increased to 54 points with only 50 up for grabs.
With no pressure on his shoulders at the Malaysian GP, Zarco cruised to his second podium finish of the year. He led the race for some laps, but he was then overtook by the Ducati Team duo. Nonetheless, he took 3rd and also secured the top Independent Team rider title. In this battle, which had not been a main objective for Zarco at the start of the season, he led Danilo Petrucci by 27 points before the Malaysian GP. With Petrucci crossing the line in P6, the difference became insurmountable before the last race of the year.
Irrespective of the result of the Valencian GP, Johann Zarco s rookie season remains a very successful one, filled with performances that no one thought Zarco would be capable of. If Zarco manages to keep himself at the same high level in 2018, he might become favourite to take over the place of Valentino Rossi in the Yamaha Movistar team after ”The Doctor” decides to retire.
photo credit – Moto Revue