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Herve Poncharal’s Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team made a big impression on the #QatarGP, so motogp.com caught up with the paddock stalwart to find out some of his thoughts now we’re racing again in 2017. First up? Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger’s start to the season:
Herve Poncharal: “If we signed them, it was because we trusted their potential. But being as fast as they are when a longer or shorter adaptation time is normally required between Moto2 ™ and MotoGP ™ is something we didn’t expect. We were surprised, but we had been already during the winter testing. Performances are often better in testing in the absence of pressure - and on the grid there was a lot of pressure. Jonas was very stressed, so I’m not surprised the performance wasn’t quite what testing had shown. The weather conditions didn’t help. But Johann completely amazed us!”
Amazing the number five was – as Zarco took on not just reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), but also eventual winner Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to escape into the lead.
HP: "First of all I felt an enormous pride, and then we said to ourselves: ‘That's really brave…and it could really end badly!' But not only did he finish the first lap in front, he escaped and put in the fastest lap the best lap in the race! Even after good testing it was so unexpected!”
Sadly, the fairytale then came to an end as the reigning Moto2™ Champion crashed out – but the amazing run was more than just a one-off, the Frenchman thinks.
HP: “The disappointment was enormous before Johann returned to the box and explained to us exactly what had happened. He said he didn’t fall because he was attacking, although a lot of people would think so. As he was feeling good on the bike and had a little lead, so he said to himself, 'Now calm down, don’t take too many risks'. By relaxing, he slightly deviated onto the dirtier bit of track at Turn 2, and the penalty was immediate. We are not used to experiencing these kind of moments! Johann said to me: 'I saw that I could ride in front, to compete against people like Rossi, Viñales, Márquez...and we'll do it again.' I have rarely seen a rider come back with this attitude, where he apologizes but explains very clearly what happened. He is a very honest person, with great respect for the people around him and his technical team.”
How did it feel to hear Rossi, Dovizioso and Viñales’ words about Zarco?
HP: "Johann was very touched by what Valentino Rossi and the other riders said about him. It made us very proud but somehow to hear them say that they couldn't do anything to stop him also twists the knife in the wound a bit. Because it confirms that there really was chance!"
Next stop: Argentina. After that start, what's the next target?
HP: "On paper in Qatar we got a P10 and a DNF, so we want to do better. But maybe the situation will be less favourable for us. Yamaha have given us a very competitive bike, and we intend to prove that Johann’s start in Qatar is not the result of chance – and we will be able to reproduce it. These young riders moving up from Moto2™ - and other Independent Team riders - can make an impression thanks to the regulations brought in by the MSMA, Dorna, the FIM and IRTA.”