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Zarco: “I was thinking I could win”

The Frenchman led the way at Sepang before taking another podium – and the title of top Independent Team rider in 2017

Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was just knocked off provisional pole by Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) on Saturday, and the Frenchman shot off into the lead at the start on Sunday after Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) overcooked Turn 1. He didn’t look back for some time, either, creating a good gap and backing up what he’d said before lights out – that he thought he had a real shot at the win. That was also going through his mind over the first laps of the race, despite initially having his spirits dampened by the rain.

Zarco: "When I saw the rain, I didn't like it"

“I was thinking I could win,” said the Frenchman of those early laps. “On Friday in the wet I wasn’t fast and they were so fast, so that’s why I chose the soft rear tyre. But leading the race, even not doing the laptimes from Friday it was enough and I could keep a small gap. I was focused, then when they caught me I expected to be able to fight with them.”

‘They’ were Lorenzo and his teammate Andrea Dovizioso – which caused a rethink on strategy for Zarco: “I expected to be able to fight with them but I was losing a lot in acceleration. We were at the limit with the rear grip. The soft tyre was a good choice to stay in front and lead at the beginning when the conditions were worst…but when I lost the rear twice trying to follow them, I thought to myself to not do anything stupid, maybe they will start to come back…but they were so fast.”

Watch Zarco's start at Sepang in 360 OnBoard

Zarco was still in a podium position, but it seemed that would be coming under threat from Marquez. In the end, however, the reigning Champion couldn’t stay with the Frenchman – who says he was just happy to get his second podium, and his first in the wet.

The 16 points he added to his tally, added to Danilo Petrucci (Octo Pramac Racing) starting from the back of the grid after technical trouble, means Zarco wrapped up the title of top Independent Team rider for the season as he crossed the line. That’s added to already having been crowned Rookie of the Year last time out at Phillip Island, giving Zarco two our of two on his targets.

“My first target at the start of the season was to be top Rookie,” explains the Frenchman, who shot out the blocks in his first race in the premier class to lead the first seven laps of the season. “Then I was thinking about trying for top Independent Team rider, and now it’s confirmed. Now I’m just looking forward to going to Valencia.” And as his incredible debut season arrives at the final round, Zarco says the key thing he thinks about is how much he’s changed in between February and October.

“I understand much more now. Now, I can give them good information from the bike, and we’re looking forward to going forward together.”

Forward for now is Valencia, before 2018 appears on the horizon and the grid contend with Zarco as a sophomore.