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On the face of it, a two-time winner of the Moto2™ World Championship going on to become the Rookie of the Year in MotoGP™ should come as no surprise, and yet Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Johann Zarco is now considered almost an icon thanks to his achievements last season.
In 2017, the Frenchman entered the scene as an outsider. He was branded 'too old' by some and even the most devoted fan of the then 26-year-old Zarco could have been forgiven for thinking that podiums were unexpected during his rookie season.
Within seconds of the lights going out at the season opener in Qatar, Zarco fired a warning to the doubters, as he led on lap one and continued to extend his advantage until a crash on lap six ended his hopes of what could've been one of the greatest MotoGP™ debuts of all time.
MotoGP Rewind: A recap of the #QatarGP
Despite the setback, in the next three races he set his stall out for the season. Three top five finishes in Argentina, Austin and Jerez were proof that Qatar was no fluke, and by the time we'd arrived in his homeland for Round 5 in Le Mans, a new fan base had formed.
Despite a less than convincing record at the Bugatti circuit, Zarco sent the home fans wild as he came across the line to finish in second. The crowd in Le Mans, who usually don't need encouragement to create an explosive atmosphere, partied into the night. From there, even his rivals were aware of his capabilities and with more top five finishes to come, the Tech 3 rider was then crowned 'Rookie of the Year' with a fair few rounds remaining.
Zarco's incredible weekend in France
Missing out on his second MotoGP™ podium in Phillip Island by 0.016 seconds was agonising in a race he was at one point leading, but with two rounds still to go, Zarco found the positives from it and left Malaysia with a third and the final round at Valencia with another second place finish – ending the season in 6th overall and averaging just under ten points per race.
On a year-old Yamaha, the only riders ahead of him were on factory machines and he'd managed to finish an 18 round series with the likes of Jorge Lorenzo & Cal Crutchlow behind him. What's more, preparations for the 2018 season look in good order. He was trusted by Yamaha to test parts for the factory riders, his race pace has taken gallops forward, and he finished the final pre-season test fastest of all.
Having gone from being the quiet Champion of the intermediate class, Johann Zarco has shown the world what he's capable of and now he's another year older, wiser, quicker, and Marc Marquez himself has named Zarco as one of two early season contenders for the title.
We know Independent Team riders can win races, but can they win the MotoGP™ World Championship? It's starting to feel less foolish the more you say it when Johann Zarco's name is involved.