With the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France fast approaching, all eyes will be on Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) as he aims to seal his first premier class win in front of his home crowd.
Le Mans was the venue where Zarco earned his first podium on his YZR-M1, and since then, the Frenchman has clocked an additional four podiums and three pole positions. Now, after a stong start to 2018, Zarco sits second in the World Championship standings. motogp.com spoke to the 27-year-old ahead of his big weekend.
The #FrenchGP has seen a number of first-time podiums over the years! ????????????— MotoGP™???????????? (@MotoGP) May 15, 2018
From home hero @JohannZarco1's first #MotoGP podium in 2017 to @chrisvermeulen7's first and only premier class win!
Which is your favourite? pic.twitter.com/wxrJDTrzqs
How do you feel ahead of the French GP?
I'm feeling really positive! My feeling on the bike hasn't stopped progressing and my place in the Championship is more than I could have dreamed of!
Does it feel like a weight off your shoulders now, having secured your future?
For a long time now, I've been able to stay focused on racing no matter the circumstances. I'm very happy to have announced my future with KTM but my modus operandi hasn't changed.
After four rounds you're second in the title fight, and a Frenchman hasn't been in such a good position since 1984! You're also top Yamaha. Do those stats inspire you? Are you aware of writing an important chapter in the history of French motorcycling?
Like I said, my position in the Championship is like a dream and I want to enjoy it. The stats are amazing, we have to continue aiming high to make the dream last!
Last year, you were welcomed like a superstar at Le Mans. How do you manage the pressure of that?
I've started feeling more like a 'superstar' in France but only with bike fans. I try to manage the pressure by turning it into positive energy. If at some point it starts to get too much, then I just try to get some space.
Last year, you took your first MotoGP™ podium at this track...
Yes, my first podium that confirmed the good performances from the start of the season. A really happy moment to try and repeat as soon as possible!
What memory do you have of that race?
I remember getting a good start and taking the lead quickly, which helped me to focus on riding. Then Maverick passed me and helped me make a gap which assured I'd be on the podium. At the end of the race, Valentino was very quick, but maybe too quick since he then crashed. His mistake then meant I took second.
What objective do you have for this year? The last Frenchman to win his home race in the premier class was in 1954...
I hope to be able to fight for the win! I'm progressing on this bike and the Yamaha usually performs well at this track. So, I hope I can let the public hear the Marseillaise!
This year, there's also another demonstration from the Z&F Grand Prix school. How important is it for you to be involved in young talent?
Young talent is especially important for my coach Laurent, who wants to train riders like he did with me. For my part, I spend time with them whenever I can. It's nice to see how much fun the kids have when they're riding and their motivated, and if we can provide some guidance and coach them to make progress, it's worth the investment.