3 weeks ago
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Midway through the 2019 MotoGP™ season, Johann Zarco’s career hit rock bottom as he and KTM parted ways after just 13 races. An 11th place finish at the San Marino GP, 32 seconds adrift of winner Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), was the last time Zarco and the Austrian factory competed together. Fast forward one and a half years and Zarco finished the 2021 Qatar Grand Prix as the fastest Ducati rider in P2, 1.092 seconds behind Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). As contrasts go, that's a pretty big one.
It was a torrid time for Zarco at KTM. Rider and bike didn’t gel and after announcing he would leave halfway through his contract at the end of the season, KTM decided to put test rider Mika Kallio on the bike for the rest of the season. LCR Honda then came along to give Zarco a ride for the final three races of the season after Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) underwent shoulder surgery, and Zarco did well. He didn’t pull up trees, but on a bike he’d had no experience of before, Zarco displayed what we all knew he possessed: talent.
Esponsorama Racing and Ducati then came calling for the double Moto2™ World Champion’s services for 2020. A podium at the Czech GP was the highlight in a largely quiet campaign on older machinery for the Frenchman, but a new year dawned in 2021 and Zarco got his chance to prove his worth on Ducati’s latest spec GP21, this time in Pramac Racing colours. And it’s safe to say, the number 5 has repaid Bologna’s faith in him.
Speaking on Sunday’s After the Flag, former Grand Prix winner turned motogp.com pitlane reporter Simon Crafar summed up Zarco’s journey over the past 18 months very well: “The overriding feeling for me is that he was on top of world going really good, got offered the KTM and it turned into something terrible. It was career-ending really when he walked away from KTM,” said Crafar, reacting to Zarco’s P2 finish.
“I know what that’s like, to be on top of the world and then things don’t go right… you feel like you’re not really wanted. Then someone throws a little life ring to him and to see him build back to where he is now, it’s really cool. I’m super happy for him and I think he’ll appreciate it even more second time around and make sure it works.”
The Losail International Circuit is one of Ducati’s favoured boxing rings. Before any season, it’s a safe bet to say Ducati will at least be fighting for victory in Qatar and at Austria’s Red Bull Ring, among other circuits of course. So, for Zarco to immediately enter the ring and beat polesitter Francesco Bagnaia and his Ducati Lenovo Team teammate Jack Miller in a straight fight, who were both tipped as heavy favourites ahead of lights out, fair and square, is something to really be awed by.
Crafar managed to catch the thoughts of Ducati Corse Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti immediately after the chequered flag, who sung the praises of both Zarco and third place finisher Pecco. “Obviously it’s always good to be on the podium. As you know we expected to maybe be on the top of the podium but the race was a good race, I think having two Ducatis on the podium in second and third is good.
“I’m sorry for Jack, I think he had tyre problems – he wore the tyre. But yeah, Zarco and Bagnaia did a great race, we have a powerful engine, you could see after the last corner. Good race from Maverick, he did a good job and luckily we have another race next weekend and we’ll try to do better.”
Also speaking on After the Flag, Zarco himself was obviously pleased with what he had just achieved. Already feeling at home on the GP21 and with Pramac Racing, Zarco has all the ingredients to have his best MotoGP™ season yet. To be fighting for wins and podiums week in, week out. Commentator Matt Birt pitched this to Zarco, and this is what he had to say:
“That will be the ideal target and ideal season. But I think me and bike has the potential, so as long as I can keep the right energy and feel good on the bike then I can have the chance to have these races all the time. But I don’t want to think about it too much because then I can lose myself. I’m already pretty confident with the team and with the bike, when you’re on the bike you feel unstoppable because we can go so fast. So I want to touch this feeling almost all the time to enjoy a lot this season.”Zarco has already started writing his redemption song, and the early signs are that he has a good chance of playing a sweet tune on his Ducati throughout 2021.
Zarco has already started writing his redemption song, and the early signs are that he has a good chance of playing a sweet tune on his Ducati throughout 2021.
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