Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) made a timely return to the podium at the Shell Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix having not sprayed the bubbly since his P2 at Jerez.
Saturday saw the Frenchman take P2 in a wet qualifying session to grab himself a third consecutive front row start. But things would take a turn for the better after polesitter Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was handed a six-place grid penalty, meaning the Yamaha rider would start on pole for the first time since his home GP at Le Mans. And despite a slightly sluggish getaway – with Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) getting off to a flyer – Zarco was able to slot into P2.
“Starting from pole was useful to have a great first two corners,” began Zarco, who then clung to the tailpipes of ‘The Doctor’ as the duo started to create a small gap to the chasing pack. “I was feeling very comfortable at the beginning of the race. Valentino was fast and I was thinking to overtake him, but it was good for me to stay behind because we went away. We had a great gap immediately.”
A small mistake at Turn 14 then allowed Marquez to slice his way through: “I made a mistake at corner 14 and Marc overtook me very cleanly and then I expected him to catch Vale very quickly. I was a bit far from them but able to keep the pace and save the podium, so it was good.”
And what about the remainder of the race? “Vale crashed and I was second, thinking I could control the gap with Rins, but with four laps to the end, I could not keep a strong pace and he was stronger than me. I tried to push but I was not fast enough and when he overtook me on the last lap I wanted to fight but had no rear grip at all. It was impossible to go where I wanted and when I wanted. 16 points on the podium is just fantastic.”
Those 16 points mean Zarco now sits one point ahead of fellow Independent Team rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) in the Championship, with Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) five points behind his YZR-M1 rival. With Crutchlow’s return from injury far from certain in Valencia though, it could be a straight shootout between Zarco and ‘Petrux’ at the final round of the season:
“The biggest present are the points for today, back to being the first independent rider,” affirmed the 2015 and 2016 Moto2™ World Champion. “I’ll stay focused for Valencia, to take many points again. If I can fight for the podium, it will be fantastic. Then, if I can be the first Independent rider, that will be my main target for the year.”
That isn’t the only reason why Valencia is a big occasion for Zarco though. His successful two-year stint with Tech 3 and Yamaha comes to an end as he heads for pastures new with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing. A P2 last year was nearly a P1, but a repeat for the 28-year-old would be a great send-off:
“In case of the same situation as last year, maybe I can manage the last lap better in case of the fight,” said Zarco. “It would be a great situation. For me, the Yamaha is working well at that track, so it will be a good opportunity to feel comfortable. But you never know. We will see. Last race with Tech 3. Last race with Yamaha. Tech 3 won’t be too far from me. But being on the podium again would be a nice way to say goodbye and also a good way for me to feel strong, jumping on my next challenge.”
The Championship may have been decided, but the Valencia GP will be far from quiet. Can Zarco challenge for his maiden victory on his final appearance with Tech 3 and Yamaha?