As far as new starts go, Johann Zarco’s first eight months at KTM have fallen well below expectation. The Frenchman was one of MotoGP™’s most in-demand men at the start of 2018 thanks to a thrilling rookie season the year before. But until now the Frenchman hasn’t been an easy fit with the Austrian factory.
The double Moto2™ World Champion has amassed just 16 points in nine races. His best result of tenth place is well below what team-mate Pol Espargaro has been capable of achieving. And most worryingly of all, the 28-year old has shown few signs of improvement with his weekend at the German Grand Prix nothing short of disastrous.
His issues adapting that silky smooth riding style to the RC16 have been particularly pronounced. It has rarely got easier since that first test at Valencia last November when a downbeat Zarco described his debut as “worse than I expected.” There have been few bright spots since as he’s grappled to find anything approaching comfort when braking and entering turns. Going off KTM’s Motorsport Director Pit Beirer’s comments, there was an unwillingness to adjust at his end.
According to Espargaro, KTM’s MotoGP™ riders “need to risk every single braking … to take the [strongest] point of the bike. I am taking it to the limit and the maximum.” Zarco has been stumped. Any efforts to brake later and harder have so far fallen short. “I have the feeling that I need to work in reverse and do the same lap-time as if I run normally,” he said during a tough weekend at Mugello.
It’s not as though KTM’s effort has been lacking. Zarco had a new chassis in Jerez. He then tried another at the Barcelona test. After seeing the gains KTM’s new carbon swingarm and revised engine brought Espargaro at Le Mans (a sixth-place finish, just six seconds behind race winner Marc Marquez), Zarco tried these parts at a later time but still saw no improvement in results.
The turnaround is yet to come and he still has to “fight the bike,” something he was not used to during two largely successful years at Tech 3 Yamaha. Time is running out. Beirer has indicated he expects marked improvements in the season’s second half at the latest.
It now appears Zarco’s best hopes lie with the development capabilities of Dani Pedrosa. In Leitner’s eyes the Spaniard’s meticulous, precise feedback crafted the RC212V and later RC213Vs that team-mates Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez would take to world titles. The only positive the Frenchman could find at the close of the ninth round of the season was that Pedrosa would be back on track in the coming weeks. The intended upgrades for the Brno test in early August can’t come soon enough.