Johann Zarco didn’t even remotely expect to lead MotoGP’s opening round in Qatar for 6 laps. The opportunity was there and he took it. “There was no time to dream. I caught the chance and I was focused to manage my tyres and stay in front. Maybe I lost some concentration. The track conditions were difficult and I crashed”, commented the French rider and revelation of the 2017 MotoGP season. After this exploit in his debut race he finished 5th in Argentina. He repeated in Texas, after a hard pass on Valentino Rossi and was 4th in Jerez, having the satisfaction of making a pass on Marc Marquez. Not bad for a rookie.
Zarco has arrived as a rookie but has become one of MotoGP’s front-runners. Uniquely combining the attitudes of warrior and monk, Johann Zarco is not playing a role; he has no tattoos, doesn’t wear sunglasses, and has no personalised caps. His priorities in life are motorbikes and human relationships. He ignores the social media and prefers to meet his fans in person.
For Zarco, calm and motivation are the keys. When he competed the entry-level Red Bull Cup in 2007, he was 17, considered “old” for Moto3. His one-step-at-a-time advance may seem old-fashioned in the accelerated world of MotoGP, but his twin Moto2 titles and break-down-the-door entry into MotoGP show it works for him.
Did you expect such a strong start in your first MotoGP season?
“I didn’t expect to lead the race in Qatar, but the situation allowed me to do it and this was good for my confidence. Then Argentina and Texas are two special tracks because the Yamaha works really well there and my target was to use all the potential of the bike. I did it, still not perfectly.”
Do you consider yourself the revelation of the 2017 season?
“I can be the revelation, but I don’t want to rush things. The first target is to be the best rookie of the year. After taking my two Moto2 titles, I want to be good also in MotoGP. If you want to remain in the GP world, you need good results.”
You insist on taking a step at a time despite showing that you can push your Yamaha to its limits. After your 4th place in Jerez, what should we expect next?
“I want to remain as close as possible to the podium. This means to ride with a strong pace from the start to the end. If I succeed in this, the next step will be the podium.”
The next round is your home GP at Le Mans where you are the local hero. Does this put even more pressure on you?
“I did well in Jerez and considering the characteristics of the track I reckon I can do well also in Le Mans and Mugello. With the experience I have and my knowledge of the circuits, I can quickly re-learn the circuits in a MotoGP perspective.”
What is your approach to racing?
“First I listen to myself. I need to feel confident in doing what I do. I push but using my head.”
The pressure of time doesn’t seem an issue for you.
“I’m not obsessed by the time it takes to reach a goal. I know I can be faster, maybe arriving at being the fastest. But with calm and smoothness. I also started riding seriously when I was 13. The majority of the pro riders start when they are 4 or 5 years old. But it’s never too late. I was 17 when I won the Red Bull Rookies cup, 19 when I started the GPs.”
How has your coach, former paratrooper Laurent Felon, changed your life?
“He knows motorbikes well. He has so much passion and he always wants the best for me. He has a lot of energy and I follow this energy.”
What is special about the calm and focused Johann Zarco? “I can be cool, but when I put my helmet on, I’m completely focused on one target, the same as all the riders on the MotoGP grid.”
What is the Zarco method?
“Be calm and clever on track. Take references on the bike in order to repeat what I did well or not repeat what I did poorly. When I am at home, I train a lot. I box, which is good for the heart but also to be aggressive, but I also see the physiotherapist to relax properly.
How do you describe yourself?
“A cool boy. When I am at home, I’m relaxed. I usually train, but I can stay alone for a long time.”
Who are your references?
“Valentino has always been my idol. This year the references are Valentino and Vinales, as they are on my same bike. And Marc Marquez.”
And your references in life?
“When I was 18, my reference was Lance Armstrong. I also admire Usain Bolt for what he did and how he did. I also like the singers like Paul McCartney, Jacques Brel and George Brassens, they are special compared to normal humans.
What are your 3 top priorities in life?
“Be good on motorbikes. Be good with my girlfriend and, doing these 2 things well, enjoy everything.”