Never one to rest on his laurels, the ever ambitious Johann Zarco has set his sights on securing fifth place in the 2017 MotoGP world championship after his status as the season’s ‘Rookie of the year’ was all but confirmed by Jonas Folger’s absence.
Team-mate Folger sits tenth in the title standings, four places and 33 points back of Zarco, but has had to return to Europe due to illness. The German will possibly miss all three flyaway races, meaning Zarco will end the season as the best placed of the four class rookies.
And at Motegi, the Frenchman admitted that while the top rookie honour was “the main target” for the year, reeling in and overtaking Valentino Rossi – a considerable 51 points ahead – for fifth in the championship would be as satisfying as winning a world title.
“It’s a big shame that Jonas is feeling bad but I don’t think so much about being the rookie of the year at the moment,” said Zarco. “The target is to finish races in the same way as if Jonas is here. The problem with him is quite bad and he’ll need a long, long rest so I’m more sad for that than happy to be the rookie. I’ll keep focused because if I’m the rookie of the year, it has been the main target of the year.
“But it looks like I can stay sixth in the championship. This means I can remain the first independent [rider] and I said to another one, ‘Why not fifth position?’ If I do a fantastic end of the season and catch the fifth position this can be really like a kind of title. I was thinking today, ‘Why not fifth in the championship?’ I can enjoy it as I would a world title.”
Zarco has amassed an impressive run of results of late, the late mishap at Misano, where he ran out of fuel on the final lap while sat seventh, the only blotch in a streak when he has been consistently challenging inside the top ten.
“I’m happy to start these three races in a row in good form,” he said of his recent run. “I did no expect to be here with good energy like that. MotoGP is an interesting bike. It’s almost the end [of the season] and you can be tired. Finally, I managed well. I’m fresh and I think this is very important, to manage well all three races. Japan is a track that I like.
“I got good results here in the past few years and it’s a place I enjoy. I’ll take it easy, see the weather, and I think we have a stable bike with the Yamaha. [We have a] Good front feeling and a good stable feeling with the Yamaha and these are important points for this track.
“It’s important anyway. I don’t know if it’s more to be in good shape for the next few races, it’s just important to do the best, you know? Me, I want to be good there because in the last few races I was not that far from the top guys. So all races were quite nice even if I was struggling.
“I want to struggle less. If I’m not struggling so much I can be with them and this will be the target. When I’m struggling and finishing in eighth or ninth I’m more tired than if I finished in the top five. I would like to be in the top five with more fresh energy at the end of the race. This would mean we did a nice weekend.”