Johann Zarco Tops Day Three at Qatar MotoGP Test

Michael Scott | March 3, 2018

Johann Zarco Tops Day Three at Qatar MotoGP Test—Just short of a full year after he sensationally led his first MotoGP race, independent Monster Yamaha rider Johann Zarco took control of the timesheets on the third and final day of pre-season testing at the same Losail circuit, lapping inside the lap record, and heading second-fastest Valentino Rossi on the factory Movistar Yamaha.

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His bike may be two years old, but Zarco has put everyone on notice with a blistering pace on day three at Qatar.

At a track that suits the M1, which has won five times in the past six years, the second-year Frenchman set a time of 1:54.029, inside the official lap record and faster than Vinales’s pole last year, though a couple of tenths short of Lorenzo’s best-ever lap, also set on a Yamaha back in 2008.

While times were close behind Rossi, second to rookie Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha) in 16th covered by one second, Zarco was fully two-tenths ahead of the multi-champion.

But while he was happy to be top, he was also a little disappointed. “I thought I could get under 1:54, and also when I tried longer runs today I was constant, but I think too slow—we still need to do some more work.”

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Morbidelli improved to be top rookie in 12th.

Zarco’s pre-eminence at the final pre-season test came after three strong days for the former double Moto2 champion, using a 2016 chassis rather than last year’s troublesome factory bike, as would be normal for the satellite Yamaha team. The bike, however, is fitted with the latest aero-body fairing, with boxed wings like the factory bikes.

Rossi was happy with his time, but still had reservations about his potential race pace and tire wear; while teammate Maverick Vinales—dominant in all last year’s tests—said that “we made a bit step in the last 40 minutes, but I still can’t push like I want.”

Dovi goes wingless for third

The Yamaha pair narrowly eclipsed third-fastest Andrea Dovizioso, whose (wingless) factory Ducati had been strong throughout the three days.

The latest power-up Honda RC213Vs had also been threateningly fast and consistent, with satellite-team rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) the best of them, fourth overall.

Vinales’s late set-up improvement moved him up to fifth, ahead of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda). Marquez was happy with the result and with Honda’s progress but predicted a competitive season ahead.

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Petrucci had some excellent race pace to go seventh for Pramac Ducati.

“The situation is different from one track to another, and even at different times of the day,” he said.

Alex Rins was sixth, his Ecstar Suzuki teammate Andrea Iannone—fastest yesterday—missing today’s action, suffering from a virus. Then Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati … with wings), and second Pramac rider Jack Miller rounding out the top 10, ahead of second factory Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.

Eighth-placed Petrucci earned the notice of his rivals, running a full race simulation, almost all at sub-1:55 lap times. He said later it was his first ever such: “Before I always crashed or broke the bike.”

In a reversal of fortunes, Franco Morbidelli (VDS Honda) was top rookie, placed 12th today, while the usual top rookie Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda) was 21st.

Almost all riders were faster today apart from KTM tester Mika Kallio and (marginally) Nakagami, so that combined standings were the same as today apart from absentee Iannone, whose yesterday time slotted him in at sixth, ahead of Marquez.

Day Three Qatar Test MotoGP Times

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MotoGP Tests in The Wet in Qatar

A wet test held after the chequered flag, with more than 60 water-trucks spraying the 3.34-mile track proved inconclusive and brought no firm answers to the crucial question as to whether racing would be possible under floodlights should rain hit on race weekend.

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Vinales gives the wet track a run late in the evening.

While several riders, including Marquez and Zarco, said they were ready to race if it was wet, Dorna’s safety officer Loris Capirossi told pressmen that opinions were mixed, and, “I think we need another test on race weekend before we can be sure.”

One problem was the artificial conditions, with some standing water, but no falling rain. “The reflections were not too bad, we need to understand what would happen in proper rain, and also with 20 bikes together,” he said.

Some riders did four laps, Vinales and Morbidelli five. The top time came from Scott Redding (Aprilia), from rookie Morbidelli, Rossi, Crutchlow and Marquez. Dovizioso, Zarco, and Petrucci didn’t complete a full timed lap; Simeon, Nakagami and Pol Espargaro stayed in the pits.

In 2009 a heavy rainstorm just before the start of the MotoGP race resulted in it being postponed by 24 hours; last year rain washed out qualifying and delayed a shortened MotoGP race by 40 minutes.

Poncharal sort of, kind of, confirms second KTM MotoGP Team

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Yeah, he knows we know, but Herve Poncharal isn’t quite confirming the KTM move—yet.

Where is the departing satellite Yamaha team going, after the shock announcement last week that they were splitting with Yamaha? Tech3 team boss Herve Poncharal didn’t actually mention the initials KTM, in a telephone interview with Dorna, but he effectively confirmed that the rumors were true.

Having earlier spoken about having received an offer that was too good to refuse, he now said that the factory he was joining “had entries in Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP”, offering a career ladder to riders. Only KTM fills that brief.

He added that he had a three-year deal with the promise of full factory-level bikes for two riders, rather than the second-hand second-string equipment he has had with Yamaha.

His decision to end a 20-year association with Yamaha, 18 as the satellite MotoGP team, had several dimensions, including the desire for a fresh challenge. But the presence of potential superstar Zarco was also a major spur.

After Zarco had been on the podium at the last two races, and close to winning in Valencia, “everyone expected something special would be coming for him from Yamaha, and it didn’t come.”

While his 2016 chassis was good enough for top time today, “I always said that something was wrong if Zarco did not have a full factory bike in 2019, and it wasn’t going to happen with Yamaha.” He did not have a deal in place to keep Zarco after the end of this season, but he was in a position at least to tempt him to stay.

While “the bikes” (ie: KTM) were not yet fully competitive, the important thing was that his team would be directly involved with development, and they would get evolution parts during the season.

 

Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.

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