The final slice of pre-season anticipation for 2018 MotoGP ended under the very lights that will switch on the nineteen round FIM World Championship series in just two weeks time, and it was Monster Yamaha Tech3’s Johann Zarco that caused the biggest blur in the Qatari desert night.
After tests in Malaysia and Thailand, Losail hosted the last official session across three days and in conditions to set the stage for the Grand Prix opener on the evening of March 18th. Organisers even went so far to dowse the asphalt with water in the final hour to enable wet-weather practice in case of a repeat of the light showers from the 2017 spectacle.
Zarco was a fraction of a second from the outright lap record in what was a stunning performance at the circuit where he emphatically announced his presence in the premier class almost twelve months ago by leading six laps. The former Moto2 World Champion enforced his potential for 2018 in his distinctive black and green livery and left his factory rivals in no doubt as to his competitiveness for the bevy of action to come.
“I’m delighted to finish with the top lap time,” the studious Frenchman enthused. “I think it was even possible to ride inside the high 53s, but we have to accept that we have to understand step by step how to ride at this speed. We did some great work with the team and with everything we did during these three days, I felt more confidence and I could work well on this. We are constant and I can relax a lot on the bike.”
Zarco’s teammate, Hafizh Syahrin, continues a dream journey in MotoGP in what was just his second outing on the M1 Yamaha since being drafted into the squad late to replace ailing German Jonas Folger. The Malaysian was 15th as he scales a hill of progress and learning at the highest possible level. “Honestly, this time today was surprising for me,” he said. “I feel very confident. Thanks again to our team, all the sponsors and fans, they are fantastic!”
In other news Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo (holder of the circuit’s best time from 2008 that Zarco almost clipped) was once more at the top of the time screens and the Movistar Yamaha duo of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi (who gave his vast legion of fans hope for the future by hinting that a new MotoGP contract for the next two years is close) were also encouraged by their pace after a tricky time in Thailand. HRC were buoyed to see LCR’s Cal Crutchlow again making hefty progress on the new Honda and the Brit has arguably enjoyed his most promising pre-season to-date in his eighth year of MotoGP.
“We definitely still have to improve, but at least the team have the information to work with Honda over the next couple of weeks to evaluate the situation,” #35 assessed. “Our front feeling is not perfect yet, but I was able to be consistently fast over the day which is important”.