The Grand Prix de France and the fifth appointment on the 2018 MotoGP slate was notable for Valentino Rossi’s second podium finish of the season and his 193rd on a MotoGP bike as well as Pecco Bagnaia’s superb Moto2 victory…but it was also a dream from which Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco was forced to wake.
#5’s sizzling pole position effort on Saturday meant he thrilled French fans by being the first native to nestle at the tip of the front row in exactly thirty years. He was the darling of the massive public show of entertainment that same evening and the sense of expectation and hope was popping highly in sixth gear. And for good reason. 1954 was the last time a Frenchman won on home turf.
The surge of optimism remain lodged in the opening phases of the 27 lap chase on Sunday afternoon; it was the ninth time on the bounce that Zarco had launched from the first line of the grid and he was firmly rooted in the dispute for glory as both ‘Andreas’ Iannone and Dovizioso both scraped plastics into the gravel.
“I think I had the pace,” he said afterwards. “Maybe not for the win but for the podium and second place was possible. With the bike getting lighter and with less fuel I have a better feeling to race. The problem was all the laps at the beginning and trying to overtake [Jorge] Lorenzo was too difficult. I tried to do it but I was losing a lot in acceleration and then to catch him back and to think about how to overtake him; I think this took all my energy and I was more than 100%.”
Then on lap eight disaster.
“I did not expect to crash and I should have maybe waited…but if I had done that then I would have lost more positions. When you’re in front of a wall and you don't know what to do you have to give your best.”
To see the black and green Yamaha horizontal in the Le Mans gravel deflated Zarco’s vast legions of fans. The 28 year old was stoic about what had happened and how he handled the waves of attention and well-wishing. “With all the people screaming my name we can say there was some pressure…but I am happy to have this situation and try to take it as a positive.”
What was it like to co-exist with that force of goodwill, tension and excitement? “Yesterday it was great emotion to be on the start grid and see all the people and even now just before the race to hear the Marseilles I was smiling and trying to calm myself,” Johann revealed. “I was ready in my mind. Maybe I had to race and accept to finish fifth but I don't think it was the mood of the weekend and the mood of the day. I don't think the crash was about pressure it was the reality to give the best to dream about victory. I’ll keep this in mind because it will help me to grow. I want to keep thinking about victory because it is the best way to race and the best way to learn.”
Zarco: a man in waiting. His patience has been tested five events into just his second season in the premier class but his competitiveness is beyond doubt. His potential even reaches the level of determination showed by Cal Crutchlow. The Briton spent Saturday evening in hospital after a heavy highside crash in Qualification led to a badly banged hip and blood in his lungs. He was passed fit to ride on Sunday morning and made the chequered flag in 8th place. Hard stuff.
From one iconic site to another: the Tuscan beauty of the Mugello circuit will wrap itself around MotoGP in two weeks time.