Johann Zarco, a 26-year-old from France, will be a rider to watch this weekend at the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas.
A critical part of the Tech 3 Yamaha team, he’s making a rapid ascent in the sport thanks to back-to-back Moto2 world championships in 2015-16. Moving up to MotoGP this year, Zarco led his first race before crashing. On Thursday at Circuit of the Americas, the rookie was invited for the first time to speak at the official MotoGP pre-race news conference.
“Leading the first six laps in Qatar was good for my confidence,” said Zarco, who has 16 Grand Prix wins to his name. “I didn’t get this kind of publicity in Moto2. I like it.
“I want to keep this high target to just get on the bike, push at the maximum and see where I am. I hope to always be in top positions because I think if I push like this I can set up the bike and set up my mind for the pace.”
Zarco, 11th in the 2017 standings, won 15 races the past two years and is considered the most successful current French rider.
Marriage proposal: During the social-media portion of the news conference, Aspar Ducati rider Álvaro Bautista was hit with a surprise question. The moderator said, “Grace Barroso on Instagram asks, ‘Alvaro, will you marry me?’ ”
Bautista explained that he asked the Spanish model before they left the last race in Argentina if she would tie the knot with him and she said, “Yes.” Barroso was just looking for confirmation.
“So, yes, we will marry,” the 32-year-old Spanish rider said.
Crossing over: The riders were asked about Formula One driver Fernando Alonso’s decision to skip the Monaco Grand Prix to try the Indianapolis 500.
“It was a surprise,” said nine-time Grand Prix champ Valentino Rossi. “It is completely another world, especially when you race on an oval. I went with NASCAR once, and it was very different compared to a normal track like we know.”
Marc Márquez, the reigning MotoGP champ, said, “The decision is hard for me to understand because we’re both part of the Honda family and Monaco is one of the tracks where McLaren can get a good result.”
Any chance Alonso can compete at Indy or even win?
“Difficult, but why not?” Rossi said. “Alonso is one of the best, and I think last year a young driver that was a rookie won at Indy.”
He’s right. Alexander Rossi, no relation, scored one of Indy’s all-time upsets in 2016.
Márquez said, “You must be really lucky, the slipstreams are really strange, but the talent is there, and I think he will be really fast.”
Rossi said he is not interested in making such a switch.
“For me the 8 Hours of Suzuka (MotoGP) is a great race,” he said. “The 24 Hours of Le Mans? The track is too short and 24 hours are too long.”