MotoGP

Johann Zarco expects test role for MotoGP 2020 [UPDATED]

Johann Zarco says he has no regrets over his decision to quit KTM despite his - and the manufacturer's - lack of alternaitve options for MotoGP 2020

[UPDATED: Since this article was published, KTM has confirmed it has officially parted ways with Johann Zarco - FULL STORY HERE]

Johann Zarco says his ‘most realistic’ option for the 2020 MotoGP season will be a testing position as he leans away from the prospect of returning to the Moto2 World Championship he has already won twice.

The Frenchman has been on the hunt for a new ride in 2020 after negotiating his way out of his factory KTM contract after just six months into a two-year deal following a difficult start to a year in which he has been comprehensively out-performed by Pol Espargaro.

While Zarco has enjoyed an upturn in form recently – reaching his first dry Q2 and qualifying eighth at Misano – he slipped to 11th in the race, whereas Espargaro placed the KTM RC16 second on the grid and crossed the line seventh.

Yet again criticising his feeling aboard the bike – saying he is competing at the ‘maximum’ – Zarco insists he has no regrets about quitting, adding he won’t be present for the team at an upcoming Aragon test either as he manages his long exit. 

“It is the same problem and difficult moment that I am living,” he told Crash.net. “I feel that I cannot fight. I do the maximum, but it is only enough for eleventh or twelfth position and on a different day maybe the top ten.

“If we can find something pretty good and I can go fast then that is confirmation that I am able to do it…and if I can do it on the KTM then I can do it on another bike.”

“There will be a test at Aragon and I won’t do it because it will be with a totally new bike and I am not any more in the confidence of KTM to be able to do this.”

Where will Johann Zarco compete in MotoGP next season?

“I have to think about it [now] and see the opportunities I can catch [for 2020],” he continued. “The most realistic one is to become a test rider and show during every test – and maybe any wild-cards I can do – that I can come back strong in ’21.

“Maybe I can find a bike able to win, to find back a feeling and a pleasure on the track that is really blocking me on the KTM at the moment.”

Though he has spoken of returning to Moto2, Zarco – who won his titles racing with a focused single entry Ajo Motorsport team – is unlikely to receive the same privilege if he returns. Moreover, he has achieved enough in MotoGP to justify not returning to a series he has already dominated.

As such, a test role with a manufacturer – with the caveat of a third rider wild-cards - seems more likely. Though the Japanese manufacturers have previously erred towards local riders for development roles, more recently they are entrusting this to European racers with racing experience.

As for options, Ducati seems very happy with Michele Pirro, Suzuki has credited a lot of its success to the experienced Sylvain Guintoli and Aprilia are worse off than KTM when it comes to competitiveness.

A spot at Honda could come available should HRC place Stefan Bradl in its new WorldSBK team, while the manufacturer probably has the most vulnerable factory seat up for grabs if Jorge Lorenzo continues to struggle alongside Marc Marquez.

Then there is Yamaha, where Zarco raced in 2017 and 2018 with impressive success. The manufacturer’s future beyond 2021 – in particular whether Valentino Rossi retires, if Fabio Quartararo moves up and if Franco Morbidelli and Maverick Vinales pick up their form – makes them probably the most attractive option in terms of multiple opportunities. However, it has just added a European tester to its roster in Zarco’s old Tech 3 team-mate Jonas Folger, even if his fitness isn’t assured due to ongoing issues with the debilitating Gilbert’s syndrome.

Wasted talent or unproven ability?

On paper, any team would be lucky to have Zarco on its roster as a test rider in terms of his quality, but the reality of employing him might be somewhat more complicated than that.

Any deal Zarco pens is almost certainly going to have to include a guarantee of a race seat for 2021 and whilst this puts him in a good bargaining position in the sense that most MotoGP contracts will conclude at the close of 2020, it’s quite early for manufacturers to be thinking that far ahead.

Indeed, with Zarco’s dismal season – and somewhat questionable attitude - at KTM no doubt set to make some manufacturers think twice about his viability, signing him onto a guaranteed 2021 contract is also a lot of pressure on two existing riders in 2019 knowing one is destined to lose their seat in 2021. Then again, maybe this isn’t a bad thing depending on your management style…

Moreover, with his smooth, progressive riding style, one that clearly hasn’t found its rhythm on the KTM, will he be able to push the development of certain machines forward? 

On the other hand, Zarco is a two-time Moto2 World Champion and notched up six podiums and three pole positions in just two seasons. 

Ironically, with KTM now struggling for obvious options to fill its seat and Zarco still notching up solid - if lower than expected - points' finishes, one wonders whether there is more value in them slugging it out together for another year and part ways in 2020...

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