Johann Zarco linked to surprise LCR Honda MotoGP call-up

Johann Zarco looks to be on his way back to the 2019 MotoGP World Championship grid for the final three rounds in place of Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda

Johann Zarco - Red Bull KTM MotoGP

Out-of-work Johann Zarco could be about to make a surprise return to the 2019 MotoGP World Championship grid amid reports he will replace Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda for the final rounds of the season. 

The Frenchman has been on the sidelines since the Round 13 at Misano when he was axed by the Red Bull KTM Factory Racing team amid disappointing results since joining the Austrian manufacturer from Tech 3 Yamaha at the start of the year.

However, according to trusted French publication Moto-Journal, Zarco is set for an unexpected comeback for the final three rounds of the season in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia alongside Cal Crutchlow at LCR Honda. 

He would replace Nakagami, who has been struggling with a shoulder injury and is understood to be requiring surgery before the 2019 MotoGP season is out to give him adequate recovery ahead of the 2020 MotoGP season. 

The move is set to be confirmed at this weekend’s Japan MotoGP at Motegi, where Nakagami will ride in his home grand prix before he goes on hiatus.

Chance for Johann Zarco to raise his stock

At one time touted as the man most likely to succeed Valentino Rossi in the factory Yamaha team after scoring six podiums and three pole positions in two seasons riding the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha M1 in 2017 and 2018, Zarco’s disastrous nine months with KTM has instead left his future very uncertain.

Struggling to gel with the KTM RC16, which demands a more physical riding style contrary to his own smoother approach, Zarco was only a few races into his new endeavour when he began to level complaints at thiemachine, suggesting it should be developed more towards suiting him. KTM countered he should have been capable of adapting to the RC16.

As relations soured, Zarco declared he wouldn’t fulfil his original two-year deal, instead planning to leave at the end of the 2019 MotoGP season. This was despite it putting him out-of-sync with the contract cycle, so much so that he faced a year on the sidelines. 

This was then brought forward to September as KTM shifted attentions to developing its 2020 MotoGP machine and didn’t see value in Zarco riding the bike to then join another manufacturer.

Since then, Zarco has dismissed the prospect of a move into WorldSBK and been cool on a return to Moto2. A switch to a test rider role looks most likely, with Yamaha the top tip as current choice Jonas Folger is seeking a return to racing in 2020. 

Longer-term, a return to Yamaha would also put him in a good position for 2021 amid rumours Maverick Vinales might exit, Franco Morbidelli is under pressure to raise his level and, of course, Rossi could yet retire.

How would Johann Zarco fare on the LCR Honda?

While the LCR Honda substitute role is potentially a good chance for Zarco to recover some reputation after what has been a rather damaging episode for his career, the Honda is perhaps the closest relation to the KTM on the grid in terms of concept.

Then again, he will be riding the 2018 specification Honda RC213V, which has proven to be a more compliant machine than the 2019 bike in anyone but Marc Marquez’s hands.

Despite the call up, Zarco is not likely to be considered for a 2020 MotoGP ride with Honda. 

Despite Nakagami’s LCR Honda seat being one of only two unconfirmed seats for 2020 – the other being Zarco’s vacated KTM ride – the Japanese rider is considered a shoo-in to retain his seat, with the delay to confirm instead revolving round whether gets a 2020 specification RC213V.