Zarco set for LCR Honda MotoGP switch for 2024

Two-time Moto2 World Champion Johann Zarco will leave Pramac Ducati after three years and join LCR Honda for the 2024 MotoGP season.

Johann Zarco, 2019 MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

Johann Zarco will leave Pramac Ducati for LCR Honda at the end of the 2023 MotoGP season, it has been announced.

Zarco will join Lucio Cecchinello’s LCR squad - for which he rode previously in place of the then-injured Takaaki Nakagami at the end of 2019 - on a two-year HRC contract after three years at Pramac, which has brought several podium finishes but never quite the Frenchman’s first MotoGP win.

In a statement, Zarco emphasised his desire to get that first win with Pramac before he departs for LCR. 

"I've spent four years with Ducati,” Zarco said, “three of them with the Pramac team, and I am very content with what we have built and achieved together. In 2021, I finished the championship in fifth place, marking my best-ever MotoGP result, but my goal is to do even better this year. At the end of this season, I will leave with a smile because the team and Ducati have given me so much, and together we have fought for truly significant accomplishments. 

“Next year, I will face a new challenge, but for now, I want to conclude this championship with my team in the best way possible. I thank my entire team, Ducati, and all the people who have worked alongside me during these years we spent together. The ultimate goal remains to stand atop the podium and proudly sing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, together with Paolo Campinoti, whom I sincerely thank for all the support he has given me since day one."

Of course, the current performance of the Honda RC213V means that Zarco’s desire to achieve his first victory before he leaves behind the Ducati Desmosedici is not only an emotional one with regard to his relationship with the management at Pramac, but also a practical one regarding the difficulty he will likely face in achieving such a result with HRC.

But, at the same time, the poor performance of the RC213V is the reason Zarco is going to LCR and HRC. In Ducati, Zarco has been of high value to the Bologna engineers, who have been able to count on the Frenchman’s experience to help develop the Desmosedici into the dominant package we saw winning by five seconds in yesterday’s Austrian Grand Prix. When new parts needed to be tested on a race weekend, it was generally Zarco who got them first, before they were dialled in and before they were given to the factory riders.

It seems that HRC will now try to make a similar role for Zarco. Until now, that's been generally filled by Takaaki Nakagami, who will most likely be Zarco’s teammate at LCR next year, and who has most recently been testing HRC’s new fairing for their MotoGP bike. While Marc Marquez and Joan Mir of the factory Repsol Honda Team received the fairing in Austria, LCR’s Nakagami got it in Silverstone after it had been briefly tested in Jerez by Stefan Bradl in order to iron out some of the kinks before the factory riders received it.

Zarco’s arrival to LCR perhaps does not mean that Nakagami’s testing role will be reduced next year, but it perhaps does mean that HRC will have twice the capacity for testing new parts and settings, which should theoretically accelerate their development process.

At the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, Zarco said he would be “proud” to help Honda back to competitiveness.

“It’s good to have the interest from Honda,” Zarco said at the British Grand Prix. “I would be proud to be this guy [to bring Honda back to the front of MotoGP],” Zarco said, “because I could not make this work in KTM [in 2019].”

After the announcement of his deal with LCR for 2024, Zarco said “The offer and the discussion with Honda and [Lucio Cecchinello, LCR Honda Team Principal] was pretty interesting [because I] get to have this opportunity to [work on] a project for two years at 33-years-old is quite good.

“I’ve grown a lot since 2019, when I had the experience with KTM [which was] difficult. But, with Honda, it’s another story; even if they are struggling now, they don’t have the winning bike right now, they are still Honda. They have the power to come back [to the front of MotoGP] if they find the right way for the development. I will be the most proud if I can be part of this, and very glad if I can perform.”

Zarco does not try to hide from his failure at KTM, but it raises the question now of why his time at HRC will go differently from his time in the orange of the Austrians. 

Zarco’s time with Honda “is going to be different because my life is different,” the #5 said. “I grew up as a man, as a sportsman, and I can see the situation with one step back.

“When I jumped from the Yamaha to KTM I still wanted to win races at any cost, so that’s why I [was] feeling really bad when I was really [at the back] of the classification [in 2019 with KTM], I could not fight well. That’s why I said to KTM ‘it’s better to stop than pay me for nothing’.

“Now, [I have] another mentality and, as I say, I take it as a project that is pretty good because [it gives me two more years] in MotoGP, which is the best place to be on the motorbike, and is also the place I want to be because I’m very competitive.”

Zarco’s LCR announcement came after the Austrian Grand Prix, in which Zarco finished 24 seconds behind race winner Francesco Bagnaia in 13th place, one place behind the top Honda of Marc Marquez.

Ducati DRE | Racetrack Academy Review at Silverstone

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