BR’s Rider of the Year 2017: Johann Zarco

Looking back at the 2017 MotoGP season, Johann Zarco topped our list for ‘Rider of the Year’.

After winning two Moto2 titles back to back, the young Frenchman moved up to MotoGP as a rookie but rode like a seasoned veteran chasing the championship.

All in all, he finished the season with three podiums, 174 points and the title “MotoGP 2017 Rookie of the Year”.

The 2017 MotoGP season has been nothing but breathtaking ever since the very beginning where the season started off under the floodlights of Qatar. Apart from a few monumental shifts in the series such as the great Jorge Lorenzo converting over to the scarlet red Ducati team and Maverick Vinales taking his place in Movistar Yamaha, there were a few more unexpected surprises thrown into the mix.

While most of us thought that the on-going battle between Honda and Yamaha factory teams would continue in 2017 especially with Maverick Vinales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) blasting through the pre-season’s tests (and of course winning the first two opening races in Qatar and Argentina), it was Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso and Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez who gave us some of the most amazing battles of modern day MotoGP.

It came as no surprise that the now more mature Marc Marquez took home the championship at the very last race of the season. However, the rise of Ducati is just beginning and they are indeed a team all of us should pay attention to for 2018.

Apart from all the happenings, we honestly have to say that we were most impress with one particular French rookie rider who stepped up to MotoGP for the very first time this year. We are of course referring the world’s only two-time Moto2 world champion and current rider for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team, Johann Zarco.

At the time where most eyes were glued to Yamaha, Honda and Ducati, no one really gave much thought on the 27 year old Frenchman. That all changed abruptly in the opening laps of the 2017 season in Qatar where he blasted pass every rider and actually led the race before unfortunately crashing out. This is the defining moment where everyone really asked the question “Who is Johann Zarco?”

Zarco is unlike any other rider in the field who had the luxury of growing up with racing in their blood and went to schools or academies dedicated to the art of motorcycle racing. It was different for young Zarco who theoretically started his racing career a bit late.

While every young rider had the support from family members, Zarco was thinking on how to break the news to his parents about pursuing his dreams to become a motorcycle racer rather than furthering his studies.

17 year old Johann Zarco during the 2007 Red Bull Rookies Cup (Image source: Red Bull)

At age 17, he gave up everything and turned to his number one mentor Laurent Felon. Through unorthodox methods of learning and training, Zarco made it through the ranks and managed to win the Rookies Cups in 2007. His mentor knew deep in his heart that young Johann was a special boy and eventually made the ultimate sacrifice; Felon mortgaged his house to get Zarco into the 125cc World Series.

Image source: Motomag

It took Zarco almost two seasons to have a taste of what it’s like standing on the very top of the podium. Knowing that he could do better, the move towards Moto2 happened in 2012 where he finished the season as the top rookie.

Zarco with his mentor, Laurent Felon.

It was 2015 that everything changed monumentally when he joined forces with Ajo Motorsport where he dominated the season with eight wins and 14 podiums. He was crowned champion and repeated it again the very next year making the young Frenchman the only rider in the world to win two Moto2 world titles back to back.

Yamaha took notice of his incredible skills and took him on board as one of the riders for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 together with another promising young rider, Jonas Folger. While both riders performed brilliantly in the 2017 season, it was Zarco who was always in the spotlight ever since he led the race in Qatar.

Being a 2017 MotoGP rookie, he surprised everyone again by finishing fifth in Argentina followed by a daring performance in the Circuit of the Americas where he aggressively battled with the great Valentino Rossi who happens to be a nine-time World Champion and Yamaha factory rider.

It was never a dull moment every time Zarco ‘irritated’ the other top factory riders but that just goes to show how good the Frenchman really is even with a technically outdated race machine run by a private/satellite team. He was indeed a threat to the championship and all riders took notice of this.

In the fifth round, Zarco performed brilliantly in front of his home crowd in Le Mans where he led the majority of the race before losing out to Maverick Vinales. Finishing just three seconds behind the race winner on a full factory Yamaha M1 is indeed a major accomplishment for the young rider after only five rounds.

He repeated his brilliant performance in the last two rounds in Malaysia and Valencia where he finished third and second respectively. The result? Johann Zarco scored a total of 174 points in his rookie MotoGP season in which he was awarded with the title “MotoGP Rookie of the Year 2017”. Not bad for a rookie, not bad at all.

All in all, Johann Zarco is a different kind of champion who is humble and cheerful around his adoring legion of fans but at the same time one of the most promising riders we’ve seen outside of Spain and Italy. There was a time when all eyes were only on the factory riders and not so much of the privateers, things have now changed for better thanks to this man.

Johann Zarco is indeed something special and these are the reasons why for 2017, he is our very own ‘Rider of the Year’. Félicitations, young Zarco.

Image source: MotoGP

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