Johann Zarco took his first steps towards a life filled with racing when he began competing on minibikes in Italy, finishing second overall in 2005 and 2006. He then joined the Red Bull Rookies Cup during its inaugural year in 2007 and became their first champion, with four victories and seven podiums in eight races. Two years later, the pilot from Cannes, France made his debut in the 125 World Championship with the WTR San Marino Team, where he ended the year in 20th position – improving to 11th the following year.
In 2011 the Frenchman evolved, jumping to the Avant AirAsia Ajo Derbi team. The new combination conquered ten podiums together, pushing for the 125 title until the end. In Motegi, just four races from the season finale, Zarco took a career first victory – but finished second to Spaniard Nico Terol in the Championship. His solid performance earned him 262 championship points and also got him a ride in the Moto2™ World Championship with Team JiR in 2012.
It was not an easy rookie season for Zarco aboard the MotoBi, but he was near the podium on several occasions, including the Portugese GP. He ended the year with 95 points; inside the top ten. 2013 saw him join the Came Iodaracing Project mounted on the more competitive Suter frame and that saw Zarco deliver on his potential with two podiums – a third in both Mugello and Valencia. Again, the Frenchman became a rider to watch.
For 2014 Zarco joined the new Caterham squad, riding a revised Suter frame. It was a mixed season with four podiums and several crashes, especially during the early part of the year. Then in 2015 came the turning point, as Zarco rejoined Aki Ajo under the Ajo Motorsport banner in the Finn’s newly formed Moto2™ team – on much-desired Kalex machinery. Aside from Qatar, 2015 was a year without fault and at round three in Argentina, Zarco took his first win in the class. He took the Championship lead, and it subsequently grew with each round. Repeated triumphs were repeatedly celebrated with a trademark backflip, with a highlight of the season proving his run of three wins from the Czech GP to the San Marino GP. It was in Motegi, where he took his first victory back in 2011 on the 125cc Derbi, that Zarco was crowned the 2015 Moto2™ World Champion.
2016 has been less straightforward. It was Garage Plus Interwetten’s Tom Luthi who kicked off the year in charge of the Moto2™ title standings, as the Swiss rider took victory in Qatar – but Zarco was quick to reassert his position as reigning Champion as he took the win next time out. Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) was the man with the toughest start to the year off the podium– but Texas saw the Spaniard rule the Circuit of the Americas to take his first victory of the year, and the fight was on.
Zarco went on an incredible winning spree throughout four of the fives races from the Catalan GP onwards, and after his win in the Austrian GP, was 34 points clear at the top of the Championship – but then the dominoes began to fall. Brno saw the Frenchman on pole in the dry but struggling on race day in difficult conditions, before a battle with Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) for the podium at Silverstone sent both off towards the gravel trap. Lowes fell, Zarco rejoined, and the Frenchman was given a 30-second time penalty for the incident, which classified him in P22 – one place behind re-mounted Lowes with neither scoring.
Zarco had a good race at Misano, finishing the race in P4 from pole, but the Aragon GP the following weekend was a difficult one for the reigning Champion; qualifying in P5 and finishing the race eighth. It was another small gain for Rins in the title fight, leaving the two rivals only one point apart at the top and seemingly confirming a two horse race as the flyaways approached.
Zarco was then back on the podium at the Twin Ring Motegi as late-charging Championship challenger Tom Luthi took victory, before the Frenchman had a difficult weekend in Phillip Island outside the top ten and Luthi was the key rival once again, taking a stunning photo-finish win. Zarco then had a new rival in second in the title fight, with the Frenchman 22 points clear of Luthi as the paddock headed for Sepang.
After a weekend of challenging track conditions in Malaysia, Zarco took his second crown. Beginning the race from a pole position that had seen him over two seconds clear of his closest rival in qualifying – Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS) – Zarco started the rain soaked race cautiously before choosing his moment to pounce for the lead. Once ahead and on clear track, the Frenchman simply disappeared – taking another victory to cap off the twists and turns of the 2016 title fight in amazing style. Crossing the line with a wheelie despite the wet, the Frenchman and a body double celebrated with two trackside backflips to mark the Ajo Motorsport rider’s record second title. And a record result it is, as Zarco becomes the first Frenchman in history to win more than one world title in Grand Prix racing, the first man to defend the Moto2™ title since its introduction in 2010, and the first man since 3-time MotoGP™ Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) to retain the intermediate class crown – 10 years after the Mallorcan’s first 250 title in 2006.
Six wins and another crown: the 2016 Moto2™ World Champion is Johann Zarco – with the Frenchman now gearing up to move into the premier class with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 in 2017.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko