Johann Zarco will return to MotoGP with LCR Honda for the final three races of the 2019 season.
The Frenchman steps in to replace Takaaki Nakagami, who is set to undergo shoulder surgery after this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. Nakagami has just signed a new one-year contract and will return to the team next season.
Meanwhile, Zarco returns to the grid a few weeks after leaving the factory KTM team. Both parties had previously agreed to part ways at the end of the year. However, disappointing results and public disputes led to a premature departure. The two-time Moto2 champion was replaced by KTM test rider, Mika Kallio.
Speaking about the switch to Honda, Zarco said:
“What an opportunity to have the last few races of the season on the LCR Honda IDEMITSU bike. I’m really thankful to have this chance. I will do my best to pick up some good results and to enjoy the time, because these could be the last three races I can do for a while. I would like to thank KTM for releasing me so that I can do these races on another bike. Let’s see what I can do.
“First of all I know that I will enjoy the Phillip Island track, it’s a fast circuit and I think the feeling could be good. We’ll cross our fingers that it can be, and we will see what is possible. The target is to ride at a good pace, and rediscover some of the good feeling I’ve had before.”
Today’s announcement will no doubt fuel rumours about Jorge Lorenzo’s future at Repsol Honda. The five-time champion may walk away from his two-year contract after a difficult season. Injuries have plagued Lorenzo, whilst he has also struggled to adapt to the Honda. Public criticism from team bosses, and Marc Marquez’s dominance, has also made the situation worse.
Zarco’s three-race deal with LCR Honda could be seen as an audition for him to potentially switch to the factory team next season – taking Lorenzo’s ride.
However, team boss Lucio Cecchinello says that it was his idea to bring Zarco to the team. He said:
“Obviously we are very sorry that Nakagami is forced to miss the last three races of this season, but on the other hand we know that injuries are part and parcel of this sport. I proposed to HRC Director Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Team Manager Alberto Puig the idea of engaging Zarco as our replacement rider and they gave me their approval.
“When I contacted Zarco he immediately showed interest and together we worked on every step of this project that will conclude in Valencia. From our side we will ensure maximum effort to support Johann, a rider who has shown immense talent and professionalism in his racing career.”
Zarco will ride Nakagami’s 2018-spec Honda at Sepang, Phillip Island and Valencia. This is less powerful than the 2019 machine. As a result, however, it is considered to be less aggressive.
Nakagami will ride at his home event this weekend, despite being in some discomfort. He will then have surgery and take time to recover ahead of winter testing.