'Right now, I feel destroyed' - several hours after the Qatar MotoGP and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal wasn't sugar coating his disappointment.
Earlier, rookie Johann Zarco had stunned by rocketing into the lead of his very first premier-class race - then, incredibly, pulling away from reigning triple champion Marc Marquez.
To put that into context, Max Biaggi famously won on his 500c debut in 1998, but not even the Roman Emperor led his very first premier-class lap. None of the current MotoGP grid led at all during their debuts.
Even more impressive was that Zarco -
fourth on the grid, formed by free practice times - didn't seem to be pushing over the limit; he certainly wasn't getting his M1 too out of shape. Nonetheless, disaster struck on lap 7 of 20, when he lost the front at turn two and slid into the gravel.
"And that was the end of the dream," said Poncharal, speaking to Crash.net
on the stairs to the Losail media room.
What caused Zarco's downfall?
Lap: Zarco's lap Time (Zarco's Lead)
|Zarco falls from the lead (pic: Gold&Goose).|
2m 2.728s (0.426s over Marquez)
1m 57.097s (0.474s over Marquez)
1m 56.470s (0.391s over Marquez)
1m 55.990s (0.780s over Marquez)
1m 56.184s (1.366s over Marquez)
1m 56.192s (1.640s over Dovizioso)
Zarco falls at Turn 2.
"What really hurts is I saw Johann's pace: He was fastest almost every lap, the only one to break the '56 barrier and set the best lap of the race on lap 4. At one point he gained 0.6s on Marquez," Poncharal said. "We showed him on the pit board; so he could understand they were not catching him. Then he decided 'I have to settle down' and when he did that, when he thought 'I've got to be careful', he lost his focus a little bit.
"Turn 2 is always the 'killer' corner here, we saw so many people fall there, he just went slightly outside of the racing line and lost the front," Poncharal said. "But he didn't crash because he was pushing too hard, which is what everyone is going to think and that leaves me with a bitter feeling."
The lap times show Zarco did indeed cut his pace on laps 5 and 6. On lap 5 he remained 0.4s quicker than any other rider, but by lap 6 the reigning Moto2 champion was just 0.193s faster than the pursuing Andrea Dovizioso. Then came the accident.
"I know we shouldn't be too disappointed. If you don't have passion and are not deeply involved, it's easy to say 'ok, you did a good show and next race will be different' but right now I feel destroyed. I feel destroyed because if he had crashed in position five I would have said 'okay, it happens.' But crashing doing what he was doing - in the position he was in - it's a huge, huge disappointment. But we'll survive."
The last time Tech 3 were credited with leading a MotoGP race was a single lap at the top for Bradley Smith during the dry-wet-dry mayhem of Misano 2015. The last time a Tech 3 rider headed a normal dry race was Ben Spies at Indianapolis in 2010.
'An incredible story while it lasted'
|Zarco leading the Qatar MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).|
While two satellite Honda riders - Jack Miller and Cal Crutchlow - won last season, a satellite Yamaha (like a satellite Ducati) is yet to taste victory since the switch to four-strokes in 2002.
"I know Cal won two races last season and Jack Miller one race, but when you come as a rookie and lead your first MotoGP race from lap one to the start of lap 7. You can imagine how we felt; we were dreaming," Poncharal said. "Randy Mamola was watching the race next to me and said 'he looks very safe'. And it's true that the others looked like they were fighting with their bikes more. But when we saw him in the gravel it was the end of our dream.
"So mixed feelings for sure. On the one hand, what Johann's done all through winter testing and the first seven laps of the race is not by coincidence.
"I have a lot of respect for everyone on the grid, but he almost made the other guys look a bit - not stupid - but we thought 'what's happening!' It was such an incredible story while it lasted. Also because Johann is more a finisher than a starter; in Moto2 and even in winter testing when Folger was quicker in the first laps.
"On the other hand people will think 'another crazy young guy who wants to show too much, out of control, typical satellite guy'. Like they were telling us when we had Cal. Anyway, it is what it is. I don't want to complain because it's the same track for everyone.
"I've been in racing for many years. I have had a lot of disappointments. This is a big one. If you look at the results, there is nothing. We didn't manage to finish. Simple as that."
'I don't like to hear about aliens... We have to shake things up'
|Start of the Qatar MotoGP (pic: Gold&Goose).|
"At the end of the day, who is on the podium again? Maverick, okay he is kind of a 'new' guy, but Dovi, Vale... I think we have to shake things up. The show tonight was great, the battle was great, but I'm a bit tired of visiting Crash.net
and reading about Movistar Yamaha, factory Ducati and Repsol Honda at the front.
"I think our two guys have brought something this year. I don't like to keep hearing the same story about 'ETs', aliens, super-phenomenal factory riders who are out of reach of everyone else. We showed we can race these guys. This is really good, because it makes the whole show more exciting!
"Our guys also showed that Moto2 is at an incredible level and that the Yamaha is an exceptional bike. I think sometimes we are a bit too conservative in the way we organise our rider line-up. So I'm proud of [choosing two rookies] also."
'They would never have caught you'
|Zarco after his fall (pic: Gold&Goose).|
What did you say to Zarco when he returned to the pits?
"I said: 'You just made something unbelievable. Unbelievable. You were opening a gap of more than half-a-second a lap and I truly believe that without that incident they would never have caught you'. And he said: 'Don't worry, I know. I'm really pissed off, because I didn't crash because I pushed too much'. Then he said: "I'm stronger. The start of the race gave me so much confidence for the future'
"We'll see. But this guy is very different to the other guys in the paddock. He's very different to all the guys I've worked with! You never see him walking around with flashy sunglasses or headphones. He's usually hiding and he's quietly spoken.
"Johann is incredible because he is so calm. He never seems to feel the pressure and you can't see the emotion. What he also told me is 'there will be other days like today'. So maybe there are great things to come..."
Folger's turning point on Friday
|Folger and fellow rookie Rins battle over ninth (pic: Gold&Goose).|
Zarco's team-mate and fellow rookie Jonas Folger brought the remaining Tech 3 machine home in tenth place, a fraction behind Suzuki newcomer Alex Rins.
While Zarco had charged to the front, the German - quicker than Zarco at two of the three official tests, including an impressive fourth overall at Phillip Island - dropped to 18th on lap one. But Poncharal believes Folger's weekend took a turn for the worse long before the lights went out.
"Jonas has been so incredibly fast and amazing during the winter, but the turning point for him this weekend was his crash on Friday. It was a very small crash but since then hasn't been the same. I think the pressure became bigger and we never saw the Jonas we saw in testing.
"From that moment I could feel and see he was under pressure. Okay there was no qualifying and with all that happened on the grid [the delayed start] I believe he was almost throwing up. Then he had a disaster start and he was not confident, almost last and following other guys. Not the Jonas we had been expecting because Jonas has been showing incredible things, but it will come.
"It's good anyway that he finished the race, tenth is nothing much to be excited about, but now he has done race he will be less stressed at the next event. We are looking forward to Argentina."
Opening practice in Argentina starts on Friday morning.
By Peter McLaren
Cal Crutchlow - Career Profile by Crash_net