If the first four rounds of 2017 had suggested Johann Zarco possessed something very special, then Le Mans confirmed it. The two-time world champion coolly placed the pressures of an expectant home crowd to one side to complete a race weekend of real class.

Zarco mesmerised onlookers with a sensational ten-lap run on soft tyres in Saturday's Q1 shootout, and proceeded to back that up with the third fastest time in Q2. Talk of a home podium intensified as a record 106,000 race day attendance arrived expectant.

On Sunday there would be no repeat of the nerves that dashed his home GP a year before however, as he stuck with Movistar Yamaha pairing Maverick Vi?ales and Valentino Rossi until the end. Rossi's late fall promoted him to second, ensuring a podium ceremony in just his fifth premier class race.

For Tech 3 team boss Herv? Poncharal, there was a hint of incredulity. Home grand prix aren't always a walk in the park, with hope and expectation heaped on his 'satellite' team. But Zarco's ability to surprise has been unrelenting, while his progress from race to race has been steadfast.

Speaking to Crash.net on Sunday evening in the wake of this famous result, Poncharal revealed details of an exchange with his rider in the wake of his fall from the lead at the season opening grand prix. There, Zarco told his boss with total assurance, 'There will be other moments like that.'

"For sure when we signed Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger we knew these guys were fast," said Poncharal. "We signed them because we believe they could do something. Both of them, when they jumped on the bike at Valencia, did extremely well almost from the first five laps.

"Since then, especially with Johann, it's almost a magic story. A dream. Nobody was expecting that. The first person not to expect that was Johann. And all of us. One funny thing was that through the winter Jonas Folger was a bit quicker than him.

"I'll always remember when we arrived in Qatar, before FP1 started, Johann told me, 'My team-mate has been better than me in the winter test. The switch from Moto2 to MotoGP, he did it quicker than me. I have to work. I'm really happy to have a strong team-mate that is going better than me, but right now he's doing things I can't do.'

"The next day the championship started and the two [paths of the riders] crossed each other. Since then Johann has been amazing. I don't have to remind you about him leading the race in Qatar. When I saw that I thought, 'It's impossible!' I thought he was a rookie and he was pushing too much, [that] it's not really the right way to come in and learn the class. I was disappointed, sad and a bit worried about the future.

"Johann came to me and said, 'Herv?, I didn't do anything like pushing too much. I just wanted to relax a bit, lost concentration and crashed. And I know why. It was not because I was pushing too much.' And he also said, 'Don't worry. There will be other moments like that.' I thought, 'Woah'.

"You know, the following was Argentina. Fifth positions after starting from 14th on the grid. Texas was another fifth, less than two seconds from the podium, with the famous 'action' [with Valentino Rossi]. Then Jerez again was one step closer with fourth position."

Surprising in your first four races is one thing. Bettering that in France is quite another. "Coming here, I love and hate the French Grand Prix," explains Poncharal. "And I love and hate Le Mans, because this is a race you want to perform. Often, we've had a lot of disappointments. I knew the focus would be incredible on him. The pressure would be unbelievable.

"I know he wanted to give the crowd something. I arrived here very tense. The whole weekend was difficult; the weather; the pressure. Every time Johann was going out, people were saying, 'Zarco podium!'"

Poncharal spoke of his admiration for Zarco's approach. Not only has he improved dramatically with regards to speed with a full tank of fuel. He has acknowledged the best means of learning is running with the very best, an approach both Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo complimented at Jerez.

"In the race he surprised me a lot," said Poncharal. "He didn't so much by taking the lead, because this is round five and every race he is crazy good in the first five laps - where he was struggling in Moto2.

"For some reason, he was struggling with the full tank in Moto2 and had to take it easy in the first five or six laps. With a MotoGP he said, 'I don't push more than the others. I just feel very comfortable when they seem to have a bit of difficulty.' Johann, five or six laps leading, we gave something to the crowd.

"I was worried about the tyres. We picked the soft-soft. Johann and Jonas were the only ones. I was very happy to see Maverick passing him because I thought he had some reference, and he could then understand why he's fast. Lap after lap he was surprising me. I didn't expect him to be that cool, to cope with the pressure the way he is doing.

"In Qatar he just wanted to get a good start to be with these guys, to do a few laps with them and learn. Then he will be going. He managed to do that. And more and more he can stay with them. For sure this is the best way to learn. In the end, we are learning. He is learning. He is a rookie. It's just fantastic. Johann makes us very proud.

"When you do this job, you're happy to do it. Nothing fuels the motivation like being in front. In MotoGP it's not easy. At the moment we're living in a dream. The results look like a normal progression. I keep my feet on the ground. Not because we finish second today. Honestly on performance we are third. Maybe in Mugello we'll be sixth and seventh and I'd be happy with that."

On the character of his 26-year old rider, Poncharal explained his grounded nature somewhat sets him apart from the normal MotoGP aspirant.

"He's an incredible guy. I like him a lot. He's very different. Not only in terms of performance, but the way he behaves. He's a normal guy. I like it a lot because a lot of guys here are 23, 24, getting money, getting famous, easy life, losing contact with real life.

"Johann doesn't change. He was happy all the weekend to sit and educate the young riders he looks after at his racing school. He's just happy to hang out with the hospitality guys in the evening. His strength is that he's a normal guy. He's happy to do what he loves but he doesn't behave or think that he's a superstar. And this is important."

By Neil Morrison

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ZeFrenchAngle: The most important thing is that Johan has instantly commanded the respect of his peers, not just any peers, the top 4 riders.

In the last 15 years very few riders have commanded such INSTANT respect in their rookie year in 500cc/MotoGP, and all of them are a class above the rest : Valentino, Dani, Casey, Jorge, Marc and now ..... Johann !

Going back a little further I'd add in Max! What a debut he made. Before
the crash Johann was looking like doing the same :-)