Tech 3 Yamaha team boss Hervé Poncharal has said Alex Lowes' talent has been clear for all to see during his two-race stint as a replacement rider, and believes performances through the Misano race weekend showed a nerve to match this ability.
Lowes is preparing for his third MotoGP race weekend at Aragon as he continues to stand in for the injured Bradley Smith, who is still recovering from leg injuries sustained at a World Endurance Championship race in Germany.
Poncharal admits he was not sure what to expect of Lowes prior to Silverstone. The Englishman had endured a difficult start to Yamaha's official return to the World Superbike championship, but nonetheless impressed when teamed up with Pol Espargaro at the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour in July.
The French team boss only saw the Englishman complete brief 15-lap stint at a post-race test in Brno – “a poisoned present”, in Poncharal's words, such was the limited time available to showcase his talents – before starting into his home grand prix.
“I didn't know what to expect, honestly. I knew he was fast on the Superbike,” Poncharal told Crash.net
in Misano. “I knew from Pol how they had been riding for the 8 Hours. But this is a different bike, a different championship.
“OK, we had a very short test in Czech Republic. It was almost a poisoned present let's say. Since then he's really impressed all of us. For me, I can say it because I want to be honest, he's doing much better than I was expecting him. I think the whole team has the same opinion. You never know coming from Superbike. For every this is the discussion we will have.”
What in particular has impressed the Frenchman most? “Everything. It's a combination of everything. He has talent, to do the lap time he is doing with such a small amount of testing, clearly he has a lot of talent.
“He's also a clever guy. We've told him many, many times – sometimes it's difficult for the message to get through to a rider – 'No pressure, don't try to impress.' But in the end they're a racer, they're trying to impress. This is human.
“He's been coping with these kinds of things. It's not easy. Even though we're telling him, 'There's no pressure.' Yamaha is telling him the same. Everyone is telling him, 'Just enjoy yourself, try to learn, and so on.'
“That's easy to say for us. We are behind the wall. When you are on the bike it's different. You need to have the nerves and the talent. He's got that.
“Unfortunately there is nothing we can do for 2017 because our riders are already lined up, that's already clear. Neil Hodgson might not think it's the right decision to take Zarco and Folger, but this is done. Anything I can do to help Alex, I will.”
Combining World Superbike duties with his MotoGP stand-in rides, a fourth race in as many weekends won't be an issue, according to Lowes. At the close of the weekend in Misano, during which he finished FP4 a highly promising eleventh, qualified 14th and crashed in the race, the 26-year old felt he had made real progress with understanding the bike.
“Aragon's a track that I know and really enjoy,” he said in Misano. “Honestly, now I fell like I know this bike. I'm not up to speed with everything. I've done only a couple of race starts and stuff. But I feel like I've got to know the bike, the team. I've got to know some things with the bike set-up so my goal is to make a step closer to the top ten over the race weekend. That's my goal.
“I started to understand the bike more. The more changes have come from me, understanding the style. I feel a bit better. Honestly, forget the race, which was really disappointing.
“But I really enjoyed the weekend. It was great. Let's say I was a second slower from Pol at Silverstone. Today, in the laps that I did, I was half a second. It's coming. I'm getting closer. It's not all negative.”