Johann Zarco believes this weekend’s conditions in Japan have presented him with an opportunity to post an upset after the Frenchman set a promising fifth fastest time on Friday.

The two-time Moto2 world champion was comfortable the fastest Yamaha in the drenched afternoon session, with his fastest lap time clocking in at just over half a second off the quickest pace of the day. Zarco has form here too, winning at the Japanese venue two times across his decorated grand prix career.

And once again, in certain conditions, Zarco’s Tech 3 satellite M1 – the 2016 machine, used by Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo last year – proved more competitive than the factory ’17 machine in the hands of Maverick Viñales and nine-time champ Rossi. He ended FP2 almost one second quicker than Viñales, still in contention for the world title.

“Yes, we have wet conditions and a lot of rain, so it's complicated for everyone,” said Zarco. “It's maybe an opportunity to take. So I need to stay focused and keep pushing, and work with the team to improve myself, improve the bike, and stay in the top positions. But that's a difficult position, so if I find the key to feel good, I will use it for the race.

“I think the grip remained the same between the morning and afternoon, just we improved the bike very well. It's the same for everyone. And compared to other tracks in the world, this track also has very good grip. I think we had the same in Czech Republic and also in Germany, but it's so nice to ride at this level on the wet, because I'm still wondering how it's possible.”

Looking ahead to qualifying day, Zarco explained his current weak points are, like the factory runners, on corner exit, with the overall traction holding him back from going even quicker.

“It's the main feeling,” he said. “I think now we are going quite fast, so why not improve the traction of the bike? I feel good on braking and into the corner, so I'm going to work for the traction.”

Throughout Friday Zarco had a different face on the other side of the Tech 3 garage, with factory test rider Kohta Nozane stepping into the fold to replace Jonas Folger, who has flown back to Europe due to illness.

Nozane impressed too, ending the day 13th, just behind the factory Yamaha riders, showing himself capable of a good finish on Sunday.

On Nozane’s performance, Zarco said, “I'm quite surprised. I expected he would start the weekend overall on the wet slowly, because it's difficult to be confident on a MotoGP bike in the wet, but maybe he knows the track well, and he just went to the practice and did very well. I'm happy for him, happy for the team, and really, congratulations.”

And did he have an explanation for the struggles of Viñales and Rossi? “I don't know,” he said. “I still didn't analyse that, and I'm doing my work to do it as well as possible, and if in the end I'm better than them, it's just good fun.”



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