Johann Zarco concedes reaching the podium this weekend will be his primary focus for the Jerez MotoGP race as he sees big threats in the Honda riders.

The Monster Yamaha Tech3 rider, who entered the Spanish race having confirmed his switch to KTM for 2019, produced a blistering late lap in qualifying to jump up to third place to reach the front row alongside pole-sitter LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow and Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa.

The French rider, who claimed pole position at the 2018 season opener in Qatar, says he’s delighted with his qualifying result having struggled for pace with his YZF-M1 with the track temperatures increasing in the hot conditions at the Spanish circuit.

While he fears the hot conditions could hamper his race pace Zarco remains quietly confident having uncovered “a new limit” with his Yamaha that enabled him to fight the Honda riders.

“It was not easy to ride the bike when the temperatures went up,” Zarco said. “In qualifying the lap time was not coming easy like on Friday or on Saturday morning when there was a good feeling.

“I was wondering what I can do but I feel some good points on the bike and some weak points. On my last two laps I really tried with the medium tyres that for me we looking better. I’m happy because I found some a new limit on the bike and thanks to that I’ve got the third position which is important for tomorrow.

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“I’m starting the race thinking about the podium because it is the place, the most beautiful place you can be on Sunday, but it is true that the Honda has a strong pace, better than me, but why not?

“With the information we got in FP4 and also what we learned in qualifying maybe we can find a few adjustments and choose the right tyre for the race.”

Zarco has echoed sentiments from the Movistar Yamaha duo Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales that the Japanese manufacturer is struggling for grip in the heat – a problem which plagued its 2017 campaign.

“I think it is the same problems for everybody but maybe we are suffering more, that we are losing a lot of grip when we have the full lean angle on,” he said. “I think the Yamaha is a good bike going into the corners when you are using the full lean angle but if you lose the grip then you make so many problems.

“For me, that was the problem in FP4 and a bit in qualifying. I think it could be the same for the other M1s.

“The minimum I think we will use will be the medium tyres, front and rear, but let’s see if it very hot then we will have more information. I didn’t try the hard so that’s why it is complicated to say I will go with the hard tyres tomorrow. But at the moment the soft is not an option for the race because with these temperatures it is not working well enough.

“For me the rear medium and hard don’t have a big difference so if I feel good on the mediums this can be the best option. It is only on the front tyre that I can have some doubt.”

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