Johann Zarco broke his MotoGP podium drought and moved to the head of the Independent standings with third place in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

Zarco celebrated two podiums during the opening four rounds of the season, but had been absent from the rostrum ever since.

But after being promoted to pole position by Marc Marquez's penalty, the Monster Yamaha Tech3 rider tucked in behind leader Valentino Rossi on the opening lap.

The Italian's pace helped pull Zarco clear of the pack and the Frenchman later clung on briefly to eventual winner Marquez.

"The strong beginning of the race was key for the podium," Zarco said. "I had a great start from pole and it helped me to go well in the first two corners.

"Valentino was pushing a lot and going so fast. I was not able to overtake him,  but following him was good enough to go away and save the podium.

"Later I did a mistake in corner 14 and Marc overtook me very cleanly and then I tried to stay behind him.

"I expected Marc could catch Vale quickly but instead he was closing step-by-step. I lost a little bit to him, but I was able to keep a good pace and have a bigger gap to the guys behind me."

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Inheriting second after Rossi fell, Zarco couldn't quite contain Suzuki's Alex Rins, who made a last-lap pass.

"After Valentino crashed I was second, again with a good gap," Zarco said. "I thought I could control it but five laps from the end I saw on the pit board that Alex was coming maybe five-tenths per lap faster than me!

"I tried to push but I was not fast enough and in the last lap when he overtook me in turn four I wanted to overtake him again and fight a little bit. But there wasn't the possibility and I almost crashed in turn 11.

"I got the podium last year here in tricky conditions, but this year was like a real constant race and the strong beginning helped me finish on the podium."

While Zarco's main target is to repeat top Independent honours from last season before joining the factory KTM team, if he can beat Rins in Valencia he would claim fifth in the world championship, one place higher than his rookie campaign.

"Third is just a fantastic present because I'm now the first Independent rider. I'll try to keep it in Valencia and being on the same points as Rins means whoever finishes in front can be in the top five of the championship.

"That would be nice. The main target I think must be the first Independent rider but if I can have two things in one, why not?"

In the satellite standings, Zarco has a single point lead over the injured Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) and five-point advantage over Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati).

While Crutchlow (doubtful for Valencia) and Petrucci regularly test parts for their respective factories, Zarco said his M1 is the same as the start of the season.

"It's true that the bike is exactly the same since the beginning of the year until now," he confirmed.

"What I feel is that the three race weekends in a row - almost five with Thailand – helped us to adapt very quickly to our bike.

"Sure, our bike has a limit, but the limit today was fighting for the podium or maybe fourth position.

"So we did the 100% and this helped me to feel strong and give a good result to the team, myself and Yamaha, and feel confident for the next challenge."

Meanwhile, Zarco confessed to a brief flashback from Australia as he closed in on Marquez's back wheel at the end of the back straight on lap 5 of 20.

"When he overtook me, I got a good acceleration behind him. You are so focussed but I saw his wheel getting closer and thought 'no! I will keep it away this time'. But it was just a very quick instance.

"After that I was focussed because I thought he could catch Valentino and I wanted to try and stay with him."

Zarco's rookie team-mate Hafizh Syahrin claimed tenth place in his home race

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