Though the increasingly competitive Red Bull KTM RC16 has shown enough flashes of performance this season to suggest a front row qualifying performance hasn’t been all that far away, few expected it to come this weekend in the Czech Republic… and even fewer thought Johann Zarco would be the one responsible.

A measure of the Frenchman’s highly-publicised struggles adapting to the RC16 package and the discontent that came with being forced to adapt his riding style, Zarco began the day having failed to reach Q2 or qualify higher than 13th in 2019.

However, with intermittent rain throwing a curve ball at Brno, Zarco appeared more comfortable on the RC16 as he led team-mate Pol Espargaro into the second-half of qualifying via Q1.

With the benefit of having already sampled the tricky conditions in Q1, Zarco was quickly up to speed and straight to the top of the timesheets in Q2 where he would sensationally remain until the slick-shod Marc Marquez and Jack Miller squeezed ahead in the final two minutes.

Nonetheless, third on the grid marks a welcome return to form for Zarco and marks a new for KTM of qualifying on the front row of a MotoGP race for the first time (after 48 attempts).

Though Zarco tempers the joy by being quick to point out that he is still having a ‘hard time’ in the dry conditions forecast for Sunday’s race, he is pleased for the much-needed morale boost.

“A nice feeling, huge emotion even just for qualifying but I’m taking it,” he said. “We are still having a hard time [though], on Friday I was not fast and still looking for improvements.

“In the wet today I didn’t start so well in FP3, but I had a better feeling from FP4 and step by step I could push. In the afternoon it was getting dry but we had to use wet tyres, I can manage this well since Moto2 so I took this opportunity.

“I was in the box maybe ready to go with slicks but there are too many patches. A nice thing to start the second half of the season and it brings a lot of happiness to everyone.”

With Zarco’s complaints about the RC16 centres around a lack of confidence with the front end, Zarco is encouraged that in conditions requiring less load on the front the KTM is competitive.

“In the wet there is less stress on the bike, you lean less. We could have the same problems, but we have less pressure on the bike. We are suffering a lot and tomorrow we need to take this opportunity to be with the top guys.

“I’d like to lead if we get a good start or a first lap for KTM – these guys need to think about the championship, we just have to think about 2 laps!”

KTM clear number one rider in terms of results this season, whilst Pol Espargaro may be irked he wasn’t the one to give the team its maiden front row start, he wasn’t far off himself, the Spaniard lining up in fifth place to double KTM’s chances of a breakthrough result on Sunday.

 

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