Pol Esparagaro says he’s eager to see how Johann Zarco performs while standing in at LCR Honda for the final three rounds compared to his Red Bull KTM exploits but accepts he will be “another rider on the grid that is competitive”.

Following the surprise confirmation Zarco will step in for Takaaki Nakagami at LCR Honda after the Motegi round, with the Japanese rider undergoing right shoulder surgery in preparation to be fully fit for 2020, Espargaro is set to compete against the French rider just two months on from being team-mates at the factory KTM squad.

The agreement came about after KTM released Zarco from his contract and permitted him to ride for any team before the end of the 2019 MotoGP campaign, while Mika Kallio has taken up the Frenchman’s KTM ride for the rest of the year.

With Zarco duly gearing up for his Honda MotoGP debut at Phillip Island next weekend, Espargaro says he will seek out his former team-mate to gauge his feeling on the 2018-specification RC213V and compare it to KTM.

“It all happened very quickly and it took us all a bit by surprise,” Espargaro said reacting to the Zarco-LCR Honda deal. “I’m really curious to see how he will go.

“I’ll try to get hold of him at the end of the first day on Friday to ask his impressions. I want to see where he will be but I think to ride the Honda for the first time in Phillip Island? I don’t think it is the best place to take a new bike and learn about but he’s a fast rider.

“I don’t think we could have foreseen that Nakagami would get injured and Johann would take on the Honda but Pit [Beirer, KTM’s motorsport director] said that when they accepted the situation in Austria then they would not stand in his way if another opportunity came around and that’s what has happened.

“For us, if he goes faster then it’s a problem because it will be another rider on the grid that is competitive and for me that’s not good. It’s another one to beat. Like I said I’m curious to see.”

After battling through the “really hard” Thailand MotoGP on his comeback from left wrist surgery, after fracturing his wrist at the Aragon round only to return to action two weeks later, Espargaro says an additional two weeks of recovery has allowed him to get closer to full fitness ahead of the gruelling triple-header starting in Japan this weekend.

“We didn’t have too many days but each day has many hours,” he said. “I have less pain, for sure less than Thailand which was really hard. It will be less of a problem here.

“I had to have a few days off because I couldn’t treat the hand as I wanted after the race because of the long flight and some swelling. The tendons were affected and shouldn’t have been as they were. Anyway, when we got home it was all fine pretty quickly and we could work for Japan.

“Last year I was here but not in great condition for a track that I really like. I was world champion here in the past and have also won. It’s a track with some hard braking, which is something I really like.

“So we have to take out the maximum of the KTM here and search for a good result before we head to Australia, which is a race I’m really looking forward to.”



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