Johann Zarco has revealed Honda bosses’ instructions prior to his MotoGP debut for the factory were simply “take this race and enjoy it,” rather than focussing on any “illusions” about securing a seat with them for 2020.

The Frenchman put in a strong showing at Phillip Island on Sunday, finishing 13th, 26 seconds back of the race winner. While he felt the race was “great,” the gap to fellow Honda man Marc Marquez was “too much.”

So much so, Zarco said he later apologised to Repsol Honda team boss Alberto Puig for being so far back. But, according to the Frenchman, Puig reassured him that he was “quite satisfied” with his performance.

“I'm thankful for this opportunity first of all,” Zarco said. “Honda told me, no illusions about the future, take this race and enjoy it. And me, I'm taking this race and I am even checking options for my future, speaking with other teams in Moto2. Why not?

“But I said to Alberto, sorry that the first two guys are Hondas, and me, I am on Honda but I am on the back of the classification. So I say sorry. But he said no, don't worry, Malaysia will be different.

“And as I say, it's true that here I had to relearn so many things that it will be like too easy if I could fight with Cal [Crutchlow] in the first race. So thank you to him, because for me I feel that it's not super good, and if they are quite satisfied about the work, it's just positive for me.”

Inevitably, Zarco was asked about Jorge Lorenzo and whether finishing 39 seconds ahead of the Majorcan gave him added satisfaction. “No, you need to have some ego [to feel that],” he said.

While not being the last Honda in the classification was “important” in his eyes, he was more focussed on the gap to Marquez and Crutchlow ahead.

“So yes, it's important to be in front of Jorge, but for me, the most important is to have less gap with Marc. And if I just check Marc, OK, he put 11 seconds to the second one, so finally compared to Cal, I already have a little bit less.

“But for me, 26 seconds at the end of the race is too much. And I think I would be more satisfied if I was like 16 seconds with this group from fifth to tenth. But also, we understand why I could not catch this group.

“I'm not the worst Honda, but with what I feel and with all the decisions I took from the summer, it's not to have a better bike, but stay at the same position. It's to make step forward. It's true that I never fought with Pol [Espargaro] all year, so one step better is today. Because I did the race, it was possible to beat him, he just did a very nice work. So things are coming.”

On the race as a whole, which saw Zarco contest twelfth position in the closing laps with, ironically, Espargaro’s KTM, he continued: “The team also is quite happy. I could have a good fighting spirit and try the best, and the good thing is what I was feeling on the bike.

“I didn't get a worse feeling, the feeling remained very constant from the beginning to the end of the race, only in acceleration it was difficult to control the drive. Maybe I used too much the tyre or not, because Marc is winning with a soft one, so it means the soft was a good tyre.

“And overall he won by 11 seconds to second place. So something is possible to manage, but I'm still not able to do it. I feel things on the bike that I'm going to work on to be able to control this bike better, and I have to be happy.

“As I said it was kind of ironic to fight with Pol, the only KTM remaining, my first race with Honda, and it was with Pol that I was fighting. But we were smiling at the end of the race, because we said, maybe he felt that I had the possibility to go faster, but he said, 'no, no, you stay behind, at least for one race!'

“[This is a] Huge track, so fast. Like Marc said in the press conference on Thursday, you need confidence, if you don't have the confidence, almost you better don't try.

“And I had to relearn all of that, 185mph, fight with the guys, and keep a pace, do the 27 laps, and have the confidence into the corner everywhere. So good work, and it's normal to be unhappy. It's normal to be unhappy, but thinking about where I'm coming from, I can enjoy the result today.”

On finding confidence to take the ’18-spec RC213V to its limits, he added, “For sure I was at my limit for the race, but maybe not at the right limit of the bike.

“And what I improved from Friday to now, it's to do laps. Because on Friday, I understood that I can do better things in the corner, that I was doing three or four laps, and then I had to rest for one lap, push again one lap, rest one lap.

“And now I did the 27 laps focused, fighting, because with Pol we had to fight. And it's true that with Pol at the beginning the pace was OK and we were going fast.

“It was possible to go even faster with like [Francesco] Bagnaia, [Franco] Morbidelli, [Joan] Mir. But because we were fighting we have lost time. But the focus was there and I did every lap correctly, and I didn't get this exhausted feeling that I have to give up.”

 

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