Rather than a defensive mindset of protecting fourth in the MotoGP World Championship from a close group of riders behind, Johann Zarco heads in to Portimao with his sights set on trying to snatch third from Joan Mir.
That would mean overcoming a sizeable 23-point gap to the 2020 world champion in the space of just two races and maximum of 50-points.
“Things are coming together,” Zarco said on the eve of this weekend’s penultimate round. “I think this target to catch the third place will be good. I was in a good position after the summer break but I lost it.
“Luckily, I have moved up a place after Misano. Why not think about the third? [But] If I want to catch it, I think I will have to be on the podium or it will be complicated.”
Zarco was leading the world championship after the Qatar season-openers, and remained Fabio Quartararo‘s closest rival from Mugello until the Austrian GP, when he began a five-race slump that saw him score points in just two races.
That included COTA, his first event after arm pump surgery, but he took his best result since the summer break with fifth at Misano which -combined with Miller’s fall – moved Zarco back to fourth overall.
“I must be happy because at the moment it is the best season I can do. Just learn from what I missed after the summer: That’s the thing,” Zarco said.
“I’m pretty happy from the last race in Misano. I’ve been getting good confidence back. The weekend in the rain was great. I was happy to see I could make an improvement and then in the dry, in the race I was not super-fast but constant enough to finish and get good points.
“So just getting a good result, doing some great overtaking and having a better race then the one before: that’s what brings the happiness on the bike and the confidence.
“At the moment it is positive,” he added of the season as a whole. “It seems disappointing – looking at the championship – because I missed [chances] and lost second place in the championship, but to still be in with a chance of the third does not mean a bad season.”
Indeed, if Zarco can finish this year inside the top six it would be the highest ever MotoGP placing by a Pramac Ducati rider, while a top five would exceed his own previous championship high, while at Tech3 Yamaha in 2017 and 2018.
The earlier Portimao round in April saw Zarco qualify on the front row but fall while battling for a podium in the race.
Both Zarco and Mir are yet to win a race this season, with Zarco still chasing his first premier-class win – the Frenchman finishing runner-up four times this season alone. Rookie team-mate Jorge Martin took his and Pramac’s first Ducati MotoGP win in Austria.