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2 days ago
By motogp.com

Destination Czech Republic as Zarco closes on the crown

Reigning champion on form and focused on title defence

Since the inaugural year of the world championship was won by Toni Elias in 2010, no Moto2™ champion has successfully defended the crown – but 2016 could prove the year as Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) took another stunning victory in Austria to stretch his lead at the top of the table. Now past the halfway point of the season, the Frenchman has clawed back a sizeable deficit from key rivals Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP40) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) to lead the standings – looking ever more likely to replace Jorge Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) as the man to last defend an intermediate class title.

Zarco moves into the premier class in 2017 with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team and the Frenchman’s performances this season give a good answer as to why. Now the most successful rider from his home nation of France, Zarco took a calm, controlled and perfectly judged victory at the Red Bull Ring – making him not only the most recent Moto2™ race winner as the paddock heads north, but also the most recent winner at the Automotodrom Brno after a win in 2015 from former champion Tito Rabat. The crown continues to edge closer as rivals Rins and Lowes finish behind the Frenchman, and Zarco seems in ominous form.

Alex Rins, who struggled for pace at times in Austria, staged an impressive comeback to take a podium finish on the final lap at the Red Bull Ring, but the Spaniard still saw his deficit in the championship grow. Now clear of rival Sam Lowes in P2, the Paginas Amarillas HP 40 rider heads to Brno needing to start finishing ahead of Zarco - but did take home a podium at the track in 2015 in his rookie year.

It was a tough Austrian GP for Moto2™ title contender Lowes. The Federal Oil Gresini Moto2 rider had a difficult time through Free Practice and qualified in seventh, before a crash in the race sent him tumbling down the order and triggered a second incident after bike damage. The DNF put a dent in his title hopes as he lost further ground to Zarco, but the Brit took a solid P5 in the Czech GP last season and will be pushing to make up the deficit.

Further men to watch in Brno could prove Garage Plus Interwetten rider Tom Luthi, and Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez. Experience should show for Luthi as the paddock gets back on familiar ground, and the Swiss veteran will be looking to hit back after losing P2 in Austria on the final lap – finding himself off the podium after heading into the final lap in second. Morbidelli was one of the men who passed Luthi and had an impressive showing in the Austrian GP to convert P2 on the grid into the same in the race, ensuring again that the Italian is no stranger to the Moto2™ podium. Marquez, who has had a tough second season in the class so far, turned his best ever qualifying in Austria into a solid P6 in the race, and ran up in the front group for the first time in 2016. The Cervera native had an impressive rookie run in Brno in 2015 too, battling for the podium with Rins, Zarco and erstwhile champion Tito Rabat. With his early season wrist injury shaken off and confidence restored somewhat after the Red Bull Ring, Marquez will want to consolidate his position in the HJC Helmets Grand Prix České Republiky.

Moto2™ complete a test at the Red Bull Ring on Monday before hitting the road to Brno, taking to the track on Friday morning after the MotoGP™ machines return to pitlane - with the race set for 12:20 local time (GMT +2) on Sunday 21st August.