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Rins vs Zarco: No margin for error

Title fight closer than ever as Moto2™ head for MotorLand

Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) had a more difficult start to the season than fellow title rivals Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) and Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2), finding himself falling behind the newer kids on the block, but the Frenchman dug deep and came back with a stunning mid-season stint to take back the lead - and extend it. Since then, however, the roulette wheel seems to keep landing on yellow. The landscape of the Moto2™ world championship is a very different one to how it looked for Zarco in 2015. MotorLand Aragon was the Frenchman's first chance at the title then - fast forward a year and the reigning champion is searching for his first podium in four races at the Spanish venue. He is ahead by three points, but the dice have appeared loaded of late.

Rins is the man on the move. He broke free from the podium fight on the Riviera di Rimini to lead the race by a stunning margin in the early stages; managing the gap to perfection, pushing when it counted and still finding the strength to mount a last challenge on Baldassarri for the win - despite the pain in his shoulder from a collarbone break ahead of the British GP a week before. With a P2 in the bag and another 20 points, the Spaniard must have been surprised to see his healthy title rival off the podium, as Zarco battled through to cross the line in fourth. P3 contender Lowes, after a tough weekend and being forced to push to the limit to keep himself in the game, then crashed out - effectively crashing out of the title chase, too, as 5 races remain. Misano definitely answered any questions Zarco may have had left about the 2016 title fight, however: it's going down to the wire. A two horse race it may prove to be, but it's now the closest championship margin Aragon has seen since Alex Marquez took the lead from Jack Miller in Moto3™ in 2014. Rins has broken his collarbone, qualified in P19 and still clawed back 31 points on Zarco in the last three races. If that wasn't enough to leave the Spaniard heading into the next round on a high, then the venue surely is: home sweet home.

In his rookie year in the intermediate class in Moto2™, Rins was impressive. He won races, had pole positions and set fastest laps on his way to P3 in the final standings, and one of his best performances was at his home track of MotorLand Aragon. The Spaniard grew up 20 minutes from the motorsport complex and it proves a true home race for the pretender to the crown, demonstrating that with a Moto3™ win, two Moto3™ pole positions, and a Moto2™ battle in 2015 with reigning champion Tito Rabat, in which Rins crossed the line less than a tenth back - as a rookie. That rookie is no more, as  proved consistently this season. He's the man on the charge and gaining strength race-by-race as he recovers from an injury that at the time had seemed a disaster for his title hopes. The 3 point deficit he's looking at now must seem well worth the pain of his recent heroics, with five races remaining for him to try and continue his momentum.

Zarco had his first chance to win the title at MotorLand Aragon last year, and the Frenchman's odds of achieving the feat were long but very possible - he was also the first man ever to head to the Spanish venue with a chance of heading home with the silverware on Sunday. As the pressure mounted, the Ajo rider then found himself off the podium in P6. Keeping that pressure in check with such a small gap to his closest challenger is unchartered territory for the Frenchman - something that is not true of Rins. The Spaniard may never have won the Moto3™ crown, but he fought for it down to the last corner of the last race in 2013 - and the man who beat him on the day just became MotoGP™'s newest race winner. Moto2™ experience skews the odds towards Zarco just as proven history tips them back towards Rins.

The race is sure to be more than a two-man show, however. Misano saw a new coronation in the intermediate class, with Forward Racing's Lorenzo Baldassarri taking that which he so narrowly missed out on in Mugello: his maiden win. Baldassarri has already showed impressive pace in Moto2™ and had podium finishes, but he's now got a feather in his cap he'll be more than aware of when the lights go out. Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia) will be another rolling into Aragon on a high after another podium finish, and having proved the fastest man in most of Misano's sessions. He's also a winner after his victory in Assen, and is a consistent frontrunner that could begin to necessitate some quick championship maths for other pit boxes in the paddock - as could Tom Luthi (Garage Plus Interwetten).

After sitting out the Czech GP foliowing his crash in qualifying, the Swiss veteran and former 125 champion hit back quickly at Silverstone and was in with the top group in Misano once again. Luthi's swift comeback of sorts has also seen him take P3 in the standings from Sam Lowes by 4 points. Although 50 behind Rins, the Garage Plus Interwetten rider will certainly be focused on standing on the stage in Valencia as a top three finisher in the 2016 Moto2™ season. That, plus Lowes on a bounce-back mission and Brno winner Jonas Folger (Dynavolt Intact GP) looking to move up the order in the intermediate class before his leap up to MotoGP™ in 2017, is sure to assure the Moto2™ showdown at MotorLand Aragon will prove a classic - and that's not including the Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS duo of Franco Morbidelli and Alex Marquez.

Morbidelli is now a regular podium threat and looking for his first victory, and he has nothing to lose in giving it a shot - something he's proved more than willing to do. Alex Marquez, who had a solid top ten finish in Misano but has been a consistent top 5 runner in the races preceding the Riviera di Rimini, is looking for his first podium - and on home turf. With two Moto3™ podiums at the track - one as a rookie in 2013 and then a P2 by only 0.057 over the line in 2014 - Marquez knows his home circuit well, and has good memories there. It was the track that saw him take the Moto3™ championship lead for the first time; something he subsequently didn't relinquish.

Zarco and Rins may now be lonely at the top of the standings, but they surely won't prove so in the race. And although nothing else can be guaranteed, with a 20 minute journey up the road to the track, hometown hero Rins is sure to be the first one there.