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Moto2™ goes down to the wire: Rins vs Zarco (vs Lowes)

Title fight separated by 1 point as the paddock head off on the flyaways

As the Moto2™ World Championship gears up for the Twin Ring Motegi and the flyaway races, the title is separated by only one point as the closest title battle of all three classes. So, where did it all begin?

It was Garage Plus Interwetten’s Tom Luthi who kicked off the year in charge of the Moto2™ title standings, as the Swiss veteran took victory in Qatar – but Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport) was quick to reassert his position as reigning Champion as he took victory next time out. Alex Rins (Paginas Amarillas HP 40) was the man with the toughest start to the year off the podium– but Texas saw the Spaniard rule the Circuit of the Americas to take his first win of the year, and the fight was on.

Sam Lowes (Federal Oil Gresini Moto2) was the points leader after Texas by virtue of his consistency, and kept that top spot sweet following a stunning victory in Jerez. The twists and turns of Moto2™ in 2016 see the same three men at the top by the flyaways – but with Zarco and Rins only 1 point apart, and Lowes 40 adrift in P3.

Zarco has five wins, Rins two, but their podium count is the same. The Ajo Motorsport rider went on an incredible winning spree throughout four of the fives races from the Catalan GP onwards, and after his win in the Austrian GP, was 34 points clear at the top of the Championship – but then the dominoes began to fall. Brno saw the Frenchman on pole in the dry, and then struggling on race day in difficult conditions – giving Rins and Lowes an opportunity that neither missed. With Zarco crossing the line in P11, Rins and Lowes laid enough on the line to take necessary risks – but not too many, locking out the podium in P2 and P3 respectively.

Then disaster seemed to strike for Rins. Ahead of the British GP, the Spanish title contender crashed during training and broke his collarbone – and suddenly the points made up in Brno seemed far from enough. After surgery and only a few days of recovery, the Paginas Amarillas HP40 rider headed for Silverstone – and was declared fit. Struggling in practice, Rins lined up in P19 on the grid for race day – and put in one of the grittiest rides of the year to cross the line in P7. Damage limitation was the goal ahead of the race, a definition of the ride then changed by what was happening ahead of him on track.

Lowes led every session at his home GP until the lights went out for the race. An early leader and then passed by some and fighting back to the front, the Brit was locked in a fight with Zarco for the podium when the Frenchman attempted a pass that sent both off towards the gravel trap. Lowes fell, Zarco rejoined ahead. The Frenchman was given a 30-second time penalty for the incident, which classified him in P22 – one place behind re-mounted Lowes with neither scoring.

After a big gain in Brno, Rins’ points haul in a painful P7 at Silverstone saw the gap at the top get smaller once again, down to ten points – but MotoGP™’s visit to the Riviera di Rimini at Misano World Circuit was back-to-back and recovery time would again be minimal.

Misano was crunch time for Lowes. After losing out on the chance to fight for 25 points at home at Silverstone, the Brit then had a difficult weekend at the San Marino GP and pushed himself to the limit in the race – and over it. With a zero score seeing him fall back off the leaders in the points standings once again and get overtaken by Tom Luthi for P3, the game seemed over…

Zarco had a good race at Misano, finishing the race in P4 from pole. But Rins, again riding through the pain barrier with his recently broken collarbone, saw the door open in the early fight for the lead and took off at the front – making an incredible gap and almost holding onto the win, until passed by Lorenzo Baldassari (Forward Racing) on the penultimate lap as the Italian took his maiden win. Another gain in difficult circumstances for the Spaniard in Misano then saw his home turf beckon the top two title rivals with a difference of only three points: MotorLand Aragon, 20 minutes from Rins’ house.

Healed and as explained in the pre-event Press Conference “feeling no pain”, the roulette wheel seemed to have fallen on the yellow of Rins’ Paginas Amarillas HP 40 machine. But, the weekend was a difficult one for both Rins and Zarco; qualifying in P13 and P5 respectively and Rins suffering with illness. The chaser moved from P13 to P6, whilst Zarco moved from P5 back to P8. Another small gain for the Spaniard, leaving the two rivals only one point apart at the top and seemingly confirming a two horse race.

“Obviously we wanted more from this weekend, it's a track I like a lot and I wanted to fight for the win in front of the home fans. But we have to be satisfied because we gained points on Zarco and now we're only one behind." Alex Rins

Johann Zarco (P8): "The aim for this weekend was to finish in front of Rins, to extend the lead in the World Championship, but it was not to be. It's a shame, because I had felt very comfortable during practice, but in the race the feeling was different. I did not want to risk too much at first, because I knew I had better pace with used tyres, but when we reached that point it was not good enough. It was difficult even to follow the group, but I was hoping to fight on the final laps. We need to keep thinking positively and  face the coming three race in a row –which will be very hard– with confidence."

Lights out at MotorLand saw Sam Lowes strike back with a stunning win out front, with Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS riders Alex Marquez and Franco Morbidelli completing the podium. Lowes took back P3 and closed in to within 40 points of the top once again.

Pressure is a game both Rins and Zarco play every weekend. Now the Twin Ring Motegi awaits, with MotorLand having set the scene perfectly for a showdown on the flyaways: four races remain, with one point in it and 100 left to play for.

And pressure, if it plays a role, is something Sam Lowes says he is now free of as the season finale approaches.