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Turkey leads Japan and Spain in the race for this year’s Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. Just 47 racing laps remain this season to decide who will take the title, and it’s boiled down to a battle of youth versus experience.
Leading - as he has done since his brilliant double on the KTM RC 250 R at the second event - is 14-year-old Can Öncü, who is in his first Cup season. In second is Kazuki Masaki of Japan, five points behind, and 23 points ahead of third-placed Aleix Viu - the 16-year-old Spaniard who started the year confirming his status as pre-season favourite with a victory in the opening weekend.
Viu was second in last year’s Cup and it has seemed at times that he has felt the weight of expectation in his third season. Not so Kazuki Masaki, who is also 16, but little was known or expected of the Japanese rider as he made his Cup debut and with such consistent, error free pace.
Sitting between them, perhaps Masaki has just the right balance of speed and experience to come out on top. Or will Öncü’s flamboyance and bravado make the difference? When the pressure is even greater, could Viu’s Cup history help him take what was denied twelve months ago?
Still a chance
There is just a single race at Misano but it is vital, and it’s by no means just a contest between the three at the top. With 75 points on offer, the next trio in the title chase still carry the dream: 15-year-old Japanese rider Ryusei Yamanaka is 54 points back, Can Öncü’s twin brother Deniz Öncü is only one further back with a deficit of 55, and Matthias Meggle, the 17-year-old from Germany, is 56 points off Can Öncü’s lead.
For the rest, it’s more about glory than points and that certainly is the focus for Omar Bonoli, the 15-year-old riding at home and looking for his first Rookies Cup podium. He will be thinking of the top step and don’t count him out - he was on a charge this year, faster and faster until robbed of the chance to ride in Brno because of an injury.
Robbed of four races because of more serious injury was Ai Ogura, and the 16-year-old Japanese rider won in Austria so is likely to be taking a lot of points from the top guys in Italy - even if he cannot be champion.
With such close margins and 75 points still on the table, Misano will be a race to remember – and for some, a result that makes all the difference in the chase for the 2017 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup.
Where to watch
This weekend's Rookies Cup race can be seen live on motogp.com and www.redbull.tv - as well as on TV stations around the world. The single race is at 16.30 CEST on Saturday, and the show starts 10 minutes before the race.
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