The second half of the season for Alex Rins, starting on August 14 with the Austrian GP, will mark his chance to revalidate himself as a rider: After missing the Moto 3 title twice and now getting ready to step up to MotoGP in 2017, the next 9 GPs will decide the Moto 2 World Championship between him and Frenchman Johann Zarco.
That Alex Rins is among the young GP riders with the most promise is something on those who know racing agree. Team Suzuki Ecstar manager Davide Brivio did not hesitate to offer him a contract as soon as Maverick Viñales announced his decision to change his blue Suzuki for the blue and white factory Yamaha.
“Zarco has to become your obsession, your only thought. He has to be in your head when you open your eyes in the morning, when you train, you have to see him and not your face when you look in the mirror!” Sito Pons to Alex Rins.
Sito Pons may be the person who best knows Rins as a rider. Pons owns the team for which Rins has ridden over the last two seasons and also the team Viñales rode for in 2014 before switching to MotoGP. Pol and Aleix Espargaró and Tito Rabat all raced with this team as well. “Both riders are very good,” said Pons when asked about Rins and former rider Viñales at the German GP held some weeks ago. Yes, both are very good, they have results, but who is the better rider and in what way are they different?
Pons took a moment to respond, making a couple of false starts as he decided what to share. Viñales is no longer part of his team, but Rins is. “Both are very good … I would say Maverick does things more naturally; for Alex it takes some more effort. Viñales goes out and everything flows and when he returns to the box he looks like he did it effortlessly. Alex is able to perform at the same level as Maverick, to do the same things, going just as fast, but it takes more effort, he needs to focus on what he is doing.”
This last statement, that Rins need to focus, is the rider’s unfinished homework according to the Catalan team manager. Especially in the face of the second half of the season, where Rins will fight for the Moto 2 title against Johann Zarco. In Germany, before the race, when both were tied in the provisional championship standings, Pons sat down with his rider and spoke to him candidly.
“I just tried to make what the situation was very clear. From here out, he has only one rival–Johann Zarco–for the championship. And Zarco is all that should matter from now on, the only thing. Zarco has to become his obsession, his only thought. I told him to forget about Twitter, sunglasses and all this other nonsense … focus on Zarco! If you want to be world champion, Zarco has to be in your head when you open your eyes in the morning, he has to be in your head when you train, you have to see him and not your face when you look in the mirror…There is no other way if you want to be world champion. This is how it works…Alex has to get obsessed with Zarco…Viñales is much more clear in this sense. He comes to the circuit knowing very well what he is here for. He thinks about nothing else other than doing his job.”
Imagine Pons saying what you just read in a voice a few decibels above the rest of the conversation. He was emphatic: “It’s the only way! … Alex has to decide what he wants to be here for, which role he wants to play in the World Championship. He can’t miss this opportunity. Next year he will be in MotoGP and winning a title there is very, very complicated; now he has it in his hands … Being world champion is in his hand, it depends only on him.”
After giving away 31 points to Zarco in the last three GPs, including losing a duel between the two of them at Montmelo, in Sachsenring Pons urged his rider to step up his game and attempt to put some holes in the French rider’s confidence before the summer break. “Now psychologically you feel superior, and rightly so. It’s time to strike a blow against his confidence. At this level, when two riders are at the level where Alex and Zarco are, the difference is here,” he exclaimed while pointing to his head.
Rins has given away 56 points! to Zarco in the last 4 GPs
Things did not pan out further from what Pons had hoped for however. On Sunday in Germany, Rins went down three laps before the checkered flag while his rival won his third race in the last four. Mathematically, this means that Rins will face the second half of the season behind by 25 points. Given that 225 points remain to be disputed it’s not an unbridgeable distance per se. In this case, as Pons explained, Zarco’s advantage is more psychological than anything.
It will be interesting to see in what shape Alex Rins returns from the summer break. Alex already let the Moto3 title get away twice, first in 2013 to Maverick Viñales and the second time in 2014 to Alex Marquez. To not win the Moto 2 championship in his second year in the category would be a serious… Stumble? …Failure?… Mistake?