With Thailand known increasingly for producing riders capable of competing on the world stage, the question we get asked most often is how can young riders get the kind of training that launched Ratthapark Wilairot, Thitipong Warakorn, Nakarin Atiratphuvapat, Apiwat Wongthananon and Somkiat Chantra on the road to international racing glory.
There is more than one answer, but the Kingdom does benefit from a long-established system that makes it easy for children as young as 10 to start racing on family bikes, or increasingly now on mini-bikes, such as the Honda MSX or Kawasaki KSR and develop racing skills in the FMSCT Road Racing Championship, which runs at Thailand Circuit.
During recent years, major motorcycle manufacturers have become interested in finding young talented riders and developing them within their own programmes.
Of these, AP Honda is perhaps the most conspicuous and is well known as organizing the Thailand Talent Cup, which places its top five riders each year into the Asia Talent Cup, which in turn leads on to the Red Bull Rookies Cup, the CEV Junior World Championship and Moto3 Grand Prix racing.
But where do the Thailand Talent Cup riders come from?
To find out we went to the Motorsport Park Suvarnabhumi last weekend and spent some time with the AP Honda Academy, where the 2018 intake of 15 young hopefuls began a season-long fight for a place in the top 5 and the right to compete in the 2019 Thailand Talent Cup. The other places in the Talent Cup will be taken by top riders from the FMSCT Road Racing Championship plus a handful of Honda-supported foreign riders from other Asian countries.
The AP Honda Academy is open to riders from 9-14 years old, who get drilled in the best riding and sporting practices that ‘Big H’ has to offer. They all get to ride and race immaculately prepared NSF100s, which gets them used to GP-style bikes right from the start. There will be six rounds in the championship, to be held at the BRIC Go Kart Circuit in Buriram and the Bira Kart Circuit, as well as at Suvarnabhumi. Races are run under strict FIM guidelines as set by the Federation of Motorsports Clubs of Thailand (FMSCT), which also supports the initiative.
Ratthapark, together with MotoGP and World Superbike race winner, Makoto Tamada, headline a glittering team of instructors, which includes Muklada Sarapuech, Sitthisak Ochawiang, Passawit Thitiwararak and Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi.
Academy weekends are divided into theory and physical training on Saturday and riding and racing on Sunday. For the round of the season a group of much younger riders from the Thailand Circuit based Gufba Kids Academy joined the classes and looked on.
Speaking on the Sunday, Ratthapark explained, “Yesterday’s physical training was really hard. One of the students even cried he was hurting so much, but everyone showed good spirit and got through and completed it well. Today is all about riding and each rider had five solo laps being observed by the instructors, then a debriefing before Practice, Qualifying and Racing in the afternoon.
“We don’t want to tell them too much about how to ride this circuit,” he continued, “In this series and later, as professional racers, they will have to find their own way around many different circuits, so better they get used to thinking for themselves now.”
The former GP250 and Moto2 star should know. He was the first regular Thai Grand Prix racer and, backed by AP Honda, had to blaze a trail for the very first time. Despite his successes, at times it could be difficult in a predominantly European sport and he has brought his experience home to provide a clearer path for those with the talent and determination to follow him.
This important project is the initiative of AP Honda, but enjoys valuable support from some important sponsors, Including Idemitsu, IRC Tire, a company long associated with rider development, D.I.D. Chains, and NGK Spark Plugs. All important safety equipment is supplied by Kushitani for leather racing suits and KYT for helmets.
Because of high interest in young rider training in Thailand, Wroommm!! will be covering other initiatives during the 2018 season.