Ten Thai riders began Round 3 of the Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC) in perfect weather conditions on Friday morning at the legendary Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture, Japan and featured in the top five of all three classes.
Peerapong Luiboonpeng, Thailand’s only representative in the Underbone 150cc class, was the first to feature when pit lane opened at 08:30. Riding for GP125 wizard, Youichi Ui’s Team One For All, the multiple ARRC podium winner, was among the early leaders, mixing it with established stars from Indonesia and Malaysia, such as Wahyu Aji Trilaksana, Gupita Kresna and Akid Aziz to end of sixth after two free practice sessions. In the afternoon Peerapong continued to show his strong pace during the 30 minute qualifying session to finish fifth, just one tenth of a second off his team mate, former ARRC champion, Affendi Rosli and in front of championship leader, Izzat Zaidi, Akid and Wahyu.
Peerapong will be on track early tomorrow morning for warm-up, then at 10:20 (08:20 in Thailand) for Superpole, in which the top 15 riders from Friday Qualifying will each do a single timed flying lap to determine the first 15 grid positions. Full results here.
Thai racers from AP Honda and Yamaha Thailand were among the leaders for all three Asia Production 250cc practice sessions on Friday.
Muklada Sarapuech ran a top pace all day, losing out in the first session only to Indonesia’s Rheza Danica Ahrens who was untouchable all day for Astra Honda and on combined times for the three sessions was narrowly edged out of second place by Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki’s Andy Fadly. Muklada also showed her rookie AP Honda team mate, Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi, around what many consider to be the world’s most complex racing circuit, helping him to move through to fourth overall.
On a day during which the Honda CBR 250RR showed clear power and speed advantages, Yamaha Thailand’s Anuparb Sarmoon battled hard to get his YZF R25 onto the pace, eventually succeeding in getting into sixth place, 1.5 seconds shy of Muklada and a full 2.3 seconds back from the imperious Rheza. Yamaha Thailand’s Peerapong Boonlert showed good pace all day, despite being knocked off his bike on the start finish straight by Cao Viet Nam. He was unhurt and his bike sustained only light damage. His rookie team mate, Kanatat Jaiman put in a best lap for the day of 2:34.771. Full results here.
Thailand’s Supersport 600 contenders faced the strongest grid of the year, with Anthony West and Zaqwan Zaidi returning after missing Round 2 in Australia and some formidable Japanese wildcards joining the fray to make up a grid of 24.
Ratthapong Wilairot continued the strong form he has shown since his shock move from AP Honda at the start of the season, chasing early pace-setters, Zaqwan Zaidi and Ahmad Yudhistira in Free Practice 1 to finish third with a time of 2:14.748 ahead of former Suzuka race winner, Yuki Ito, defending champion Azlan Shah and last year’s double race winner, Anthony West. His team mate and former double ARRC champion, Decha Kraisart, started well but tailed off as his right wrist, still healing from his crash at Round 2 in Australia, began to make it difficult to control the bike at the limit he likes to ride at. Keminth Kubo, 19, who partners Yuki Ito at Yamaha Racing Asean, had a solid first outing to end up 9th with a time of 2:15.985. AP Honda’s rookie for 2018, Passawit Thitiwararak, took time to find his way around, managing a best lap of 2:22.862.
The caution shown by most riders in the morning session gave way to a fierce early battle among the leaders in FP2, with the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki pairing of Azlan and Yudhistira forcing an early pace from Yuki Ito, Zaqwan, Ratthapong and Keminth. Zaqwan crashed at the Turn 11 Hairpin mid-session, bringing out the red flag so that bike and rider could be moved to safety.
At the restart Yudhistira and Ito jumped to the top of the timing screens, moving the pace into the 2:13s, before Ratthapong and Keminth responded to go first and third respectively at the end of the session. The injured Decha fought on, putting in a time of 2:15.342, while Passawit by almost five seconds to 2:17.914.
The heat increased again in FP3, with Azlan, Ratthapong, Zaqwan, Ito and Yudhistira all bunched into the 2:13s. With eight minutes remaining, Keminth jumped into the leading group, followed closely by wildcard, Kyosuke Okuda. As this group battled, Azlan squeezed himself under 2:13, with a time of 2:12.984 and Keminth tagged onto the back of Zaqwan to bring his best time down to 2:13.376, just two hundredths slower than the Malaysian and 0.3s ahead of Ratthapong in 4th. The ailing Decha ended the day 16th and Passawith 19th. Full results here.
Here is the schedule for Saturday’s action. Please note that the time in Thailand is two hours behind Japan. Viewers in Thailand can watch live either on the Asia Road Racing Page or, for the races only, on Fox Sports or true4U.