Of Thailand’s 10 riders contesting the three classes of the Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC), it was 19 year-old Keminth Kubo who shone brightest on Sunday, claiming second place and his first podium finish in the series at the legendary Suzuka Circuit. The Yamaha Racing Asean prodigy had taken a strong sixth place in Race 1 the previous day, despite problems with his YZF-R6, but looked quick and aggressive in morning warm-up and was sufficiently confident to predict a podium finish during a TV interview on the grid.
The race was red-flagged after one lap following a crash by Australian rider, Patrick Li. It was re-started over a reduced distance of 10 laps, during which defending champion, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman got an early lead from pole position before being hunted down by Yamaha Thailand’s Ratthapong Wilairot, Keminth’s team mate, Yuki Ito, Zaqwan Zaidi, and Keminth, who had started strongly from fifth on the grid.
Keminth kept his pace and composure, as first Ito, then GP star, Anthony West and Ahmad Yudhistira got past Azlan and Ratthapong fell back from the front of the group. On lap nine the young Thai made his move by taking the lead from Ito, before Ito pushed back through at Suzuka’s final chicane, with just a few tenths of a second separating the first five riders, Ito, Keminth, West, Yudhistira and Azlan. As they traded places over the course of the final lap, Keminth was first into the braking zone for the last chicane, but the Australian veteran squeezed past him and got to the chequered flag just three seconds in front. Yudhistira took third, just behind the Thai rider, with Ito finishing fourth ahead of Azlan, the winner of Race 1. Just two tenths behind Azlan, Indonesian rookie, Andi Farid Izdihar was sixth from Yamaha Thailand’s Ratthapong and Decha Kraisart who showed immense courage to overcome pain and muscle weakness from the right wrist he injured in Round 2 in Australia. AP Honda’s class rookie, Passawit Thitiwararak finished 16th, which was one place down on Race 1, but he brought down his best lap time by 1.3 seconds as he got to grips with what many call the most difficult race track in the world.
Editor’s Note: I have watched Keminth Kubo for most of his career and saw him take a huge step forwards in 2017 at the ARRC round in India, where he took pole position and was contesting second place before falling just a few metres from the finish line in his effort to get past Yuki Ito. Since then he has shown himself increasingly able to put a good race together, so I was not surprised by what he achieved at Suzuka, but I am hugely happy and impressed to have witnessed it. His performance comes a week or so after it was announced that he has been selected to train at Valentino Rossi’s ‘VR46 Mastercamp’ this summer. Wroommm!! wishes him the best of success and will be following his progress.
Five Thai riders started the Asia Production 250cc race, all with high hopes after achieving top ten finishes on Saturday. With Indonesian rider, Astra Honda’s Rheza Danica Ahrens, in a class of his own, the race for the rest of the 33 bike grid was for second place.
Yamaha Thailand’s Anuparb Sarmoon, who finished second in Race 1, made a strong start from the third row to battle with leading, placing himself fourth or fifth in a group of 15 riders fighting for the podium and making sure he would be ready to strike on the last lap as he had done the previous day to devastating effect. As well as top Indonesians, Awhin Sanjaya, Andy Fadly and Mario Suryo Aji, AP Honda’s Muklada Sarapuech and Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi all battled at or near the front of the group, while Anuparb’s team mates, Peerapong Boonlert and Kanatat Jaiman stayed in the middle of the pack.
As Rheza disappeared in the lead, Muklada, along with Anuparb, Fadly and Mario looked the most likely to grab second place as the race progressed. Then as the leading group began the fifth lap, the race for both AP Honda stars came to a sickening end, when Kritchaporn touched Muklada’s rear wheel as they braked for the fast Turn 1. Both riders lost control and were thrown high into the air and, together with the CBR 250RRs they had just vacated, went tumbling end over end through the gravel trap. Both riders were reported to be okay after the incident, though Muklada is believed to have fractured a wrist.
As the leading group of 10 riders came to the last chicane for the final time, Mario and Fadly worked their way to the front of the group, edging out Anuparb, who was forced to settle for sixth place, a few hundredths of a second in front of his Yamaha Thailand team mate, Peerapong, who had got past Awhin and Rey Ratukore in the final turn. Rookie, Kanatat Jaiman built on the previous day’s excellent 15th place to finish 13th.
Peerapong Luiboonpeng continued his progress as the lone Thai rider in the Underbone 150cc class, recording the third fastest time in warm-up and battling hard inside the leading group throughout the six lap race. In the end he improved his finishing position to 7th, crossing the line just 0.8s behind race winner, Gupita Kresna.
Round 4 of the Asia Road Racing Championship will be at the Madras Motor Race Track in India on 3-5 August.