Thailand’s Trakarn Thangthong loosened Lewis Cornish’s grip on the 2017 FIM Asia Supermoto Championship by taking a dramatic third round win at the K1 Circuit in Changhua, Taiwan.
Following a one-off issue with Customs in India, the round scheduled for Bangalore had to be called off, so promoter, Asia Supersports Group, in collaboration with the China and Taiwan Motor Sports Association (CTMSA), pulled out the stops to hold the round in Taiwan. Not only was it an impressive feat to make it happen within three weeks, but it would become the first ever international motorcycle race to be held on the island.
With time pressing, the purpose built K1 Circuit in Changhua, half way down the industrialized west coast of Taiwan, was selected to avoid the additional work of designing and creating a new track. To make the logistics feasible, Husqvarna motorcycles were supplied locally, which also served to level the playing field, with many riders, including the main championship contenders, competing on similar machines.
There were two notable absentees Round 3: the 2016 champion, Muhammed Habibulla (Gabit), who is recovering from a nasty Supercross crash in Malaysia and Kenneth San Andres of the Philippines, who was struck down by appendicitis after checking in at Manila Airport for his flight to Taiwan.
The 1.2m K1 circuit has 12 corners and three distinct sectors. The first is a twisty, technical section from Turn 1 to Turn 5, the second is a dirt section of approximately 400 metres with a line of whoops, dirt hairpin at Turn 7 and then a jump with a deceptively steep take-off before another 180 degree turn to transition back to the tarmac. The final section is fast and open, consisting of three straights connected by hairpins that finally onto the start-finish straight.
From the commencement of free practice on Saturday afternoon until the lights went out for Moto 1 on Sunday, a familiar pattern appeared, with Lewis Cornish setting a pace more than half a second quicker than his rivals in each session. There were two other significant factors. The first was that Cornish was by far the quickest rider through the first sector and the second was that the most skillful riders could gain a significant advantage by clearing the whoops in one double and one triple jump. Trakarn was the first rider to do the double-triple during Qualifying, then Cornish. Malaysia’s Khairi Zakaria, meanwhile, continued his good run of form, though played it safe by tackling the whoops with double jumps. Behind these three, Naoto Takayama, who has competed in Taiwan’s national Supermoto series, also showed well from the start, using his track knowledge to post some fast laps from the beginning of free practice.
In Qualifying, the ever-economical Cornish put in five flying laps, posted a best time of 1:07.116 and sat out the rest of the session as Zakaria and Trakarn battled it out one second adrift of the Englishman. At the end of the 30 minute session, Cornish was fastest by a second from Zakaria and Trakarn, with Takayama, Takashi Sasaki and Hasroy Osman completing the line up for SuperChrono, which determines the first six grid positions in the FIM Asia Supermoto series.
On the clearer track in SuperChrono, faster laps followed from Cornish, who took 0.8 seconds off his Qualifying time to bank a best time of 1:06.255, from Trakarn, who improved again to take second place on the grid with 1:06.946, which was almost 0.7 clear of Zakaria in third. Takayama bettered his Qualifying time by a full second to lead row two with a time of 1:08.052 from Hasroy and Sasaki, who crashed on his outlap and was not able to rejoin the session.
Despite the best efforts of Trakarn and Zakaria, it was Lewis Cornish who forced his way to the front at the start of Moto 1 and made the most of his speed through the first sector to open up a gap as the field hit the dirt section for the first time. Despite establishing a comfortable lead by the end of lap one, everything changed the second time around, when Cornish did the triple jump was unable to slow his bike sufficiently to make the dirt hairpin, going down as he locked the front brake. As he got back on, he collided with Takayama and went down, albeit briefly, for a second time. Trakarn, meanwhile, made his escape in first place.
With his bike undamaged, Cornish treated the crowd to a thrilling chase, setting the fastest lap and closing right up on second placed Khairi Zakaria, who resisted strongly to keep the Englishman behind him at the chequered flag.
In front of the Malaysian, Trakarn, was smooth, fast and faultless, taking the win by three seconds. As one local spectator told me in the paddock afterwards, “Trakarn is so fast and flows like a fish. He is beautiful to watch.”
Takayama kept it together to take a comfortable fourth place ahead of his team mate, Sasaki, who led home Singaporean, Hasroy Osman, Indonesia’s Pedro Wuner and Lee Wei, the best of the Taiwanese finishers, in eighth position.
With grid positions for Moto 2 reflecting the finishing order from the first race, Trakarn made the most of pole position to hold off an aggressive challenge through the first sector by Cornish, who had got away well from the outside of the front row to edge Zakaria into third.
Trakarn managed his lead well, holding off fierce challenges from Cornish through the first sector on each lap and then taking advantage of his motocross experience to edge out his lead through the dirt and getting the power down well to stretch his advantage as they got back onto the tarmac.
The pressure from Cornish, however, was relentless and he got past the Thai rider at half distance, putting in some fast laps to open up a gap of four seconds at one stage. But with backmarkers playing their part in the unfolding drama, and Trakarn lifted by his Moto 1 victory, his lead was whittled down to 1.5 seconds as the chequered flag was waved after 20 minutes plus two laps. Zakaria was third again, this time with a more spirited display, mastering the triple jump and finishing just 0.8s behind Trakarn. Takayama, Sasaki, Hasroy and Wuner repeated their positions from Moto 1 in the first seven, while Taiwan’s Lin Chin Pei took eight place from Lee Wei with China’s Sun Tong rounding out the top ten. The first three all recorded best laps in the 1:06s.
Trakarn’s first place in Moto 1 and his second place in Moto 2 earned him the overall win from Lewis Cornish and Khairi Zakaria. The five-rider podium was completed by Japan’s duo of Naoto Takayama and Takashi Sasaki.
Although the event had been put together in a hurry, the grandstand and paddock areas were crammed with spectators for the whole day. They included a few hundred Indonesian factory workers who took advantage of their day off to cheer the popular Pedro Wuner on his way.
The HD live streaming, provided by twenty3.tv, again worked well, drawing viewers from Europe and the US, as well as more than half a million from the Asian region. A 30 minute highlights show will be screened on Fox Sports early next week.
Despite having given his rivals a glimpse of fallibility, Lewish Cornish will lead the FIM Asia Supermoto show to Round 4 in Singapore on December 10th with 145 points to Trakarn’s 131 and Zakaria’s 120. Both chasing Asian riders got closer to the championship leader this time and will be keen to test him again in the steaming heat of the Equatorial city state.