Thailand’s two riders in the FIM CEV Repsol Junior World Championship were centre stage at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend for Round 4 of the series. AP Honda’s Somkiat Chantra and VR46 Mastercamp Team’s Apiwat Wongthananon both put in strong performances and again set the Thai flag flying over the winners’ rostrum.
This time it was Apiwat who grabbed the attention, as the Chonburi rider showed that he is back to full strength, after breaking his ankle in Round 1, missing Round 2 and making his way back for Round 3 at Le Mans, where he managed a 10th place finish after starting from 25th on the grid.
Both riders qualified well in the 44 rider field, with Somkiat 7th, 0.8s back from pole man and championship leader, Manual Pagliani, who led the front row from Sergio Garcia and Aleix Viu. Apiwat lined up 15th for Race 1, with a best lap 1.1s back from Pagliani.
From the lights in Race 1, Somkiat, together with Honda Team Asia’s Ai Ogura, pushed hard on the leading group. Pagliani led, but was unable to make a break, as the slipstreaming swarm behind him caught up on Catalunya’s long straights. Behind them a determined Apiwat caught up with the leading group after his fifth row start and picked off each rider until he arrived behind Pagliani on Lap 6. He began to push the Italian for the lead, but also had to battle with the Estrella Galicia Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Jeremy Alcoba. Ogura had also caught up with the front riders and took a brief turn in the lead, as Somkiat fell back from podium contention.
On Lap 12 out of 16, Pagliani, Garcia, Alcoba and Apiwat broke away from the rest of the group, which was being led by Ogura. Then a mistake by Pagliani, who ran wide, dropping himself to 8th on Lap 14, allowed Garcia, Apiwat and Alcoba to get clear. On the last lap Garcia and Alcoba were able to squeeze out two bike lengths on the Thai rider, who had a determined Pagliani on a mission to catch up behind. Apiwat kept his head down and took the chequered flag half a second back from Garcia, who edged Alcoba for the middle step of the podium. Somkiat came across the line in 12th, nine seconds after Garcia.
Race 2 was red-flagged twice and was finally run as a six lap sprint. Pagliani made no mistakes this time to claim the win from Celestino Vietti Ramus and Daniel Alcoba. The winner’s championship rival, Raul Fernandez, finished 4th, which enabled him to maintain the championship lead, though his total of 99 is now just three ahead of the Italian.
The short race distance worked against Apiwat, who nevertheless came through to 8th, while Somkiat finished 14th, becoming the only rider apart from Pagliani to have finished in the points in all eight races so far. The AP Honda rider is now 7th in the standings with 47 points, while Apiwat’s resurgence after his early season set back brings his total up to 28 and in 12th position. With the championship realistically out of reach, expect Apiwat to go for race wins in the remaining four rounds.
The two Thai riders, since beginning their careers as youngsters at Thailand Circuit, have taken very different paths to the FIM CEV Repsol Junior World Championship, where both are in their second seasons. Somkiat’s career has been the more structured, staying in the small capacity classes, starring, together with Apiwat, in the 2015 inaugural season of ARRC’s AP250 series and then winning the prestigious Asia Talent Cup title in 2016.
Apiwat, by contrast, jumped from underbones to Superbikes at the age of 17, infamously battling with Thitipong Warakorn for the FMSCT All Thailand Superbike championship and even appearing in Moto2 as a replacement rider for Ratthapong Wilairot in the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. Yamaha Thailand Racing Team re-set his career when he joined them in 2016, allowing him to continue in the national superbike series, but also sending him out again in AP250s. Showing a new sense of purpose, as well as putting his versatlity on display, Apiwat won the All Thailand Superbike championship from his team mate, Anucha Nakcharoensri, and dominated the Asian series to take the title 75 points clear of defending champion, Takehiro Yamamoto. That won him the place at the VR Mastercamp where he earned himself a place in the Junior World Championship.
Both riders will be back in action for Round 5 at Motorland Aragon on 28-29 July, as the series moves into the second half of the season.