With 10 riders on international duty at Japan’s historic Suzuka Circuit for Round 3 of the Asia Road Racing Championship and Nakarin Atiratphuvapat at Mugello, in Italy for Round 6 of the MotoGP World Championship, fans in Thailand were checking time differences to make sure they kept up with the action over the last weekend.
NAKARIN, IN HIS SECOND SEASON with Honda Team Asia, has not registered a point-scoring finish in the first six rounds; his team mate, Japan’s Kaito Toba, has shown more progress since 2017 and now has 16 points. A hundredth of a second here and there makes a significant difference in this most closely fought championship and the fast, methodical 22-year-old from Khon Kaen is working with his team to find the missing piece. In Mugello his performance was similar to last year’s, qualifying again in 28th place and finishing 25th compared to 24th. The next round will be in Catalunya, Spain on June 15-17.
KEMINTH KUBO, who rides for Yamaha Racing Asean in the Asia Road Racing Championship’s Supersport 600 category, grabbed hearts and headlines with displays of speed and maturity far beyond his 19 years to take 6th place in Race 1, despite some mechanical problems. He led Race 2 and was narrowly beaten to the line by GP and World Supersport star, Anthony West. His second place put him on the podium for the first time in the continent’s premier circuit racing class and demonstrated the level that he has now reached. It will have also boosted his confidence ahead of ARRC Round 4 at India’s Madras Circuit, where he achieved his first Supersport 600 pole position in 2017.
There were three other Thai riders in the ARRC Supersport 600 class;
- Yamaha Thailand Racing Team’s Ratthapong Wilairot, who qualified second and was an early leader in both races, before slipping back to finish 8th and 7th.
- Yamaha Thailand Racing Team’s Decha Kraisart, who, despite the wrist injury he sustained in Australia in Round 2, battled hard to finish 11th in Race 1 and 8th in Race 2.
- AP Honda Racing Thailand’s class rookie,Passawit Thitiwararak, who improved at the technically demanding circuit each time he left pit lane. He finished 15th in Race 1 and 16th in Race 2, despite riding faster.
Five Thai riders again contested the Asia Production 250 class, with championship contenders, Anuparb Sarmoon and Muklada Sarapuech, leading the line for Yamaha Thailand Racing team and AP Honda Racing Thailand respectively.
Yamaha Thailand’s Anuparb and Peerapong Boonlert went there with deep understanding of the mysteries and complexities of Suzuka, after racing there in previous ARRC rounds and from having won the 2017 Suzuka 4 Hour endurance race. Their rookie team mate, Kanatat Jaiman, was making his first trip to Suzuka, though has started his international career impressively this season, having already scored a podium finish and running consistently among the leading group in AP250. The 20-year-old earned his place in Yamaha Thailand racing team after winning Thailand’s R2M, Bira and BRIC Open 400cc championships. His combination of speed and mental toughness is reminiscent of Anuparb’s and his future looks bright.
Mukalada’s AP250 team mate, Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi is another carefully chosen rookie, who has already justified his selection with his early pace and results.
Yamaha Thailand knew that they would need to overcome a power disadvantage to the Hondas on the fast sections of Suzuka, while AP Honda’s factory supported machines, along with those of Indonesia’s Astra Honda arrived in Japan with new, rounded tail sections designed to reduce drag and further help top speeds.
The tone for the weekend was set in the first few minutes of the first free practice session, when Astra Honda’s Rheza Danica Ahrens went faster than the 2017 pole position time. Nobody else in the 33 rider field had an answer for his pace, so all three days were about the fight for second place.
Through practice and qualifying it looked as though the battle behind Rheza would be between Muklada, the Kawasaki of Andy Fadly and Rheza’s Astra team mate, Mario Suryo Aji. Behind the Hondas there was a contest for the fastest Yamaha between Anuparb and Rey Ratukore, another Indonesian. Muklada qualified 3rd behind Fadly, Anuparb 7th, behind Ratukore, Kritchaporn was 9th, Peerapong 13th and Kanatat 15th.
In Race 1, as Rheza scampered away at the front, Mukalda, Fadly and Mario locked horns at the front of a group of 10 riders, while Anuparb stayed just behind them, using their slipstream to keep in contact. Kritchaporn also stayed in the group a few places behind and Kanatat a few seconds behind. On the last lap, Fadly pushed Muklada wide at the end of the fast overpass section and out of contention for the podium. He then braked too hard and too late and crashed himself at the final chicane. The clever Anuparb seized the opportunity to avoid the chaos and squirted through to the chequered flag in second. Muklada recovered to finish 5th, Kritchaporn 8th, Peerapong 9th and Kanatat 15th.
Race 2 ran in a familiar, paint swapping pattern, until the start of lap 5. Muklada flicked her bike left to set herself up for a defensive line through the fast right-hand Turn 1 and Kritchporn hit her rear tyre. The contact sent both bikes and riders high in the air and into a sickening series of high speed tumbles though the gravel trap. Muklada sustained a broken left wrist, while Kritchporn managed to avoid any injury. Anuparb kept in position, as he had the day before and Peerapong closed up behind him. At the end, Anuparb was not able to craft another move to the front of the group, settling for 6th half a second behind Mario, who won the fight for second. Kanatat continued to improve and finished 13th.
FORMER YAMAHA THAILAND AP250 star, Peerapong Luiboonpeng, was Thailand’s sole rider in Underbone 150cc, riding for Team One for All under the guidance of 11 times GP125 winner, Youichi Ui. He was among the fastest riders throughout the weekend, qualifying 10th and finishing 8th in Race 2, less than 1.2 seconds behind race winner, Helmi Azman. He continued his form into Race 2, improving his finishing position to 7th and in front of his team mate and former ARRC Underbone champion, Affendi Rosli. The race was won by Indonesia’s Gupita Kresna.
ARRC Round 4 will be at the Madras Motor Race Track near Chennai, India, on 3-5 August, while the next Thai international stars in action will be Apiwat Wongthananon and Somkiat Chantra. They will be at the Catalunya Circuit in Spain over this coming weekend, for 2 races in the FIM CEV Junior World Championship.
Images courtesy of Asia Road Racing Championship