Three Thai riders were in action this weekend during Round 5 of the MotoGP World Championship at the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans. Nakarin Atiratphuvapat headlined once again as Thailand’s sole representative in Moto3, but he was joined in the paddock on this occasion by Somkiat Chantra and Apiwat Wongthananon, as Round 3 of the FIM CEV Repsol Junior World Championship was held as a supporting event.
Nakarin, whom I tipped as a top five finisher during 2018, continued a poor start to his second season in Moto3 in France at the circuit where he scored his first ever world championship points in 2017 with a 13th place . In this ferociously competitive arena, his qualifying time, although less than 1.2 seconds off that of pole-sitter Jorge Martin, placed him 24th on the grid and with a lot of high speed traffic ahead of him. He circulated around his starting position for most of the race, had a minor spill three laps from the end, which cost him around 30 seconds and was classified 20th after last lap crashes among the leaders moved him further up the order. With no points yet in the bag and his Honda Team Asia Japanese stable mate, Kaito Toba, consistently further up the field, the popular Khon Kaen rider will be looking to re-group before Round 6, at Mugello over the first weekend of June.
Thailand’s CEV Junior World Championship Moto3 contenders both featured strongly, though in different ways. Apiwat Wongthananon, returning after breaking his ankle Round 1, was hungry for a good result at Le Mans and showed again how gritty determination can carve out good results. His qualifying time was exactly one second off that of the pole man and race winner, Alex Viu, but only good enough for the ninth row of the grid. Now in his second season for the VR46 Mastercamp Team, Apiwat put his experience to good use and fought his way up to 12th at the end of the 17 lap race in what was a 13-bike battle for ninth position.
AP Honda’s Somkiat Chantra has so far enjoyed smoother progress in the series, after finishing ninth in Round 1 at Estoril, and then taking sixth and fifth places in the two races at Valencia before the trip to France. He qualified fourth, just 0.003 behind Asia Talent Team’s Ai Ogura and was in a fierce battle for the podium, crossing the line in fifth place before being promoted to fourth, behind Alex Viu, Raul Fernandez and Ogura, after Manuel Pagliani was penalised three places for exceeding track limits on the final lap. Somkiat now sits fifth in the standings, with 41 points, just behind Yuki Kunil and Viu, who are on 48 and 49 respectively and is showing the kind of form that can take him higher still.
The FIM CEV Repsol Junior World Championship returns to Spain for Round 4 in the second weekend of June, where there again will be two races for Moto3 at Barcelona.