The 2018 FIM Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC) got off to an incident packed start for 2018 over the weekend at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand.
As ever on their home circuit, Thailand’s wildcards and regular series riders featured at the top of the timing screens throughout practice, qualifying and the races. The only real disappointment was the almost empty grandstand. Somehow, Thailand’s growing army of motorcycle racing fans skipped the opportunity to see their own international heroes in wheel-to-wheel action in the world’s most competitive continental circuit racing series. In sharp contrast, the event’s live streaming attracted more than one million viewers in addition to the huge regional audiences reached by Fox Sports and True4U.
THITIPONG WARAKORN, carrying injuries from a training accident, converted his wildcard entry to a win in Supersport 600 Race 1. The former Moto2 star put the Core Kawasaki Thailand Ninja 600 on the outside of the front row of the grid and battled hard during the early laps with 2017 champion Azlan Shah and Anthony West. He forced his way past West on lap 4 and put the hammer down to open up a gap with the battle behind him for second place. The Australian got the better of Azlan to cross the line 4.2 seconds behind the winner.
Ratthapong Wilairot, looking increasingly comfortable on the Yamaha Thailand R6 finished sixth after a battle for fourth position with 2016 champion, Zaqwan Zaidi, and Ahmad Yudhistira. Yamaha Racing Asean’s Keminth Kubo was 2.5 seconds further back in ninth after a long scrap with MUSASHI Boon Siew Honda’s Tomoyoshi Koyama and Andi Farid Izdhar and Idemitsu Honda’s Taiga Hada. Decha Kraisart was among the leaders when he crashed at turn 3 on lap 8 to end his race.
Ratthapong’s shock move to Yamaha has left AP Honda Thailand with two rookies in the Supersport class: Japan’s Keisuke Kurihara and Passawit Thitivararak. In a class in which lap times match and often beat those achieved in World Supersport, the new riders are finding their way and are expected to improve during the season. They finished their first competitive outings just outside the points in 16th and 18th positions.
SUPERSPORT 600 RACE 2 saw Decha make up for the previous day’s error by sustaining his challenge for the full race duration to finish second behind West. Thitipong lost power with an electronics problem that struck on lap 3, which forced his eventual retirement three laps later.
Having got through to the lead on lap 7, West took advantage of a five-way battle behind him for second place between Decha, Ratthapong, Azlan, Zaqwan and Yuki Ito, to stretch out a lead of 1.7 seconds at start of the final lap. Zaqwan, seeing Azlan struggling for grip, moved his Honda into fourth as they entered Turn 5 and got onto the back of Ratthapong, who held his ground to look safe for a podium finish. Yamaha Thailand’s new signing, who had been one of the fastest riders through Turn 12 all weekend, pulled inside his team mate in a clean move on the brakes to move into second as they began to make the turn. What looked like a perfect plan was promptly undone by Zaqwan, who made an impossibly late lunge inside Ratthapong, to take both bikes down.
Decha avoided the tangle to come through to second ahead of Azlan, who claimed another third place to finish ahead of Ito.
The other Thai riders improved their positions from Race 1, with Keminth finishing seventh and AP Honda’s Passawit and Kurihura in 12th and 13th.
THAI RIDERS WON BOTH ASIA PRODUCTION 250 RACES, with Yamaha and Honda sharing the glory thanks to Anuparb Sarmoon and Muklada Sarapuech in races one and two respectively.
Yamaha Thailand’s Anuparb started the season as championship favourite and rode to a clever victory from pole position on Saturday, keeping himself in contention in a race long, 11 bike fight for supremacy. AP Honda’s Muklada also kept herself within striking distance of the top step of the podium and crossed the in second position. However, overly aggressive moves at the last corner, which forced Mario Suryo Aji onto the grass on the inside and then pushed Anuparb wide on the outside before exceeding the track limit as she exited the corner, earned her a drop of five positions and a deduction of three championship points.
Mario recovered well from his excursion and was promoted from third to second following Muklada’s penalty, the 14 year-old finishing ahead of his Astra Honda team mate, Rheza Danica Ahrens.
Yamaha Thailand’s Peerapong Boonlert was fourth, just 0.6s behind the winner, with a similar gap back to his new team mate, Kanatat Jaiman. AP Honda’s class rookie, Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi, also had an impressive debut, finishing sixth.
THE LEADING GROUP IN RACE 2 looked similar to Race 1, but the order had been shuffled significantly by the time the chequered flags were waved.
Muklada made up for her indiscretions of the previous day by riding a fast, clean race to become the first ever female Asia Production 250 winner. Anuparb was clearly missing some power from Race 1 and had to work hard to stay with the leading group. A mistake by Muklada with three laps left dropped her to 11th, at the back of the leading group, but she kept a cool head, moving through to third by the start of the last lap and keeping it smooth through the final turn to take a hugely popular victory.
Indonesian star, Rafid Topan Sucipto finished second, the width of one tyre ahead of Kanatat who crowned his inaugural weekend in the series with a podium finish, three tenths in front of Peerapong in fourth and another eight tenths clear of Anuparb, who fought through to fifth. Kritchaporn showed good pace throughout, though was pushed back to 12th at the end.
WITH NO REGULAR RIDERS IN THE UNDERBONE 150CC CLASS, it was left to Thailand’s wildcards to fight for glory. There were five local entries for Suttipoj and Suttipat Patchareetron, Peerapong Luisboonpeng, Nattawut Rungkigsawas and Paitoon Nakthong. Peerapong suffered mechanical problems and was unable to start either race, while Paitong suffered early breakdowns in both. The Patchareetron brothers fared better, finishing 14th and 16th in Race 1 and Suttipat improving to 11th in Race 2.
However, it was Nattawut, riding the SCK Rapido Hi Rev Honda, who flew his national flag highest, running at or near the front of the leading group throughout Race 1 before being clattered out of a likely podium position when eight bikes went down like dominos at the final corner. His machine broke down in Race 2, but he showed that Thailand is still capable of breaking the hold that Indonesia and Malaysia have on the class.
Rule infringements plagued the final Underbone results, particularly for 2016 champion, Wahyu Aji Trilaksana, who was docked three championship points for dangerous riding in Race One and handed a 20 second penalty for causing a crash at the final turn in Race 2. Malaysia’s Izzat Zaidi claimed Race 1 for RCB Yamaha YY Pang Racing, while compatriot, Helmi Azman took race 2 for SCK Rapido. Affendi Rosli had two good outings for Team One for All, scoring second and fourth place finishes.
The ARRC goes to Australia for Round 2 on 14-18 April at the newly completed Bend Motorsports Park, near Adelaide. It will run together with a round of the Australian Superbike Championship in an action-filled four day programme, where Wroommm!!’s very own Barry Russell will be providing news as well as track-side commentary.