Visiting riders to Chang International Circuit normally expect to be challenged by Thailand’s wild cards. However, as Free Practice for World Supersport Round 2 got underway today, local riders were forced to dig deep in the face of a well prepared flotilla of series regulars.
World Champion, Lucas Mahias got straight to work at the top of the leader board, bringing his times down to 1:38 within the opening 10 minutes. Jules Cluzel, who always goes well at Chang, gave chase, followed by Sandro Cortese, Randy Krummenacher, Luke Stapleford and Anthony West. Thai wild cards, Thitipong Warakorn, Decha Kraisart and Ratthapong Wilairot, got to work, getting adjusted to the switch from Dunlop to Pirelli and, for the Yamaha Thailand pairing, to the brand new R6s they put together for this weekend. Meanwhile, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman, standing in for the injured Kenan Sofuoglu, got to grips with a bike and a team that, except for the colour, was entirely new to him. He was the first of the wild cards to break into the top 10 with a 1:39.4 after 22 minutes in the first session.
Krummenacher broke into the 1:37s after 35 minutes to displace Mahias, while Caricasulo slotted into fourth behind Cluzel and Anthony West, a Supersport winner at Chang three weeks ago in the ARRC season opener. The French champion responded with six minutes remaining to go 0.3s clear of the German with the fastest ever practice on a Supersport 600 around the Buriram Circuit at 1:37.469. Raffaele de Rosa jumped into third with five minutes left, while Hikari Okubo, Niki Tuuli, Azlan and Luke Stapleford pushed West down to 10th. The privateer Aussie responded in style with a late lunge to record 1:38.233 to finish the session 4th.
At the end the session belonged to Mahias, whose time was just a few hundredths short of Sofuoglu’s pole record of 1:37.345, set in 2015.
OF THE WILD CARDS, Thitipong put in a respectable 1:39.182 on the Core Kawasaki, just four thousandths quicker than Azlan and Ratthapong, while Decha was further adrift on 1:40.301. The two new R6s had been fitted with European specification wiring looms that were causing them problems. The offending items were promptly removed at the end of the session and replaced with Asian versions. They also experienced problems with rear shock absorbers, so were unable to make the desired set-up improvements during the first 50 minutes on track.
Mahias resumed his place at the front from the start of Free Practice 2, banking an early 1:33.592. Krummenacher and Caricasulo again gave chase but, 20 minutes into the 50 minute session, were unable to get within 0.3 seconds of the Frenchman. Less fortunate frontrunners from the morning were Jules Cluzel, whose NRT Yamaha broke down before 10 minutes were up and Luke Stapleford, who threw his Profile Racing Triumph into the gravel.
With 22 minutes remaining, Anthony West put himself into fifth place in the session with a 1:38.558 and Krummenacher edged to the top with a 1:37.539. Cluzel got back to work and recorded a 1:38.092, went for an excursion in the gravel, and then followed up with a 1:37.850. Classic Cluzel.
The wildcards turned up the heat during the last five minutes. Thitipong climbed up to tenth, ahead of Azlan, who was then leap-frogged by Ratthapong. Decha, meanwhile, languished in 21st place having managed a best time of 1:39.384.
Krummenacher shaved his time on the last lap down to 1:37.503 to finish top in the session and second on combined times for the day behind Mahias. Caricasulo, who showed good pace in both outings, was third ahead of the mercurial Cluzel and the ever threatening West. Hiroki Okubo and Sandro Cortese were the last riders to break through 1:38. Full results can be seen on this link.
WORLD SUPERBIKE FREE PRACTICE was close in all three sessions, with the effect of the technical regulation changes becoming apparent, with all five manufacturers hitting the top of the timing screens at different times of the day and the top 13 best times all being within one second.
Perhaps the most impressive performances were from Leon Camier, who maintained strong pace all day and finished just 0.2s off the overall best time, Xavier Fores, who, until the final few minutes, had been the fastest Ducati all day and Jordi Torres on the MV Agusta.
When Business Time began, in the last five minutes, the factory Kawasakis and Ducatis asserted themselves, with Rea and Sykes, the only two riders ever to have won World Superbike races at Chang International, in the top two slots. Torres managed to jam his MV Agusta between them and the Panigales of Melandri and Davies. Camier was sixth, after a satisfying day’s work on the Honda ahead of van der Mark, Fores, Laverty and Lowes, who completed the top ten.
SOME 50,000 SPECTATORS are expected during the weekend, including some 5,000 foreign visitors. Some will be drawn in by free attractions, exhibitions and entertainment outside the paddock and may be tempted to buy tickets. People who already booked tickets for MotoGP in October can use their passes for free entry to World Superbikes.