There was plenty of anticipation for R2M 4 and 8 Hours Endurance 2018, as many of Thailand’s biggest stars lined up to win not just the race, but for an entry to this year’s Suzuka 4 Hours. The full list of entries was published in our preview article.
There is a special atmosphere at endurance races that changes as the hours move on. The anticipation of the race start, with the national anthem, the crowd counting down and then riders sprinting across the track to start their machines is certainly the most spectacular moment. At exactly 11:30 it was R2M’s impresario, Kraitos Wongsawan who waved the national flag at Thailand Circuit to start the race, before sprinting to the inside of the track as the riders blasted past.
Anuparb followed up his scintillating Qualifying and Superpole performances by scampering straight into the lead, chased by Zack Johnson who opened proceedings for Moto Image BRP Racing. Third on the road was 4 Hour contender, Tanate Sukjaroen, on the new Tingnote Shop Racing Kawasaki Ninja 400 and then Asawin Kongthonpaisrn, who got away well for UTR Oneball. All riders got onto their target paces quickly, with Anuparb putting in consistent late 1:28s, compared to Johnson’s late 1:29s. Yamaha Riders’ Club 8 Hour Team, led away by Piyawat Hoombunyasuk, was running fifth from TS’s Jeerakit and Mark Harrison on the Candy Stripe Moto R3.
The first drama struck at 12:11, when the TS Yamaha came into the pits for refuelling and a rider change. Their pit stop was fast and smooth until Aekalak jumped on to find the bike wouldn’t start. After some urgent attention on the pit apron, the bike was pushed into the garage and the mechanics got to work to try to fix the electrical problem that had caused the extended stop. A frustrated Ratchada, meanwhile, paced up and down. While that was going on, Candy Stripe became the second team to stop, with team principal, Issey Wiryahyuttamar jumping on for the second stint.
After 50 minutes, Anuparb had stretched the advantage to one lap over Zack Johnson, who had to recover from a brief excursion across the grass on his 34th lap. In the 4 Hour race and without the TS Yamaha to worry about, Tanate pulled clear of Yamaha Riders’ Club 4 Hour bike and the late entry from Your Helmets, who were fielding another Yamaha R3.
Just before the first hour came up, Johnson stopped for fuel and a rider change to Petchawarut, closely followed by Asawin, who had got UTR Oneball off to a strong start. Anuparb stayed out for an hour and 10 minutes before handing a three lap lead over to Ratthapong.
Problems struck the second placed Moto Image BRP Yamaha during the third stint, with Ben Reid on board. The former 250 GP rider found himself with a failing front brake, which required him to pump it frantically every time he got on the throttle so he would have some stopping power before the next bend. Despite the extra work, he was lapping in the 1:29s and reducing the lead of the Yamaha R3 Racing machine. The team bled the brakes when he stopped, but next man out, Johnson, soon found himself with the same problem and still managed to gain back ground on the leader before crashing at 2 hours and 20 minutes. They were overhauled for second place by UTR Oneball as the bike was brought back on the Slide On Recovery truck. The team dropped to fourth by Yamaha Riders’ Club and finally to last place, as the team repaired the bike and bled the brakes again. In the next pit, Ratchada bowed to the inevitable and withdrew from the 4 Hours race, as PTT Challenger Tingnote Shop continued to extend their lead over the Yamaha Riders’ club entry for the shorter event.
With the Moto Image machine looking once again like a Yamaha, Petchawarut went back out, though was around four seconds adrift of his earlier pace, still troubled by the failing front brake. Meanwhile Anuparb got back out for a second turn on the leading bike.
With four hours gone, the board for two more laps came out and Tingnote Shop took a well deserved win after a faultless performance during which they completed 151 laps. Yamaha Riders’ Club were second, 11 laps adrift, with Your Helmets another six behind them in third.
In the 8 Hour race, UTR Oneball also completed 151 laps at the four hour stage, three laps behind the leader and lapping at the same pace of 1:34 to keep the gap constant. Impressive stuff from the private team.
In the Moto Image pit, Ben Reid, stopped Zack Johnson from taking any further part, considering the risk of riding a bike with a defective front brake not to be worth risking the 18 year-old’s day job in the ASBK Supersport series. It was a good decision, as Reid himself, again displaying heaps of Aussie grit and lapping around the 1:30s, got out of shape on the new asphalt at the exit to the final turn and crashed heavily into the tyre barrier, leaving the bike looking a lot more sorry than it had done after the first crash. Despite having had his NZi Helmet shoved hard into his face, the rider was unperturbed. Once again the team set about rebuilding its broken R3.
The next two hours saw the bikes on track keeping their pace and staying with their strategies. The drama in the Moto Image pit continued, with the bike once again repaired and heading back out with Petchawarut, the team owner’s son. The front brake gremlins had not been evacuated, however, and the bike went straight on and into the tyre barrier at Turn 1 after a few laps. The bike was again badly damaged but, this time the rider took hard knocks to the head, face, arm and ankle and needed a fair amount of patching up in the medical centre. Just outside of the podium positions, Candy Stripe Moto got overhauled for fourth by the MSP Racing Kawasaki
If the start of an endurance race provides the most exciting atmosphere, it is the approach of nightfall that brings the most apprehension. People in the paddock started talking more quietly to each other, looking frequently to the sky and at the big orange sun that was descending visibly into the jungle at Nakhonchaisri. The lights on the bikes got brighter as each lap ticked away from around six in the evening and riders for the final sessions prepared for the challenge of darkness.
At the front, Anuparb did a final, long stint that took him deep into dusk before handing over to Peerapong who had withstood the pressure from Ben Reid chasing him through the darkness in 2017. This time, the only pressure Yamaha R3 Racing were under was the pressure to finish. Asawin took on the challenge for second placed UTR Oneball, with Naruchit Khanchitwaranon taking the final session for Yamaha Riders’ Club. These three found some comfort between themselves by circulating together. With 12 laps from first to second and seven laps from second to third, the collaboration made sense and they got into a groove in the 1:37s.
The remaining excitement was in the fight for fourth as Mark Harrison, a former European Classic Endurance champion, set about overcoming a two lap deficit in order to regain fourth place from MSP Racing. The Englishman made impressive efforts, lapping between four and seven seconds faster than his quarry, despite being blinded by squashed mosquitoes as well as the blackness of the final forty minutes. Time was not on his side, though, so the Candy Stripe Moto Yamaha finished one lap behind the MSP Kawasaki to finish fifth.
After eight hours plus two laps, Yamaha R3 Racing had been around Thailand Circuit’s 2.45 kilometre track 303 times. The team had noted the lessons of 2017, adjusted their strategy and come back with such a strong combination of riders, machine and strategy – not least going from three riders to four – that they looked hard to beat from well before the start of the weekend.
UTR Oneball, without the factory satellite support or the star names of the winners, were my personal team of the race. They put together a strong group of riders capable of sustaining good pace and had no apparent problems with their weapon of choice, the Ninja 400. They were focused and maintained a cheerful atmosphere in their garage and more than deserved their second place. They spread their good feeling through the paddock and embodied true racing spirit. Knowing the people involved, I am not surprised at all.
There was also excellent team spirit, organisation and execution in the Yamaha Riders’ Club pit and they can be pleased with their third in the 8 Hours and second in the 4 Hours.
MSP Racing was a fun entry that turned into a successful result. Their Kawasaki was so stock it still had the catalytic converter on it, but they kept it going with a group of good amateur riders to take fourth place.
Candy Stripe Moto entered again this year with a well thought through plan, albeit with a stock Yamaha and a mixture of quick riders and slower ones. They also spread sunshine through the paddock and did a superb job to finish fifth after an exciting chase through the darkness.
Of the non-finishers, Moto Image BRP Racing came in knowing the strength of Yamaha R3 Racing, but with a huge amount of self belief after BRP missed winning by two seconds in 2017. Time for preparation before the event was short, but all three riders showed what they are capable of. Both Australians won a lot of fans with last year’s exploits and showed the same mix of talent, character and commitment again this year. The machine was not up to job on this occasion, but Reid remains committed to the event. “People keep saying I should run a team of top Australians, but that’s not what I’m about. I’m in Thailand to help develop Thai riders, so next year I will prepare the bike myself and hopefully run again with Zack plus a good, young Thai rider. I know we can win the R2M 8 Hours and go on to Suzuka.”
Ratchada Nakcharoensri put a brave face on her team’s early exit. “This was our first endurance race,” she explained, “We had an electrical problem we could not fix and I take full responsibility for the disappointment. We have a lot to learn about this part of the sport. On behalf of Yamaha PTT KYT Conexecute DID NGK TS Racing I would like to thank our sponsors and fans for their support and I promise that we will come back stronger so we can all enjoy and share success together in 2018.”
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