Grid positions for Race 2 on Sunday were determined by the second best lap times for each rider, though this did not affect either Thai representative, both starting from the same positions as the previous day. Johnson targeted a battle with the leading group, while Phongphak aimed to improve upon his Race 1 position. However, Johnson’s engine suffered a mysterious power loss on the first lap and he dropped back through the field. The problem had corrected itself by lap two and the young Australian pushed hard to claw back lost ground. He eventually finished ninth, but was one of the fastest riders on track, recording a best lap of 1:15.110, slightly quicker than Norrodin’s best time. The Malaysian took another win, this time from Reihan and Izamli. Phongphak got into a battle with the third group from the start, though fell back after almost running straight on during an overtaking attempt, which left him out of touch with the riders in front. Nevertheless he improved his overall position to 13th, again lapping in the 1:18s.
Declaration of interest: Barry Russell is the National Federation Jury Member for the FIM World Superbike Championship Round 2
Jonathan Rea continued his winning form at Chang International Circuit today, taking pole position in an entertaining shoot-out and going on to lead the race from lights to flag.
The inch-perfect Northern Irishman immediately pulled a gap on the following pack, which was led initially by Marco Melandri who has been impressive on his first visit to the Buriram circuit. Chased by Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies, his Ducati team mate, Melandri briefly threatened the leading Kawasaki, before his lap times began to fade after lap 10. Davies got past Sykes, then Melandri, to take second place. Sykes kept the pressure on the Italian and grabbed third place as they went into the tricky final turn.
In Supersport Qualifying Jules Cluzel put in a sensational lap of 1:37.683 in Superpole 2 almost half a second clear of Yamaha Thailand wild card, Chalermpol Polamai. Lucas Mahias was third ahead of Chalermpol’s team mate, Decha Kraisart, with just a few thousandths of a second separating these three. In fact one second covered the first 11 qualifiers to set up a thrilling race on Sunday.
Declaration of interest: Barry Russell is the National Federation Jury Member for the FIM World Superbike Championship Round 2
The World Superbike show arrived in Buriram this week, following the thrilling opening races in Phillip Island two weekends ago. It is the third visit by the production based world championship series and very much a case of smiles all round.
Chang International Circuit had been open for just a few months on the first occasion and series organiser, Dorna, provided valuable training for the marshals, teaching them rapid bike recovery and a host of other safety related skills. It created a bond between the circuit and the promoter that grows stronger each year and was evident on Friday evening as a welcome party was held for guests in the grounds of Buriram Castle, next to the circuit.
The province of Buriram has been developing fast since the circuit opened, with more good hotels and restaurants opening, it seems, each time I travel here for national and international events. There is also a noticeable increase in the number of people who speak English. The warmth of Buriram people and the service ethic visitors enjoy in the hotels and restaurants contrasts with what you often find in the pressure cooker of Bangkok and the beach resorts further south. What you find in most countries, in other words.
Practice times earlier in the day largely reflected how open both the Superbike and Supersport to the top teams and riders, with Jonathan Rea looking inch perfect all around the track and with team mate Tom Sykes and the Factory Ducatis of Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri just slightly behind the Kawasakis.
In the Supersport class Yamaha wild cards Decha Kraisart and Chalermpol Polamai were immediately on the pace. Jules Cluzel, Kyle Smith and Lucas Mahias were also close to the top of the timesheets, with Smith claiming first place on combined results ahead of Decha. The third Thai wild card, Thitipong Warakorn, standing in for the injured Kenan Sofuoglu, broke a valve in the Kawasaki’s engine and struggled down in 20th place.
Superpole starts with the Superbikes at 13:30 on Saturday and Superbike Race one is scheduled for 16:00.
Photos below, left to right: with FIM colleagues Arjan van Eekelen and Peter Goddard; Marshals well presented and positive as always. Thanks to Nut Patcharee for the last two photos from TM 12.
Declaration of Interest: Barry Russell was Jury President for the R2M 8 Hour Endurance 2017
Special thanks to Pongsathorn Jiratjintana and Champ Yusawat for the wonderful images shown throughout this article
Motorcycle endurance racing arrived in Thailand last week and looks like it is certain to stay and to grow.
R2M 8 Hour Endurance 2017 was the latest in a series of bold projects by Thailand’s ‘Motorcycle Racing R & D laboratory’, which is based at Thailand Circuit, Nakhonchaisri, just 70km from Bangkok.
When the project was announced in November there was a rush of interest and the R2M team, led by Kraitos Wongsawan, pushed ahead, preparing regulations, setting up practice days and training marshals and track staff. Consultation with the Motorcycle Federation of Japan (MFJ) and Mobilityland Corporation, owner of the Twin Ring Motegi and Suzuka Circuits, helped to pull plans together.
As innovators often find, initial enthusiasm waned a little as realization developed of the differences between racing for eight hours and the 20 minute ‘sprints’ that most teams have hitherto been accustomed to. With a track record of having launched scores of new racing classes over the last decade, the R2M team had anticipated the lower numbers and determined to go ahead and put motorcycle endurance racing on Thailand’s sporting agenda. They saw it as another step towards the stated goal of “Putting Thailand on the front row of world motorcycle racing.” Looking beyond this first event, the intentions are to put together a team to compete in the Suzuka 8 Hours and to bring a round of the Endurance World Championship to The Kingdom.
Taking into account the physical demands of Thailand Circuit’s technical 2.5km layout and the rapid sales growth of 300cc and 400cc motorcycles, the engine capacity limit was put at 400cc and technical regulations followed the relatively open regime of the 300cc classes that have been running in recent seasons. And, of course, the trade-off between tuning for maximum power and engine reliability meant that entrants were unlikely to focus too much on brake horsepower. As expected, the machines entered were a variety of Yamaha R3s, Honda CBR300s Kawasaki Ninja 300s and a KTM RC390. Teams could have a minimum of three riders and a maximum of five. One engine change would be allowed along with eight sets of tyres for each team.
In the end, the number of teams entered for the first race reached seven, which frequently happens with new classes and is regarded by Khun Kraitos as a lucky number. The teams and riders are shown here on a photo of my authentically scribbled-on entry list. It shows a mix of some of Thailand’s best racers, amateur teams who relished the challenge of building and racing a motorcycle for eight hours and some international riders who were drawn to the event by its extensive publicity. The most experienced endurance racer present was Candy Stripe Kawasaki Team owner, ‘Issey’ Waraporn Wiriyahyuttamar, who had done four, eight and 24 hour races, including the iconic Le Mans 24 Hours. Tyre manufacturers represented were Michelin, IRC, Dunlop and Pirelli.
Day 1 on 2nd March was used for final machine preparation and practice, which included a compulsory night session. Day 2 moved to the serious business of qualifying. Riders were put into groups, elected by the teams, of A to E, each of which had a one hour session. Three riders, Ratthapong Boonlert, his brother, Peerapong on the Gotamaka Motobike Journey (sic) Yamaha R3 and Suhathai Chaemsap on the Side by Side Honda CBR300 broke the 1 minute 30 seconds barrier. Next fastest was Suhathai’s team mate, Nattawut Rungkijsawas on 1:30.058, the Boonlerts’ team mate, Detbadee Boongeudkanjana on 1:30.653 and BRP Racing KTM Thailand’s Ben Reid on 1:30.980. The fastest three teams went through to a Superpole competition to determine the starting order at the front, meaning that Ratthapong went for Gotamaka Motobike Journey, Suhathai for Side by Side and Ben Reid for BRP Racing. In a thrilling shootout, Suhathai grabbed first place by 0.028s from Ratthapong, with Reid in third place. In fact it was the Australian veteran who got closest to his best qualifying time.
On Race Day teams were given a one hour warm up session for final testing and to bed in any new fitted such as brake pads. After a 30 minute break there was sighting lap and the bikes lined up against the pit wall for the Le Mans style start. As the clock hit 11:00 the riders for the opening stints sprinted across the track and the action got underway. Ratthapong went off like a scalded cat with Suhathai and Bodeepak on the KTM in pursuit. The leader’s pace was so hot that the chasing riders decided to let him go rather than take too many risks in the early stages. Bodeepak pitted after 45 minutes to let Reid take his first turn, while Ratthapong and Suhathai came in after just over an hour to be replaced by Nattawut and Detbadee. Behind the front three the order settled at PTT Honda GVON, with Khemarat Suthamwat on board, TZ Endurance with Choosak Thawornkuldach, Yamaha Riders Club with Sihhiwit Poonpiroj, who was catching up after a poor start. The Candy Stripe Moto Kawasaki was in seventh with Naruchit Khanghitwaranon as the opening rider.
There was drama after the first one and a half hours. The TZ Endurance Kawasaki came in with an electrical problem, while BRP Racing were handed a one minute stop and go penalty after Bodeepak stopped. One mechanic had held a funnel while another poured in the fuel. The regulation taken from the FIM Endurance World Championship, is that only one mechanic can be in contact with the machine during re-fuelling. That meant that
BRP’s third rider, 17 year-old Zackary Johnson, was held at pit exit for a minute, which put the KTM one lap down on the first and second bikes. The team appealed against the penalty and the Jury ruled in their favour on safety grounds, on the basis that refueling with cans and funnels is safer with two people: the one mechanic rule is intended for when sealed connections are being used. A bulletin was issued quickly and time keeping put everyone back into the same race by holding each of the other bikes for a minute as they pitted and then rejoined the track. TZ Endurance pulled their machine apart, concluding that there was a problem with the ECU. BRP Racing heard about the problem and pulled their Ninja 300 out of its permanent garage at the track and invited TZ to take out the ECU. The bike was still not running well, so an engine change was also required. The total time lost was more than three hours, but the team made the best of it and continued the race.
As the FMSCT Jury looked at the refueling incident, BRP Racing’s third man out set about the task of catching up, and settled in to a session of laps in the 1:30s and 1:31s. In doing so he was consistently the fastest rider on track posting the team’s as well as his own best ever time. Although between one and two seconds faster than the front two, the young Australian was still down on the two leaders when he came in to hand over to Reid after his 45 minutes on the RC390.
After two hours, when the IRC shod Gotamaka Motobike Journey Yamaha and the Side by Side Honda, running Dunlop tyres, changed to Peerapong and Choi TSZ Yeung respectively, the shape of the race began to change. The three Hong Kong riders, on their first visits to Thailand Circuit, were not able to match the times of Suhathai and Nattawut and the Honda slipped back behind the KTM, which held steady, just getting onto the same lap as the Yamaha, the two bikes trading lap times within a few tenths of each other as Bodeepak and Detbadee and Reid and Peerapong slugged it out. As the Side by Side Honda slipped back, the battle for fourth warmed up between the PTT Honda GVON CBR 300 and the Yamaha Riders Club R3, the two bikes staying within one lap of each other. In fifth place, the immaculate Candy Strip Moto Team stuck to the task, its riders running at their targeted lap times that were only challenged by a niggling front brake caliper problem that had dogged them in Qualifying. Johnson set things alight again in his second session, despite being, once again, on third-hand Michelin tyres.
The only crash of the day happened just before the six hour mark when Suhathai, taking over from the third of the Side by Side team’s visiting riders, fell heavily at Turn 2 early in his second stint, breaking three fingers on his left hand and damaging the bike beyond repair.
That left the Yamaha and the KTM to continue their game of cat and mouse at the front, with Gotamaka Motobike Journey holding their tenuous advantage over the BRP machine. Johnson went out on fresh tyres for his third stint, again being the fastest bike on track throughout and even putting in a lap of 1:29.927 late in the race. In the fight for third place, the Yamaha Riders Club R3 began to establish a slim advantage over the PTT Honda GVON CBR300, the two bikes also staying within a lap as each other. The Candy Strip Moto riders stuck to their plan a few laps further back, while the TZ Endurance Kawasaki continued doggedly, often lapping in the 1:35 and 1:36s and managing a best time of 1:31.664 in the hands of Suhatchai Kaewjatuporn.
With just over one hour left and the light fading quickly, Peerapong jumped onto the leading Yamaha for the final session and Ben Reid took over from his impressive young compatriot for the chase to the chequered flag. With a deficit of around 1:22 it looked like a tall order for the former GP racer and, with some natural light still left in the sky, Peerapong kept him far enough behind to make the task look impossible. The drama rose, though, as darkness fell, as Reid maintained his pace in the 1:31s and 1:32s and Peerapong’s slipped by two to three seconds a lap. Riding literally by the seat of his pants, which he later said was telling him more than his eyes about where he was on the circuit, the Australian was within 10 bike lengths of his target as the time reached 19:00 and the last lap board came out.
The crowd, which had moved from the festivities in the Oasis Zone to trackside as word got around about the drama unfolding in the darkness, were screaming either for Peerapong to hold on or for Reid to go for it. With Reid getting closer to the Yamaha at every turn, victory was starting to look possible as the leaders rounded the back of the circuit, but Peerapong kept it clean and got across the line first.
After eight hours of racing and 305 laps of the Nakhonchaisri track, just 2.23 seconds separated the first two bikes and a new era had dawned for motorcycle racing in Thailand. With the 2016 R2M awards ceremony happening concurrently in the Circuits Oasis Zone, many top team bosses and riders had witnessed at least the final stages of a remarkable race and now have plenty of food for thought.
In third place, Yamaha Riders Club completed 276 laps, just one lap ahead of their race long rivals PTT Team Honda GVON Endurance Racing. Candy Stripe Moto clocked up 257 laps to take fifth place, while TZ Endurance, after their long delay, completed 181. The Side by Side Honda had completed 218 laps when it crashed out of the race after almost six hours.
The elation of all the teams was obvious at the podium ceremony. With almost everyone, from riders to organizers, having their first taste of endurance racing, all came away with new experience and new knowledge. The challenges of strategy and pit stops and the pressure on riders to be responsible to each other and to the team were among the most obvious lessons learned. All the teams which finished full race distance achieved their objectives as measured by lap times and by machine preparation and reliability. Even BRP Racing, which was feeling the sting of not taking the chequered flag first, acknowledged the importance of the part they had played in an event that nobody who was there will ever forget.
- Gotamaka Motorbike Journey Yamaha R3 305 Laps
- BRP Racing KTM Thailand KTM RC390 305 Laps
- Yamaha Riders Club Endurance Yamaha R3 276 Laps
- PTT Team Honda GVON Endurance Honda CBR300 275 Laps
- Candy Stripe Moto Kawasaki Ninja 300 257 Laps
- TZ Endurance Kawasaki Ninja 300 181 Laps
DNF Side By Side Honda CBR300 218 Laps
Riders and teams were making final preparations at Thailand Circuit today for the R2M 8 hour Endurance Race and contemplating the challenge ahead of them. With afternoon temperatures reaching 34 degrees and with only the slightest breeze, the physical, mental, mechanical and tactical challenges were beginning to loom large.
This sector of motorcycle racing is new to most of the riders and team managers here. Those who watch or try endurance racing tend to get hooked because it is so different to the ‘one tank of fuel, one set of tyres’ sprint races which people are more familiar with. However, as soon as you mention the most iconic races in the calendar: the Le Mans 24 Hours , Bol D’or 24 Hours and Suzuka 8 hours, you realize how important the FIM Endurance World Cup is as a series. Along with the Isle of Man TT, these are the most severe tests motorcycle manufacturers and racers can face. Some of the competitors are deadly serious about conquering the challenge, others are curious and seeking a new experience. Now that the work has begun all are focused on succeeding.
As usual for Thailand, the initiative to take the sport into uncharted territory has come from Kraitos Wongsawan’s R2M. This is undoubtedly the most significant move since the launch of the Moto3 Production Class in 2011: one full year before the Moto3 four strokes became the junior class in the Grand Prix World Championships . As well as providing close racing between evenly matched machines from the very first race, it was arguably the inspiration for the Asia Production 250 class, which has since become the hardest fought series in the FIM Asia Road Racing Championship. Being run on the technical 2.5km track in Nakhonchaisri and reflecting the hottest selling motorcycle niche in Thailand, it is for machines with engines of up to 400cc. The entry list features Hondas, Kawasakis and Yamahas and also a factory supported KTM RC390 with Ben Reid’s BRP Racing Team. Each bike is allowed eight sets of tyres, two engines and must be fitted with lights, as the last hour will be run in darkness: another first time for most of the riders. Teams have between three and five riders. Qualifying, which features a Superpole section, is on Friday and the race will run from 11:00 through to 19:00 on Saturday.
As well as the racing the carnival atmosphere that characterizes R2M events will be enhanced by the International Motorsport Business and Sale Festival, the 2016 R2M Awards presentations and after party on Saturday evening with a live band, DJs and a barbeque. Throughout the event there will be a wide range of food and drink available to keep teams and spectators fully fuelled.
Declaration of Interest: Barry Russell is Jury President for the R2M 8 Hour Endurance 2017
Declaration of Interest: Barry Russell is Jury President for the FMSCT All Thailand Superbike Championship
Images courtesy of Yamaha Thailand Racing team
IF THERE WAS any remaining doubt about the intensity of the rivalry between Yamaha Thailand’s Superbike duo, Apiwat Wongthananon and Anucha Nakcharoensri, it vanished this afternoon during a bruising encounter in the postponed final round of the 2016 FMSCT All Thailand Superbike Championship at Bira International Circuit.
Stung by Anucha’s stunning performance in Qualifying, the 2016 champion was in no mood to let his team mate carry the advantage into race day. Both riders made good starts and Anucha muscled his way ahead into Turn 1. At Turn 2 Apiwat barged his way through and held his lead as the field went through the back section of the circuit. With all eyes and TV cameras focused on the battle at the front, Apiwat stayed ahead, with Anucha pushing hard and showing his front wheel at every opportunity. Taking a wide line in and late apex out of Turn 1, the 2015 champion looked as though he had a plan, although it was going into the second chicane after mid distance that he made his move stick. However, another two laps and Apiwat pushed his way into the front and stayed there through to the finish line. Third place was taken by the Thierry Perenon for Honda elf Smart Sport Singha Racing Team. It was a fitting reward for the team, which is managed by Superbike legend, ‘Super Bird Saen Boonchoeisak. They worked hard all season and Thierry stepped up to the professional class for this final race to claim such an encouraging result.
ANUPARB SARMOON got another clean and fast start to lead the Superstock 1000 pack into Turn 1 and begin his escape. Behind him Bodeepak Watcharakajonwong grabbed second from Apidej Nuda, the two Kawasakis getting away from the ST-2 rookie class riders behind them. Bodeepak held on until lap three, when Apidej got past under braking for the second chicane and moved steadily away. At the chequered flag, Anuparb was 11.5 seconds ahead of Apidej, who held onto second second place by 0.5s after a late charge from the Whiz Racing Project man.
THE SUPERSPORT 600 RACE was initially run in pairs, with Prawat Yanwut and Peerapong Boonlert escaping from the start. While Prawat grabbed the lead at mid distance, it was Peerapong who kept in front for most of the race. Behind them, Asawin Kongthonpaisal got to turn 1 ahead of Ratchada Nakcharoensri who waited for a clear chance to get in front for three laps and then built a lead over the Voltronic Zeuz Yamaha.
The battle for first place went almost all the way to the end. Prawat took a tight line at the exit to Honda corner, trying to get inside Peerapong before tipping into the final turn. The plan didn’t work, as Peerapong kept the advantage and Prawat just held a low-side crash before the bike snapped back and slid onto the grass at the outside of the turn. The bike went into the tyre barrier, launching the rider into the air and over the wall, before falling between the concrete barrier and the safety fence. It was a nasty looking spill, but Prawat got up and walked to the ambulance and, after a check up in the Medical Centre, looked as though nothing had happened. Peerapong crossed the finishing line alone, 33 seconds ahead of Ratchada, who kept her rhythm to take a comfortable second place, more than 12 seconds ahead of the promising Asawin.
Most of the pro-racing pack has been shuffled ahead of the 2017 season, more of which in a later article. Perhaps the most exciting expectation is a factory supported Aprilia Superstock 1000 entry into a field which already has around 10 riders capable of taking race wins.
The R2M and FMSCT Champion Awards will be at Rajamangala on 1st February.
Declaration of Interest: Barry Russell is Jury President for the FMSCT All Thailand Superbike Championship
ANUCHA NAKCHAROENSRI carried his late season form into the New Year with a crushing qualifying performance in the postponed final round of the 2016 All Thailand Superbike Championship.
The thinner entry list, caused largely by rider and team changes for 2017, made little difference at the front, with both Yamaha Thailand’s front runners creating a big gap to the rest of the field. After a familiar looking dice for pole position between Anucha and Apiwat, the 2015 champion produced a stunning lap of 1:00.503 on his tenth tour to break the lap record as well as the challenge of 2016 champion, Apiwat, who was 0.7s slower.
Behind them the True Visions Bobby Hunter Yamaha of Asawin Kongthonpaisal took the third front row slot, while the elf Smart Singha Honda of Thierry Perenon leads the row 2 ahead of the rookie class runners.
WITH ANON SANGVAL missing from the Yamaha Thailand pit box, Anuparb Sarmoon had a clear run at pole position in Superstock 1000 qualifying. The season long fight between Kawasaki riders for the remaining podium places, which had most recently been going the way of Whiz Racing’s Bodeepak Watcharakajonwong, swung back sharply towards Singha PTT Srisakon’s Apidej Boonsri. Apidej took the second slot with a time of 1:03.487, a full 1.7 seconds clear of Bodeepak.
ONE OF THE BEST features about the Supersport 600 class this season has been cameo appearances by some of Thailand’s best riders, including Thitipong Warakorn and Vorapong Malhuen. This time it was Peerapong Boonlert’s turn to stir things up. Having raced in the All Japan and Asia Road Racing Championships, Peerapong had no trouble finding a decent R6 to ride. Results came immediately, as he took pole position with a time of 1:03.871, almost three tenths of a second ahead of 2016 champion, Prawat Yanwut. Ratchada Nakcharoensri looked like taking third place on the grid until her session was disrupted by a deflating front tyre and she was demoted to the second row by the Voltronic Zeuz Yamaha’s rookie class rider, who managed to get around the track 11 thousandths of a second quicker than the only female pro-racer in the national championships.
Race Day action starts at 14:10 on Sunday and will be streamed live, so watch out for the links in social media.