Home > Endurance, motorcycle racing, Uncategorized > New era dawns with a cliffhanger at R2M 8 Hour Endurance 2017

New era dawns with a cliffhanger at R2M 8 Hour Endurance 2017

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

17017231_10154945380597976_7368558835148983010_oMotorcycle 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.

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Thai motorcycle racing’s innovator and impresario, Kraitos Wongsawan

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.

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Looking good: Thailand’s most experienced endurance racer and Candy Strip Moto team owner, Issey Wiriyahyuttamar

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.

entriesDay 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.

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Ratthapong Boonlert stretching out a lead from the start

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

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Zackary Johnson gets an injured finger wrapped before his first stint by his mother, Charmaine.

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.

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Business Time with Suhathai Chaemsap

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.

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Indomitable spirit: despite 3 hours in the pits TZ Endurance completed 181 laps

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.

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Ben Reid hunting down Peerapong Boonlert on the BRP Racing KTM Thailand RC390

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.

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All smiles for Candy Stripe Moto

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.

  1. Gotamaka Motorbike Journey                             Yamaha R3                          305 Laps
  2. BRP Racing KTM Thailand                                    KTM RC390                         305 Laps
  3. Yamaha Riders Club Endurance                         Yamaha R3                          276 Laps
  4. PTT Team Honda GVON Endurance                  Honda CBR300                   275 Laps
  5. Candy Stripe Moto                                                  Kawasaki Ninja 300          257 Laps
  6. TZ Endurance                                                           Kawasaki Ninja 300          181 Laps

DNF   Side By Side                                                    Honda CBR300                       218 Laps

 

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