AZLAN, RHEZA AND GUPITA LEAD DAY 1 AT SUZUKA

The grey skies and rain that dampened set-up day on Thursday gave way to perfect, sunny conditions for Free Practice at Suzuka Circuit for Round 3 of the Asia Road Racing Championship. Despite two red flagged sessions, most of the expected leaders in all three classes were able to get close to race pace by the end of the afternoon.

UNDERBONE 150cc started proceedings when pit lane opened at 08:30, with Yamaha Indonesia’s Wahyu Aji Trilaksana, banking a session topping time of 2:41.45 on his third flying lap before spending the rest of the session experimenting with machine set-up. Team All for One’s Peerapong Luiboonpeng also showed good early pace before being pushed down to fourth as UMA Racing’s Haziq Md Farues and Yamaha Yamalube SND’s Gupita Kresna found their rhythm.

By session 2 most riders had calibrated themselves for the unique challenges of the Mie Prefecture circuit. UMA duo Haziq and defending champion Md Akid Aziz helped each other around, showing good pace throughout and breaking into the 2:39s, a likely pace for the leading group when racing gets underway.

In 3rd place and one-sixth behind Akid, SCK Rapido Hi Rev Honda’s Md Helmi Azman led SND’s Syahrul Amin and Gupita from Peerapong who all circulated within 0.3 seconds of each other. Wahyu had a quiet session, clocking a best lap 0.8s slower than his best in FP1, while championship leader, Izzat Zaidi, was a notable laggard in both sessions, managing a best time of 2:43.944 in FP1. Australia’s Travis Hall, in only his second Underbone outing and his first visit to Suzuka, steadily improved his pace, getting into the 2:43s and placing himself 12th out of 20 on combined Free Practice times.

In Qualifying it was Izzat’s RCB Yamaha YY Pang team mate, Md Adib Rosley who set the early pace, though unable to improve on a best lap of 2:40.7 and was pushed back first by Helmi, then Syahrul, Affendi and Peerapong, before Gupita put in a killer lap of 2:39.262 leapfrogging 15 riders to go nine tenths clear of Helmi at the top of the screens. The SCK rider improved a few tenths but was unable to get close enough to challenge the Indonesian former double champion.

Syahrul qualified 3rd, 0.8s adrift of Helmi, with Team One for All pairing, Affendi Rosli and Peerapong within 0.2s to complete the top five. RCB’s Adib and Izzat were sixth and seventh from an impressive Travis Hall, who finished the session 8th ahead of Akid and Wahyu, who had still not improved on his early morning time. UMA’s purple pairing of Akid and Haziq had again been playing tag, though without the results they achieved in FP2. Haziq fnished 12th, behind Yuzy Honda Vietnam’s Md Amirul Ariff Musa, Fakhrusy Syakrin Rostam, Md Aiman Azman and wildcard, Miu Nakahara, completing the top 15 who will contest the first 15 grid positions in Superpole on Saturday morning.

IN ASIA PRODUCTION 250, Astra Honda’s Rheza Danica Ahrens, was in a class of his own during all three free practice sessions. The championship leader sent his rivals into shock by going one tenth faster than Gerry Salim’s 2017 pole winning time with 2:28.667 just 12 minutes into the first session.

AP Honda’s Muklada Sarapuech, who contested the All Japan 250 round at Suzuka last weekend, also set a strong early pace, as did wildcard, Akito Narita on the Team Hiro Honda and Md Andy Fadly on the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki.

The first session was re-flagged when Rafid Topan Sucipto crashed heavily, injuring the rider and leaving the track surface in need of a clean-up. At the restart Rheza struck again, slicing another 0.9s from his previous best.  The quickest Yamaha was sixth, under the guidance of Anuparb Sarmoon, who managed to break into the 1:29s just before the chequered flag came out.

Free Practice 2 yielded no improvements among the top riders from the first outing, but it did see newcomers to Suzuka starting to unravel its mysteries. Muklada help to pull her rookie teammate, Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi into the 1:29s, while CKJ’s Ahmad Afif Amran and Astra Honda’s Mario Suryo Aji both moved into the low 1:30s.

Rheza jumped straight to the top of the timing screens again in FP3, 1.7s clear of Kritchaporn, Muklada and Andy Fadly. Anuparb got between the two Thai Hondas after 10 minutes, before they responded by pushing him back into 4th.

After a mid-session break, Rheza improved to 2:28.241 gapping Muklada by over half a second, who quickly found herself behind Fadly as the Indonesian managed a round of 2:28.459. Their pressure spurred Rheza back into the 2:27s, as the Astra Honda man decided to strike another psychological blow ahead of tomorrow morning’s qualifying session.

Reynaldo Chrisantho Ratukore had a good last outing with a best time of 2:29.874, to end up 5th on combined times, two tenths clear of Anuparb and the fastest Yamaha of the day for ONEXOX Racing Team.

Narita ended the day 7th in front of Astra Honda’s Awhin Sanjaya and Mario Suryo.

Returning former champion, Takehiro Yamamoto, finished 11th, after a day of working on the set-up of his new Trickstar Kawasaki.

Further down the order, the Filipino pairing of McKinley Kyle Paz and Masato Fernando were 22nd and 23rd, as they worked on both the bike and getting to know the circuit. Sethu Rajiv was the better of the two Indian riders in 27th in front of Karen Ogura, Cao Viet Nam, Kanatat Jaiman and Idemitsu Honda team mate Anish Damadora Shetty.

Rafid Topan will sit out the rest of Round 3, after being declared unfit to continue after his morning crash.

SUPERSPORT 600cc saw Md Zaqwan Zaidi set a brisk early pace, despite arriving at Suzuka in the early hours of the morning after a long trip from Sugo.

Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki’s Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman and Ahmad Yudhistira along with Yamaha Racing Asean’s Yuki Ito, gave chase early on, before Yamaha Thailand’s Ratthapong Wilairot got into his groove and joined the fun at the front. Decha Kraisart looked bright at the beginning, but tailed off as his right wrist, still healing from his Australian crash, began to get the better of him. The rest of the field, including last year’s double-winner, Anthony West, used the first outing to familiarize themselves and experiment with bike set-up, as is normally the case in the senior class.

Around half a second was chopped off the best times during the lunchtime workout for the 600s, with Ratthapong continuing to build on the strong form he has been showing since his switch from Honda to Yamaha. He overcame Azlan’s early lead and was the first rider into the 2:13s.

Zaqwan also continued strongly, but crashed hard at the hairpin on a mid-session out-lap to bring the red flag out to clear his MUSASHI Boon Siew Honda from its precarious resting place.

Yudhistira went a tenth quicker than Ratthapong at the restart, with Ito and Keminth Kubo also improving. Ratthapong put himself back at the top with a lap of 2:13.599 by the end.

Zaqwan and his machine were back in working order for FP3, getting into the 2:13s early on and chasing a determined Azlan for the top slot. Ratthapong, Ito and Yudhistira bunched up behind them, all within three tenths. Half a second adrift, Webike IKAZUCHI’s West led another closely contested group in the 2:14s comprising Taiga Hada, Keisuke Kurihara and Tomoyoshi Koyama.

With 17 minutes remaining, Kyosuke Okuda, who had been the best of the wildcards all day, moved into the mid-2:13s. Keminth Kubo, who had enjoyed a good midday session, got himself tucked in behind a flying Zaqwan to get within three hundredths of the Malaysian and into third almost five tenths clear of team mate, Ito.

As the last chequered flag for Friday was waved, Azlan was the only rider to squeak below 2:13, with a 2:12.984 to lead the day overall from Zaqwan, Keminth, Ratthapong, Okuda and Ito. Yudhistira, West, Koyama and Hada completed the top ten, while Andi Farid Izdihar was the fastest rookie for Astra Honda. Britain’s Joe Francis, in his second ARRC outing and his first time at Suzuka improved his times throughout the day on the Webike IKAZUCHI Yamaha to finish 15th on 2:15.298.