IN HIS OWN WORDS: RATTHAPONG WILAIROT


It’s been two weeks since the final round of the 2018 FIM Asia Road Racing Championship at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. The dust had finally settled and for one rider, reality had finally sunk in – Ratthapong Wilairot is the 2018 SuperSports 600cc Asian Champion. Here, in his own words, the 26-year-old Yamaha Thailand Racing Team rider recapped the year that was in 2018.

 

The 2018 season

 

“What an incredible season it had been. The year began on a challenging note – moving from Honda to Yamaha. It was a tough transition. I had spent my entire early career with Honda and going to a new team meant that I had to learn everything from scratch. But I was relieved to be on the receiving end of such a warm welcome from the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team. Everyone went out of their way to help me settle into the team.”

 

“The team work and spirit in the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team was an eye-opener for me. As early as Round 1, even though I was working with an unfamiliar bike, the team was able to prepare a machine that suited my riding style. I was thrilled when I raced within the top group in the first round – something that I had never been able to do before.”

 

“Going to Australia (Round 2) for the very first time, I was thinking that there was a good chance for a podium finish at the new track. It was a level playing ground, nobody had any experience or data from Tailem Bend. True enough, that round, I won my first podium in three years.”

 

“That was when I started thinking seriously that I could possibly fight for the title this year. Heading to the Suzuka Circuit, my favourite track, I wanted to win so badly, but the results were not encouraging.”

 

“I began dreading the Indian and Indonesian rounds (Round 4 and Round 5). Those were short tracks and very difficult for me. But everything changed when I won a podium in Sentul.”

 

The final round

 

“Coming into the final round, I was the mathematical longshot among the six riders in the running for the 2018 title. I was even more apprehensive when I heard that Randy Krummenacher will be racing wildcard in that round. But still, I wanted to give my best showing in front of our home crowd.”

 

“I gained confidence after FP3 when I was able to clock at the top of the timesheets. But there was still a lot of pressure. For me, there was no other option but a double win.”

 

“Contrary to everyone’s assumptions, there were no team orders from the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team. We didn’t plan any team strategies at all, although many people would find that hard to believe. When Decha raced ahead in the early stages of Race 1, my heart sank. I never expected him to give way on Lap 9 and allow me through to the chequered flag.”

 

“I spoke to Decha after the race, and again, he proposed the same tactic for Race 2.”

 

About Decha and Keminth

 

“There is no doubt about it. I have been extremely lucky this year, especially having someone like Decha Kraisart as my team mate. Honestly, I never thought that I would meet someone who would help me like this. He had been a generous team mate all year, and his knowledge helped me adjust to the R6 quickly.”

 

“What he did in the final round went above and beyond the call of duty for a team mate. I knew that Decha had been toying with the idea of retiring from the ARRC. I wouldn’t have faulted him if he had gone all out for a final double win before he hung up my boots. Instead, he used his skills to ensure that the Asian title returned to Thailand after an eight-year absence.”

 

“Youichi Ui described the scenario best. He compared Decha to a Samurai riding by my side, pushing me to go faster when the competition got too close, ready to pull out his sword in my defense. I felt really grateful and honoured to be on the receiving end of his help.”

 

“As for Keminth Kubo, all he ever promised was that he will not attack me. Watching the replay of the race, I did not expect him to harass Ahmad Yudhistira the way he did.”

 

As the chequered flag came down…

 

“They both (Decha and Keminth) did it for me, for Yamaha, and for Thailand. It was an overwhelming moment. I saw my team jumping on the pit wall and I kept asking myself – is this for real?”

 

“When I completed the victory lap, while celebrating with my team mates, I saw my family running to me with my father’s photograph in their hands. The day I won the Asian title was also the eighth anniversary of my father’s passing. It was a very emotional moment for us.”

 

The most difficult part about winning the Asian title

 

“The most difficult part was the fight against myself, overcoming those negative voices in my head. The hours leading to the start of Race 2 were the worst. I had heard that my team had printed t-shirts to celebrate my win and I remembered thinking ‘who will wear those t-shirts if I did not win the title?’ It was thoughts like that that I had to conquer.”

 

The 2019 season

 

“I have a few other publicity obligations to fulfil for Yamaha prior to the start of the 2019 season. I intend to take a short holiday with my family and then training starts for next year. The ASB1000 awaits.”

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