Thai rider Ratthapong Wilairot successfully kept his SuperSports 600cc title hopes alive when he pocketed his first win of the season at Race 1 in the season finale of the 2018 FIM Asia Road Racing Championship.
26-year-old Ratthapong made headlines earlier this year when he took his career to the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team. Since then, the Thai rider has twice made it to the podium but had yet to pick up a win.
Ratthapong more than made up for the lack when the Championship landed on his home ground at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand. Fastest in the free practice, Ratthapong carried his momentum into the qualifier where he succeeded in clinching the pole position.
Ratthapong got off to a slow start in Race 1, opening up the gap for his senior team mate Decha Kraisart to race into the holeshot. However, Ratthapong managed to stay in the top end of the group while the other title contenders jostled for position.
Malaysian rider Mohd Zaqhwan Zaidi got taken off the title contention as early as the final corner of Lap 1. In trying to avoid Zaqhwan’s bike, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman was also forced to run wide. Azlan lost valuable race positions in the process and was left with the uphill task of clawing his way back up from P21.
Up in front, the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team duo Decha Kraisart and Ratthapong Wilairot had opened up a 4-second gap by Lap 6. Behind them, another title contender, Ahmad Yudhistira of the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki Racing Team, had his hands full staying half a wheel ahead of the unpredictable maverick, Keminth Kubo.
Team orders were very much in order within the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team. Decha Kraisart had the superior speed, but he played his wingman’s role to perfection when he slowed his pace for Ratthapong to catch up. The younger Yamaha rider finally drew abreast of his senior team mate on Lap 7 and successfully overtook on Lap 8. With 10 laps remaining to the end of the race, the two riders were almost racing in tandem as they swooped to a 1-2 finish with 29’56.061s and 29’57.431s respectively. Ahmad Yudhistira also kept his title hopes alive when he finished third with 30’01.433s. Keminth Kubo and Tomoyoshi Koyama rounded up the top-5 in the race.
Keisuke Kurihara finished sixth in the race, with Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman about a second off his pace in seventh place. However, Kurihara was penalized and dropped five positions for exceeding the track limit and Azlan was promoted to P6 instead. Yuki Ito and Azroy Hakeem Anuar were similarly penalized.
As it stands, the list of title contenders have been whittled down from six to four. Race 2 in the SuperSports 600cc class will be a straight-out battle for the win as Ratthapong, Yudhistira and Azlan all need the win to clinch the 2018 Asian crown.