Just when it seemed like the title chase in the 2017 FIM Asia Road Racing Championship had settled into a predictable pattern, Round 5 at the Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai, India brought an unexpected twist to the championship story. The 3.7km circuit was particularly unkind to the championship leaders. The outcome from Race 1 resulted in a big change on the three championship ladders.
SuperSports 600cc: Zaqhwan reignites title dreams
In the SuperSports 600cc, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman’s title campaign took a turn for the worse when he high sided at the end ofFriday’s third free practice session. Hobbled by injury on his left leg, the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki Racing rider was unable to produce quick laps in the qualifying session on Saturday morning and was forced to start the race from the back of the grid.
Up in front, Keminth Kubo from team Yamaha Racing stunned the grid when he clocked 1’40.920s to qualify for his first pole position in the SuperSports 600cc category. Beside the Thai rider on the front row, defending champion Mohd Zaqhwan Zaidi and title hopeful Taiga Hada lined up second and third on the grid respectively.
However, Zaqhwan’s depth of experience clearly showed at the start of the race. The MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda rider brushed aside pole-sitter Kubo and charged into the holeshot with Taiga Hada hot on his tail.
Unfazed by the competition behind him, Zaqhwan proceeded to dictate the race pace at the front of the pack. Despite track temperatures soaring up to 63 degrees, the Malaysian rider looked cool and comfortable. Behind the MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda Racing rider, Chalermpol Polamai was the first casualty of the heated track conditions. The seasoned Thai rider low-sided out of the first lap, probably due to lack of grip from his cold tyres.
Behind Zaqhwan, Taiga Hada opted for a safe strategy, preferring to follow the Malaysian around the track as opposed to an all-out 16-lap battle. Hada’s decision to play it safe almost cost him the second place when Yuki Ito came storming in from third position. The last-lap tussle between the two Japanese riders allowed Zaqhwan to run away at the front.
Zaqhwan picked up his second win of the season with 27’20.721s. Hada successfully defended his second place with 27’21.347, and kept Ito in third place with 27’21.710s.
Poleman Keminth Kubo would have netted his best finishing position of the season if not for an unfortunate crash mere meters away from the finishing line. Kubo performed well throughout the 16-lap race as he stayed consistently within the top four. However, the Thai rider lost control in the final sprint to the finish line. Kubo’s crash brought out the red flag.
This brought Teppei Nagoe up to fourth position – also his best finishing to date in the SuperSports 600cc class. Ratthapong Wilairot finished fifth ahead of Noriyuki Haga.
The Kawasakis had always struggled at the Madras Motor Race Track, the bike being a difficult beast to tame on the twisty circuit. Ahmad Yudhistira finished the race in seventh. Irfan Ardiansyah, back in racing gear after having recovered from his crash earlier this season, took eighth place ahead of Sena Yamada.
While the drama unfolded at the front of the grid, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman gritted his teeth through 16 painful laps to finish an amazing tenth place. He picked up enough points to stay in the lead, holding 124 points to Zaqhwan and Hada who are now level in second overall with 118 points. After a spectacular start at the Johor Circuit in Pasir Gudang, Azlan had been suffering a series of bad luck in the second half of the season. He crashed in Suzuka and the resulting hand injury badly affected his race results from Round 3 and Round 4. Just when it seemed like Azlan would be able to turn his fortunes around, his spate of bad luck continued in India. His injury is not expected to recover overnight. Therefore, a new championship leader may emerge from Race 2 on Sunday.
Asia Production 250cc: It’s not over yet
In the Asia Production 250cc class, championship leader Gerry Salim also suffered from a bad Race 1. At the start of the race weekend, Gerry looked like a shoo-in to seal the 250cc title by the first race. Even when he lost the pole position to compatriot Galang Hendra Pratama, it seemed certain that the 250cc title chase would end on Saturday.
Instead, inexplicably, Gerry suddenly crashed out of the Race 1 during the warm-up lap. He took a sudden low side but refused to let go of the throttle. The Astra Honda Racing Team rider was able to get back on the bike, only to find that his throttle had jammed up. Two laps later, still on the warm-up lap, Gerry took another spill.
The race started without Gerry Salim. Front row riders Galang Hendra Pratama, Tomoyoshi Koyama and Rey Ratukore fought to gain early control of the 25-rider group.
Koyama really proved his mettle at the difficult Madras Motor Race Track. Having fought his way into the lead, the seasoned Japanese rider held on to his position despite repeated overtaking attempts by Yamaha Thailand Racing Team’s Anupab Sarmoon. Koyama picked up his first AP250 win with a time of 22’07.059s. Anupab finished second with 22’07.176s, 0.117s adrift of Koyama.
Pole sitter Galang Hendra Pratama took third place with 22’11.328s.
Mukhlada Sarapuech and Rey Ratukore finished fourth and fifth respectively while the rest of the top ten positions were taken up by Rheza Danica Ahrens, Vorapong Malahuan, Andy Muhammad Fadly, Takehiro Yamamoto and Imanuel Putra Pratna.
Championship leader Gerry Salim did manage to get back into the race after a quick dash into the pits. However, Gerry was only able to finish 22nd. For the second time this season, Gerry did not pick up any points from the race.
He is still the title chase leader. However, second placed Anupab Sarmoon had narrowed the gap to 40 points.
Underbone 150cc: Fakhrusy Picks Up Third Win of the Season
In the Underbone 150cc class, Mohd Akid Aziz escaped what looked like a bad day for the championship leaders in the higher classes. The UMA Racing Yamaha Maju Motor rider rode well but lost the spotlight to Fakhrusy Syakirin Rostam at the Madras Motor Race Track.
Fakhrusy was particularly impressive at the Indian circuit. He earned pole position during the Underbone 150cc SuperPole session and rode smart during the 10-lap race to take his third win of the season with 19’14.180s.
Mohd Haziq Mohd Fairues put in his best performance of the season to date when he finished second with 19’14.358s. Azroy Hakeem Anuar made it an all-Malaysian podium in third place.
Championship leader Akid Aziz missed out on the podium, but his fourth place finish kept him at the top of the pile with 144 points.
Behind Akid, Anggi Setiawan was the best Indonesian finisher in fifth place.
Malaysian riders Mohd Amirul Ariff Musa, Mohd Helmi Azman, Tengku Amirul Haffiruddin, Mohd Hafieenaz Mohd Ali and Mohd Izzat Zaidi rounded out the top 10.
Title defender Wahyu Aji Trilaksana suffered from an attack of the mechanical gremlins. Unlike his previous performances, Wahyu struggled to finish 11th.