ARRC SS600: Azlan ready to seize title advantage in Australia

Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman goes into this weekend’s historic ARRC-ASBK double-header the The Bend Motorsport Park with a golden opportunity to gain the upper hand in the Supersport 600 title chase.

The Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki rider made a solid enough start to the defence of his 2017 championship with two third places at Chang International Circuit, but it is the absence of two of his main rivals in Australia that the canny Malaysian will be looking to exploit.

Anthony West bagged 45 points in Thailand after a second place and a win. With a whole bunch of other contenders literally falling by the wayside, Azlan was the only other rider to mount both podiums, taking two third places and therefore sits second on 32 points. Because West will be on World Supersport duty at  Assen, his 13 point lead can be wiped out with a single fourth place finish. Looking down the ladder, Azlan is 12 points clear of Decha Kraisart and Tomoyoshi Koyama, who are both on 20.

The absence of Zaqwan Zaidi will also help Azlan. MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda’s two-times champion will be racing in Japan, having prioritised JSB1000 this season in preparation for ARRC’s change to superbikes in 2019.

Azlan knows how to win championships. He took the 2017 title despite a season riddled with injuries and will seize the opportunities to overturn West’s advantage at and to climb further beyond the reach of his rivals.

Decha will be looking to redeem his chances after Round 1. Yamaha Thailand’s two-times champion crashed out of the lead midway through the first race but came back strongly to finish second in Race 2.

Tomoyoshi Koyama will be happier about how he collected his 20 points.  After a season in Asia Production 250s, Koyama made good progress with getting to grips with the extra 350cc in Buriram, taking eighth in Race 1 and fifth in Race 2. Since then he claimed an All Japan ST600 win, proving that the skills which took him to second place in the 2016 championship have far from deserted him. With Zaqwan out of the picture in Australia, MUSASHI Boon Siew Honda is looking to Koyama for a decent points haul.

Decha’s new teammate, Ratthapong Wilairot, looks rejuvenated after switching to Yamaha Thailand. At his home circuit he quickly got down to his best ever times, qualifying third and was unlucky to have been skittled out of a likely second place by Zaqwan in Race 2. While he has clearly taken to the YZF-R6, mentoring by GP125 legend, Youichi Ui, has been giving him and extra tenth here and there as well as the confidence to make the top three over full race distance.

Yamaha Racing Asean’s Yuki Ito, who finished fourth in last season’s dramatic final round shoot-out is another rider easily capable disrupting Azlan’s strategy. He took just 17 points from Round 1, but ran with the leading pack in the second race and finished fourth. His 19-year-old teammate, Keminth Kubo, also looks podium ready, having taken a step up in speed and self belief during the second half of last season.

Australian wildcards, Tom Toparis, Broc Pearson and Scott Nicholson will be joined by 20-year-old Joe Francis, who is carving out a good name for himself in British Supersport. Francis was selected to replace Anthony West on the race winning WeBike IKAZUCHI Yamaha.

The three Australians will also be racing in ASBK Supersport, so a comparison between the two classes is in order. ARRC’s Chief Technical Inspector, Scottish born Paul Dawson, lives, works and races in Australia and knows both rulebooks: “Both 600 classes have a similar spec and are not far removed their road going equivalents. However, ARRC bikes run bigger radiators to maximise cooling, while ASBK machines have to stick with the stock system.”

Fuel and tyres are different“, he continued. “ARRC has controlled fuel and tyres, whereas ASBK teams can choose from a range of homologated tyres and fuels, including race fuel. ECUs can be replaced in both classes. The ARRC allow free reign with ECU choice, but traction control is not allowed, while ASBK machines have a much more limited choice of ECUs, but no restrictions on functionality. The 2017 Yamaha R6 has built-in traction control, so arguably gets an edge over its rivals. The differences do mean that ASBK wildcards will need to make a few changes.

The last word goes to Broc Pearson, who competed in the Asia Dream Cup in 2015 and 2016 and was also a wildcard in the final ARRC Supersport 600 round of 2017. Having also ridden his YRD backed Yamaha R6 at The Bend’s ASBK Official test earlier this month, the 17-year-old has unique insight into how things might unfold this weekend. Here’s what he said: “To be fast on a 600 at The Bend, where there isn’t much rubber, the winner will need to be very conservative on tyres and have a smooth riding style, so I am thinking Azlan Shah has a good chance of victory. I am looking for good results as a wildcard. I love my R6 and should be fine with the Dunlop slicks after a few adjustments. Apart from that, there are no rule differences between ASBK and ARRC that should affect me.

Barry Russell

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