Track knowledge won’t be a problem for championship leader and EWC exponent, Broc Parkes, as the Asia Road Racing Championship makes its annual trip to Suzuka, in Mie Prefecture, Japan for round four of the 2019 championship. With rain forecast for all three days, countless laps reeled off by the Australian in all conditions in the Suzuka 8 Hours, should work to his advantage.
Other riders set to stake their own places in history are Supersport 600 sensation, Peerapong Boonlert, AP 250 contenders, Muklada Sarapuech and Andy Fadly and any one of around 20 underbone riders capable of winning in the mad, bad 150cc mono class.
More than any other race track, 57-year-old Suzuka Circuit plays a principle role in the drama that unfolds at every event. The full motorcycle circuit is 5.8 kilometres long, with 17 of the trickiest turns in world motorsport and an elevation change of more than 40 metres from the lowest point at turn two to the highest at the famous Spoon Curve that leads onto the circuit’s unique Scalextric-style 900 metre overpass.
In reality it is two distinct tracks, the East Circuit and the West Circuit, joined together. It begins on the downhill start-finish straight of the technically demanding East Circuit, which flows into the fast right first turn, tightens up into Turn 2 and then goes into the 5 left-right Snake Curves. They flow into the famous Dunlop Curve, a long left-hander, then there are two rights and a squirt under the overpass up to the hairpin.
Then you are on the West Circuit, which is all about high speed and slipstreaming until hard braking for the final chicane. There are plenty of blind crests to make things more interesting, so putting a perfect lap together is a stiff challenge. A top rider on a Supersport 600 will get around in around 2:13, while a fast underbone will take 2:40. The new ASB 1000 record will be set this weekend.
ARRC round four at Suzuka is more of a home race to Broc Parkes than round two was at Tailem Bend in South Australia. The Yamaha Racing ASEAN rider is best known as one of the factory’s top endurance racers, which has given him not only granular knowledge of the circuit’s 5.8 kilometres, but helped him to develop grit and consistency that has seen him take a win and five other strong finishes to put him on top of the standings with 105 points, eight ahead Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman, who has taken three wins on the ONEXOX TKKR SAG BMW. The Malaysian has also clocked up plenty of laps in the Suzuka 8 Hours.
Zaqhwan Zaidi, another Suzuka exponent, has been making his Asia Dream Honda fly this year, taking a clever wet win at Sepang and a string of good finishes that have earned him 84 points so far. Early championship leader, Thitipong Warakorn, who is still recovering from injuries sustained in the World Superbike round in Buriram, is replaced for the third time on the Kawasaki Thailand machine by Bryan Staring. After taking first and second places in his debut for the team in Australia, Bryan struggled at Chang International, coming away with two seventh places. Working with team manager, Katsuake Fujiwara, Bryan immediately gelled well with the team and is intending to reward them with improved finishes this time.
The Yamaha Thailand pairing of Apiwat Wongthananon and Ratthapong Wilairot have been acclimatising well to the 1000s this year and also know their way round Suzuka. Apiwat has been able to match the pace of the more experienced men and, in Thailand, proved that he can put a full race together by claiming two third places.
Broc Parkes’s team-mate, Yuki Ito is having a good season, claiming two third places on the way to 69 points and fifth place in the standings after three rounds. The popular Japanese is capable of beating anyone else in the field on his day.
Of three wildcard entries, Shinichi Nakatomi is no stranger to ARRC. Now 40, the Japanese rider scored a double 600 win at Suzuka in 2013 and has been the test rider behind the development of the class’s Dunlop control tyres. Riding the aptly named Hitman RC-Koushien Yamaha, Nakatomi can be expected to upset ARRC’s established order once again.
The Access Plus Ducatis are expected to continue their development, particularly in the hands of TJ Alberto, who is showing plenty of promise in the class.
New for 2019, but making a welcome return to ARRC is Indonesia’s Ali Adrian Rasmiputro, who will be aboard one of ONEXOX TKKR SAG’s immaculate BMWs.
Yamaha Thailand’s 2019 Supersport sensation, Peerapong Boonlert has a better than even chance of breaking the class record for the number successive wins, which has been held by Toshiyuki Hamaguchi since 2005, when he scored seven successive wins.
Peerapong is one short of Hamaguchi’s total and arrives at Suzuka high on confidence, riding a sublimely prepped R6 and with more laps of the iconic 5.8 kilometre circuit under his belt than any of his rivals, thanks to two Suzuka 4-Hour wins in 2017 and 2018.
While the much of the chatter before round three centred on the pressure the young Thai rider was under, by the time race two was done it was clear that Peerapong had turned the pressure back on his rivals, who were becoming frustrated at the hopelessness of their efforts to disrupt his progress.
Behind the championship leader, the consistency of Astra Honda’s Andi Farid Izdihar has earned him a 79-point distant second place with 71 points in the bag.
When it comes to pace, the most pressure this season has come from SIC Junior ZK Racing’s Adam Norroddin, who has 69 points and Hong Leong Yamaha’s Kasma Daniel Kasmayudin, who is fifth on 65. Musashi Boon Siew Honda’s Azroy Hakeem Anuar is third on 65.
Azroy’s team mate, Helmi Azman, who took a hard knock to his left leg in Australia should be back to strength and in the hunt again, while 2018 AP 250 champion, Rheza Danica Ahrens, aims to continue his steady acclimatisation to the extra 350cc. Hong Leong’s Afif Amran is having an impressive debut year in the class, while ONEXOX TKKR SAG’s Ramdan Rosli should also go well. Then there are six Japanese wildcards to boost the entry number to 21 and get among the ARRC regulars, including former AP 250 rider, Soichiro Minamimoto.
Asia Production 250
Muklada Sarapuech and Andy Fadly go to Suzuka tied at the top of the championship and head a supporting cast of their own team-mates, together with Astra Honda and a clutch of rapid Yamaha mounted Indonesians.
The top two are also running with a 500rpm rev limit ‘equaliser’, as is Fadly’s Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki team-mate, Aiki Iyoshi. The Japanese rider made his mark right from round one and already has a race win to his name, as has Muklada’s AP Honda partner, 17-year-old Tatchakorn Buasri.
Muklada’s army of fans will remember her spectacular crash at Suzuka in 2018, when she clipped her then team-mate, Kritchaporn. The lingering left wrist injury she sustained spoiled her season, but this year she is showing consistency and authority in her riding that could take her to the title.
Astra Honda, normally a dominant force in this class, have had a lacklustre season so far, being just off the pace of the AP Hondas and KYT Kawasakis. In a team used to winning ways, the pressure will be on their talented trio of Awhin Sanjaya, Lucky Hendriasya and Irfan Ardiansyah to resume their occupation of the AP250 podium.
Yamaha riders capable of getting to the front are Faerozi Toreqottullah, Reynaldo Ratukore, Anggi Setiawan, Nazirul Izzat Bahauddin and Muzzakir Mohamed.
Other in-form riders worth watching are Idemitsu Honda Racing India’s Sethu Rajiv and Honda Racing Vietnam’s Cao Viet Nam. Meanwhile 17-year-old Supermoto rider, Miu Nakahara appears in the class for a second time for United Oil Y-Tech Liberty Racing. She and Aiki Iyoshi are joined by seven Japanese wildcards ready to test themselves against the AP 250 regulars.
A UB 150 grid of 30 machines is ready to set Suzuka alight with an explosive cocktail of experienced, wily professionals and fearless, ambitious young riders. In four races so far this year, there have been four winners.
As the season approaches the halfway mark, the two-pronged assault by purple-liveried UMA Racing, with its Malaysian and Philippine teams, sees three of their riders in the top five championship positions. McKinley Kyle Paz tops the standings with 56 points after a win and a third place in Malaysia and lower key outings in Thailand, where 2017 champion, Akid Aziz took the race one win, which helped him to move up into fourth place, just ahead of Fernando Masato, who won race two at Sepang, but scored nothing at Chang International.
In the yellow corner, SND Factory Racing Rapido’s Wawan Wello lies second, just five points adrift of Kyle Paz. He has been the best so far of the Indonesian team’s formidable line-up, which also includes two-times ARRC champion, Gupita Kresna and Syahrul Amin. Gupita was third and first last year at Suzuka and will be looking to assert his seniority this weekend.
Another former champion, Affendi Rosli is third in the standings on 44 points after some clever and consistent performances. His Team One for All running mate, Peerapong Luiboonpeng is also capable of finishing on the podium. Team boss and 125 GP legend, Youichi Ui, sees this very much as a home race and will be looking for more good results. The team has shown terrific resilience since losing their equipment when the team truck was robbed a week before round one and good results at Suzuka will be celebrated throughout the Asian and Japanese racing communities.
ONEXOX TKKR SAG’s Ahmad Fazli Sham, another popular and seasoned campaigner, boosted an already strong start to the season for the team by winning race two at Buriram. Fazli is always capable of pulling off a good result, as is teammate and 2016 champion, Wayhu Aji Trilaksana, who is well overdue for a good result.
HI REV SCK Honda is again fielding 14-year-old Australian Travis Hall and sole Japanese mono entrant, Gun Mie, who is 13. Both have made their presences felt in the class. After a successful debut year in the class, Travis has yet to enjoy the roll of the dice in the first two rounds, with five points from one finish, while Gun Mie has picked up points in every race so far this year.
There are another 15 or so riders with genuine chances of winning, so gambling on the results is as hazardous as ever.
Vietnam’s Nguyen Duc Thanh is a welcome ARRC debutant as he comes in to replace Le Khanh Loc, who was injured in Buriram.