Zaqwan on top as times tumble in Chennai on Day 1

Madras Motor Race Track, near Chennai in India, served up a thrilling opening day for ARRC Round 4. In blazing sunshine that followed hard overnight rain, lap times tumbled in all three classes and left clues to how results could turn out over the following two days.

Supersport 600cc

MuSASHI Boon Siew Honda’s Zaqwan Zaidi headed the timing screens for the first two sessions, clocking the best time of the day at 1’41.306 in Free Practice 2. Yamaha Racing Asean’s in-form Yuki Ito, who won Race 2 in 2017, pushed the Malaysian double champion in Free Practice 1, but improved only slightly in his later outings and dropped down the order on combined times.

Riders who improved during the day included Zaqwan’s 19-year-old team-mate, Azroy Hakeem Anuar, Yamaha Thailand’s Ratthapong Wilairot and Anthony West. The championship leader pushed Zaqwan to second at the end of Free Practice 3 with a time just a few hundredths off Zaqwan’s overall best. One leading indicator for race results could well be that most riders, including Zaqwan and West, were using old tyres in the final session. Sixth and seventh at the end was the Manual Tech KYT pairing of defending champion, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman and Ahmad Yudhistira. Yamaha Asean’s Keminth Kubo, returning directly from two weeks at Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Mastercamp, started brightly in the morning, but was sidelined by exhaustion and a fever and sent to rest by the medics.

Asia Production 250cc

The Thailand versus Indonesia battle resumed in earnest, with the fastest 12 times of the day going to riders from one of the two countries. The balance fell just in favour of Indonesia, which accounted for seven of the 12 and with Astra Honda’s Rheza Danica Ahrens putting in a 1’48.030 to top the timesheets from Yamaha Thailand’s Anuparb Sarmoon. Another six tenths back, ONEXOX TKKR’s Reynaldo Ratukore was clear of Anggi Setiawan, who led the next group of eight riders who were covered by less than 0.4s.  Particularly worthy of mention in the sub 1’50 club are debutant, Tatchakorn Buasri, who is standing in for the injured Mukalada Sarapuech at AP Honda and Yamaha Thailand’s Kanatat Jaiman, who is riding with a fractured right shin from a training accident.

Changes in minimum weights for this round aimed to level the apparent speed advantage of the Honda CBR250RR and the 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 250R, may have helped Yamaha teams, though it is difficult to determine at this technical, flowing, bumpy circuit. What is beyond discussion is that the level of riding by Rheza and Anuparb, albeit in the absence of Muklada,  is a click or two clear of a sublimely talented 10 in the chasing pack. The battle will heat up again in Qualifying tomorrow morning and reach boiling point in the early afternoon when Race 1 gets underway.

Underbone 150cc

The snarl, crackle and braap of the Underbone 150s drowned out the grumble of congested trucks and buses on the adjacent highway during their three 30-minute sessions on the opening day. What quickly jumped out from the timing screens was the year-on-year improvement in lap times of more than one second brought about by this season’s introduction of Moto3 slicks to the class.

Missing from pit lane is Indonesia’s Yamaha Yamalube SND Factory team. They were foiled by visa issues and unable to make the trip, which means that double champion and winner of Race 2 in Suzuka last month, Gupita Kresna and Syharul Amin are likely to slip out of their fifth and sixth positions in the standings by the end of the weekend.

In their absence, the SCK Rapido Hi Rev Hondas of Championship leader, Helmi Azman and Fakhrusy Syakirin and the UMA Racing Yamahas of Akid Aziz and Haziq Fairues, took the most advantage.

Akid put in a stunning qualifying lap of 1’51.97, more than half a second better than Helmi, who in turn was 0.8s clear of Fakhrusy, Affendi Rosli and the rest.

Of the new and wildcard riders, Australian Travis Hall qualified 12th on the SCK machine, 0.8 clear of Filipino, McKinley Kyle Paz for UMA. Japan’s Miu Nakahara’s first day was cut short three laps into Free Practice 2 when her engine let go, forcing her to miss qualifying and therefore putting her at the back of the grid for both races.

The top 15 from Qualifying will go through to tomorrow morning’s Superpole session to determine grid positions.

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