The FIM Asia Road Racing Championship returns to The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia this weekend, once again hooking up with the Australian Superbike Championship for a packed four day programme of practice qualifying and racing being billed as International MotoFest. It is round two for ARRC and round 3 for ASBK.
History was made one year ago when ARRC raced for the first time in Australia at the newly opened circuit. Tens of thousands of spectators watched as ASBK’s regular heroes and Asia’s fastest riders got to grips with the twists, turns and undulations of The Bend’s 4.95km configuration. Many riders were caught out and sent for hospital food, though, overall, the mainly Pirelli-shod ASBK contingent suffered fewer highsides than the visitors on their Dunlop control tyres. This time around the teams and tyre companies go with data, and should encounter a less abrasive track surface thanks to a year’s worth of racing rubber being laid down.
ARRC again brings three classes to the party, though this time the Underbone 150s step aside for Asian Superbike 1000s, which this season became the new premier category for the Asian series.
ASB 1000: Staring in for Thitipong as Parkes sniffs a chance for championship lead
Kawasaki Thailand’s Thitipong Warakorn took the championship lead with a brace of second places at Sepang last month, but sits out this round with back and chest injuries sustained in a horror crash one week later while competing as a WSBK wild card at Chang International Circuit. After talks at Kawasaki between Japan, Thailand and Australia, Bryan Staring takes Thitipong’s seat for this round. Alongside Chaiwichit Nisakul, he will be working with team manager Katsuake Fujiwara to keep Thitipong’s main championship rivals at bay and grab whatever home advantage he can.
Fierce competition is expected from round one race winners, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman, who is resurgent on the ONEXOX TKKR SAG BMW and Zaqwan Zaidi, who made the most of his sweet-handling Honda Asia Dream Racing CBR1000RR to claim a wet race two at Sepang. Then there are the four formidable Yamahas of Broc Parkes, who sits 13 points behind Thitipong in the standings in second place, Yuki Ito, who won on a 600 at The Bend last year and Yamaha Thailand’s pairing of fast and feisty Apiwat Wongthananon and Ratthapong Wilairot, who finished second behind Ito a year ago. Indonesia’s Ahmad Yudhistira has emerged as the season’s top privateer on the Victor Racing Yamaha and has a realistic shot at putting himself on the podium. Azlan’s team-mate, Farid Badruk Hisham, will be looking to make his presence felt in the series, while plenty of cameras will be snapping the stunning Access Plus Ducati Panigales of Timothy Joseph Cua Alberto and Jonathan Serrapica.
There’ll be strong local support for wildcards, Stephanie Redman (Addicted to Track), Mason Coote (Aark Racing) and Yannis Shaw (DB Racing). Australia’s Patrick Li, who broke his left arm in round one is replaced by Kazuma Tsudato.
SS 600: Peerapong gets a chance to stretch title advantage
Yamaha Thailand’s Peerapong Boonlert’s imperious double win in round one at Sepang means that he takes a perfect 50 points to Tailem Bend, 14 clear of his nearest rival, Kasma Daniel Kasmayudin and 21 clear of third placed Adam Norrodin. With both of Hong Leong Yamaha’s Malaysian duo away in Spain for this weekend’s CEV Repsol Moto2 round, Peerapong has a golden opportunity to build a big early championship advantage. Akid Aziz and Ibrahim Norrodin (Adam’s younger brother) fill in for the absentees. Akid finished third in UB 150 race two last year and gets the chance to show what he can do with an extra 450cc, while Ibrahim makes his ARRC debut. Akid was the 2017 UB150 champion, while Ibrahim took the KTM Asia RC Cup title, also in 2017.
The Thai rider’s biggest threats could well emerge in the form of 2018 Underbone 150 champion, Helmi Azman and his Musashi Boon Siew Honda team-mate, Azroy Hakeem Anuar. Azroy already has a year’s experience on the CBR600RR and finished seventh at The Bend last time out. Helmi also knows his way around, having finished second in race one and retired while leading race two in the 2018 UB150 round. He will find the scenery flying past a little quicker and will need different lines this weekend, but the ever-smiling 21-year-old is relishing the challenge. Astra Honda’s Andi Farid Izdihar was fast last year at the South Australian Circuit, but crashed out of contention and landed himself in hospital. His team-mate, 2018 AP 250 champion, Rheza Danica Ahrens, should also have something to say after a quiet start to his 600 career last month in Sepang. He scored his first of a string of double wins at The Bend last year.
AP 250: Muklada and Fadly ready to slug it out in round two
The two lightweight title favourites shape up for another thrilling battle after their paint swapping confrontation in round one at Sepang. Andy Muhammad Fadly starts as championship leader after finishing second to Astra Honda’s Lucky Hendriansya in race one and to Muklada Sarapuech in race two.
Muklada retired from race one in the first round, so carries 25 points from her race two win to Australia. Lucky is on 30 after his race one win and an 11th place after recovering from a last corner crash in race 2. Astra’s latest wunderkind clearly has no regard for the reputations of his Thai and Malaysian rivals and is likely to mix it up with them again. Fadly scored his first AP 250 podium at The Bend last year, while Muklada finished fifth in race one and was on a charge in race two when the red flag came out. She was placed seventh after race officials overlooked the rule book and awarded sixth to the rider whose crash had brought out the red flag.
While these three riders were a class apart from the rest of the field in the opening round, Astra Honda’s Irfan Ardiansyah and Awhin Sanjaya are both capable of causing an upset, as are fellow Indonesians, Rafid Topan Sucipto and Reynaldo Chrisantho Ratukore.
Elsewhere in the pack, Idemitsu Honda Racing India have had a good start to the season with Sethu Rajiv and Senthil Chandrasekaran, while Australia’s Ben Reid is running Thai-British youngsters, Kevin and Stewart Johnson in his inaugural year as a team owner in ARRC.