The FIM Asia Road Racing Championship’s premier class reaches the climax of a closely fought, almost impossible to predict, season’s racing this weekend at Buriram Chang International Circuit.
With two races remaining, T Pro Yuzy Honda’s Tomoyoshi Koyama leads a chasing swarm of potential race winners with 150 points, just ahead of two previous champions. 2014 champion, Zaqhwan Zaidi, still only 21 years old, is seven points behind, while his MUSASHI Boon Siew Honda team mate and 2015 champion, Yuki Takahashi, is a further 15 points adrift with 128 points.
It is a fascinating face-off between two Japanese GP veterans and a young Malaysian graduate of the Petronas Cub Prix series that is fast becoming recognised as a feeder for the Moto3 and Moto2 world championships. Zaqhwan also won the 2014 Cub Prix Championship.
Competition in the ARRC Supersport 600 championship has been so close that the three leading protagonists have scored only one win each in 10 races and there have been three further winners: Decha Kraisart, took Race 1 at Suzuka, while Azlan Shah, Gerry Salim (out with injury) and Anthony West took double wins at Johor, Sentul and Buddh respectively.
Yamaha Thailand and AP Honda will be looking to play the home track advantage in the championship’s second visit to Buriram in 2016. Decha and Anucha Nakcharoensri crashed their R6s while trying to get the better of Koyama and Takahashi in Race 1 and 2 respectively.
Decha, the champion in 2007 and 2010, is capable of winning anytime, anywhere, while Anucha has declared himself happier with his machine after recent tests at the circuit and looks fully confident after a mixed season.
AP Honda’s Ratthapong Wilairot has yet to show his potential in the series, though his speed as a wild card in World Supersport means that he also lines up as a potential winner.
Honda Tingnote’s Thitipong Warakorn goes there fresh from a win in the FMSCT All Thailand Supersport 600 Championship less than two weeks ago and will be looking to get among the front runners.
The quality of Anthony West has never been in doubt. Looking and declaring himself unhappy during the first four rounds, he went from struggling to imperious when he took pole position and two victories at India’s Buddh Circuit last time out.
Having gone so well at one fast, modern track, he could well be in the mix again at Chang. Indonesia’s Ahmad Yudihistra has shown flashes of brilliance under the mentorship of World Supersport 600 star and 2011 ARRC champion, Katsuake Fujiwara, but has only managed one podium finish, at Buddh.
He will be aiming to put the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki at the front of the pack and to stay there through to the chequered flag.
No piece about the Asia Road Racing Championship would be complete without a mention of World Superbike legend, Noriyuki Haga. Now 41, he looks as tough and as fit as ever and the Team Kagayama Suzukis are the best looking bikes on the grid. Results have yet to match the sum of the team’s components and it would be crowd pleasing indeed to see one of the sport’s most popular riders back on the podium.
The supporting program is packed, with the Underbone and Suzuki Asian Challenge titles also to be decided and some national races too, including the Honda CBR300 Professional Race.
The fact that the AP250 and Asia Dream Cup crowns have been taken by Apiwat Wongthananon and Hiroki Nakamura will do nothing to reduce the intensity of the competition between Asia’s best young riders in these classes. The action starts with Free Practice on Thursday, so four days of competition to bring the curtain down on perhaps the most exciting ARRC season ever.
Declaration of Interest: Barry Russell is Jury President for the FMSCT All Thailand Superbike Championship and will represent FMSCT on the Jury for the Asia Road Racing Championship Round 6.