Anthony West Does the Double and Yuki Ito Moves Up to 2nd in the Standings with Double Podiums
Yuki Ito (#76), who has seen the most success of riders on the YZF-R6 this season so far, headed into the Suzuka round of the Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC) hoping to use his home-field advantage and seize the opportunity for a strong comeback to keep himself in contention for the title.
For that reason the pressure to perform was immense. He set the fastest time in the first free practice session, but from the second free practice onwards, he lost the top spot to his competition. But Ito reduced his lap time considerably in qualifying the following day, narrowly missing out on pole position, but still securing a spot on the front row in 2nd and took that positive form into the race.
After the race got underway, Ito had slotted into 3rd as the pack headed into the first corner. He began pushing right from the off and passed the two riders in front of him at the final chicane in a single move to put himself in the lead by the end of the first lap. As if spurred on by Ito, a cadre of R6 riders consisting of Noriyuki Haga (#41), Chalermpol Polamai (#65) and Anthony West (#13) came alive, putting four Yamaha riders in the top four positions at one point. After that, Honda's Md Zaqhwan Zaidi (#21) and Kawasaki's Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman (#25) got involved in the mix, changing up the order. But Ito continued to hang onto the lead, and as the race neared its end, the battle for the win would be between Ito and West.
The two riders put all their effort into a heated back-and-forth duel. With three laps remaining, West made a move at the 130R corner to take the lead, but Ito quickly returned the favor the next lap on the back straight. On the final lap, Ito was passed back by West through the Reverse Bank corner, setting up braking for the final chicane as the final showdown. Ito braked late and was able to close in on West, but was not quite close enough for a pass. He mounted one last effort at the final corner, but in the end West came across the finish line in 1st with Ito right behind him in 2nd.
Ito's teammate, Keminth Kubo (#64), came across the line in 13th at the end of the first lap. Racing hard against the local Japanese riders well-experienced around Suzuka Circuit, he managed to gradually improve his position. On lap 7, Kubo had Keisuke Maeda (#31), who is currently in 2nd in the 2017 All Japan ST600 Championship, in his sights. Kubo was able to pass him for 10th, but Kubo crashed shortly after in the motorcycle-racing chicane in the 200R curve. He was unable to restart, resulting in a DNF. But the incident hardened his determination to finish in the top 10 in Race 2.
Race 2 turned into an even more fiercely contested battle. Ito wedged into 2nd off the start and did a repeat of Race 1 as he pulled into the lead on the first lap and began to control the pace from the front. In the early stages, the biggest threats to Ito were from fellow R6 rider Chalermpol Polamai and Honda-mounted polesitter Ikuhiro Enokido (#32). This was especially true for Polamai, who would pass Ito only to be repassed as the two see-sawed back and forth at the front on every lap. But Polamai gradually faded from contention for the lead and Ito soon found his main rival for the weekend back on his tail, Race 1 victor Anthony West.
West began to close in on the rapidly fleeing Ito, slowly but steadily narrowing the gap until he made a pass stick at the Degner curve on lap 9 to take the lead. But Ito was not about to give up. He latched onto the back of West and looked for any passing opportunity, mounting attacks on the back straight, at 130R and at the final chicane. But as the race wound down, West clicked into overdrive and left Ito behind, building up a gap that left Ito no opportunities to retaliate and taking a stellar double win at Suzuka.
While West was powering towards victory, Ito was left to contend with Suzuki's hard-charging Yukio Kagayama (#71) and Honda's Taiga Hada (#23), pouring all his energy into keeping them at bay. Ito held them off at the major passing points--the chicane and the final corner--to retain his position and take the checkers for another 2nd place podium finish. As the series leaders were not able to take similar results, Ito's solid performance put him 2nd in the series standings with a 19-point deficit to 1st and a 3-point gap from 3rd. With three more rounds to go, Ito is in a position to claw back points and fight for the title.
Kubo, who was in 14th after the first lap, had a series of mistakes that saw him jump up and down the order, making for an unsteady race. There were positives to be taken, however, as he made improvements everywhere, such as setting lap times in the mid-2'13s--a mark he had been unable to hit for most of the weekend--before finishing in 14th. Polamai fought hard to stay near the front after losing touch with the leaders in the middle of the race, but hung on to finish among the top 5 with 5th place.
Minamimoto Finishes as Top R25 Rider in Race 1
and Sarmoon Takes 2nd in Race 2
Sitting in 6th on the grid, the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team's Anupab Sarmoon (#500) was the highest-qualifying YZF-R25 rider. Compared to the previous two rounds, the R25 riders were facing a challenging weekend. But in Race 1, Sarmoon overcame his difficult qualifying position with a strong ride.
The Thai rider made a brilliant start, passing three riders in the dash to the first corner and working his way into 3rd to kick off his race. He was at times on the tail end of the leading group and at other times made his way inside it, battling as the lone Yamaha against riders from rival manufacturers. But his challenge came to an end in the second half of the race. He was forced to lower his pace when he encountered unexpected machine trouble. This meant that there were no longer any R25s in the lead group.
Farther back, Soichiro Minamimoto (#22) had been fighting hard among the second group for a strong result at his home race, but ended up running on his own in the second half of the race to finish in 8th. Yamaha Racing Indonesia's Reynaldo Chrisantho Ratukore (#222) crossed the finish behind him in 9th.
The R25 riders had a tough fight on their hands in Race 1, and though things were no different in Race 2, Sarmoon was again able to join the lead group. However, he was at the back of the group in 5th and unable to make passes, so he maintained his position to strike if any of the four riders in front made a mistake. Unfortunately for Sarmoon, though things were always busy at the front, the leaders made no errors big enough to give him a chance and he held station in 5th.
Then, as the group hurtled toward the all-important final chicane on the last lap, Sarmoon naturally tried to make a pass. But before he could, two riders in front of him also aiming for the win made contact and went down. Seeing what happened from behind, Sarmoon deftly avoided the collision with surprising calm and quickly closed in on the rider now in 2nd, and managed to pass him in the final corner and down the home straight. Sarmoon capped off a solid recovery from his Race 1 DNF with a hard-fought podium finish in 2nd.
Further down the field, Galang Hendra Pratama (#99) had been pushing hard to overcome a starting position of 24th due to an issue with his machine in qualifying. Showing incredible skill, he carved his way through the pack to get as high as 6th behind Sarmoon. With the crash at the final chicane, his final finishing position was 4th, meaning that he passed 20 riders in total during the race.
Yamaha Riders Sweep the Podium
Malaysian rider Md Akid Aziz (#13) and Indonesian rider Anggi Setiawan (#96) were on-track for Race 1--their first ARRC race since attending the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp in mid-May of this year--where Yamaha Racing Indonesia's Wahyu Aji Trilaksana (#60) held off all challenges to take his second win of the season. Riding for the UMA Racing Yamaha Maju Motor team, Aziz and Md Haziq Md Fairues (#26) followed him across the line to mark Yamaha's third podium sweep in a row for this season.
Yamaha riders controlled the lead once again in Race 2. Wahyu Aji and Aziz swapped for 1st several times on each lap as the race approached its conclusion. The final lap would see the two pass and repass at every corner, the dogfight unfolding across the circuit until the final chicane, when Wahyu Aji crashed out of the lead. Aziz was caught up in the accident, causing the two to quickly drop down the order. This gave their rivals a 1-2 finish, but Race 1's 3rd-place finisher Md Haziq Md Fairues once again stood on the podium in 3rd.
Round 3 of the ARRC season will take place on August 12th and 13th at Sentul International Circuit in Indonesia.
Yamaha Racing Team
#76 Yuki Ito (2nd / 2nd)
"I couldn't quite accomplish my goal of a win this time, but I gave it my all in both races. In particular, though I had a fall at Round 2, I was able to stage a good recovery here and that's something I've never done before in my career. So I really felt how much I've grown as a racer at this event. To sum up both races, Anthony West beat me completely. Especially in Race 2, he could see that I didn't have much grip, so he homed in on that and took advantage to pass me. After that he pulled a gap on me in the first two sectors before I caught up in sectors 3 and 4, but I couldn't make a move on him. In the end he pulled away and had to deal with people charging from behind, so it was a really hard race. But to be on the podium in both races was big, and bigger still was me getting the confidence back that I'd lost in Round 2. At the next round in Indonesia I'll be looking for one thing and that's race wins."
#64 Keminth Kubo (DNF/14th)
"I was running at a pretty good pace in Race 1 until I took 10th place. The fall I had right after that was a result of me charging in too hard; I think I just lacked enough focus. The beginning of Race 2 was good too, but the level of riding was beyond my current capabilities. I upped my pace to my absolute fastest and ended up making several mistakes like running off track because I didn't have enough control, so I couldn't improve my position like I'd wanted to. Just like Race 1, this was down to my own lack of ability, so I still have a lot to improve on. We've now finished three races. In that time span, I've realized anew that it isn't easy to close the gap to the frontrunners and that it's something that will just take time. So for now I want to take my time and first concentrate on consistently finishing inside the top 10."
Team Manager Toru Koseki
"Ito's goal this time was to win races, but as the results show, he wasn't able to achieve that. However, I feel him finishing on the podium twice is really important. There are always ups and downs in racing, but the key is how you handle things and work to get back on your feet when things are looking down. This time Ito had to recover from his results in Round 2 as well as a crash during the race weekend. But the fact that he was able to do both was a big step, I think. The next round of racing will take us away from our home circuit, but the results we get in Indonesia will be a big factor in our championship. We'll pull together as a team to go get those results. For Keminth, he had a positive weekend at the last round, finding a good rhythm and taking top 10 finishes and points in both races. But at this round, he wasn't able to keep that rhythm going. His crash in Race 1 created a bad mindset that he carried with him into Race 2. Of course, it's important that he grow quickly as a racer, but for this season Keminth needs to concentrate on finishing races and consistently picking up points as he builds experience. I want to him to fully understand that as he goes into his next race."
Akeno Speed Racing Team
#13 Anthony West (1st/1st)
"I made some mistakes in Race 1 so it was really hard to push to make up time. From the start and early parts of Race 2, I was just focused on trying to take it easy and hang onto the top group. It was the same in Race 1, but everybody was really fast, especially Yuki. He was riding really well, so Race 2 was even tougher. But I could see that Yuki's tire was slipping a little bit, so I waited for just the right moment to pounce and it worked. There had been a lot of crashes in the final chicane, so I pushed to put some distance between myself and the guys behind. It worked out well and we got the win. Anyway, this weekend has just been amazing and I'll definitely give it my best at the next round too."
Yamaha Thailand Racing Team
#500 Anupab Sarmoon (DNF/2nd)
"Japanese riders are always especially fast here at Suzuka, and I knew our rivals would be quick on their new bikes. But I didn't know how much tougher it would be for me racing against them as the only R25 rider in the group. The races themselves were all about me being patient and trying to stick with the leaders. In Race 1, I was unlucky with some issues and had to retire. In Race 2, I was able to stay with the leaders, but I couldn't get close enough to attack. But I was still in a spot where I could take positions if anything happened in front of me, so I had mentally prepared myself for an opportunity if one emerged. It was thanks to that that I was right there to take 2nd when the two riders in front of me crashed on the last lap. But I'm still not satisfied with my performance, and I know the local Indonesian riders will also be fast at the next round, but I plan to push hard to take my first win."