Race 1: Wilairot and Kraisart Take 1st and 2nd with Kubo in 4th
The 2018 ARRC season reached its climax this weekend, a full nine months after it began back in March. The Chang International Circuit in Thailand played host to the opening round and did so once again to cap off the season. Yamaha Racing Team ASEAN rider Yuki Ito (#76) made his return to racing following an injury he received at the previous round in Indonesia. He planned to take a solid result along with his teammate Keminth Kubo (#64), but a crash in FP2 on the first day led to him canceling the rest of his session. That upset Ito's rhythm and he qualified in 12th. Kubo meanwhile kept a steadily quick pace throughout the weekend and qualified in 3rd to line up on the front row. Ahead of him were Yamaha Thailand Racing Team's Ratthapong Wilairot (#56) and Decha Kraisart (#24), making it an all-R6 front row to start Race 1.
Kubo maintained his qualifying form and got a strong start, running in 4th behind Kraisart, Wilairot and Kawasaki's Ahmad Yudhistira (#33) on the first lap. Kraisart and Wilairot's pace was too quick and the two pulled away, but Kubo stayed right with Yudhistira. Kubo was faster through the corners while Yudhistira was quicker on the straights, which meant that the two were locked together for several laps. But around the halfway mark Kubo pulled in front to take over 3rd.
But that was short-lived and he was soon relegated back to 4th, and then Honda's Tomoyoshi Koyama (#634) quickly closed in and made a pass to drop Kubo to 5th. Kubo pressed on however, not willing to give up as he pushed his machine and eventually re-took 4th. He ran out of time to capture 3rd, but took a solid 4th place to give his confidence a boost before Race 2.
Meanwhile, Ito was starting from 12th and had made major changes to his setup before the race. He jumped up the order at the start, going from 12th to 7th by the second lap, but he could not maintain a fast pace in the first half of the race and at one point dropped as far back as 12th. He regained some speed in the middle stages and battled with rivals, taking and losing positions as he went. He slowly but steadily moved forward until he'd returned to 7th.
Following that, he came into the last lap after more position swapping, entering the final corner in the midst of a free-for-all fight. After overrunning the corner to avoid a pileup of riders dicing for position, Ito took the checkers in 9th. He was later handed a penalty for his detour that dropped him down five positions, so in the end his result for Race 1 was 14th.
The fight for the win was between Kraisart and Wilairot right from the opening stages. Kraisart began by setting a blistering pace from the first lap and the only other rider able to go with him was Wilairot. At first there was nearly a one-second gap between the two, but Wilairot shaved off tenth after tenth until he caught and passed Kraisart on lap eight. Still, Kraisart mounted a valiant effort to stay with Wilairot as the two battled until the checkers, but in the end the positions were unchanged as Wilairot secured his first victory of the season. That brought him up to 2nd overall in the championship title hunt, and since points leader Anthony West (#13) was unable to take part, Wilairot was within reach of taking the championship in the final race the following day.
Hong Leong Yamaha Malaysia's Kasma Daniel Kasmayudin (#127) finished 12th, while Md Ramdan Rosli (#32) retired from the race.
Race 2: Wilairot Does the Double to Clinch 2018 ARRC SS600 Title
In Race 2 Decha Kraisart (#24) got a quick start off the line with championship hopeful Ratthapong Wilairot (#56) in pursuit behind him in what looked to be a repeat of Race 1. While the rest of the field was lapping in the 1'40s at the start, the two at the front were hitting consistent 39s and gradually opened up a sizable 5-second lead over the second group battling for 3rd. After that it was a repeat of Race 1 as Wilairot passed Kraisart and the two then dueled for the lead.
Behind the two leaders, Yamaha Racing Team ASEAN's Keminth Kubo (#64) was locked in a scrap for 3rd like the day before with Kawasaki-mounted championship contenders Ahmad Yudhistira (#33) and Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman (#25). Kubo had made changes to improve his setup and once again engaged in a battle with Yudhistira for the podium more intense than Race 1. Unfortunately, he crash out on lap 9 and had to retire from the race. His final ranking for the season was 10th after showing strong results including a 2nd place at Round 3 in Japan.
His teammate Ito got off to a slower start in 13th on the first lap, but began to steadily build speed until he made his way to 8th by the middle stages of the race, getting into contention for 7th. He had 6th in his sights as well as he reeled off laps, but the battle for 7th was intense and the constant passing meant that his group lost ground on the rider in 6th. Even so, Ito managed to stay in near the front of the group and eventually finish in 8th. He capped off his season in 9th overall, which included a win in Australia and but was also affected by missing the Indonesia round.
The pace of the front two began to settle down as the race reached halfway, but the trailing pack was not able to catch up as the race approached the finish. Kraisart piled on constant pressure from behind, but Wilairot kept him in check to take the race win again. As he crossed the finish, Wilairot took his first ever championship win in the ARRC's pinnacle SuperSports 600 class. Kraisart struggled at the start of the season, but his two consecutive 2nd place podiums at the final round put him 7th overall for the season.
Race 1: Topan Takes 2nd Win of Season, Sarmoon Improves to Take 3rd
Qualifying in 10th, Rafid Topan Sucipto (#250) of the Yamaha Yamalube KYT TJM WR Super Battery team staged a huge comeback in Race 1. He came from 13th on the first lap to steadily work his way up and take the win.
Initially, it was the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team's Anupab Sarmoon (#500) at the front, who had been in the top positions in every session throughout the weekend as the lead Yamaha rider. Another frontrunner was Yamaha Racing Indonesia's Galang Hendra Pratama (#55), who had featured prominently in the World Supersport 300 Championship this season, but at this event was called in to replace an injured rider.
As the two diced and swapped positions with rivals, Topan steadily made his way forward from 13th, eventually getting inside the top six in the first half of the race. He then latched onto the lead group, now made up of Sarmoon battling for the lead with Pratama in 3rd, and waited for the right time to make a move.
With two laps left, Topan passed the two Yamaha riders to reach the lead. Although his rivals were sticking closely with him, he managed to defend the top spot and held onto it during the final lap, but was passed on the approach to the final corner. But in that corner, he came back into 2nd and made a pass up the inside on the leader for 1st and held on until the checkers, continuing his run of form since the India round by taking his second victory of the season.
Sarmoon faded on the final lap, but with rivals in front of him crashing out he was able to take a 4th place finish. Following the race however, the 3rd place finisher was disqualified which gave Sarmoon a podium with 3rd. Pratama was passed on the final lap and finished 7th, while Sarmoon's teammate Kanatat Jaiman (#90) finished 6th.
Race 2: Sarmoon Podiums with 3rd to Finish Season as Vice-Champion
At the start the lead group was made up of 10 bikes, including Sarmoon (#500), his teammate Peerapong Boonlert (#45), Pratama (#55) and Race 1 winner Topan (#250). But the opening laps saw that number narrowed down to seven, and of the Yamaha riders only Sarmoon and Boonlert remained.
The two stayed in the lead group but were not able to factor into the battle for the podium as the race progressed. But they stayed as close as they could and kept an eye on the leading trio. Boonlert got as high as 3rd at one point but lost steam toward the end and dropped back. Then it was Sarmoon who set his eyes on the podium as he came into the final corner of the final lap in 4th, and managed to take 3rd before being passed on the straight leading up to the finish line, taking the checkers in 4th while his teammate Boonlert finished behind him in 6th.
However, just as had happened in Race 1, Race 2 saw penalties given to several of the leading riders which changed the standings. This brought Sarmoon another 3rd place finish and moved him to 2nd overall in the final standings. At the same time, Boonlert received a penalty and was demoted to 11th. Topan, who finished 8th, was bumped up to 4th and 3rd overall for the season, while Pratama in 9th moved into 5th and 10th finishing Jaiman moved up into 7th.
Race 1: Yamaha Riders Finish 1st and 3rd
Race 1 was a close contest with 10 machines all within one second of each other. The second half saw some of them fall behind or drop out, but the free-for-all battle continued all the way until the final corner of the last lap, as it normally does in this class. In the second half of the race, Wawan Wello (#38) of the Yamaha Yamalube SND Factory team was able to stay in the top positions, and did not give any opportunities for his rivals to exploit as he hung on to take the victory. Two positions further back, Team One For All's Md Affendi Rosli (#36) made it through the final corner battle to take 3rd. Altogether, five of the top six finishers were Yamaha riders.
Race 2: Yamaha Riders Sweep UB150 Podium
Race 2 became an even bigger free-for-all as the top group featured more than 10 bikes and positions were constantly swapped on every single lap before the race came down to the very last corner on the very last lap. More than 10 machines all went full speed into the corner aiming to take the win, but it was the contingent of Yamaha riders that dominated the top positions. Indonesian rider Syahrul Amin (#199) of the Yamaha Yamalube SND Factory team took the win, while his teammate and countryman Md Helmi Azman (#23) took 2nd. Coming in 3rd was Malaysian rider Md Affendi Rosli (#46) of the ONEXOX TKKR Racing Team to complete a podium sweep for Yamaha.
Yamaha Racing Team ASEAN
#64 Keminth Kubo (SS600: 4th)
"I think 4th in Race 1 was pretty good, but I can't say it's my best result. In the battle for 3rd, the other guy was faster than me on the straights but I was quicker through the corners. I need to change my setup so I can gain a bit of speed on the straight and improve my braking. If I can do that I have a chance of a podium in Race 2, and I think I have a shot at running with Decha and Ratthapong."
#76 Yuki Ito (SS600: 14th)
"Things were going well in FP1, but I had some ideas and changes in mind for FP2, and it was while I was trying that out that I crashed and ended up losing us a huge amount of time. That held our work back so I had to go into Race 1 with settings that made it challenging. I got up to 7th after the start but couldn't up my pace and it ended up being a really tough race. But in the middle stages I found some speed and tried to recover. That brought me a 9th place finish but I was handed a penalty afterwards that dropped me to 14th. But my bike was working really well and now I understand what I'm lacking against the frontrunners. So my plan is to make improvements in the warmup tomorrow so I can aim for the podium."
Team Director Toru Koseki
"Kubo first of all got off to a great start for the weekend and qualified in 3rd. While he did miss out on the podium, he didn't make any big mistakes and kept up his rhythm and was able to fight for 3rd. He then held off the challenge from behind and finished in 4th. There's still one race left but I think he's already shown us how much he's grown and our whole team will support him as best we can so he can finish the season on the podium.
"Ito made up a lot of places at the start but he couldn't go with the leaders, so his FP2 crash had a long-lasting effect. He finished 9th, but got handed a penalty for overshooting the final corner and ended up 14th. Both for him and the team it wasn't a result we're content with, so we'll try to come up with a plan to run closer to the front."
Yamaha Thailand Racing Team
#56 Ratthapong Wilairot (SS600: 1st)
"First of all, I'm happy I was able to win Race 1. It was all thanks to strong support from Yamaha's staff and mechanics. All weekend and especially in this race the temperature has been getting hotter and that made for difficult conditions. Battling with Decha was tough and that led to really fast tire wear, but my goal was to try and set steady lap times as best as I could. I did that and was able to hang onto the lead until the end. With this result I now have a shot at winning the championship, so I'll do my best tomorrow and try for the win."
#24 Decha Kraisart (SS600: 2nd)
"I think most of the riders who were setting fast times were doing it on soft tires, but I was able to use the hard and still set good times, so I was confident about using them in the race. At the start I got away well and my plan was to set a high pace and leave everyone behind, but Ratthapong was fast and came past me in the middle part of the race. I could stay with him and our pace was similar, so I thought about making a move, but I figured it would be too risky so I didn't try. We gathered a lot of good data today, so we'll apply that and aim for a win tomorrow."
Theerapong Opaskornkul, Senior General Manager of Sales & Marketing Support
"In SS600 both the team and riders really worked hard and communicated well right from FP1, improving the setup step by step to gain an advantage. I'm certain that's what led to Ratthapong and Decha taking a one-two in Race 1. Keminth was involved in the battle for 3rd, so tomorrow I'm hoping we can have an all-Yamaha podium and we won't let up and we'll do our best to make that happen. In the AP250 class, Anupab was up there fighting for the lead but in the end missed out on the podium, but in his case both rider and machine have made improvements. Kanatat took 7th with Peerapong in 9th. All three looked good, so just like in SS600 we'll do our best to fight for podium positions."
*After the 3rd placed rider was disqualified for breaking a rule, Anupab was promoted to 3rd, Kanatat to 6th and Peerapong to 8th.
Yamaha Racing Team ASEAN
#76 Yuki Ito (SS600: 8th)
"I was looking to try to make some improvements in the warmup but we couldn't find a good answer, so after some thought we went with our setup from the opening round as a base with a few small changes. As a result the lap times got quicker but I couldn't make up any positions off the start. I tried to pass every bike as carefully as possible and eventually got within sight of the fight for 3rd, but it was hard to pass the rider in 7th and I had my work cut out holding off the riders behind, so I wasn't really able to up my pace. This season started off a bit rough with an all-new machine, but with a win at Round 2 I felt like things were going well. Then at Suzuka I was in the battle for the lead but finished 4th twice and that broke my rhythm. Looking at the season overall, a lack of consistency was a big factor and it's something I need to work on."
Keminth Kubo (SS600: DNF)
"To not finish my last race was really disappointing. The bike was working well since yesterday and I wanted more than anything to stand on the podium but it didn't happen. The other guys were really fast and my feeling was that it was a coin toss between winning or losing. So I was pushing a bit too hard, lost the front and crashed. An overall finish of 10th for the season isn't what I wanted, but generally I feel like I've made progress in a lot of areas, like my riding skill for one, my way of going about a race weekend and getting the most from the bike. The support from my team has been fantastic, which has allowed me to slowly but surely ride faster. That's the biggest thing I've gained this season. There are still a lot of areas where I need to improve, so I want to continue to grow more and more."
Team Director Toru Koseki
"Kubo's crash was really disappointing, but it's a result of his rivals being very fast and him having to push over 100% to try to win. He knows that and overall, he has had a strong weekend and I feel he's really grown a lot. Plans for next year aren't decided, but I think he made a big step this season so I look forward to what he can do in the future. Ito couldn't up his pace from the start and finished 8th in a difficult race. I'm sure he knows this, but for his potential and for where the team is aiming to be, his results haven't been good enough. And for our team, looking at our third season in the class as a whole, our results are not good enough either. The whole team shares responsibility for that and I feel we have been lacking overall. Lastly though, I want to thank every single person who has been involved in supporting our team. Thank you very much."
Yamaha Thailand Racing Team
#56 Ratthapong Wilairot (SS600 Race 2: 1st)
"I felt huge pressure on me the entire weekend because the title was riding on this weekend, and to win it I knew I needed to win both races. I was only able to pull it off because Yamaha and my team provided me with an amazing machine. I also think it's thanks to my teammate Decha; he kept me riding at a high pace at the front in both races. I also have to thank him for helping to keep my championship rivals behind me! Looking back on the season, I did stand on the podium four times, but all in all I can't say that every race went according to plan. Luck also played a part, like my rivals not being able to race. But right now, I'm just feeling fantastic because this is the first championship I've ever won. Of course, I want to thank Yamaha, my team, and all the fans who've supported me. They're the reason I was able to win this title. I'm grateful to everyone from the bottom of my heart. Thank you so much!"
#24 Decha Kraisart (SS600: 2nd)
"Race 2 went the exact same way as Race 1 yesterday. My plan was to get away at the start but my pace was a little slower than before so when Ratthapong passed me I decided not to take the risk. I knew the championship was on the line, so I wanted to avoid the two of us being in an accident. Of course, I'm not satisfied with 2nd but to finish the season out on the podium was nice."
#500 Anupab Sarmoon (AP250: 3rd)
"This was the last race of the season and was my home round, so I did my best to try and win both races. The end result was 3rd in both so it wasn't quite what I was hoping for. In Race 2 we made improvements over Race 1 with the setup so the bike was working even better, but I was just a step behind so I'm disappointed. This season I rode in my local series, in the ARRC and in some rounds in the All Japan championship, so I've been able to gain a lot of experience and I feel like I've improved my skills. Next season I want to make the best use of this and keep improving."
Theerapong Opaskornkul, Senior General Manager of Sales & Marketing Support
"To finish out the season I want to say how grateful I am to the riders for their hard work, and to the mechanics, staff and of course all the ARRC fans for supporting us this year. I think our strength as a team has grown a lot this season. We're strong, have a strong will to challenge and we're now a very professional group. In 2016 Apiwat took the AP250 championship, but this season we've finally managed to win the premier SS600 class title with Ratthapong, and that's proof of how far we've come. There is yet another new challenge waiting for us next season, so we'll aim to come back even stronger and fight hard. We're counting on everyone cheering for us again next year!"