December 10, 2016
The Academy Riders Shine at the Final Round!
After finishing the dreamlike experience that was The Master Camp, some of the participating riders put their big goals into words: "The best part of the camp was riding at Misano Circuit. The next time I go there I'll ride it as an international motorcycle racer!" or "I want to battle at the world level soon, like the VR46 Riders Academy members do." Others expressed their frustrations: "I crashed so many times on the dirt track at the Motor Ranch and it was a painful reminder of how I still have a lot to work on," and "If I can't communicate in English there's no way I can make it on the world stage."
The six riders from various Asian countries that took part in The Master Camp program this season under the YAMAHA|VR46 Riders Academy project used the experience to understand what obstacles they need to overcome. With bigger ambitions and a spirit of challenge burning even brighter than before, they returned to the Asia Road Racing Championship (ARRC) that is their main battleground.
Then in October, just after the second holding of The Master Camp concluded, Round 5 of the ARRC took place in India, and the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team's Apiwat Wongthananon secured the Asia Production 250 (AP250) title. Then in December before the final round, the riders felt that the only way to repay the instructors and staff of YAMAHA|VR46 Riders Academy was to get good results in the race. They said that the real value of this project, which many young riders around the world have their eyes on, is also judged based upon their results, and that they needed to achieve results that wouldn't tarnish the name of the project. Not only that, but this race would also play a role in the approach taken for next season. Naturally then, the riders wanted to do everything to finish even a single position higher. They were filled with gratitude, a sense of responsibility and a strong determination. Because the final round held such significance for them, the races were filled with intense battles.
Race 1 saw ten machines vying for the three spots on the podium in a free-for-all fight. Standing out from the pack with stellar riding was Apiwat Wongthananon and Kasma Daniel Kasmayudin of the Yamaha Finson Racing team. Especially this season, Kasmayudin was unable to achieve the results he set out for himself, so in the race when he came from the rear of the grid to latch on to the leading group, he gave it everything, attacking both Wongthananon and rivals from other manufacturers' teams with no holds barred.
The end result was anything but predictable. On the final lap with only a few corners remaining, Wongthananon crashed, collecting Kasmayudin in the process. The crash had a larger knock-on effect as Yamaha Racing Indonesia's Galang Hendra Pratama lost positions as he swerved to avoid the crash, meaning that the three riders in contention for the podium all suddenly found themselves in contention no longer.
However, Peerapong Loiboonpeng of the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team had been trailing in the second group and moved into the lead due to the multi-bike crash. In the end he lost the win to his teammate, but still took his second podium of the season--his first since Round 2--with a 2nd place finish, a strong result.
In Race 2, Wongthananon rode a perfect race worthy of a champion. Reflecting on the free-for-all battle that ensued in the opening stages of Race 1, Wongthananon started Race 2 by lapping at a very fast pace and left most of the pack behind. Only one of his rivals was able to keep up with him, but Wongthananon would later show an overwhelming display of riding prowess.
Wongthananon fell to 2nd by the middle of the race, but he stayed locked to the back wheel of his rival as he calmly planned his move. Then in the middle of the final lap--as if it was all according to plan--Wongthananon slipped in to 1st on the inside and instantly kicked his speed up a notch. He left the 2nd placed rider behind, not to mention the group of riders vying for 3rd place. In the end he took his ninth victory of the season with ease as he crossed the line in 1st.
Meanwhile, the group fight for 3rd was heating up and it would all be decided in the final corner. Several machines tried for the inside line all at once, but Yamaha Traxx-D TJM Bien Racing's Imanuel Putra Pratna came out on top to take the checkers with a forceful pump of the fist in celebration over the line. His time at The Master Camp and two years of experience in the ARRC are what truly produced his first podium finish.
And that was how the 2016 season ended. Some showed the fruits of their efforts and some were left with much still to show. But what is clear is that the riders are all still on the path toward meeting their goals. Will the impact and motivation received at the YAMAHA|VR46 Riders Academy and experience gained through the ARRC season bear fruit? The answer to that will be shown by the riders themselves in 2017.
Apiwat Wongthananon (23rd/1st)
"This year I became a member of the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team, and both the team and the R25 were top notch so I was able to ride really well and battle in every race. The reason for that is everything improved throughout the season, including myself as a rider. I think taking the title this year was all thanks to the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team. Also, I can't forget to mention my participation in The Master Camp. It was honestly a huge opportunity and experience for me. With the training we did there especially, I've learned to incorporate elements of that into my regular training regimen. That has helped me a lot and I believe is directly related to my wins and title this season. Next season will be a big year for me. I'm so excited and I just can't wait to get started."
Peerapong Loiboonpeng (2nd/4th)
""I couldn't get the results I wanted at the last round in India, but I prepared for this final round without losing my concentration or giving up, and believing I could win. Both races were really tough, free-for-all battles, with the positions changing all the time. I couldn't get through to the front, but with the lead riders all crashing out in the accident in Race 1, suddenly I was in position to try for the win. In the end I couldn't get the win, but it was my first podium since Round 2 so I'm satisfied with the result. Also, this year I was able to participate in The Master Camp twice. I improved my skills a lot, but more than that it gave me a chance to see the world of international motorcycle racing, which had always seemed so far away to me before. Thanks to that, my motivation for the ARRC really got a boost and I decided I needed to change my direction for the future, so I think this year was a big turning point for me."
Galang Hendra Pratama (7th/13th)
""Things were going well through to qualifying, but I had nothing but bad luck in both races. I got mixed up in the big accident in Race 1 and then in Race 2 I had a machine issue so I wasn't very happy with my results for the final round. Looking at the season overall, there were good points and bad points, and they're all a part of the experience. The bad points were that accidents and others issues prevented me from getting the results I wanted. But even with that, I was able to stand on the podium twice, and by joining The Master Camp I made a step toward the world stage, which are both big things I think. Looking at the season in total, I've improved my skills, mentality as well as my results, so I feel like I've grown a lot this year. My plans for next season aren't set yet, but in any case my only plan is to give my maximum effort to fight for the championship."
Imanuel Putra Pratna (5th/3rd)
"There were big changes to both the bike and team for this season, so all I could do at first was just get used to everything. I got into a good rhythm around the Suzuka round. I gained more trust in my team and my experience at The Master Camp helped as well, so I gradually got to where I could fight for results. With that in mind, coming into this final round it was my goal to be on the podium, but I had bike issues in the first race and it was a tough ride. We fixed the bike overnight and came into Race 2 with a lot of confidence, but I couldn't keep up with the two leaders. The potential was still there for a podium though, so I stuck with the second group and came from behind to take 3rd in the end. I gave 100% to get that result. I had a difficult time with a team change, but I got the chance to learn with my idol Valentino Rossi, so I gained a lot of experience this year. All of it will show next season; I think the real challenge has only just begun."
Soichiro Minamimoto (18th/18th)
"This season was my first time in the ARRC, and compared to when I started I'm now able to come up with a solid plan for how to carry out my race weekend, so we did just that when we arrived at the last round and there was a good flow going into the races. But I crashed in Race 1 and had machine issues in Race 2 that forced me to retire, and I was reminded of how difficult racing can be. I didn't have the speed to get to the front of the skirmish and I've realized anew my lack of physical strength. However, I've definitely made progress. At the YAMAHA|VR46 Riders Academy in particular, I met a lot of my rivals and felt a lot closer to the world stage. I also learned how to ride with a hunger and drive to make it to the front and I learned how to do battle. I couldn't take a win this season, but I think that now I'm more prepared to win. So, next season no matter what kind of racing I'm doing, I'll be focused on one thing, and that's winning."
Kasma Daniel Bin Kasmayudin (17th/5th)
"I had a very competitive bike this season, but I feel like I wasn't able to take full advantage of it and I'm really sorry to the team because of that. At this round I fought at the front and gave it 100% but I still couldn't get the results I wanted. I couldn't drastically boost my results over last season's, but I know both my mind and body have gotten stronger this year. Especially mentally, the time I spent with my rivals at the YAMAHA|VR46 Riders Academy and riders who are the same age as me but are already competing on the world stage was really stimulating. My motivation to make that step up to the world level got a serious boost. But that's only a feeling at this point; in reality my skills can't match my desire yet. So I plan to carry out exactly what I need to do, up my abilities and move closer to my goal of the world stage as quickly as I can."