- Asia Road Racing Championship Round 5, India
- Supersports 600cc / Asia Production 250cc
- Date: 24 September, 2017
- Circuit: Madras Motor Race Track (3.717 km)
Azlan Shah Rues a Missed Opportunity
Round five of the Asia Road Racing Championship was initially set to take place in Delhi, India at the Buddh International Circuit just as it had been last season, but due to issues with the track surface the round was hastily rescheduled for September 22 to 24 at the Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai, India. This would mark the first return to this circuit since 2013, when then-Kawasaki rider Katsuaki Fujiwara had had a hard time with the circuit’s bumpy surface. The circuit building had been under construction, with only the first floor of the paddock area complete, and repairs to the track surface had been ongoing.
But a quick look at the track showed that there were still areas with a lot of undulation, which many suspected would have a considerable effect on the racing.
Chennai is in the central part of Eastern India, situated along the coast. Even in late September, the temperature soars to over 35℃ during the daytime. Overnight rain helped keep the temperature below 30℃ for the first of the free practices held on the 22nd, but by noon the temperature had crept up past 30℃ on its way to 35℃ later in the afternoon.
With this being the first visit to the circuit since 2013, the tyres were obviously different. As such, championship leader Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman and 3rd ranked Haji Ahmad Yudhistira began their setup work with assessing final gear ratios. Though the track had damp patches in various places, the pair clocked times to put them in 1st and 2nd in the first session. The second session saw work on the final gear ratios continue, with the addition of testing a hard compound rear tyre. Just as expected, as the times came down the bumps in the track surface became more of an issue. The focus was on making small changes to the setup in the third free practice the next day as the pair finished the session in 3rd and 4th positions. However, just before the end of the session, Azlan Shah suffered a vicious highside. Luckily there were no broken bones or serious injury otherwise. He was able to walk away from the crash, so it was thought that the damage was minimal.
September 23. Azlan Shah’s knee was very swollen. He was not able to move it the way he wanted to, and thus could not ride as well in qualifying as he had hoped. He ended up qualifying on the back row of the grid. Yudhistira could not get a clear lap to set a fast time, which resulted in a 9th place with a 1’42.109. Pole position went to Keminth Kubo (Yamaha), who had notched a 1’40.920.
Md Zaqhwan Zaidi (Honda) was 2nd, followed by Taiga Hada (Honda) in 3rd. Zaidi and Hada were in 4th and 2nd place in the championship respectively. The result of this race weekend was sure to have a major effect on each rider’s championship chances.
Due to a 3.5 hour time difference with Japan and a 1.5 hour difference with Southeast Asia, Race 1 was set to begin at 1:00pm, two hours earlier than usual. The air temperature was a sweltering 37℃, and the track surface temperature exceeded 60℃. Zaidi was the quickest off the line as he grabbed the holeshot, while Azlan Shah also got a good start from the rear of the grid, moving all the way up to 10th. In the fourth corner of the opening lap, Chalermpol Polamai (Yamaha) crashed out causing the trailing Yudhistira to veer wide and off the track, costing him several positions. Following that, the pain in Azlan Shah’s knee began to have an effect and caused him to gradually lose positions. By lap 5 Yudhistira had recovered to 10th and had managed to claw back the gap to the machines in front. Zaidi had not yielded the lead, with Hada, Yuki Ito (Yamaha) and Kubo trailing behind as the four engaged in a battle at the front. The final corner of the final lap saw Kubo attempt a pass on Ito but crash spectacularly in the process. The podium finishers were then Zaidi, Hada and Ito. In the end Yudhistira recovered a few more positions to take the checkers in 7th, while Azlan Shah was helped by three riders crashing out to finish 10th and pick up six precious points.
The next day, September 24, began with unfortunately cloudy skies. The forecast was for rain in the afternoon, so many worried how the weather would turn out for Race 2. Around noon the rain began to sprinkle and by the time the AP250s took to the track the condition was mostly wet, and the race was declared a “wet”. The rain then subsided and by the time the SS600 Race 2 was scheduled to start at 1:00pm, a dry line was beginning to form on the track. The race was delayed for 15 minutes to allow it to dry out further, to the point that most of the machines lined up on the grid had changed to slick tyres.
Due to race start being delayed, the race was reduced from 16 laps to 14.
Azlan Shah knew that he could not afford to give up as many points as he had in Race 1 again. Fortified with painkillers, he set out to make the most of a difficult situation. He made a good start and was up to 10th by the first corner of the first lap, when he began an early effort to break away from his group. However, he misjudged a section where a damp patch met the tarmac and lost traction in the front, causing him to crash. He remounted and rejoined the race straightaway, but he had lost so many positions that the question became how many could he recover by the finish.
At the front Zaidi, Ito and Hada, who were out for as many championship points as possible, were joined by Ratthapong Wilairot (Honda) to form the leading group. Yudhistira meanwhile was locked in a battle with the second group consisting of Teppei Nagoe (Honda), Decha Kraisart (Yamaha) and Polamai.
On lap 8 Wilairot crashed, separating the group and leaving Zaidi and Ito to reel off laps locked closely together in a fierce duel. With three laps remaining, Ito passed Zaidi then proceeded to break away and take his first win. Zaidi came in 2nd and Hada in 3rd. Yudhistira made a mistake on the final lap that dropped him down to 9th and Azlan Shah finished the race in 12th.
As a result of Azlan Shah’s points finishes, he dropped from 1st in the championship to 4th with a 10-point gap to the leader, from where he will head into the final round. Yudhistira also lost positions, and now finds himself a further 18 points behind Azlan Shah in 5th.
The final round of the season will take place between December 1 and 3 in Thailand at the Chang International Circuit.
|1||21||Md Zaqhwan Zaidi||Honda|
|10||25||Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman||Kawasaki|
|12||69||Shankar Sarath Kumar||Honda|
|2||21||Md Zaqhwan Zaidi||Honda|
|12||25||Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman||Kawasaki|
|13||69||Shankar Sarath Kumar||Honda|