The temperature may be soaring at the Johor Circuit, but local boy Zaqhwan Zaidi is not sweating the competition as he faces down a 21-strong SuperSports 600cc grid. The 21-year-old rider secured the provisional pole position for the season opening leg of the 2016 FIM Asia Road Racing Championship with his fastest time of 1’31.423s.

Zaqhwan, who is also 2014 SuperSports 600cc Asian Champion, will expect stiff competition from Japanese rider Tomoyoshi Koyama who was second fastest with 1’31.654s and his former team mate Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman who clocked third fastest with 1’31.902s. The top three riders were the only ones lapping within the 1 minute 31 second barrier. Zaqhwan’s fastest time recorded during the official pre-season test, 1’31.112s, remains as the unofficial lap record at the 3.86km Johor Circuit.

“I think everyone was more relaxed today because we have all been able to do many laps during the pre-season test last week. The variables such as track temperature and tarmac condition has remained the same. So, for the free practices, we were able to focus on long runs to find the limits of the new tyres instead of going for speed. I have been able to test out many different compound combinations but we are still fine-tuning our strategy for qualifying and the race. I am expecting a drastic change of results during the qualifying session so we can’t rest on our laurels yet,” said Zaqhwan.

Thai riders Ratthapong Wilairot (1’32.130s) and Thitipong Warokorn (1’32.166s) completed the free practices in fourth and fifth places respectively. Indonesian riders Gerry Salim and Ahmad Yudhistira, double 600cc champion Decha Kraisart, 600cc sophomore Taiga Hada and defending champion Yuki Takahashi all made it into the top-10 in the SuperSports 600cc. Moto2 rider Anthony West, was 13th fastest with 1’32.741s, 1.5 seconds off Zaqhwan’s pace.