He spent the entire 2016 almost sunk in obscurity, struggling to whip his campaign into shape. Sheer determination, perseverance and willpower has finally brought team Yamaha Racing rider Yuki Ito back to the top step of the podium. Competing at the Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai, India, Yuki Ito’s bid for the 2017 crown took a turn for the better when he was finally able to ride to his true potential.

The premiere class, the highlights of the day’s racing, took place after a heavy drizzle during the Asia Production 250cc category. The drying track left the SuperSports 600cc teams and riders in a quandary with regards to their tyre choice. The track surface was not wet enough for the rain tyres. But with the track temperature measured at only 37 degrees Celcius, most teams were torn between the choice of the hard and medium compound slicks. In the end, the entire grid opted for dry tyres, with the majority of the front runners racing on hard front and rear.

The SuperSports 600cc race was further shortened from its original 16 laps to 14 laps. The starting grid itself underwent a small change. Pole sitter Keminth Kubo opted out of Race 2. The Yamaha Racing rider suffered a big crash in the last lap of Race 1. Although given the green light to get back onto the grid, team Yamaha Racing decided that it would be wiser to rest the rider. Kubo’s absence from the starting grid meant all the other riders moved up one spot. Team MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda’s Mohd Zaqhwan Zaidi settled in on pole position.

Zaqhwan was unable to capitalize on his prime starting position. He lost the holeshot to a charging and more aggressive Taiga Hada. However, it was the experienced campaigner Chalermpol Polamai who jumped into the lead on Lap 1 when Hada hit a wet patch and ran wide. 

More disaster was in store for championship leader Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman. Still in the championship lead but still injured, Azlan was up to eighth position after starting from the back of the grid. Unfortunately, the Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki Racing rider took another spill in Lap 1. The Kawasaki rider managed to get back into the race, but was never able to regain his position within the top 10.

Up ahead, Chalermpol Polamai had lost ground. On Lap 3, Zaqhwan Zaidi rode to the front with Yuki Ito in tow. Ratthapong Wilairot put in a highly impressive performance in the opening laps of the race when he got as high as third position. However, in chasing after Ito, Wilairot rode beyond his limits and crashed out of third place on Lap 7. A lap later, Taiga Hada made up for lost ground and came within sight of the leading duo.

However, Ito was solely focused on the rider ahead of him – his Honda rival, Zaqhwan. The Yamaha rider was consistently a shade faster than Zaqhwan in every lap, yet held back from overtaking until Lap 11. It was a well thought-out strategy that worked perfectly. Zaqhwan’s tyre had been completely worn by the final two laps, and the MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda rider had no response for Ito’s move.

Ito immediately set about creating a gap ahead of Zaqhwan, and eventually ended his inch-perfect race in first place with 23’55.967s. Zaqhwan crossed the finish line in second place with 23’56.832s, 0.865s behind. Taiga Hada completed a solo ride in third place with 24’04.372s.

Just off the podium, Teppei Nagoe repeated his fourth place finishing in Race 2. Yamaha Thailand’s power duo Decha Kraisart and Chalermpol Polamai finished in fifth and sixth positions. Team AP Honda Racing Thailand’s replacement rider Sittisak Onchawiang gave good account of himself in seventh followed by Sena Yamada, Ahmad Yudhistira and Noriyuki Haga who rounded out the top ten.

Further down the finishing order, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman limped home in 12th position, picking up four valuable championship points to keep his title hopes alive.

The Madras Motor Race Track had proven to be an effective game-changer in the race to become the 2017 SuperSports 600cc champion. As the Asia Road Racing Championship heads to a final showdown at the Chang International Circuit in December, there are five riders in contention for the crown. Zaqhwan now leads with 138 points. Yuki Ito and Taiga Hada share the second spot with 134 points apiece. Azlan Shah is fourth with 128 points and Ahmad Yudhistira is still in with a chance, holding 110 points to his name.

From a team perspective, team Manual Tech KYT Kawasaki Racing’s bid to win the Team Award is also under threat. They suffered their worst results at the Madras Motor Race Track and their lead in the team standings have been whittled down to a 9-point margin. The Kawasaki outfit holds 155 points while five times team champion MUSASHi Boon Siew Honda Racing has strengthened its position with 146 points. Team RAMA Honda by NTS T.Pro Ten10 is also in contention, the Japanese-Indian racing team shares third overall position with Yamaha Racing. Both teams have amassed 140 points to date.