YAMAHA THAILAND WINS 2017 SUZUKA 4 HOURS

With four Asia Road Racing Championship teams and riders crowding out the top five grids, the 2017 edition of the Suzuka 4 Hours looked to be an exciting and close-fought affair.

Team Yamaha Thailand won the coveted pole position with an average qualifying time of 2:18.042, with Anupab Sarmoon being the faster rider. Team Akeno Speed – Yamaha’s combination of Soichiro Minamimoto and Indonesian GP rider Doni Tata Pradita qualified third on the grid with an average qualifying time of 2:19.125. Indonesian outfit Astra Honda Racing parked fourth on the grid with an average time of 2:19.138, followed by Vorapong Malahuan and Muklada Sarapuech of team AP Honda Racing Thailand in fifth with 2:19.479. Andy Muhammad Fadly of the Manual-Tech Kawasaki outfit was ninth on the grid.

The 2017 qualifying procedure had been amended. Instead of the best time/best rider format that had been used in the past 39th edition, grid position is now determined by the average lap time of the team’s combined best laps.

Race day for the Suzuka 4 Hours competitors dawned cloudy with intermittent rain. The start was delayed by half an hour and the race shorted to 3 hours 30 minutes.

Team Astra Honda, helmed by Rheza Danica Ahrens got the holeshot, followed by Anupab Sarmoon for Yamaha Thailand. AP Honda’s Vorapong Malahuan powered into fourth place. A bad start for Manual Tech Kawasaki and Akeno Speed – Yamaha placed them P45 and P49 respectively with a lot of ground to make up for.

Rheza held the lead 11 laps before conceding P1 to a charging Anupab from Yamaha Thailand on Lap 12. Also on Lap 11, Vorapong Malahuan pit in but the team faced a long pitstop as they fought against the clock to fit in their dry tyres. By the time Mukhlada Sarapuech rejoined the race, they had lost a lot of positions.

Team Astra Honda pit in on Lap 13, again a long pitstop due to the need to change from wet to dry tyres. Team Yamaha Thailand stayed in the lead for two more laps before heading in for their first pitstop on Lap 16, with Anupab handing the reins to Peerapong Boonlert.

As the leaders started to pit, Andy Muhammad Fadly of team Manual-Tech Kawasaki had put in a lot of hard work to arrive at the front of the group. Fadly jumped into the lead on Lap 18, with a 10s margin ahead of his closest competitor. The Indonesian rider dived into the pits for a quick splash-and-dash on Lap 19. As the team had gambled on using dry tyres at the start of the race, the team’s second rider, Aiki Iyoshi, was able to get back on track in P3.

Similarly, Akeno Speed – Yamaha’s Soichiro Minamimoto had also stayed on track. A series of quick laps propelled Minamimoto to the front of the group. The Japanese rider logged the fastest lap of the entire race, 2:18.577s, on Lap 20. Minamimoto entered the pit on Lap 22, putting Doni Tata Pradita in charge of maintaining their team position for the second hour.

With the second riders settled into their race pace, Iyoshi hung on to the lead from Lap 23 to 37. Behind him, Doni Tata and Peerapong Boonlert were absorbed in fighting for P2.

Iyoshi pitted on Lap 38. Fadly got back out on track in P3 and, three laps later, was again leading the group.

The game changer took place on Lap 47. With 1 hour and 32 minutes left on the clock, Akeno Speed’s second bike, Bike 73, crashed on Turn 3. The incident brought out the safety car, effectively bunching everyone up together again.

Adding salt to injury, AM Fadly made the mistake of entering the pitlane during the Safety Car. The error cost him his lead.

The Safety Car was out for approximately 20 minutes. When the race resumed with 1 hour and 10 minutes left on the clock, the stage was set for a final hour mad dash to the finish line.

Team Yamaha Thailand grabbed the bull by the horns as the Safety Car ducked into the pitlane. Anupab jumped into the lead from Laps 50 to 61 when he slipped into the pit for a final handover to Peerapong Boonlert.

On Lap 64, team Akeno Speed – Yamaha also affected another rider change – from Minamimoto to Doni Tata. Although Doni returned to the track still in P1, he has being rapidly hunted down by Peerapong. Just as Peerapong successfully challenged for the lead on Lap 68, the Thai rider was ordered in by race control to serve out a stop-and-go penalty for passing under the Safety Car.

Peerapong’s penalty opened up a huge lead for Doni Tata. Unfortunately, Doni was consistently at least 3 seconds per lap slower than the charging Peerapong.

On Lap 71, Doni clocked 2’25.250 versus the Thai rider’s 2’20.522. On Lap 72, the Indonesian was timed at 2’24.311 while Peerapong logged 2’22.164s. With 24 minutes left on the clock, and a 25-second lead, Doni would have to start lapping quicker in order to make it to the chequered flag in first place.

With every successive lap, Peerapong was whittling down on the lead while Doni was having a hard time extricating himself from a group of back markers.By Lap 79, Peerapong was only 3 seconds behind. On Lap 80, the Thai rider made the first move at Turn 1, and successfully gained the front at Turn 2.

There was no turning back after that point. Peerapong easily finished off what Anupab had started. As the chequered flag came down at the end of the 3.5 hours, Peerapong brought the Yamaha Thailand bike to the finish line with a total of 83 laps within 3:30’26.951s. Akino Speed – Yamaha’s Soichiro Minamimoto and Doni Tata Pradita had to be content with second place.

While Peerapong’s pursuit of Doni Tata grabbed the spotlight, Astra Honda’s Awhin Sanjaya had quietly made it to third. But the chequered flag did not signify the end of the drama. Team Astra was served with a time penalty for overtaking under the yellow flag. This in turn, gave P3 to Manual Tech Kawasaki while AP Honda Thailand was also promoted to P4.

Meanwhile, Manual Tech Kawasaki completed the race in fourth and Astra Honda Racing finished seventh.

2017 SUZUKA 4 HOURS ENDURANCE RACE RESULTS

1. Yamaha Thailand Racing (Anupab Sarmoon and Peerapong Boonlert) 83 laps 3:30’26.951

2. Akeno Speed – Yamaha (Soichiro Minamimoto and Doni Tata Pradita) 83 laps 3:30’34.114

3. Manual Tech Kawasaki (Andy Muhammad Fadly and Aiki Iyoshi) 83 laps 3:31’47.919

4. AP Honda Thailand (Vorapong Malahuan and Mukhlada Sarapuech) 82 laps 3:31’02.924