Round 15 – Thailand, Buriram International Circuit
Thailand will mark the 15th round of the season and the precursor to the three-week back-to-back tour which takes in Japan, Australia and Malaysia, making this a very busy time both in terms of logistics and racing action for the whole MotoGP paddock.
The first time MotoGP visited Buriram, the race was a duel to remember. To add a little more to the history books at the PTT Thailand Grand Prix second time around, this year the Championship hangs in the balance as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) has the chance to win title number eight. So what are the chances? Fairly high.
The reigning Champion won here last year and he’s 98 points clear with only four races remaining. To boil the maths down to its simplest form, Marquez has to score two or more points more than Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and be 100 points or more clear when the flag falls on Sunday. He already has too many wins to be caught on that count.
“We had a great weekend in Aragon and it was a delight to win in front of the home crowd. I want to carry this confidence and energy to Thailand so we can put in a strong weekend. Our approach doesn’t change even with the circumstances, we will do our work to be as strong as possible come Sunday. Last year we had a very exciting race here in Thailand so hopefully we can put on another good show for the fans!”
Winning races and Championships is far more than a numbers game, however. It’s no mean feat beating Dovizioso, and Marquez knows that better than anyone. Buriram 2018 is the one last corner duel against the Italian Marquez has won, so if we’re on for a repeat performance, the number 93 will have to pull it off again and upend the last corner statistics once more…
Grands Prix aren’t just about the title fight though. Last year Yamaha weren’t far behind the leading duo and Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi will be gunning to put Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP back on the podium, and Danilo Petrucci, Dovizioso’s teammate, needs a result. After a tougher run of form in the last few races, Buriram could be a good track for the Ducati man to bounce back, and he’ll want to – quickly.
Why? His fight for third with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar). After Rins’ stunning win at Silverstone, the Spaniard has floundered on race day and he’s another who needs a good haul of points, although it could be tougher going for the Hamamatsu factory machines at the venue. He’ll want to at least try and take the fight to Petrucci though, with the two close in the standings fighting for third overall – just a point apart.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) is another who will want to maximise the Ducati’s potential at Buriram and take some good points. An impressive third podium of the year at MotorLand saw him deny Viñales the chance to finish on the podium three times in a row for the first time in the premier class, and crucially Miller also finished two places ahead of Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT).
The ever impressive Quartararo is well on top in the fight for Rookie of the Year, but he’s also fighting for top Independent Team rider and Miller is his key rival as it stands. The Frenchman is only six points clear of the Australian as we head into the flyaways…
“I think it’ll be a little better for us than Aragon was because there’s a lot of long, slow corners that will suit our bike. The more-experienced riders have less of an advantage there as it’s only the second time racing there, so we’ll work hard to adapt quickly and do our best. This is my favourite time of the year, heading into the four races in Asia and Australia, because I love travelling and I’ll have a chance to rest after Thailand too.”
Meanwhile, KTM will want to use Buriram to hopefully see Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) back on track – but also to gain some more daylight over Aprilia in the manufacturers’ Championship.
With Pol Espargaro sidelined through injury in Aragon and Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone putting on an impressive show for Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, the Noale factory closed in a little – and it will be interesting to see how Mika Kallio, replacing Johann Zarco, can go in Thailand as he aims to score for KTM as well.
Of course there is also the KTM Tech3 squad of Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin, and as always Tech3 Team Manager Hervé Poncharal gave us a great preview of the event from their pit garage.
Hervé Poncharal – Red Bull KTM Tech3 Team Manager
“The next round of the calendar is the Thailand GP in Buriram, which is a place, where we have great memories from last year and myself personally I have to give away the trophy for the best Grand Prix organization in 2018, because it was clearly an incredible event, it was well organized, we had a nice paddock, saw great racing, met friendly people and they were very efficient. I think the whole paddock will travel to Thailand with a smile on their faces, as last year nobody knew what to expect and now we know it and we are positive about rediscovering everything there. This is obviously an important round being the first on in South-East Asia, which is the place in the world where anything related to the motorcycle business is booming and it is an important market, where all the manufacturers want to shine. We’d love to do well with KTM there. I believe that Miguel will be almost 100% fit, because he already felt so much better after just one week in Aragon, so we are quite confident, that he is almost back to his form and the understanding of the bike we’ve had in Spielberg and Silverstone. We are positive and confident, that Miguel can do well, also because I think he likes that circuit. This will be another interesting place to rediscover everything with our new bike and a new rider coming from Moto2. We are looking forward to see this. Hafizh, is almost a local boy there with a lot of support and fans coming to cheer for him. I know, that there’s almost a love story between him and the Buriram circuit, because it was the first time he tested a GP bike in February 2018 there, he felt really good and was fast. We were truly impressed and decided to hire him for the full season, so for him everything started in this place. He likes the circuit and sure, he aims to please the crowd, plus the heat will be no problem for him, because he already flew to Malaysia straight after Aragon, therefore he will be better accustomed to the weather and the time than the other riders coming over from Europe. We also expect a lot from him, in addition he could be pleasantly surprised by a few updates coming from KTM for Hafizh. Hopefully we manage to handle that well and will receive a great result. Now it’s time to pack our suitcases, leave to the airport and fly to beautiful Thailand.”
After a crash ruled Jorge Lorenzo out of the 2018 Thai GP, the five-time World Champion is looking forward to the prospect of racing in Buriram for the first time. Consistent times in practice during the Aragon GP showed that Lorenzo’s condition and feeling with the RC213V is improving and he is aiming to continue this trend in Thailand.
“Last year I did not have the best weekend in Thailand with a big crash ruling me out of the race. I am looking forward to completing the race there and we saw from Marc last year that the RC213V is strong at this circuit. After the difficult race in Aragon, I am hoping we can have a good weekend. During practice we showed that our pace is getting better and delivering on this potential is our objective for Thailand.”
Michelin has already despatched its ranges of tyres for these four fly-away races via a mixture of sea and air freight, where the range of Michelin tyres travel in temperature-controlled containers so they arrive at the circuits in the ideal condition ready for race-action.
The first race of this fly-away tour is an especially testing one for Michelin, as the specific layout of the 4,554m, 12-turn Buriram circuit demands a special rear tyre to contend with the high temperatures that are produced due to the track’s long straights.
Available in a soft, medium and hard compound with an asymmetric design with a harder right-hand side, the Michelin Power Slick rear for the Thailand circuit has a different construction to that which is used all other racetracks throughout the season, with the exception of Spielberg in Austria. These two tracks have similar configurations and use this specific construction to control the build-up of heat that is generated and give the riders the drive and control they need and expect from a Michelin rear tyre, without any compromise to performance from overheating.
Michelin Motorsport Two-Wheel Manager
“This is our third visit to Buriram following the test and race there last year and each time we have learned more and been able to assess the tyres and makes changes for the next visit. It is a very severe track on rear tyres and creates a lot of heat for the rubber, so we have a special construction – which we also use just in Austria – to counteract this situation. Last year we were told it would be cooler and wet during October, but it was hot and dry, so we have prepared a range of tyres that can contend with all conditions. There was a big crowd at Buriram last year and it was a great event, we are sure it will be the same this year and that Michelin will play a part in giving the fans a race to enjoy.”
Tune in on Sunday 6th October as lights go out for the MotoGP race at 1800 Sunday night for those Australian states that are lucky enough to enjoy the change to Daylight Savings Time this weekend. Full time schedule further down the page.
MotoGP Championship Standings
Two wins on the bounce had given Augusto Fernandez (Flexbox HP 40) some serious momentum in Moto2, but a mistake at MotorLand Aragon has seen the Spaniard slip to third overall and over 40 points off the top – now leap-frogged by Jorge Navarro (Beta Tools Speed Up).
Is time running out for those on the chase to catch Alex Marquez?
Mathematically, it isn’t, but it would likely need some serious drama to intervene in the rest of the races to really derail the story of the season so far.
That story, ultimately, is one of consistency. Marquez has lost out once through a mistake of his own, and he’s reaping the rewards of the combination of speed and settling when it’s necessary. Navarro just behind him has been a fairly consistent presence each race weekend too, although he’s yet to stand on the top step. That means that if Marquez does start to feel the pressure, Navarro could end up challenging for the crown from the rare position of not being a race winner…yet.
Others have seared their way to glory, however, and there’s something to be said for reeling in the wins – that’s what put Fernandez where he is. And Brad Binder’s (Red Bull KTM Ajo) two wins in the latter half of the season have helped put him just 53 points down, in fifth. Given an incredibly tough start to the season for Austrian factory KTM, that’s something to really write home about – and the tracks coming next get the South African grinning.
Tom Lüthi (Dynavolt Intact GP), meanwhile, is still looking for a bit more of his early season form. The Swiss rider has kept reeling in the points, but he’s not been on the charge like we’ve seen. Can he bounce back as we head into the flyaways? Will teammate Marcel Schrötter mix it up with the frontrunners again once he’s back from injury? And what of Luca Marini (Sky Racing Team VR46), the only man on the grid who’s previously been on the podium at the track?
Home hero Somkiat Chantra (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia), though, will likely have most of the crowd on his side. There may be a title fight happening at the top, but the intermediate class rookie will be the true hero of the hour for the Thai crowd.
Moto2 Championship Standings
|2||Jorge Navarro||Speed Up||175|
|9||Fabio Di Giannantonio||Speed Up||94|
|20||Stefano Manzi||MV Agusta||13|
|22||Dominique Aegerter||MV Agusta||12|
|29||Khairul Idham Pawi||Kalex||3|
At MotorLand Aragon, Aron Canet (Sterilgarda Max Racing Team) was on fire and key rival Lorenzo Dalla Porta (Leopard Racing) had a difficult day at the office. In short, 25 points for Canet vs an eleventh place for the Championship leader mean it’s almost as you were in the tightest title fight of the season, with just two points separating them on the way to Thailand. The see-saw rivalry of the summer is back and Buriram could be an interesting place to head next.
We’ve only raced once at the Thai track and last year’s first contact makes good reading for Dalla Porta. He came second, only a tenth down, and Canet? He didn’t race. The Spaniard arrives with no former knowledge of the venue after he missed the event last year due to injury, so it could prove more of an uphill struggle for him. With the rest of the grid, minus the rookies, joining Dalla Porta in having more experience, that only adds to Canet’s challenge.
Tony Arbolino (VNE Snipers), especially, is not yet out of reach of a charge for the top, although the Italian had a more difficult first race at Chang International Circuit last season. John McPhee (Petronas Sprinta Racing) did too, but the likes of Gabriel Rodrigo (Kömmerling Gresini Moto3) and Marcos Ramirez (Leopard Racing) showed some good form – as did Dennis Foggia (Sky Racing Team VR46), who took his first podium. Will the rest of the field avoid the attrition of 2019?
|1||Lorenzo Dalla Porta||Honda||184|