World Superbike ready for Thai debut – The Chang International Circuit hosts the second round of the season
After the thrilling season opener at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, the eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the track for the second outing of the year, taking place on March 20-22 at the brand-new Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
The track located near Buriram (which means City of Happiness), in the North Eastern part of the country, is the 48th to host a WorldSBK event in the history of the series. The Chang International Circuit is also the fifth new venue to debut on the World Superbike calendar in the past five years.
The track’s 4.554km layout is laid on completely flat terrain and features twelve corners, five left and seven right. Following a first fast section mainly made of two straights and two right-hand turns, the riders enter a mixed second part of the track, which connects back to the start/finish straight.
With just one round completed of the 2015 season, two riders sit atop the standings with one win and a second place apiece. Former teammates Leon Haslam (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) had a successful start to their new adventures at Phillip Island as they immediately gelled with their new machines both in qualifying and in the race. The two riders rounded out the race-winning numbers for Aprilia and Kawasaki in the series which now stand at 50 and 60, respectively.
Leon Haslam: “I’m curious to see this new track that I’m told is characterised by two straight stretches a few slow turns. I’m expecting very high temperatures and a humid climate similar to Sepang, so I’ve been training and I’m ready to take on even difficult climates. In Australia my feeling on the RSV4 was excellent and I hope it will be the same in Thailand as well. We’ll be working from Friday to find a setup suitable for this track and I hope to continue the positive trend we started at Phillip Island.”
Jonathan Rea: “To be honest we had a much better start in Australia then we imagined. I know we were quite reserved with targets at Phillip Island as it had not been a circuit that has favoured the bike but we managed the set-up quite well. I was surprised with our pace. What I did learn was that all week we had been having some problems but Pere, Paolo and the guys at Showa worked it out and on raceday we had a package to ride a strong 22 laps each time. That really impressed me. In the end I had a bike that I was really happy with. That gives me a little extra confidence now and because things are still reasonably fresh for me, to have that feeling is good. I have been in Thailand for a while and I always had a plan to come out for a week before the race. We never got to go on a family holiday last year so we are taking a few days here to recharge the batteries ready for round two, and to get acclimatised to the conditions a little.”
In the mix with both of them for most of the two Australian encounters, fellow Briton Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati Superbike Team) left Phillip Island with two encouraging podium finishes and the confidence to consistently challenge for the top step aboard his Panigale R. The Welshman will be joined once again by three-time WorldSBK Champion Troy Bayliss, who is eager to improve his performance after his surprise return to the series at his home round. The soon-to-be 46-year-old will again be the substitute rider for the injured Davide Giugliano.
Troy Bayliss: “I didn’t expect to ride again but I wasn’t fully happy with my results and with Davide still injured I am happy to have had a few more weeks to prepare more. I’m not sure what we can achieve but my target is to fight. Whether I will continue after the races on Sunday we will have to wait and see, at the moment nothing is decided and I am only focusing on this weekend.”
Last year’s title contenders, the reigning Champion Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Honda World Superbike) and runner-up Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) will be aiming to bounce back to the front after a difficult opening round which saw both riders playing catch-up both to the leading trio as well as to their respective teammates.
Sykes has already been on a promotional road trip in Thailand, taking part in PR activities, supporting the new Kawasaki effort in the Asia Road Racing Championship and meeting the fans during a large-scale event in Bangkok. He is now looking forward to visiting a local Kawasaki factory before race weekend begins.
Tom Sykes: “I am looking forward to the first ever WSB race in Thailand. We are competing in a world championship and we are certainly doing more overseas races now. I am really looking forward to going to the new venue and I know from experience that the fans in that part of the world are fanatical about bikes as well. We have seen the circuit layout and for me it looks like what we generally expect from a European circuit. Hairpins and not so many long, long corners. The circuit is obviously a new challenge for everybody and I am sure the temperature and humidity will be something different.”
Still recovering from the neck injury suffered in a testing crash at Jerez at the end of January, Guintoli hopes to be fit enough to face the extreme heat and humidity the riders will encounter in Thailand. The Frenchman is looking forward to making the most out of the Honda package that proved to be very competitive in Australia in the hands of the reigning World Supersport Champion Michael van der Mark, who had an excellent Superbike debut at Phillip Island.
Sylvain Guintoli – “It’s been great to spend some time meeting some of the local fans in this really futuristic Honda BigWing dealership. It’s more like a concept or a fashion store than a bike shop and it’s a great way to get introduced to Thailand. I’m really looking forward to riding at this new track at Buriram which looks really exciting. I’ve watched some races on YouTube and it looks like a lot of fun and I’m hoping it will suit the characteristics of the CBR. My back is feeling better now so hopefully I won’t suffer as much as in Australia. So it’s all really exciting and I can’t wait to discover this new circuit.”
Michael van der Mark – “I really enjoy riding new tracks, especially ones where everyone is new to the circuit, so we’ll see who is fast and who gets the best set-up. I think we left Australia with a really good feeling, which was a really amazing experience for me where the bike felt really great. I know this weekend will be just as difficult but I’m looking forward to it because I’m usually quite fast at new tracks. I watched a few races on the internet and I think it’s a track that’ll really suit me because, from the videos I’ve seen, it looks really fast. Now I’m here, I just can’t wait to get out there and see how it is.”
After the promising World Superbike debuts of Spanish rookies Jordi Torres (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Nico Terol (Althea Racing Ducati), the duo will start from the same level of track-knowledge at Chang as the rest of the field, a factor that could well boost their chances for impressive results in Thailand.
Nico Terol: “I’m coming from an opening round in which I did a good job but there is definitely still room for improvement and I think that we can make steps forward in Thailand. The important thing is to continue to work hard with the Team as I’ve done until now. This is a new track and we have no references of any kind, so we’ll have to work hard during the practices in order to be as prepared as possible for the races.”
Jordi Torres: “I’m usually a quick learner on new tracks and I hope that will be the case for the Chang International Circuit as well. From what we’re told it doesn’t seem to be a track with any particular characteristics, so more than learning the new track I’ll have to focus on my riding style, which I’m trying to adapt to the Aprilia RSV4. My maiden race in Superbike was positive, so I hope I’ll be able to do well here in Thailand as well.”
Keen on putting a difficult opening round behind them, the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki pairing of Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet will try to make the most of the opportunity given by the Thai Round, hoping to quickly find a competitive set-up for their GSX-R machines which suffered a multitude of technical issues at the Phillip Island races.
Alex Lowes: “The Chang International Circuit in Thailand looks like a great track. As a rider it’s always nice to experience new circuits and places so I’m really looking forward to the next race. The last few weeks, since returning from Australia, have allowed me to relax and refocus so I’m now ready to start work with my GSX-R1000 in FP1 on Friday and join the fight on track come Sunday.”
Randy de Puniet: “My physical condition has improved a lot, I’m not quite 100% but I think I will feel much more comfortable on the bike and definitely much better than in Australia. It is a new track for everybody so it will be very interesting to see what will happen and I’m excited to learn the new layout. We will start at the same level as all the other teams and riders so it could give us a good indication of exactly where we are with the GSX-R in comparison. I enjoy learning new tracks so I’m looking forward to the second round. Even though I was not 100% in Australia I still managed to use the experience to learn a lot from both races, and I think we can do well in Thailand. The weather looks like it will be very hot, which can be challenging, but I have trained a lot over the past two weeks to ensure my physical condition is as good as it can be for the race duration. I also watched the Thailand motocross race last week, it was very difficult for the riders in those conditions and I think it will be the same for us, but I’m confident we can have a good race!”
2015 World Superbike Championship Standings after round one
1. L. HASLAM APRILIA 45
2. J. REA KAWASAKI 45
3. C. DAVIES DUCATI 32
4. T. SYKES KAWASAKI 23
5. S. GUINTOLI HONDA 20
6. N. TEROL DUCATI 18
7. L. CAMIER MV AGUSTA 14
8. J. TORRES APRILIA 13
9. M. BAIOCCO DUCATI 12
10. M. VD MARK HONDA 11
11. R. DE PUNIET SUZUKI 9
12. L. MERCADO DUCATI 9
13. A. LOWES SUZUKI 7
14. R. RAMOS KAWASAKI 6
15. S. BARRIER BMW 5
16. S. BARRAGAN KAWASAKI 3
17. T. BAYLISS DUCATI 3
18. L. PEGRAM EBR 2
19. J. METCHER KAWASAKI 2
20. C. PONSSON KAWASAKI 1
Thailand new challenge for the World Supersport riders
The World Supersport Championship heads to Thailand for the second round with Frenchman Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) heading the standings after his lights to flag win in Australia.
Cluzel’s teammate Lorenzo Zanetti will be looking to maintain his strong start to the season aboard the second factory MV Agusta F3 675, while former Champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will be hoping to show his true pace after finishing 6th in Phillip Island following a run off track in the early stages of the first race of the year.
Kenan Sofuoglu: “Chang will be a new track for all the riders except maybe the ones from Thailand. When I looked at a video from a previous event it looks like there are some long straights and sharp corners at the circuit. Until we go on the track it is difficult to speak about it but I know it will not be easy because the temperature and the humidity will be high, so the conditions will be difficult. I have prepared myself really hard for that and in that area I think I will be very strong. The package we have with Puccetti racing is very, very good and it should be even better than in Phillip Island as we have some improvements to bring to Thailand. In one way it will be difficult for me to go to Thailand for a week because I just became a father for the first time a few days ago. So I have to leave the baby and go away for a week but I think it is a good motivation for me to race well and come back home soon. My motivation is going to be strong on the weekend.”
The fight for the podium could be even closer than the battle between Gino Rea (CIA Landlords Insurance Honda) and Kyle Smith (Pata Honda World Supersport) in the opening encounter, with several other riders looking capable of mounting a serious threat. And with the added unknown factor of a new circuit for everyone, Sunday’s race could well spring some surprises.
Local rider Ratthapark Wilairot has already expressed his pride at being able to race on home turf for the very first time. His front-running potential could well have the local fans cheering come the chequered flag on Sunday. The 26-year-old from Chonburi will be joined by four fellow Thai riders: Moto2 full-timer Thitipong Warokorn and Ratthapark’s brother Ratthapong Wilairot (A.P. Honda Racing Thailand) and the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team’s duo of Decha Kraisart and Chalermpol Polamai.
Ratthapark Wilairot: “For many years it has been only a dream but finally I get to race in front of my home fans. Phillip Island was a strong start for me and the team considering we have only just started to work together and the result was ok. Here in Thailand of course I will do my best to fight for the podium.”
2015 World Supersport Championship Standings after round one
1. J. CLUZEL MV AGUSTA 25
2. L. ZANETTI MV AGUSTA 20
3. G. REA HONDA 16
4. K. SMITH HONDA 13
5. R. WILAIROT HONDA 11
6. K. SOFUOGLU KAWASAKI 10
7. A. BALDOLINI MV AGUSTA 9
8. R. ROLFO HONDA 8
9. D. SCHMITTER KAWASAKI 7
10. P. JACOBSEN KAWASAKI 6
11. C. GAMARINO KAWASAKI 5
12. M. FACCANI KAWASAKI 4
13. A. WAGNER YAMAHA 3
14. G. SCOTT HONDA 2
15. F. MENGHI YAMAHA 1