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The class of 2017 are ready, the first test of the year is over and the lights are about to go out as Thailand gets ready to kick off another season of incredible racing in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup (IATC). A fair distance northeast of metropolis Bangkok, Chang International Circuit is the first venue to host the Cup this season – with engines firing up alongside Round 2 of WorldSBK as the IATC enters its fourth year of competition.
Hot and humid with a good chance of inclement weather given its location, Buriram is a new and impressive addition to global competition. Opened in 2014 and added to the WorldSBK calendar soon after, the 4.5km ribbon of asphalt has 12 corners – seven right and five left – and was also the stage of the opening test for the 2017 IATC last week.
Yuki Kunii of Japan was the fastest rider over those two days of testing, but the top three of Kunii, Malaysian Azroy Anuar and Thai home hero Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi were split by less than a tenth. A race simulation late on Day 2 of testing at the circuit also proved, however, that the timesheets may have some surprises left up their sleeves – with Turkish rider Can Öncü victorious; joined on the podium by Japanese rider Haruki Noguchi and Azroy Anuar.
2017 is as yet unwritten. With some returning veterans and a host of new faces joining the Cup, the 22-strong lineup counts on eight Japanese riders, seven Indonesians, two riders from Turkey and representation for Malaysia, Australia, the Philippines and host nation Thailand. The veterans are now race ready following the test; the new recruits about to face their first taste of IATC competition as they get on the first step of the Road to MotoGP™.
Kaewsonthi, after some good promise in testing, is the home hero this season as his compatriots move along the Road to MotoGP™ - with the pressure on and the lights about to go out. After Free Practice begins on Friday, qualifying decides the grid on Saturday ahead of the first race with a half-hour QP session at 10:00 local time. Then two 16-lap races – one on Saturday and one on Sunday – begin the 2017 calendar; with lights out set for 12:30 local time (GMT +7) for Race 1 and 13:00 for Race 2.
Previous editions: After a Thai double in 2015 as Somkiat Chantra won Race 1 and Nakarin Atiratphuvapat took Race 2, last year saw Ai Ogura of Japan victorious in the first race and no Thai rider on the podium as drama unfolded on the last lap – with Chantra penalised for leaving the track and losing positions. Race 2 in 2016 saw the Thai rider strike back, however, and the points haul in doing so gained Chantra the lead in the overall standings for the first time in the season – something he would take back in the final race at Sepang to crown himself Champion.
You can follow all the action LIVE from Race 1 via this link.
You can follow all the action LIVE from Race 2 via this link.