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Deniz Oncu of Turkey took an impressive first victory of the year – and first victory in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup – in Race 1 at Buriram, Thailand, crossing the line with a little breathing space ahead of a tight fight between Malaysian Azroy Anuar and Japanese rider Ryusei Yamanaka in a thrilling opener to the 2017 Cup.
Qualifying saw Yuki Kunii of Japan starting on pole after a session that ended marginally early following a Red Flag with only 48 seconds left on the clock. A crash for Maxi Hattori was the catalyst, who was declared fit following the incident, but one rider absent from the start was number 19 Syairul Yuslie Bin Suhaimi - who was declared unfit with a fracture in his foot.
With air temperatures in the mid-thirties and track temp even higher, the much-anticipated lights out saw veteran Ryusei Yamanaka lead into Turn 1, before polesitter Kunii hit back. So began a Japanese 1-2-3 in the lead group as Haraki Noguchi joined, with Anuar and local hero at Buriram Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi tucked in just behind.
Turkey’s Deniz Oncu was then able to close the gap to the first group, getting into the fight at the front before the field then closed and a lead freight train of riders began to form. As the laps ticked on and the group fought it out, the more experienced in the field made it a game of tactics and positioning – aware the points are scored as they cross the line.
Despite running well wide at one point earlier in the race, it was Deniz Oncu who crossed that line first – converting early race pace and experience into a stunning break in the last laps to take his first win in style, ahead of the chasing pack by just over half a second at the flag. Azroy Anuar converted his pace throughout testing and qualifying into a P2 to kick off his 2017 campaign, with Ryusei Yamanaka right on the tail of his Malaysian rival over the line in an incredibly close battle to decide the final two places on the podium.
WorldSSP rider and compatriot Zulfahmi Khairuddin was waiting for Anuar in parc ferme to offer his congratulations, before reigning WorldSBK Champion Jonathan Rea also dropped in to congratulate winner Deniz Oncu.
Local hero Kritchaporn Kaewsonthi kept it on the road after having crashed during a race simulation in testing, and the Thai rider just missed the podium but impressed at home to take P4 in the first race weekend of the year. Indonesian Gerry Salim made it five nationalities in the top five, crossing the line behind Kaewsonthi by an incredibly tight margin of 0.021.
Haraki Noguchi, Can Oncu, and early leader Yuki Kunii took sixth to eighth respectively as the final riders in the front freight train, with Irfan Ardiansyah having a more lonely ride to come home in ninth.
Takuto Suzuki crossed the line in tenth after a duel with Lucky Hendriansya, who followed the Japanese rider home by just under two tenths.
Maxi Hattori, second Thai entry Passawit Thitivarak, Erfin Firmansyah and Haziq Hamdan completed the top fifteen in the first race.
There were two riders not classified – Koji Hirama and Koki Suzuki.
Alberto Puig, Talent Promotion Director: “It was a good and entertaining race. It was great to see and really entertaining. Luckily, there weren’t many crashes. When you’re racing on similar bikes the level is similar, and they were constantly overtaking each other – that’s what we’re looking for, to see the talent of the riders on similar bikes. That way, you see who has potential and who doesn’t.
"Deniz has potential, not just now, but he also showed it last year. This season he’s riding a little differently, and he had a great race. Impressive.”
Race 2 kicks off at the slightly later time of 13:00 local time (GMT +7) – with Oncu now looking to convert his first victory into his first double.