The Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup season is GO and Race 1 at Losail International Circuit was a classic, with Kanta Hamada duelling superstar rookie Taiyo Furusato right to the wire and the two crossing the line just hundredths apart. It was the more experienced Hamada who came out on top to take his first win after some perfectly pitched slipstreaming, with the podium completed by Syarifuddin Azman after a solid ride from the Malaysian to open his account in 2020.
Off the line it was Furusato who got an almost perfect start from pole, with the Japanese rider streaking away with a good number of bike lengths in hand. Australian Harrison Voight got bogged down slightly from second on the grid, and the likes of Hamada and Azman needed no invitation to make their way through and take over the chase. Voight then slid out, leaving one favourite for the podium facing a fight back.
Back at the front, Furusato was cool and collected, maintaining his gap for a while, but the number 8 of Hamada had his head down and began chipping away at the lead until it was most definitely a duel. Azman, meanwhile, had managed to pull away from those just behind, but the Malaysian didn't seem to have much in his pocket to take on the two men ahead of him. Furusato and Hamada were, after all, the only men capable of putting in the 2:11s.
Lap by lap it was a classic game of chess and tactics between the two at the front, with a few dices here and there but the game a patient one until the latter third of the race. From around five laps to go it was all go, however, with the moves coming thick and fast and both putting on a fantastic show - as well as doing some research, it seemed, into how to play their cards come the end of the race.
Hamada had tried out the slipstream exiting the final corner on a number of occasions before it was crunch time, just ahead over the line on each attempt, but after heading wide into Turn 1 on the final lap the number 8 suddenly had more of a mountain to climb. Not long after, however, it was Furusato's turn to head a little wide and sure enough, the two were locked back together as the final few corners beckoned.
Hamada was in position to play the hand he seemed to have prepared, and just like earlier in the race the slipstream paid off to perfection. Tucked in behind Furusato right next to the grass before pulling out to make the move just before the line, Hamada took his first IATC win in style and by just 0.032. Furusato can be proud of an incredible debut in the series, however, and Race 2 will surely be one to watch as the two could well face off again...
Azman took third and his first podium of the year in a bit of clear air, but another duel to the wire decided fourth and fifth. Rookie Gun Mie took it in the end, just 0.009 ahead of Shoki Igarashi as the two crossed the line almost bumping elbows.
It was also incredibly close in the fight for sixth, with just over a second covering P6 down to P11. Malaysian Sharul Sharil come out on top in the group fight as he took that sixth, ahead of the Japanese duo of Masaya Hongo and Rei Wakamatsu, forcing Australians Carter Thompson and Max Gibbons to settle for ninth and tenth, respectively. Indian rider Mikail Salih come home in 11th on his debut, just a tenth further behind.
Voight, after managing to rejoin the race following his crash, took twelfth and some valuable points despite his time deficit to the top. He could be one to watch on Sunday in Race 2 after not getting chance to show his full hand.
That Race 2 starts at 15:00 LT on Sunday, so tune in then for another classic race in the Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup.