It's now three out of three for Taiyo Furusato at Losail International Circuit in 2021, but the Japanese rider really had to work for it in Race 1 of Round 2. In a duel that went down to the wire against Danial Sharil, it was just 0.115 between the two over the line, with the Japanese rider facing his toughest challenge yet this season on the way to win number three. For Sharil, it may not have quite been the victory but it was a welcome return to the rostrum after over two years on the sidelines, with the Malaysian back to fitness following his crash at Sepang in 2018 and subsequent long road to recovery. In third it was close as ever too, with Gun Mie just winning out to take another podium at Losail.
Off the line, Furusato was straight into the driving seat from pole but this time, he didn't have any breathing space. Sharil, from the middle of the front row, got away just as well to slot right in behind the number 15 and the two led the pack away ahead of Carter Thompson, Fadillah Aditama, Gun Mie, Kanta Hamada, Rei Wakamatsu and... Hakim Danish. The Malaysian, who started 11th and some way back from his P2 grid position last weekend, made immediate progress into the front group.
That front group remained locked in battle and onto Lap 2, Sharil hit the front - denying Furusato the lead at Losail for the first time this season. The Japanese rider dropped back into the clutches of those just behind too, finding himself with plenty of company heading into Turn 1. But he kept his head, and next time around the familiar number 15 was back at the front once again... as Sharil, once again, managed to keep him honest.
The laps ticked down and the duel rolled on as the two were able to escape the group just behind, and it was Furusato who remained ahead much of the time. But Sharil was his shadow, showing a wheel here and there and very much making his presence known. The tactic seemed to be working too, with Furusato making a couple of rare mistakes and Sharil able to pounce and take the fight forward.
Coming out of the final corner for the final time though, Furusato was ahead and - unlike last season when he lost out by leading - the number 15 was able to keep it pinned to the line and just deny Sharil the perfect fairytale. Nevertheless, Sharil's return to the rostrum is an emotional one after more than two years of recovery, with the Malaysian going from frontrunner to victory contender in the space of a week as he gets back in action.
The fight for third was a rollercoaster battle and it was Gun Mie who once again showed his mettle to come out on top for another podium, leaving Rei Wakamatsu in fourth and Carter Thompson, after leading so much of the fight, forced to settle for fifth. Kanta Hamada was shuffled back to sixth, with Hakim Danish off the podium for the first time in 2021 as he crossed the line at the back of that group in seventh.
Fadillah Aditama got his first 2021 points on the board in eighth, duelling with rookie Tom Drane at the flag. The Australian just lost out but impressed to take his best finish yet in ninth. Compatriot Marianos Nikolis completed the top ten for another good finish, heading up a group that stretched back to Watcharin Tubtimon in 15th. Between the Australian and the Thai rider came Tetsuya Fujita, Masaya Hongo, Herlian Dandi and Sharul Sharil in that order.
Thanakorn Lakharn collided with Yousef Al-Darwish early in Race 1, and the Thai rider will serve a Long Lap Penalty in Race 2 for the incident.
That Race 2 will see Danial Sharil gunning for revenge but Furusato on the verge of four in a row - and plenty just behind the two aiming to make another step forward. What will 2021's final race at Losail have in store? Find out from 13:50 (GMT +3) on Sunday.