Asia Road Racing Championship 2019
Round 5 – Zhuhai International Circuit, China
With Barry Russell
Broc Parkes extends ASB 1000
Broc Parkes had another successful weekend on Asia Superbike duty for Yamaha Racing ASEAN at a baking hot Zhuhai International Circuit, situated just across the Chinese border with Macao.
The endurance racing exponent built on the 27-point lead he took into ARRC round five with a fourth place and a win, to leave with a 35 point lead over Honda Asia Dream Racing with Showa’s Zaqhwan Zaidi. From 10 starts in the series, Broc has finished every race, notching up three wins, four podiums, two fourths and a fifth. Championship winning form, indeed.
There was one other high profile Australian on the entry list at Zhuhai. Mark Aitchison, who lives in China and competes in the national superbike series, was one of six wildcards to join ARRC’s premier class this season. Other noteables included Lee Zheng Peng and Canadian street racer, Dan Kruger.
In a region sometimes referred to as China’s Gold Coast because of its immaculate beaches, parks and modern, luxury accommodation, Zhuhai’s summer weather was hotter than usual due to a passing typhoon.
Teams and officials arriving from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore were all shocked by the intense, dry heat they had to contend with for all three days of competition, despite early forecasts of rain.
The 2019 championship has widely been viewed as a contest between the consistency of Parkes and the mercurial brilliance of Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman, who began round five in second position in the standings, but the story ran much deeper than that.
Zhuhai International Circuit, with its long straights and tight corners is a fairly simple, stop-go track with plenty of mechanical and physical challenges. It’s 4.3 kilometres long and runs clockwise with nine right and five left turns.
It had been seven years since ARRC had visited Zhuhai, so track knowledge was effectively neutralised. Broc and Zaqhwan were the first and fastest to acclimatize. Zaqhwan won the game of cat and mouse between the two in each of the three sessions, posting a best time of 1:34.482 in FP2 to Broc’s 1:32.530.
Broc’s indomitable team-mate, Yuki Ito, was third on combined times, just nine thousandths slower than the Australian. Azlan was fourth fastest, though more than half-a-second adrift of Yuki and Li Zheng Peng was fifth from Thitipong Warakorn, who was appearing for the first time since round one following a near career ending crash back in March when he crashed as a WSBK wildcard and was run over by Leon Camier.
Broc managed to turn the tables on Zaqhwan in Saturday morning’s 40 minute qualifying session. On his last flying lap he became the only rider to dip under 1:34, stopping the clock at 1:34.994, 0.037s quicker than Zaqhwan. Azlan lopped almost a second off his best free practice time, to put himself into the frame with a 1:34.258.
Yuki led row two from Thitipong and Yamaha Thailand’s Apiwat Wongthananon. The third row was Ratthapong Wilairot, Mark Aitchisonon the YSS China Yamaha and Kawasaki Thailand’s Chaiwichit Nisakul.
Broc wasted his pole position, letting Zaqhwan take the lead and getting passed by Yuki Ito, Thitipong Azlan and Apiwat.
Yuki stuck close to the leader in the early laps, but found himself increasingly under pressure from Thitipong Warakorn, who looked as strong as ever on his comeback, and Azlan, who low-sided out of proceedings on lap seven at turn seven. Just behind them, Parkes kept the pressure on Apiwat before moving through to fourth and tried to catch the front three.
Zaqhwan fast and inch-perfect at the front, stretched his advantage to around a second by mid-distance as Yuki and Thitipong tussled over second. Another sequence of quick laps saw Zaqhwan open up the gap to 1.7 seconds.
Parkes, struggling with front brake and rear grip problems, kept the three riders in front of him in his sights and got clear of Apiwat, but was unable to get close enough to pass Thitipong and settled for fourth, 2.35 seconds behind the winner.
Azlan’s mistake let Zaqhwan through to second in the standings, 23 points behind Broc, whose total moved up to 166. Azlan stayed third, while Yuki moved up one place to fourth.
While air and track temperatures continued to scorch machines and riders on Sunday, there was a very different look to ASB 1000 race two. Broc, who had been out of sorts on Saturday, got his Yamaha Racing ASEAN R1 hooked up perfectly for race two to take a relatively comfortable win.
Zaqhwan meanwhile, who had been peerless in race one, had a real fight on his hands, as Azlan also turned things around after the previous day’s DNF. Yuki Ito followed up his race one P2 with third place after edging Zaqhwan off the podium and Thitipong continued his recovery from injury by finishing fifth, just 2.9 seconds behind the winner.
Zaqhwan got off to a good start, as did Azlan, who looked confident on the ONEXOX TKKR SAG BMW. He harrassed the Honda Asia Dream Racing by Showa rider while keeping Broc, Thitipong, Yuki and Apiwat at bay behind him. Apiwat’s challenge ended on lap three when a fading front brake forced his retirement. Yuki passed Thitipong for fourth and Broc passed Azlan for second.
Broc took the lead on lap five and did what he does best, putting a series of fast, consistent laps together to open a gap of more than a second at the front. Zaqhwan and Azlan grappled for second behind him, shadowed by Yuki and Thitipong.
A forced error by Zaqhwan let Azlan through to second and Yuki through to third. He fought back, briefly recovering to second before running wide again to let Azlan and Yuki through again.
Having open up a lead of 2.5 seconds, Parkes eased up on the last two laps to take the chequered flag by 1.4 seconds from Azlan. A further one second back, Yuki held off Zaqhwan for third and Thitipong followed closely into fifth. Nine seconds behind the Thai Kawasaki, Mark Aitchison was the first of the wildcards home in sixth in front of Ahmad Yudhistira and Ratthapong Wilairot. Kawasaki Thailand’s Chaiwichit Nisakul was ninth and Li Zheng Peng completed the top ten.
It was a good weekend’s work for Broc, finishing fourth when he had problems in race one and taking his third win of the season when everything came together. His tally at the top of the standings is now 188, 35 clear of Zaqhwan and 45 from Azlan. Yuki is now in a solid fourth position with 131 points.