Khairi Zakaria first M’sian to secure double podium in 2017 FIM Asia Supermoto Championship

Motorcycle racer. — file pic. // Photo: Pixabay

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CENTRAL JAVA, Indonesia: It was an excellent day for a perfect race. The warm weather maintained at 28 degrees Celcius kick-started the morning with an optimum condition off-road section for the morning warm-up session.

Thousands of Indonesians packed the venue at Solo Baru as early as 8:00AM (+7:00GMT) to witness the races.

United Kingdom’s Lewis Cornish, Thailand’s Trakarn Thangthong and the Malaysian duo, Khairi Zakaria and Muhd Habibullah were seen to be in perfect condition for the Moto 1 and Moto 2 race.

Moto 1 received a warm welcome with a special opening ceremony graced by a full-fledged marching band and a stunt show performance. Opened by Sigit Diop Saputra, the representative of Bold Xperience, Chandra Syahriar, Managing Director of E-Plus Indonesia, Satheswaran Mayachandran, CEO of Asia Supersports Group, and Ahmad Suhaimi Abdullah, FIM Asia’s Jury President for Indonesia round, riders were seen focused during the line-up at their respective grid before the two-lap warm-up laps.

Cornish steals the holeshot by blocking Khairi at the first corner, giving the Briton a golden ticket to lead the pack at the beginning of the race. However, the first dangerous yet threatening corner continued to play a pivotal role in the positioning.

The United Kingdom against Malaysia battle between Cornish and Khairi persisted until the end of the race. Khairi was only a second behind the Briton but slowly losing his pace and ended with a seven-second gap with Lewis.

“I was exhausted after Moto 1. I was struggling due to the weather condition. In addition, the 20-minute and two-laps format was really demanding. I have never felt anything like this before, especially riding for more than 20 laps in a race. I endured the first five laps to close the gap between Lewis and distant myself from Trakarn. If that did not happen, I might not be in the second position at the moment,” said Khairi.

“I almost attained the holeshot in the beginning, but the situation was not that promising. Therefore I forego the holeshot, hoping that I could catch up with him [Cornish] after the first corner,” he added.

On the other hand, Cornish mentioned that he was lucky to have a clean start despite facing threats from Khairi. “During the warm-up laps when Khairi overtook and led the pack, it did put a little tension on me. Obviously, we would always want to be at the front and ride at my pace, if possible.”

Having distance from the leader, Khairi was met with a new rival in the person of Thailand’s Trakarn who was merely a second behind the Malaysian rider, breathing down the Malaysian’s neck.

“After the flag-off, I had an opportunity to take the holeshot, but it was stolen by Lewis and blocked by Khairi. I was at least two seconds behind Khairi after the first few laps, but slowly the gap opened because of the silly mistakes in every corner. Hopefully, it would not repeat for Moto 2,” said Trakarn.

Malaysia’s ace and 2016 season champion Muhd Habibullah was faced with a different challenge and contender. Japan’s Takashi Sasaki continues to tail the Malaysian until the end of the race, with a tight gap that makes no room for mistakes for Habibullah.

“On the first to the fifth lap, I tried to follow Trakarn, but it did not last long. At the sixth lap, I could not catch up anymore. My bike’s setting is not suitable for this race as the highly technical track require Slipper Clutch that I do not have,” said Habibullah.

“I depleted my energy in Moto 1. I cannot feel my clutch and my brakes, and my arms were losing grip. Hopefully, by keeping it consistent, I can follow through in Moto 2,” he added.

“I almost had a smooth cornering at the first corner, but Khairi was blocking and that also allowed Trakarn to take my position. On the fifth lap, my rear tire lost its grip, and the hot weather hardened the tires,” concluded Habibullah.

The top six for Moto 1 was completed by Cornish, Khairi, Trakarn, Habibullah, Japan’s Takashi Sasaki and Indonesia’s Farudila Adam.

Meanwhile, Habibullah had a fantastic start in Moto 2 with a shocking holeshot against Cornish and Khairi. However, his motorcycle that was unsuitable for this circuit dragged his position down to the fourth spot by the tenth lap, giving Cornish, Khairi, and Trakarn the advantage to lead the race.

Despite settling for fourth, Habibullah was left behind with a seven-second gap behind Khairi and Trakarn. It was not easy to race without a Slipper Gear, but he managed to ride through the finish line.

“It was exhausting. While taking the pole position was a fabulous advantage, I knew I would fall behind because of my machine and stamina. I tried to block Lewis, Trakarn and Khairi but I began losing my strength from the fifth lap onwards.

“I made a mistake at the first corner on the fifth lap that allowed Lewis to steal my position. However, having Sasayan behind really pushed me to maintain my pace. Knowing that it might be jeopardised, I endured through the pressure and pain to get to the Asian Class podium,” he added.

However, Malaysia’s Khairi had his eyes on the podium since the beginning of the race. Completing the race in second for both Moto 1 and Moto 2, Khairi managed to secure the second podium spot in the International Open Class, and the top spot in the Asian Class, making him the first Malaysian to sit on both podiums this season.

“It was unfortunate that I did not get the holeshot. I started a little slower, and I almost collided with Habibullah on the fifth lap. This was the consequence when Habibullah and I tried to take Trakarn’s position at the same time.”

“I was tailing Trakarn throughout the race but could not find any opening to overtake him due to the difficult and tight track. I cannot take any risks unless if I was sure that I could outdo him,” he added.

It was all smiles for Cornish when he shot through the finish line of Moto 2. With surging acceleration, as well as a cautious and highly strategised ride, he won the race with a stunning 3-second lead ahead of Khairi and Trakarn.

A strong crowd of 35,000 people visited the weekend race in Indonesia. — Bernama