What WorldSSP could bring in Buriram as Kenan Sofugolu remains sidelined
Round One of the FIM Supersport World Championship provided unexpected drama, incredible racing and early set-backs which will be tough to beat. However with two of the main title contenders injured, Chang International Circuit is bound to throw in even more irons in the fire of what is already shaping up to be an explosive WorldSSP season.
Reigning World Champion Kenan Sofugolu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will be forced to sit out of the second race of the 2017 season with injury, as he flew home from Australia following the Official test the week before the race.
Whilst one of his key title rivals Jules Cluzel (CIA Landlord Insurance Honda) suffered a huge crash in the closing stages of the re-started race, diagnosed with a fracture of the sacrum bone he is confident he will be able to ride in Thailand. Despite this set-back Cluzel had a strong start to the weekend with his new team, securing second position on the grid and already showing he has the pace to fight at the front of the field. The Frenchman has positive memories at the Destination of Speed, starting from pole position and securing the win last season following a race-long battle with PJ Jacobsen and Sofuoglu meaning he will be keen to return to the circuit.
PJ Jacobsen (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) was another rider to impress with his new team Down Under, but despite starting from pole position he was unable to keep up with the flying Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) and Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team), and took a top six finish in the opening round. Last year saw the American display a strong pace around the sweeping circuit as he was locked in the battle for the lead, and took the final spot on the podium – his first podium finish of four in 2016 and second in Buriram.
Star of the sensational final laps in Round One two weeks ago, French rider Lucas Mahias (GRT Yamaha Official WorldSSP Team) makes his return to Thailand where he has enjoyed a strong result in the past. Competing around the Chang International Circuit back in 2015, Mahias will no doubt take the confidence he built from Phillip Island with him, to a circuit he is familiar with.
Kyle Ryde (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) quickly found some pace with his new team last time out at Phillip Island, and he was able to be up and fighting for a podium finish around the testing Australian circuit. The young British rider will look to improve on his debut appearance at the Destination of Speed, where he crashed out of the race on the fourth lap. Now with a more consistent team around him, he will be able to work on his set-up of his ZX-6R machine with the hope of making that all important step onto the podium.
WorldSSP round one race winner Roberto Rolfo (Team Factory Vamag) produced a faultless performance from eighth on the grid and fought hard but fair to take the victory under sunny skies, narrowly ahead of Mahias. Heading back to Chang International Circuit this week – a circuit the Italian has had a mixed performance at in the past – it will be interesting to see if Rolfo can repeat his performance of two weeks ago.
Nikki Tuuli (Kallio Racing)’s season got off to a slow start last time out, as he secured a top five finish in his first race as a permanent rider for the team. Securing three podium finishes out of three races at the end of last season, Tuuli goes into 2017 with a strong team behind him. The Finnish rider and his team-mate Sheridan Morias went through a learning curve around the iconic Phillip Island. Keen to take on another new circuit in Thailand, it will be interesting to see if the new team can make another step onto the podium in the hotly contested class.
Profile Racing were another team who had a tough start to the season, with lone rider Luke Stapleford unable to see the chequered flag for the first time of the 2017 season. Despite this set back, the team will only focus on the weekend ahead of understanding how to take on the challenging Chang International Circuit – a circuit Stapleford scored points at last season.
World Supersport will certainly be a class to keep an eye on, and with main contenders possibly on the sidelines the fight for the victory will be more open than ever. And with added excitement of Zulfahmi Khairuddin (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) racing close to home, fans will be on the edge of their seats in Buriram. Bikes head out for the first time in Thailand on Friday 10th March at 11am (+7 GMT), before the race on Sunday at 14:30LT.