A new rider, Malaysian Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman, joined forces with IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia from Round 13 (Round 12 for the Moto2 class), San Marino.
Azlan, born in Selangor, Malaysia, began his racing career in 2003, and became the center of attention in 2011, winning the Suzuka Mini-Moto 4 hour endurance race on his first attempt, the first win for a foreign team. He consistently battled with the top runners in the ARRC SS600 class and in the 2013 season, currently leads the championship with one race left. Azlan also finished 6th, riding for Honda Team Asia, in the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race this July, and is now well known to his fans in Japan.
Although well-versed in racing in Asia, the San Marino Grand Prix, and riding the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli, was new to him.
"I was nervous, as everything was new to me," Azlan recalls San Marino. "Moto2 racing is extremely tough, and although I was nervous about all sorts of things I was glad to be able to race in the world championship stage, and even enjoyed it. ARRC bikes are completely different to Moto2, although both are 600cc machines. There's a lot I have to learn from Moto2 machines, and by improving my skills and the bike, want to get good results for the team."
After finishing his first Moto2 race in 24th, Azlan and the team returned to Ales, France for a two week training and preparation period for the Aragon Grand Prix, held at the Motorland Aragon circuit in inland Spain.
Racing among Spaniards on their home ground, Azlan adapted to the course finishing 29th, and then 26th in the first and second qualifying rounds. Despite his determination to finish the race with even better results, Azlan's front end slipped on corner 12 on lap 6, forcing him to retire.
The 2013 season entered the final rounds leaving Europe, for three consecutive race weekends in the Asia Pacific region. The first race, the Malaysian Grand Prix, was raced in Sepang, and Azlan had a hectic race week with interviews and events for his home crowd.
"I know the track well, so I want to have a great race for myself, the team, and for the fans. I'm aiming to finish in the points, the top 15, if possible," Azlan commented, but during the second practice session on Friday afternoon fell just outside the pit lane after changing tires, and finished the day with a lap time of 2 min 10 s 469, short of his goal of 2 min 9 s.
Azlan qualified a disappointing 27th, after a high-side fall on the final corner in Saturday afternoon's qualifying round. Sunday's Final was shortened from the scheduled 19 laps to 12 after a pile-up out of corner 14 on the opening lap forced the race to be restarted with the original grid, as fortunately there were no serious injuries.
Despite not being able to set up the machine satisfactorily due to his fall during qualifying, Azlan still managed to complete the race in 22nd, racing against experienced Moto2 riders in front of the full stadium of Malaysian fans' cheers.
"Race day was the hottest of the entire week, and hard on the tires so I did not have enough traction. I aimed to lap at 2 min 9 s, and although my initial lap times were 2 min 10 s, the rest were all in the 11 s range. I'm disappointed that I fell on Friday and Saturday, so we couldn't set the machine up sufficiently," Azlan recalls. "It was a tough race, but being able to finish is a positive point for the future. I still need to learn a lot, though, such as the machine's countering issues. I haven't experienced the Phillip Island circuit, but I'll adapt to the machine as quickly as I can, and aim for better results."
Team manager Tadayuki Okada considers Azlan's riding position and balance through the corners in need of some work to fix his countering problems and lack of traction.
"Fast riders lean forward and slide the machine through the corners, and slower riders tend to sit back to put more weight on the rear tires to increase grip," comments Okada. "Azlan's problems between corners might be due to this, causing a time lag in the front to react. I have already spoken to him about it, and since he can, and is comfortable with, sliding the rear entering corners, there is a lot of room for improvement. That doesn't mean he can change overnight, so we'll be making an environment for him to practice more and more."
The Phillip Island circuit, venue for Australian Grand Prix, the second of three consecutive race weekends, is notoriously different from Sepang with its low temperatures and harsh winds blown in from the sea. The team and Azlan face a steep challenge, but the experience will undoubtedly be invaluable for the home Grand Prix for the title sponsor, Idemitsu, the Japan Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi.
Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman and IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia continue to face, and conquer, their problems, gaining valuable experience in the process, learning every day. Stay tuned.