As an eventful 2013 season nears an end, IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia leaves Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman’s home grand prix, Malaysia, to the Southern hemisphere, for the next battle in Australia.
The Phillip Island circuit is situated at the South-most of the Australian continent, and is well known for its severe winter conditions for the race. Teams have to battle with the strong gustily winds from the South and the volatile weather changes due to the circuit facing the sea, and winning is dependent on how united the team is.
The weather was extraordinarily stable this year, but the wind conditions were cold and difficult for Azlan, and the team, who were challenging Phillip Island for the first time. On Friday Azlan was 26th, and on Saturday finished the qualifying round in 29th.
With a newly resurfaced circuit providing better grip than before, Moto2 class teams experienced severe tire degradation despite the tire manufacturers preparing compounds specifically for the race. Considering rider safety, the race stewards and tire manufacturers decided to shorten the final race to 13 laps.
The finals began at 2:20 pm. Many riders fell in an attempt to conquer the shortened, hectic race, but Azlan stayed out of trouble to steadily move up the field to finish an impressive 19th from a poor start. He did not achieve his goal of finishing within the points, but gained experience in the competitive Moto2 class, and valuable data for the team.
“We had some trouble in finding the right set up, but I’m glad we managed to finish the race,” Alzan shows relief although disappointed. “We couldn’t finished within the top 15, our goal, but we had a good battle as the team prepared the bike well. Next week we race in Japan, the team’s home. I have some experience with the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, so I hope we can do better there.”
Tadayuki Okada, team manager, looks back at Australia, seeing much gained psychologically through completing the race under harsh external conditions. “The wind was a problem all week, and as we weren’t accustomed to racing in such strong winds and had trouble getting used to the differing conditions, we weren’t concentrating well enough. We could have finished within the points, but we didn’t. Azlan realized how important the process of keeping a good average time each session and improving the machine set up is, and was disappointed with the results. I think our biggest gain from this race is Azlan’s disappointment, which led to his keeping a high motivation to win.”
The Japan Grand Prix schedule was disrupted by an out of season typhoon and stormy weather following. Friday sessions were cancelled for all classes, and Saturday’s conditions only improved enough to race in the afternoon.
The shortened qualifying session, requiring teams to battle not only the circuit but machine set up, started in wet conditions. Alzan, dealing with the gradually drying track, managed to secure 27th on the final grid.
Sunday’s Twin Ring Motegi was sunny, unbelievable considering the typhoon-ridden qualifying rounds. The Moto2 class final was not so lucky, with 30 machines, including wildcards, running. Aggressive overtaking at the start led to a multiple rider pile-up out of the second corner, and although no riders were seriously injured, the race was red-flagged. The restarted race with the original grid was 15 laps long, eight shorter than originally scheduled.
Azlan steadily overtook other riders, improving his position, but on lap 7 unfortunately crashed out of the 90 degree corner exiting the back straight.
By the time he got the machine back on the track he was already last runner, but continued his chase at lap times no different to before the crash, to finish 23rd.
Azlan could not hide his bitter disappointment following the race. “I’m disappointed crashing on corner 11 (90 degree corner) because I was riding well, and aiming to overtake even more riders. The results could have been different if we had more time to practice in dry conditions, but I’ll just have to regain myself and concentrate on Valencia. It’s the last round, so I’ll be giving it my best.”
The season finale, Valencia. The fourth grand prix of the season held in Spain, a country in which motor sports is highly popular, was crowded with spectators from the free practice session, and by Saturday’s qualifying round amassed to over 70 thousand.
Valencia was another circuit Azlan had not raced at before, and started race week by familiarizing himself, but by Saturday’s qualifying had reduced his lap times to within 2.279 seconds from the leaders.
“We’re improving with each session, and although we still have some work on setting the machine up, I’m getting to know the course and the race lines. It’s a long race, so we have to take care of the tires, there are still some issues with braking stability, and exiting from and switching between corners, but it’s the last race of the season, so I’ll try to finish as high up in the positions as possible,” Azlan commented before the race.
November 10, Sunday’s final race at the Valencia circuit was packed with a record-breaking 100 thousand spectators. Azlan started 28th, finishing the 27 la-long race in 25th.
“It was a tough race, but we finished with no crashes or injuries. I’m grateful to the team who set the machine up so well for the race.” Azlan looked back at the six races since San Marino, when he joined the team. “I managed to gain confidence and experience with each race. I have learned a lot about Moto2 machines and setting them up in these 6 races. I’m not sure about next year yet, but I want to learn and absorb more, and hopefully continue racing next year.”
Okada describes the 2013 season, in which everything was a new experience, as a year of self-examination and rewards. “The Moto2 class is very competitive and we were prepared for a tough first year in the class, but I’m still disappointed we could not gain any points. But disappointment is a big driving force for the team and the rider.”
Okada also spoke of 2014. “From the perspective of cultivating asian riders, Azlan is the most promising. I think asians everywhere will appreciate our choice of Azlan in such a tough season. Now, we’re looking to build on what we have learned for next season.”
Completing all 17 races of the 2013 season, joint tests aimed at the 2014 Moto2 class season were conducted on November 14 and 15 at the Jerez circuit in Southern Spain. IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia participated with the 2014 package consisting of a Kalex chassis, Brembo brakes and Ohlins suspension. Azlan, and newly joined Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami from Italtrans Racing Team, rode the machines during testing.
Nakagami started his Moto2 career in 2012, and in 2013 was on the podium 5 times with 3 pole positions, seen as one of the favorites as a Moto2 champion.
Nakagami, who considers 2014 to be the year he will excel in, commented on his aspirations. “Next season, I’m only thinking about becoming the champion. I had a lot to learn in my first year of Moto2 racing, but managed to use that experience to gain some good results in my second year. I’m grateful to Italtrans Racing Team for teaching me so much in 2012 and 2013. Next year I’ll build upon the experiences I had gained, and aim for the championship as if it were my last season in Moto2.”
IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia, beginning their journey to reach the top of the Moto2 championship against world-class competition, completed their first tough, yet fruitful year. In 2014 Tadayuki Okada will lead the team with Asia’s best riders, Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman and Takaaki Nakagami.
“Our goal next year is to get results,” Okada explains. “We’re going for the championship in 2014.”
IDEMITSU Honda Team Asia, under Okada’s leadership, has already started their charge
into a new battle.