After a highly successful race in Race 1, Race 2 of the fourth leg of the ARRC 2023 season witnessed difficulties for the members of the Honda Racing Vietnam Team. In the face of those challenges, their extensive racing experience, courage, and determination helped the racers stay strong, not back down, and find hope.

Pertamina Mandalika – “graceful young lady” on the coast of the Indian Ocean

The island of Lombok covers an area of 4,700km2, has a population of 3.1 million people, and is an attractive tourist destination with 4 coastal areas; it boasts enchantingly pristine nature, with long beaches, mild weather, and hospitable locals. Lombok is less than 70km away from the famous “heavenly realm” – Bali Island, equivalent to a 3-hour ferry ride.

Pertamina Mandalika International Street Circuit is spread over 120 hectares within a resort complex, hotels, and many other entertainment facilities. The main track meets FIM grade A standards of the International Motorcycle Federation, with a length of 4.313km – including 17 corners, with 6 left turns and 11 right turns clockwise. The main grandstand has a seating capacity of over 50,000 spectators; while the entire circuit can accommodate over 195,000 people.

The Mandalika Circuit is the venue for several major two-wheel motor sports events in the world, such as MotoGP, Superbike World Championship, Asia Talent Cup, and Asia Road Racing Championship – ARRC.

Unlike the “volcano oven” in Chang – Thailand; Sepang rainforest – Malaysia or the Sugo Highland – Japan; the biggest challenge at the Pertamina Mandalika circuit is not scorching sun, rain, cold wind or road surface elevation differences; it is the sea breeze. From corner 7 to corner 11, the track runs along the coast, just about 200m away from the sand dunes.

And just one wrong wind maneuver can easily make the riders lose control, creating opportunities for opponents to quickly overtake. Not to mention the danger of the tricky diabolical corner – corner 16.

Before entering the track, whether it is training, timed qualification, or race day, the racers are fully equipped with protective gear from head, chest, arms, legs… to ensure racing safety. All safety preparations are strictly monitored by officials and technicians from the organizing committee. Even running too slow on the track, posing a safety risk, can result in penalties – as seen with many UB150 racers.

Slower than expected qualifying: Difficulties anticipated

As predicted, the challenge of the sea breeze directly blowing across the track caused many riders to struggle, including 4 representatives from Vietnam. Not to mention the fact that the riders collectively played tricks during the qualifying race in the UB150 category.

After performing a lightning-fast hot lap, a group of racers gathered closely with dozens of racers; running very slowly to prevent other opponents from improving their performance. As a result, #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan only achieved 31st/33 starting position, while his teammate, 15-year-old rider #111 Nguyen Huu Tri sadly started at the last position of 33/33.

In the AP250 category, both riders from the Honda Racing Vietnam Team coordinated their strategy. As a result, fans witnessed duo #65 Cao Viet Nam and #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh running side by side to shield and minimize the risk of unnecessary collisions or injuries, preserving their strength for the main race.

This was a very wise strategy as the competition during the qualifying race was fierce. This was evident as the current leader of the overall rankings – #123 Rheza Danica Ahrens – fell quite hard after attempting to secure the 2nd position and dropped to 7th starting position.

Meanwhile, “crazy driver” #65 Cao Viet Nam took full advantage of the opportunity and achieved hopeful 9th starting position. His teammate, #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh, only started at the 26th/27th position.

In the AP250 category: A chance to step onto the podium

Starting in the 9th and 27th positions respectively, both #65 Cao Viet Nam and #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh were hoping to achieve impressive results in this round in Indonesia. This is the first time #65 has started in the leading top 10 positions. Race 1 started favorably as “crazy guy” focused intensely on his powerful downhill cornering, leaving behind a series of opponents and temporarily securing 6th/27th position at the end of the first lap.

In the lower pack, his teammate #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh was not far behind as he overtakes 6 opponents and temporarily placed 20th/27th before entering the second lap. Till corner 11 of the second lap, #65 Cao Viet Nam held a firm 5th position/27th. At this point, all members of the Honda Racing Vietnam Team sitting in the pit were dreaming of a sweet finish on the podium.

Entering the third lap, #65 Cao Viet Nam demonstrated an extremely fierce determination, closely chasing the leading group of racers, solidly going through each corner, securing 5th/27th position. Immediately behind him, rider #16 Irfan Ardiansyah fell significantly trying to overtake #65 on the first corner but was unsuccessful.

From corner 12 to 14, two opponents #37 Aiki Iyoshi from Japan and the “seeded champion” #123 Rheza Danica Ahrens continuously launched strong attacks, keeping side by side and blocking #65 Cao Viet Nam, forcing him to defend and temporarily drop to 7th then 8th/27th position.

The final lap witnessed a spectacular comeback as #65 Cao Viet Nam showed all his “crazy” characteristics and surpassed two opponents – crossing the finish line in 6th place, 6.1 seconds behind the race leader. Behind him, #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh also managed to finish in 20th/27th position.

The afternoon of the following day, the dramatic events of Race 2 in the UB150 category were so intense that a total of 12 racers could not finish. Corner 16 before the main finish line was a “death trap” witnessing the fierce competition and racers falling off their bikes one after another, causing a large amount of oil from the bikes to spill onto the race track.

For this reason, after the UB150 Race 2, the organizers had to temporarily pause for a few minutes to clean up the race track before allowing the AP250 riders to enter the race. The safety car made a trial lap, the riders also completed a warm-up lap. However, the mixture of sand and oil could not be completely cleaned up in a moment.

Entering Race 2, both AP250 riders #65 Cao Viet Nam and #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh were determined to improve their race performance after a successful Race 1 that exceeded expectations. Even the fans could hope for a podium position!

Starting with a bang, #65 Cao Viet Nam demonstrated a strong desire to break into the top 3 leading racers. However, his tremendous effort made him taste bitter defeat when the competition became too intense at “corner of death” number 16.

Cao Viet Nam was thrown off the bike with deep regret. However, he was determined not to give up! After quickly getting up, Cao Viet Nam promptly suppressed the pain, stood up, got back on the bike, and confidently continued running!

Immediately following, several other riders also fell one by one at corner 16. In this situation, #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh had to race very cautiously as he was the only representative left from the team still capable of competing.

And #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh achieved this. He raced steadily, overtaking from the last and climbing to 15th/17th position and held onto it until the finish line.

Below, #65 Cao Viet Nam also made a surprising comeback, despite falling to the last position of the race right after the incident at corner 16. He calmly held his position at the end of the race while overtaking three opponents before crossing the finish line impressively in 18th place/27th.

So far, after 4 races with 8 track appearances, #65 Cao Viet Nam has accumulated 55 points and still holds the 8th position on the overall leaderboard. Meanwhile, thanks to the remarkable improvement, #193 Nguyen Duc Thanh has finally scored 1 point after Race 2 Round 4 – a very encouraging result in his first season competing in the AP250 category.

In the UB150 category: Perseverance to overcome difficulties

Sharing a not-so-favorable starting position, “the eldest brother” #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan and “the youngest brother” #111 Nguyen Huu Tri started from the 31st and 33rd positions. At this point, their goal was to make every effort to seize the opportunity to climb up.

And immediately after the lights went out, this opportunity quickly presented itself, as #27 and #14 collided and both dropped to the last positions. At this point, #178 and #111 temporarily “held hands” and entered the second lap at the 28th and 29th positions respectively and continued to climb higher, as #61 Shahrol Syazras Yuzy fell at corner 10 of the second lap.

In the front, the race turned into a single unit as 20 racers ran closely together, forming a large and extremely dense pack. Meanwhile, in the second group right behind, the two brothers Anh Tuan and Huu Tri improved their positions, persistently sticking together in the 25th and 28th/33rd positions.

In the following laps, racers #202 and #24, and #31 dropped out in sequence; and so #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan climbed up to the 22nd position, while his younger brother #111 Nguyen Huu Tri also improved to 27th/33rd position before entering the final lap.

The dramatic events took place just before the finish line, at corner 16 of the sleeves. Intense competition caused #78 MD Haziq Hamdan to make a mistake in the corner, fall off the bike – and at the same time slipped out of the top 5 – with only a few seconds left and had to walk to the finish line. Behind him, #222 also fell almost simultaneously and “blew away” a seemingly solid top 10 position.

At the end of Race 1 Round 4, #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan started 31st/33rd and impressively finished in 21st place. Meanwhile, his 15-year-old teammate – #111 Nguyen Huu Tri – “made a difference” by persistently sticking to it and progressing from starting at the last position of the race, to finish 26th/33rd.

Entering Race 2, the situation did not get any better for the Honda Racing Vietnam Team; as neither Anh Tuan nor Huu Tri could participate due to technical issues.

Similarly, Race 2 in the afternoon was not more promising as both Anh Tuan and Huu Tri had to return their bikes to the pit before crossing the finish line. As a result, both riders #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan and #111 Nguyen Huu Tri DNF.

The current standings so far; rider #178 Nguyen Anh Tuan is currently ranked 22nd on the overall scoreboard with 16 points. Meanwhile, his teammate #111 Nguyen Huu Tri is ranked 35th/38th with 2 points on the leaderboard and is still focused on improving racing results, accumulating experience, and reducing completion time for each lap.

A quick summary for now, the ARRC 2023 season still has 2 more legs with 4 races to be held in Zhuhai – China and Chang – Thailand from now until the end of the year. The opportunities are still wide open, as all 4 riders have scored points and are progressively maturing with each race appearance.

Opportunities are still ahead; all riders have the ability, gradually proving themselves and most importantly, looking optimistically ahead with the effort to rise with a burning passion. Fans will certainly have the right to dream of a bright result on the podium. Let’s wait together for two exciting races at the end of the season.

Anh Phan (Tuoitrethudo)