Eastern promises: GB Blogs-in from Thailand
Sitting on the plane heading home from Thailand I felt a strange sense of relief, like reaching a small watershed that that is the first part of the season over. I know it’s a bit of a first world problem but having two long trips back to back always takes a little bit out of you and, the older I get, a few more days to recover. I guess having been on the road for the best part of 18 years I always know what is coming up, so to be on the way back for a couple of weeks at home before the next round in Aragon is most welcomed.
The race in Buriram, 5 hours drive from Bangkok, obviously has a special appeal for some people. There are quite a few European photographers and journalists, who don’t make it to Australia, USA or Qatar, but manage to make the trip to Thailand. Personally I don’t see the appeal as it’s not a favourite stop on the calendar for me. It’s a long drive from Bangkok and unfortunately it’s not rewarded with the most photogenic of circuits, unlike Phillip Island or Laguna Seca. That said it is one race in the year where there never seems to be any problems at the circuit. The staff in the media centre, the marshalls around the track and the people in general are extremely helpful and friendly. From my part everything works as it should and we don’t have any extra issues to deal with in terms of delivering the job.
This trip again myself, Jamie Morris and Vaclav Duska Jnr got our heads down after WorldSBK race 2 and knocked out the work in double quick time so that we could drive back to Bangkok and catch an early flight home on Monday morning. To say Jamie’s driving was ‘spirited’ is being modest and there was a lot of ‘threading the needle’ between the slow trucks, minivans and the most garishly painted, neon festooned coaches you will ever see.
There was also a fair bit of spirited racing over the weekend and the established order in WorldSBK definitely seems to be being upset.
The real highlight for me is the upturn in the fortunes at Honda. Leon Camier has really delivered on his expectations that we spoke about back in February. Having qualified on the front row, he was so close to getting a podium finish in race one.
New team manager Kervin Bos told me that there was nothing magical or revelatory about their performances but clearly Camier has brought something to the team that has made everything click. Bos explained that he is very direct and straight forward with how he wants the bike to feel and they have made a number of small changes in many aspects of the bike’s set up as a result. Camier is now delivering the goods and that has given the technicians and engineers in the team a new found impetus to drive things forward more.
There will obviously be those that say the new technical regulations have helped them but when you compare the lap times from last year, Camier was around a second faster than Nicky Hayden, and was on a par with Yamaha all weekend, not to mention that Camier finished ahead of Melandri in both races, so there has been a tangible improvement.
As I said before we headed out to Thailand this would be a race where we would see if the new regulations and the new upper rev limits would bring the field back together. To a degree it did but Jonathan Rea was still dominant in race one and Chaz Davies in race two. The Kawasaki pair of Rea and Sykes both had niggly technical issues that affected the overall performance but the limit they now have on the upper revs is certainly hurting them as JR’s margin of victory on Saturday was a lot less than previous years.
When compared with Honda it offers an interesting contrast. The Ten Kate team are now on the second year of development with the CBR1000RR and with a new rider comes a new approach; new ideas and riding style that is beginning to reap rewards. Kawasaki on the other side have the look of a team that are starting out on a new development cycle. Having their upper rev limit curbed so drastically has, I think, made them reassess the set up of the ZX-10RR and the first two races have seen them working through various solutions to get around the issue.
The general feeling amongst the other riders towards the new shape of the championship seems to be favourable. But if you are now on the front row of the grid and on the podium you would say that. For me the races in Buriram were certainly a lot more interesting than last year. That shows in the number of images I have where there are a string of bikes together on track.
It was worrying at the end of race two to come back to the press office and hear about Eugene Laverty’s crash. By now we all know the extent of his injuries and I can only wish him my best regards and a speedy recovery. It’s such a contradictory feeling to be relieved when someone has such a serious injury given your initial fears were more pessimistic. Heal well Eugene and hopefully we will see you back fit and strong and racing soon.
The next couple of weeks will be spent at home for me with the expensive business of having my kit serviced. The winter break would have been the ideal time to do it but I cleaned everything and put it away after the last tests in November and thought it would be fine for another few months. However, over the weekend I had a few of my own niggly problems. A quick email to Nikon UK to check the availability of some parts means I will send everything off on Tuesday for service and repair so that it is back in time for Aragon.
A few days of service and repair won’t go amiss for this tired photographer as well.
Photos by GeeBee Images