After the thrilling season opener at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, the eni FIM Superbike World Championship returns to the track for the second outing of the year, taking place on March 20-22 at the brand-new Chang International Circuit in Thailand.
The track located near Buriram (which means City of Happiness), in the North Eastern part of the country, is the 48th to host a WorldSBK event in the history of the series. The Chang International Circuit is also the fifth new venue to debut on the World Superbike calendar in the past five years.
The track's 4.554km layout is laid on completely flat terrain and features twelve corners, five left and seven right. Following a first fast section mainly made of two straights and two right-hand turns, the riders enter a mixed second part of the track, which connects back to the start/finish straight.
With just one round completed of the 2015 season, two riders sit atop the standings with one win and a second place apiece. Former teammates Leon Haslam (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) had a successful start to their new adventures at Phillip Island as they immediately gelled with their new machines both in qualifying and in the race. The two riders rounded out the race-winning numbers for Aprilia and Kawasaki in the series which now stand at 50 and 60, respectively.
In the mix with both of them for most of the two Australian encounters, fellow Briton Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing - Ducati Superbike Team) left Phillip Island with two encouraging podium finishes and the confidence to consistently challenge for the top step aboard his Panigale R. The Welshman will be joined once again by three-time WorldSBK Champion Troy Bayliss, who is eager to improve his performance after his surprise return to the series at his home round. The soon-to-be 46-year-old will again be the substitute rider for the injured Davide Giugliano.
Last year's title contenders, the reigning Champion Sylvain Guintoli (Pata Honda World Superbike) and runner-up Tom Sykes (Kawasaki Racing Team) will be aiming to bounce back to the front after a difficult opening round which saw both riders playing catch-up both to the leading trio as well as to their respective teammates.
Still recovering from the neck injury suffered in a testing crash at Jerez at the end of January, Guintoli hopes to be fit enough to face the extreme heat and humidity the riders will encounter in Thailand. The Frenchman is looking forward to making the most out of the Honda package that proved to be very competitive in Australia in the hands of the reigning World Supersport Champion Michael van der Mark, who had an excellent Superbike debut at Phillip Island.
After the promising World Superbike debuts of Spanish rookies Jordi Torres (Aprilia Racing Team – Red Devils) and Nico Terol (Althea Racing Ducati), the duo will start from the same level of track-knowledge at Chang as the rest of the field, a factor that could well boost their chances for impressive results in Thailand.
Keen on putting a difficult opening round behind them, the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki pairing of Alex Lowes and Randy de Puniet will try to make the most of the opportunity given by the Thai Round, hoping to quickly find a competitive set-up for their GSX-R machines which suffered a multitude of technical issues at the Phillip Island races.
Thailand new challenge for the World Supersport riders
The World Supersport Championship heads to Thailand for the second round with Frenchman Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) heading the standings after his lights to flag win in Australia.
Cluzel's teammate Lorenzo Zanetti will be looking to maintain his strong start to the season aboard the second factory MV Agusta F3 675, while former Champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) will be hoping to show his true pace after finishing 6th in Phillip Island following a run off track in the early stages of the first race of the year.
The fight for the podium could be even closer than the battle between Gino Rea (CIA Landlords Insurance Honda) and Kyle Smith (Pata Honda World Supersport) in the opening encounter, with several other riders looking capable of mounting a serious threat. And with the added unknown factor of a new circuit for everyone, Sunday's race could well spring some surprises.
Local rider Ratthapark Wilairot has already expressed his pride at being able to race on home turf for the very first time. His front-running potential could well have the local fans cheering come the chequered flag on Sunday. The 26-year-old from Chonburi will be joined by four fellow Thai riders: Moto2 full-timer Thitipong Warokorn and Ratthapark's brother Ratthapong Wilairot (A.P. Honda Racing Thailand) and the Yamaha Thailand Racing Team's duo of Decha Kraisart and Chalermpol Polamai.