At 6:00 a.m., the Moto class (motorcycles) machines started off one after another with the GRAND PALAZZO HOTEL PATTAYA in the background.
The first competition segment (SS: Special Stage) was located 128 km northeast of Pattaya City. All vehicles will travel on public roads to get there while observing traffic laws and regulations. This travel section will be referred to as the Road Section (RS) from now on. Upon arrival at the MTC of the SS on time, the vehicles line up in the start order and start at the time schedule.
On this day, the first motorcycle race started at 8:35 a.m. 21 motorcycles and one sidecar started at one-minute intervals, followed by the AUTO class (four-wheelers) with a one-hour interval for safety reasons. The AUTO started at 2-minute intervals.
The first SS was 206.81 km long, with a Passage Control (PC) in the middle of the SS, where the competing machines could undergo light maintenance after passing through. The course is divided into two halves after this point. The PC is a point that must be passed, and competitors who fail to pass the PC due to a missed course or retiring during the race will be penalized with time.
The first half of the course was a plantation area with a straight dirt road along farmland combined with right and left turns and right-angled corners. The road was narrow, and visibility to the left and right was limited by the crops. The riders had to follow the route map to accurately trace the crossroads and right-angles that suddenly appeared. Navigation seemed to be quite difficult here.
The course was 99% dry. There were more ups and downs than expected, with steep hill climbs and hill descents here and there. The road surface was dry and hard, and very slippery with silty sand on top of it. It was also very bumpy, with some extremely bad terrain where tire ruts had hardened after rainfall, making the surface very tough on the suspension.
Only a handful of competitors were able to complete the course without making any mistakes, but the remaining 90% of the competitors were plagued with mistakes, and the course was very confusing. During this chaos, near misses were also reported between the competing vehicles as they searched for the correct course. One of the AUTO was wrecked in a head-on collision, forcing it to retire. In addition, the cars in the starting order from the middle of the race were involved in considerable confusion as the following cars were stranded on the on-course that had been blocked by cars involved in accidents.
The second half of the race after the PC was easier to navigate than the first half, with fast-track roads along irrigation canals and fences to prevent wild elephants, and the competitors reached the finish without major problems.
The top MOTO were already in contention for the win, led by Jakkrit Chawtale of #17 JC DIRT SHOP Rally Team (THA) on a KTM 500 EXC-F.
In second place was Koun Phandara of #2 Team Cambodia, Shinichi Yamada of #10 Team OTOKONAKI, who came in 3rd, finished. In the 5-hour range, but the rest took 6 to 8 hours over the approximately 200 km SS to reach the finish. The rest of the riders took 6 to 8 hours to complete the 200 km SS and finally reached the finish. Even considering the average speed, it is easy to understand how difficult this SS was to navigate.
TThe AUTO did not let this difficult course deter them, and they reached the finish with a high average of nearly 60 km/h. Ditsapong Maneein (THA) and Athikij Srimongkhkhkhun (THA) of the #115 Isuzu Suphan Explorer Liqui Moly Rally Team in the Isuzu D-MAX, both of which finished with a high average of nearly 60 km/h, were the first to reach the finish line.
Their teammates, The #110 of Suwat Limjirapinya (THA) and Prakob Chaothale (THA) followed in second place, finishing about 9 minutes ahead of the leader, making it a one-two finish.
The Isuzu team showed overwhelming speed in the early stages of the race last year, and they are still going strong this year.
The #111 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING THAILAND team of Mana Pornsiricherd (THA) and Kittisak Klinchan (THA) finished in third place, approximately 15 minutes behind the leader. Their teammates, #102 Jaras Jaengkamolkulchai (THA) and Sinopong Trairat (THA), are also in 5th place, about 5 minutes behind the leader, and the team is in a great position to get their long-awaited first win after having only finished in 2nd place since their entry.
In 4th place was the #123 NEXZTER REST CLUB (NXRC) team of Pittiphon Promchotikul (THA) and Charin Harnsungnoen (THA), and in 6th place was the defending champion #101 Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART (THA), driving the new Triton, are in 6th place, approximately 21 minutes behind the leader.
The two TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA cars, which finished 3rd and 4th overall last year, have both dropped down the order due to machine trouble.
The #105 team of Takuma Aoki (JPN) and Ittipon Simaraks (THA) and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon (THA) received a 24-minute penalty for front right driveshaft trouble and placed 28th.
After the SS, a 49 km Road Section was followed by a day's finish at Tarawadee Resort Hotel, where many machines were damaged, and some were so heavily serviced that they may not be able to compete the next day.
Tomorrow's SS will be the longest of the day at 207.26km, and the total distance will jump up to 463km. It has been said that "the key to this year's competition will be Laos in extremely bad conditions," and one of the keys to success will be how steady the teams are in the early and middle stages of the race up to the border crossing.
Since I arrived in Pattaya, the starting point of this year's AXCR, there has been no rain even though it is the rainy season. ...... Usually, large drops of rain fall early in the morning before the sunrise lights up the sky, during the day, and in the evening to cool the surface temperature, but this year seemed to be different. However, if you stay in the shade, the humid breeze is pleasant, and I feel that it is much kinder to the human body than the refrigerator-like air conditioning in hotels.
I coming from Japan, where the heat is still intense, no matter how much sweat I break out, I can't help but think, "Oh, yeah, that's right, this is Thailand", and my heart is in the mood for acceptance, and my spirits are lifted.
21 Riders entered the MOTO division. The cars started out one by one at the start of SS1, leaving a red cloud of dust behind, giving the impression of a tropical rally in the usual sense. As I pointed my camera at all the vehicles and bathed in the RED DIRT foundation, I forgot my unfounded fears about the cost of camera maintenance after returning home, and I too became frantic to record the sight of all the participants on their own bikes.
The vehicles used in the competition varied widely, with Husqvarna Motorcycles of Swedish origin being the most common, followed by its family brand KTM, Japan's world-renowned Honda, and Yamaha and Kawasaki.
Interestingly (and this is very rude to say, but ......), a group of three first-time entrants from Taiwan had a transportation accident, and they came to the official hotel on the day of the event on locally rented bikes. All of the vehicles had slippery tires, and we wondered what would happen to them. However, the team leader led the team to prepare the minimum amount of rally equipment (rally tower, GPS, drive recorder, etc.) and new tires by the day of vehicle inspection and they were able to start the rally without incident. Without any support, their relatives (wives) carried their luggage, including lodging, and they survived the first day of the rally. They were very strong.
In Leg 1, it was sunny whole day, with no squalls, and the riders on their bikes seemed to be battling the heat. There was even a sight of a rusher at a service area drinking three mini-size Cokes.
Although this was not limited to MOTO, the riders seemed to be having a hard time reading the route book, and even on the so-called one-way streets, they sometimes passed vehicles that were lost, coming back or driving in the wrong direction.
The route of the AXCR 2023, which is formed by connecting ordinary roads and roads used by residents, is difficult to follow. In addition, the distance shown on the map and the signs are not always the same, which must be quite a burden for the riders who must read the map while driving.
In MOTO, there were several riders in the lead (5 to 6 riders), with the following cars far behind. Unfortunately, there were some injuries. And the only sidecar (URAL) overturned as it got caught on a chunk of concrete hidden in the bushes, throwing the driver and passenger out. Although there were no serious injuries, the driver suffered a blow to the head and the passenger a blow to the left knee, so the race was cancelled for the rest of the day.
The rally is a place where many things can happen from the very first day (so everyone says). Seeing them make the best choices they can now without complaining to anyone, we were suddenly motivated as well.
The AXCR 2023 has only just begun, and we are finally back to the usual AXCR. It was a day that made me realize once again that even though I am not a competitor, I will continue to follow all the riders until the entire day's schedule is over.