Day 3 of the rally. As the competition entered the middle stage, things began to settle down and the points that would characterize the 2023 rally came into view.
First, the weather and road conditions. There has been almost no rainfall in the area where the rally was held over the past few days and the road surface has been very dry, making the conditions almost completely dry, contrary to the organizers' desire to hold the rally during the rainy season. This means that the competition vehicles have to drive at high speed and on the other hand, the uneven road surfaces hit them harder making the conditions very difficult for the competitors and their suspensions.
In the AUTO category, the top ranks were formed around the works teams Mitsubishi Triton (Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART) and Toyota Hilux Revo (TOYOTA GAZOO RACING THAILAND), while the semi-works teams Isuzu D-MAX and Toyota Fortuner were looking for an opening to move up to the top. However, three cars from TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA have been ranked in the top positions in every SS and they are beginning to make their presence felt in the overall field as well.
Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART which is aiming for a consecutive championship and TOYOTA GAZOO RACING THAILAND which is betting on its long-cherished first victory must quickly take measures against the Fortuner teams which are trying to take advantage of the fishing fleet while keeping their opponents in check.
For the MOTO who are strong on the uneven terrain of dry roads, it is also a very tough battle of attrition in another sense. The many course errors that occurred on the navigation course (a course with a detailed and difficult route map) in the early stages of the rally have caused them to lose mental composure and the time spent wandering around has significantly depleted their physical strength and the "fear" of not knowing when or where they might get lost has seeped into their bones.
In addition, although there is a one-hour time difference from the start of the AUTO when they make a mistake and fall far behind, they have to face the AUTO with a higher average speed on a narrow course which is also a stressful situation for the motorcyclists who are in a difficult situation because of the delay.
Therefore, MOTO in the middle and later stages are now competing in a very tough situation both mentally and physically. If they can hold their ground here, I believe the door will open for the second half of the season. Every year I strongly feel the toughness of the motorcyclists who do everything by themselves, from navigation to maintenance and repair, in this extreme world.
In any case, this day was the last competition to be held in the Thailand area and since it is said that "anything can happen" in the Lao P.D.R. stage from the fourth day onward it is very important to gain as much advantage as possible in this stage to compete in the latter half of the rally.
The basic structure of the course was the same on this day as on days 1 and 2. It was a series of jungle-carved farms, their farm roads, and flat dirt roads undulating along the river. However, with the addition of rice fields, the entire layout became more technical. It would be easier to describe it as a "rice field road. It is very narrow, tricky, uneven, and involves a lot more stop-and-go.
The dryness of the course also had a significant impact on the respective times. The dust from the AUTO in front is so thick that overtaking is very risky. In fact, there must have been many competitors who were not able to run at their own pace to their satisfaction.
In the MOTO category, Jakkrit Chawtale (THA) of the #17 JC DIRT SHOP Rally Team who started from pole position showed another-planet speed even in these tough conditions. The gap between him and the second-place finishers which had been around 30 minutes yesterday was widened to more than 25 minutes, putting him in a perfect position to take the lead.
Team Cambodia's #2 Koun Phandara and #16 Chhour Chan Sovan followed in 2nd and 3rd place and Team OTOKONAKI's #15 Yasubumi Sunakawa and #3 Norihisa Matsumoto in 4th and 5th place.
Jakkrit Chawtale (THA) is in first place in the overall standings up to Leg 3, followed by #1 Hironori Nishimura (JPN) of Team Japan in 2nd place and #10 Shinichi Yamada (JPN) of Team OTOKONAKI in 3rd place.
The "WelPort" awards were presented by Welport Corporation, a sponsor of the event and the top 5 riders of SS3 in the MOTO category received their awards at the dinner.
In AUTO, the #103 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA pair of Ikuo Hanawa (JPN) and Hirokazu Somemiya (JPN) driving a Toyota Fortuner showed a demon-like performance. The pair of Hanawa and Somemiya had already dropped out of the championship lineup due to fuel system trouble on the first day and they started SS3 from 35th position, but they outpaced their rivals and set an unbelievable time in the 2h30min range. Following yesterday's top position, he has made his presence felt in a big way.
Hanawa's time was the result of a threefold challenge: a slow start order, a narrow course layout with few places to pass, and heavy dust from the cars in front. His teammate, #105, Takuma Aoki (JPN) / Ittipon Simaraks (THA) and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon (THA), who also finished in 2nd place were clearly fast when observed in the SS and were a big threat to the Mitsubishi and Toyota works trucks competing in the pickup.
In 3rd place was another Toyota Fortuner of TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA. #121 Tubagus Moerinsyahdi (IDN) and Jatuporn Burakitpachai (THA) followed.
In the past few years, it has been generally observed that pickups have an advantage in cross-country rallies in Asia because they weigh less than SUVs, but TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA's Fortuner has an advantage as the roads get worse. TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA's Fortuner has a suspension setting that is tailor-made for American desert racing. In this year's rally, where the weather has been extremely bad on dry roads, they have been driving like a fish out of water.
As a result, TOYOTA GAZOO RACING INDONESIA's #105 team of Takuma Aoki (JPN), Ittipon Simaraks (THA), and Songwut Danphiphattrankoon (THA) took the top overall position from SS1 to SS3, and their teammate #121 TOYOTA's Tubagus Moerinsyahdi (IDN) and Jatuporn Burakitpachai (THA) were in second place.
Following closely behind them is the #102 TOYOTA GAZOO RACING THAILAND team of Jaras Jaengkamolkulchai (THA) and Sinopong Trairat (THA), driving a Toyota Hilux Revo. Teammates #111 team of Mana Pornsiricherd (THA) and Kittisak Klinchan (THA) are also in good position in 5th place.
In 4th place, last year's champion #101 Team MITSUBISHI RALLIART of Chayapon Yotha (THA) and Peerapong Sombutwong (THA) is just 14 minutes behind the leader and in 6th place. Isuzu Suphan Explorer Liqui Moly Rally Team #115 of Ditsapong Maneein (THA) and Athikij Srimongkhol (THA) were close behind.
The time difference between the top and 6th place is approximately 34 minutes. Tomorrow, the competition will continue across the border into Lao P.D.R. and in this world of extreme muddy conditions one can never predict what kind of drama will ensue. A single mistake, a single stack can change the rankings in the blink of an eye and even the 7th place finishers have a chance to finish higher or even win the championship.
We are now entering the second half of the competition and we cannot take our eyes off of it. See you all tomorrow!
It was early on the morning of the third day of the competition and clearing this day would mark the turnaround of the entire itinerary and tomorrow we would cross the border into Lao P.D.R.
As usual one by one, the MOTO category bikes departed from their overnight hotels and headed for the start of SS3 passing through the city center and then along the wide national roads in the suburbs.
After witnessing the scene of all the bikes setting off the MOTO film crew also left the hotel and started running. Since they were heading in the same direction, they would sometimes pass by riders running Rally machines on the way.
All of the competition machines have slim chassis with front and rear block tires and are designed for active off-road riding. Each rider sets up the bike according to the riding environment of the day and carries the minimum amount of equipment. I can't imagine what it must be like to ride for two hours on an asphalt road that stretches straight to the horizon on such a vehicle that can hardly be called a "touring bikes.
The sidecar that got stuck in the sand yesterday and had a seized clutch plate was also running in the morning sun. I heard that it took until 3:00 a.m. to replace the clutch plate. Because of the way the URAL is constructed the clutch can only be accessed by removing the rear wheel and then the other components. It must have been very difficult to work in the low-light conditions. Because of these conditions, the driver and passenger had to drive the car while taking into account their physical condition.
The day continued to be rainless and we had many scenes of driving at high speed on the red clay roads. Fortunately, no one was injured due to falls or accidents, but we could not let our guard down.
The riders said that except for the incident on the frame chart, the days were "easy to ride. The surface of the SS that day was red clay, sand, gravel, grass, and the course was repeatedly bent to the left and right as it changed from one section to the next.
Once wet, it is impossible to say that the course is "easy" to drive. AXCR organize say that rain is essential to the event, so much so that they call it an "Asian rally/AXCR" only if it rains. Perhaps it was a little disappointing for those who prepared this stage to not be able to see everyone struggling through the rain.
Tomorrow, the stage will be moved to Lao P.D.R, where most of the participants will enter a area, they have never experienced before. According to preliminary information, there are muddy puddles, heavy soft soil, and muddy roads everywhere. I am not sure if it means that the worst condition roads in Thailand are normal in Laos or ......but I would imagine that the country is even more "watery" than Thailand.
In the end, even as a media that proceeds by "foot," we have been able to find photo spots smoothly up to the third day here. For us, Lao P.D.R. is a new experience area. We are excited to be in a new place for the first time, but we want to proceed carefully so that we do not lose our footing.