Aji vs van Eerde goes down to the wire and the Indonesian emerges victorious for a shake up in the standings
Mario Aji took his first ever Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup victory in Race 1 at Sepang International Circuit, narrowly beating Australian Bill van Eerde following a final corner attack. There was drama early on in the Cup’s first visit to Malaysia in 2018, with Cup points leader Haruki Noguchi crashing out at Turn 1 and suffering his first DNF of the season – leaving his lead under some serious attack. The mixed conditions of Saturday, as the Cup raced alongside the Malaysia Superbike Championship, made for a difficult race and it boiled down to a duel between key Cup competitors Aji and van Eerde but there was delight for home fans, too, as Malaysian Danial Sharil completed the podium from pole.
Noguchi tried to take the holeshot and crashed, with Aji then seizing the opportunity to take over at the front. He held the early lead before Van Eerde struck with 11 to go, but the Indonesian hit back soon after as the front group squabbled over the lead. Afridza Munandar of Indonesia was also up in the mix in the earlier stages and the trio fought it out, with home hero and polesitter Sharil initially fighting to close them down from fourth.
Then, with 10 laps to go, there was a big moment for Aji as ‘Super Mario’ almost highsided but managed to save it, dropping to the back of the lead trio and regrouping as the sun came out and the track rapidly continued drying. Sharil was closing in but the next key drama came from Munandar as he suddenly slid out of contention – at the same place that had earlier claimed Noguchi.
Out front, Aji had made his way back into the lead the gap was increasing in favour of the Indonesian – but with four laps to go van Eerde pulled it back and attacked into Turn 1. The next lap around saw the roles reversed, before the last lap began more calmly. But Aji attacked at Turn 9 before van Eerde sliced back past, and the Indonesian suffered another wobble as they barreled into the latter few corners of the lap.
In classic Sepang style, the stunning duel went down to the final corner and Aji made a last ditch lunge up the inside, getting a bit of out shape but just holding onto it – and getting a good exit. The number 7 bike steamed towards the line and van Eerde was left just two tenths in arrears at the flag, with Aji taking his first ever Idemitsu Asia Talent Cup victory in style.
Danial Sharil made it home delight as he completed the podium in third and kept calm under the pressure of the home crowd, with Lucky Hendriansya coming home in an impressive fourth after a solid ride, bothering the early pacesetters in the early stages. He was ahead of a close showdown between Sho Nishimura of Japan, Tachakorn Buarsi of Thailand and home hero Ibrahim Pawi as they crossed the line split by a second in P5, P6 and P7 respectively, with Indonesian Agung Fachrul taking a lonely eighth ahead of ahead of Koji Hirama.
Troy Alberto of the Philippines completed the top ten, just edging out Takuma Matsuyama and Nitipong Saengsawang. Naoki Yamada was the final finisher.
Track Conditions Qualifying
Air Temperature: 27ºC Track temperature: 32ºC Humidity: 79%
Wind: - Conditions: Wet
Track Conditions Race 1
Air Temperature: 33ºC Track temperature: 36ºC Humidity: 61%
Wind: - Conditions: Wet
Now it’s time to do it all again on Sunday, with Race 2 a chance for the glorious on Saturday to strike again and consolidate their gains on Sunday – and an opportunity for Noguchi to grow that lead. The lights go out at 13:05 local time (GMT +8).