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Episode 95 of the Paddock Pass Podcast is out, and this one is a WorldSBK show. As such, this means that we see Steve English joined by Gordon Ritchie on the mics, as they are now our WorldSBK reporting duo for the 2019 season.

Recording straight from Thailand, the guys talk about the on-track action at Buriram, where once again it was a sweep by Alvaro Bautista and the factory-spec Ducati Panigale V4 R race bike.

Obviously the speed from Bautista is a topic of discussion, as is Jonathan Rea’s efforts to stop the onslaught from the WorldSBK rookie. Is the season over though? Not by a long shot, with the European rounds certain to offer some new challenges to all the riders in the WorldSBK paddock.

There is no challenge like Buriram on the WorldSBK calendar. It is the hottest round of the year, and it places huge physical and mental demands on riders. With temperatures expected to be in the high 100°F’s, the sun and heat will sap the power from riders.

Leon Camier has described racing in those conditions as “brutal” in the past and he’s not wrong. To get an idea of what the riders will go through this weekend, try sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes and then imagine doing that while your heart is racing and you’re wearing leathers and a helmet.

Before travelling to Thailand, I tried to put myself into a rider’s frame of mind and the results were interesting to say the least. We’ve all heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s a lie. I didn’t die, but I definitely wasn’t strong afterwards!

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Is the Chang International Circuit a great track? It depends how you look at it.

“The Buriram circuit is really, really good, the asphalt is working in a good way with hot conditions, that is not easy. Also the runoff areas are really good, the pit boxes,” Marc Márquez said, carefully avoiding any discussion of the layout. Andrea Dovizioso was not exactly complimentary about the layout.

“The track is not the best in our championship, but at the end, everything works well.” Hardly gushing praise.

It may not be the best track layout in the championship, but it served up a veritable feast of racing. Two scintillating support races, with fierce battles both in Moto3 and Moto2, and then the fifth closest podium in premier class racing, and the fourth closest top 15 in Grand Prix history, the gap between first and fifteenth just under 24 seconds.

The last three laps of the MotoGP race were all-out war, with the lead swapping multiple times as a result of impossible passes. And over 100,000 fans braving the searing heat, cheering on their heroes with as much passion as you will find anywhere in the world. Is the Chang International Circuit a great track? It is when you measure it in terms of spectacle and atmosphere. The Thai Grand Prix is a worthy addition to the calendar.

The layout may not be fast and flowing throughout, but the fact that it is split into two halves with very different characters helped to keep the field close. The necessity to preserve tires did the same: Michelin had prepared for a cooler monsoon heat, not the unusual dry heat which meant track temperatures were 10°C higher than anticipated.

All this, combined with a final corner ideally suited to do-or-die passing attempts, and a short run to the line meaning it really had to be all or nothing going into the final turn, and we had a recipe for fantastic racing in Thailand.

So far, the inaugural Thai round of MotoGP has been full of surprises. We expected heavy rain at the track on most days, but it has been pretty much dry as a bone throughout. We expected Yamaha to be nowhere, yet the Movistar duo of Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi have looked seriously threatening all weekend.

We expected the round to be popular: the only surprise here is just how popular it has been. An estimated 65,000 fans came to watch qualifying on Saturday. To put that into perspective, that is more fans for qualifying than fans on race day at six of last year’s rounds.

Nearly twice as many as fans on race day at Phillip Island. Sunday should be packed, with a good chance that this will be the round with the highest attendance.

The hot weather has taken Michelin by surprise as well, not for the first time this year. That is hardly Michelin’s fault, however: after they introduced several changes during the 2017 season, the teams demanded that Michelin set the tire allocation at the start of the year.

That demand is coming back to bite the teams, as it is hard to get the allocation absolutely spot on if you have to predict the weather many months in advance. The hot European summer has caused problems on occasion, and now the heat in Thailand is doing the same.

“The situation is not easy, because the track conditions, they are very different compared to when we came here for the test,” Piero Taramasso, head of Michelin’s two wheel motorsport division, said on Saturday evening.

“When we came here for the test, track temperature was 48°, 49°, yesterday was 53°, today was 57°, 58°.” The heat means that there is less grip and greater tire wear than during the test, with the rear tire spinning up during acceleration.

One of the best ways of avoiding disappointments is to lower your expectations. Set the bar low enough, and it becomes almost impossible for reality slip below it.

That has been the strategy adopted by Maverick Viñales recently, and with good reason: Yamaha’s run of form recently has been pretty dismal.

No podiums for four races, their longest run off the box since 2007. No victory for 23 straight races, the worst losing streak in their entire history in the premier class.

“I feel more positive about myself, but the expectations are the same,” Viñales said on Thursday. “I have zero expectations. I want to just enjoy riding and see if we can take something positive from this weekend.” It was a message which he repeated on Friday. “As I said, I don’t want to make any expectations. I just want to go riding, enjoy.”

There had been plenty for Viñales to enjoy. The Movistar Yamaha rider’s expectations may have been set low, but he far exceeded them. In the morning, Viñales was fastest, with his teammate Valentino Rossi in second.

In the afternoon, Viñales missed out on the top spot by three hundredths of a second, but Andrea Dovizioso only beat Viñales by putting on a fresh set of soft tires. Viñales had been circulating on hard tires, and lapping consistently in the low 1’31s.

The next four MotoGP races are a glimpse of the sport’s future. The first and last of the foursome, in Thailand and Malaysia, are truly in the heart of all MotoGP’s tomorrows. The growth of the sport of motorcycle racing is explosive in Southeast Asia, and the expected crowds – already talk of crowds of up to 150,000 on Sunday – speak for themselves.

If Indonesia ever manages to overcome the political instability and endemic corruption which plagues the country, and finally completes a circuit or two, we could be complaining of having four races in Indonesia, rather than Spain.

But the addition of a round at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand highlights the issues with the current MotoGP schedule. The first five races of 2018 were spaced over 9 weeks.