The morning started early here in the Jeongseong mountains for the Arirang Hill Fest: at 8am all riders were queuing eagerly for the 15-minute bus-ride to the track. The sky was bright and the air was filled with anticipation.
The drive up to the track revealed an insanely steep road of short straights between smooth wide hairpins, but this was not the track, just the road to the track.
We arrived at the top of the mountain where the start line was located, and the first view of the track was jaw-dropping; steep, wide and comprised of hairpin after hairpin with hardly any straight between them; the track slowly unwinding like a spring until it becomes a series of sweepers and 100 km/h straights.
The preparations were top-notch; a spectators area in the top section gave spectators a view over almost the entire track, and a massive viewing screen at the finish area was installed to show live action from top to bottom. Every detail for both riders and spectators was taken care of.
Before today the talk was of the hairpins at the top, while the bottom section of the track got no attention. This was a mistake; the bottom section is high-speed and technical, with sweepers and chicanes that tested all the top riders, and claimed Santiago Espeche from Argentina, who broke his thumb on only the second run of the day. Adam Persson had a high-speed crash while trying to avoid Mauritz Armfelt through the chicane, and it was Aaron Hampshire who posted the fastest practice time of 1:20.63.
The Day 1 party is now underway with a hippy jump contest that Tim White is winning over Cameron Hancock and Mason Shin. Tomorrow the real qualifying will begin, and the prediction is that times will drop substantially as riders dial their lines. And those lines will change again on Sunday as head-to-head race tactics come into play.
Text by Fede Barboni and Colin Beck
Images by Fede Barboni where not otherwise credited