The long wait is over – and it really has been a long wait due to the rescheduling of the Bangsaen Grand Prix. It’s almost exactly fifteen months since racing engines died away for the last time here; however, this morning they will roar back into life as the 10th Anniversary edition rumbles into life, because, just like last year, the first track sessions start on Tuesday morning.
The teams have been busy setting up yesterday – and today all the classes will be in action. Starting from the frugal little racecars of Super Eco, and climbing through Super Production, Super Compact, Super Pickup, Super 2000 and TCR Thailand before the headlining Super Car classes, GTC and GTM take to the track, joined by the return of GT3.
Also on track for the first time will be the dozens of racecars set to take part in Friday’s 6-hour endurance race while the three categories in the bustling ‘Toyota Motorsport’ One Make programme will begin their own practice sessions tomorrow.
It’s all systems go for the 10th Anniversary edition of the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival – stay tuned for the biggest, most glamorous and exciting event in national motorsport.
Return of the big beasts
Cars homologated to the FIA’s GT3 regulations occupy the pinnacle of ‘GT’ sportscar racing across the globe; state-of-the-art, powerful and ultra-sophisticated machines from iconic automotive brands such as Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Acura.
When TSS was first born in 2013 we went straight into the deep end and launched the fearsome Super Car Class 1, which was reserved exclusively for FIA GT3 homologated cars. That season saw a titanic struggle play out as the top domestic drivers traded up. Thai circuit racing no 1 at that time, Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak, acquired a Porsche 997 GT3-R and he was the target for everyone to aim at. Then just 18 years old, Pasin Lathouras, who was at the start of a career that’s since taken him to the frontline of global sportscar racing, arrived, armed with a Ferrari 458 GT3; meanwhile another established Thai winner, Piti Bhirombhakdi, also plumped for the Porsche route. Add in the Lamborghini Gallardos of Chonsawat Asavahame, ‘Kiki’ Sak Nana and Indharasak Techaterasiri and you had an explosive mix.
These titans of national motorsport slugged it out for supremacy all year long but in the end the experience and wiliness of Vutthikorn gave him the first ever Thai GT3 crown.
The next year, 2014, saw Vattana Motorsport turn the tables on everyone else as Chonsawat snatched away the title. A sign of the growing strength of TSS was on display when this team called up former F1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hour winner Tomáš Enge to bolster its lineup and he would place his part superbly to make it a 1-2 finish in the Drivers’ championship. A year later the roles at Vattana Motorsport were reversed as the Czech superstar stamped his mark on the season to take the title, driving the monstrous Chevrolet Camaro GT3 to its first glory in Thailand.
After three pumped up year of GT3 racing TSS decided for 2016 to elevate the ever burgeoning GTM class to the pinnacle of Thai motorsport and the big GT3 beasts fell silent.
But not for too long. The season isn’t over quite yet, due to rescheduling it will complete this coming weekend with the fourth and final round, but GT3 is back, it’s set to return for an explosive encounter as no doubt it will grab the headlines at the Bangsaen Grand Prix.
This is the 10th Anniversary edition of the street racing extravaganza and the roar of the GT3 cars will be truly fitting for such a prestigious occasion. Expect to see the prestige brands – Lamborghini, Porsche and Chevrolet – that Thai fans have come to love and admire, all back in action, joined for the first time ever in a domestic race by McLaren.
The McLaren 650 GT3 will be entered by Vattana Motorsport for its Bangsaen debut and driven by team leader Chonsawat Asavahame, the experienced Thai driver set to drive the English sportscar for his first time. It’s yet another first for Thai racing and it’s sure to turn everyone’s heads as soon as it takes to the track.
Tomáš Enge has driven in Formula 1 and won the Le Mans 24 Hours while he’s also won our top title and he’s become a firm favourite with the Thai fans. Now he’s returned after a year away and is looking forward to being back on the streets of Bangsaen. Last time Tomáš was here he swept to a double win in the big black Camaro – now he’s aiming to repeat that feat. “It’s fantastic being back with Vattana Motorsport and with all the people working there as well as all the people in Thailand motorsport,” the Czech driver says. “I haven’t been in Thailand for a year now and I really miss that time so I’m really looking forward to being on the streets of Bangsaen with the Camaro.”
As ever with this driver, who has a bigger role to represent Reiter Engineering, he’s totally focused on the team game. “It will be all about trying to achieve the same what I achieved before and help the team to get the results we always aim for,” Tomáš says. “I’m looking forward to Thai cuisine as well,” he adds with a laugh.
The third Vattana Motorsport entry will be a Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 for Akihiro Asai. The Japanese driver is a regular in TSS and is in fact a double Super Car champion having won the N/A title in 2011 and the inaugural GTC title in 2014. Apart from those two titles his appearances have been on the sporadic side but most recently he raced a Gallardo in the GTM category for Vattana during the 2015 season. We now welcome this driver back and look forward to seeing what he can extract from the Gallardo GT3. He certainly knows the powerful GT3 version of the Gallardo inside out as he’s raced this model with success around the world many times so he should be straight up to speed when he gets out onto the track today.
“This is my seventh time in Bangsaen,” Akihiro says. “It’s my favorite with sweat and tears.” Indeed, he has good memories of these streets having bagged both his Super Car titles here during season-closing races. “Thanks to Vattana Motorsport and Khun Chonsawat,” he adds.
“I have missed being in Thailand Super Series,” Akihiro continues. “So without question I’ll do my best and just keep it on track. I will also compete in the RAAT Endurance so hopefully enjoy my weekend of some laps.”
Full speed ahead
It’s been one of the key fixtures of Bangsaen ever since the first edition – the fearsome s-shaped chicane that abruptly slows the racecars down as they accelerate away from walking pace after exiting the mountain hairpin and the power straight downhill towards the tight 90-degree right hander that then leads the cars through a set of fast and narrow esses and out onto the waterfront at the Dolphin Roundabout.
Over the years its seen its fair share of dramatic moments as drivers arrive with too much speed, clip the kerbs and their wheels lift into the air, sometimes as high as 45-degrees while on occasion there have been full rolls, cars landing on the roof before a sheepish driver emerges.
Who can forget too during the last edition Vattana Motorsport’s Jack Lemvard mounting the tyres head on in his Lamborghini Gallardo as he hunted down the race leading Porsche of Darryl O’Young, a wave of green coolant liquid dramatically surging out of the front of the Italian racecar like a waterfall. But now it’s gone and a blistering flat out straight awaits the racecars this morning.
Bangsaen’s ‘Moose Test’ passed with flying colours
Any racecar that arrives into Thailand to ply its trade on our racetracks will always have one eye on the Bangsaen Grand Prix. It’s the biggest annual event in Thai motorsport, everybody wants to race here and everybody dreams of winning here. The Bangsaen trophy is the most desirable one to have sitting on the mantelpiece.
The Bangsaen Street Circuit is only for the bravest and most skillful drivers and the most capable and dynamic racecars. And for any racecar that wants to get to grips with the track, it must stand up to Bangsaen’s own ‘Moose Test’, better known as the ‘Mountain Hairpin Test’. Any racecar that can’t get smoothly onto the brakes, drop in to the lowest gears while retaining momentum and a fluid directional motion around this downhill right hander is destined to drop valuable seconds that will plunge it down the grid to a point where the chance of a podium finish is but a distant dream.
Enter the big, brutal Ford Mustang TA2. It demonstrated plenty of muscular prowess when it grunted around Bira Circuit on its Thai shakedown last week as it geared up for Bangsaen, its big 6.2-litre V8 engine howling around the Pattaya track, but the big test for Bangsaen was whether it could navigate the infamous hairpin. Stumble and this monster’s attempts to show off at the seaside would be dead in its tracks.
And so late on Sunday afternoon the brute was brought to the U-turn, to check its capabilities. As a benchmark, Craig Corliss, who is behind the arrival of TA2 here, also brought his Holden Commodore, a car that has always found this turn something of a tight squeeze. Two big V8s grumbling around the mountain hairpin on a hot and sunny Sunday afternoon.
In the end it proved a pretty simple, test, American Shane Lewis, who knows the TA2 concept inside out, gunned the Mustang smoothly on what was his first ever time around the hairpin, there was plenty of room to spare, it turned out to be an easy task.
“It’s the first time I’ve come to a course and had to test a car to make sure it would make it around the corner, that’s a first for me,” he said with a laugh afterwards. “It did with no problems, it actually has a great turning radius which wasn’t a surprise, but we wanted to make sure.”
Although he hasn’t got to drive the live track yet, that will come tomorrow, so far it’s been just an exploration by motorcycle, but Shane reckons an interesting week is in store. “Coming here to this type of street circuit, it’s completely different to any other type of road course that I’m used to driving,” he says. “Even though I’ve [raced on] a lot of street circuits in the United States this one is very unique, it’s going to be a challenge yes, but I think it’s going to be a really fun challenge.”
However, Shane reckons this tricky course should play to the Mustang TA2’s core strengths. “I think there is so much adjustability in the car that it fits anything, the last race of the season was at Daytona which I won and that’s a super-fast racetrack with a technical infield,” he says. “Coming to a race track like this which is the total opposite of that I think it’s also going to do fantastic.”
Bobby unleashes new weapon
The Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo has proved to be the racecar to have in Super Car GTM during the 2016 season. Sarun Sereethoranakul introduced the Italian sportscar to Thailand in time for the triple header season opener and he proceeded to make a clean sweep of wins and set himself on course for the title. He also demonstrated that the Huracán can get the job of winning done equally as well on tight, twisty and cramped Bira Circuit with its decades of roughened track surface as the fast flowing and ultra-smooth Buriram circuit. Those wins leave him with an enviable championship advantage and he has to keep out of trouble and secure the remaining points he needs next weekend to bag his first Super Car title.
Now the Huracán representation is set to double up as Bobby Buncharoen will debut a second example at this event. It’s a brand new car that was only flown into Thailand from Europe ten days ago and this popular driver, who knows the Bangsaen Street Circuit inside out, will be looking to unlock the potential of his new mount.
It’s a brand swap too Bobby as during the last couple of years he’s raced Porsches in Super Car GTM, both 997 and 991 versions; but now has to swap his thinking back from a rear- to a mid-engined racecar. However, this is something of a ‘return’ to the Lamborghini marque as prior to the Porsches he raced a Gallardo GT3 in the Super Car GT3 category so the ‘Raging Bull’ circle has been completed.
This is a brand new car built to MY2017 specification which includes the front and rear bodywork being upgraded to carbon fibre, only the centre cockpit hub panels are carried over from the outgoing car. It gives the Huracán Super Trofeo a visual striking appearance with swathes of carbon weave now clearly evident. There are also lessons learnt which have resulted in detailed changes, such as upgraded gearbox mountings, so a winning package becomes yet more refined.
The team reports that Bobby is aiming this weekend to dial himself into the car, get familiar with its characteristics and start to understand its potential ahead of a busy year ahead. In choosing a new mount the team evaluated all the options to find a machine with race winning potential – and the Huracán Super Trofeo was clearly the front runner.
Bobby’s new Huracán is finished in his signature all-black livery which allows for the factory-fitted carbon bodywork sections to neatly blend in and will contrast very nicely on the racetrack with Sarun’s white example. Certainly all drivers this week will have to beware of the pace of these two Raging Bull machines.
Dukes of Hazzard
The arrival of the first ‘TA2’ car in Thailand has been provoking a lot of interest especially as it will strut its stuff next week in Bangsaen – but who exactly will be putting the Ford Mustang through its paces on the 3.7 km street circuit?
Well, we’re going to welcome another international name to Bangsaen as the TA2 car will be demonstrated by high experienced U.S. racing driver Shane Lewis and with intimate knowledge of the project from the ground up there would appear to be no one better placed than to unlock its potential.
Shane Lewis started racing a quarter of a century ago and his career includes overall and class victories in a string of championships around the world including IMSA, American Le Mans Series, European Le Mans Series, Rolex Sports Car Series, Trans Am, SCCA World Challenge, Continental Challenge, VLN and World 24hr Series while he also made it onto the top step of the podium in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Rolex 24 at Daytona and Dubai 24 Hour.
In fact, Shane has competed in no less than forty ‘24 hour’ races including three times at Le Mans and seventeen times at Daytona, as well as the Nürburgring four times and Dubai twice. On top of that he’s raced in the 12 Hours of Sebring eight times, Petit Le Mans seven times, won the 6 hours of Nürburgring twice and also secured victory in the 12 hours of Magny-Cours.
Currently he’s competing in the SCCA Pro Racing’s Trans Am Championship driving a TA2 Camaro – and as a highly regarded test driver he couldn’t be any better placed to demonstrate the new car this week.
A battle hardened pro, Shane fits the mould of the U.S. racing driver, steely commitment while at the same time enjoying every minute; tall and confident he looks like he could have stepped straight out of the classic ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ TV series.
So why does he think the TA2 is the right car for this market? He reckons it’s all down to the machine itself and the experience it offers. “I think that it’s the raw power and sound, this car has a lot of emotion to it,” he says. “The cars today have become a little bit the same. They’re all fast and they have certain attributes but these TA2 cars there’s something about them that stirs a lot of passion in people, from the moment you start it and it fires up and you hear that V8 rumble, it’s that the sound.
“The car has sexy lines; it really does look good,” Shane adds. It’s hard to disagree with that assessment of the striking metallic blue wrapped Mustang here. I think it gets everybody’s attention and it gets your passion going.”
Young hotshot enters the frame
We’re very pleased to be able to welcome Tanart Sathienthirakul to TSS as he’s all set to plunge into our top category, Super Car GTM, this week. One of Thailand’s clutch of promising young racing drivers, Tanart’s had an impressive career to date – but ever since he first made people stand up and take notice in karts in Thailand and Asia his adult racing has been most far abroad so this is going to be one of the few chances so far that Thai fans will have had to see him race here.
Tanart is still just 24 years old so it’s a good opportunity to take a look back at a career that isn’t too well known to most of the Thai paddock. Born into a racing family he started in karts at 9 years of age and before he graduated to racecars he includes the AKOC Junior Karting Champion and five Thai karting titles in his resume. In 2011 he caught the eye of the F1 paddock and was signed up to the Caterham F1 Junior Driver Programme while making the step to single seaters with the Toyota Championship in New Zealand as well as Formula Renault. The single seater direction would take him to Formula Masters China with the famous ART Junior Team the next year and then to Euro Formula (F3) from 2014-2016.
But there was always an eye on sportscar racing and he made appearances in GT Asia Series and early last year when Asian Le Mans Series came to Buriram he popped up in an LMP3 Addess with AAI. The bulk of the 2016 season saw him race in the European Renault RS01 championship with top step of the podium success while for last December’s Sepang 12 Hour he drove a Ferrari 488 GT3 and stepped onto the class podium.
That brings him up to 2017 and he’s going to kick off the year in front of the Thai fans. There were several boxes ticked when he handed in the entry, notably he wants to get cockpit time in the Porsche 997 GT3 Cup behind him for very good reason, as he explains. “The reason I choose to race in Bangsaen with a 991 is because I will be doing Porsche Carrera Cup Asia this year and it will be coming to Bangsaen,” he says.
Tanart also enjoys the competition provided by street racing and is looking forward to getting to grips with Bangsaen – but he reckons it isn’t going to be easy to tame this famously tough circuit. “I think the track will be very challenging as it will be my first time driving there,” he admits. “I did race at Macau before and that race was awesome even it was raining.”
It will be the first time racing with a rear engine car, but he has a recent acclimatization test behind him in the car which he says went well. “My test with 991 was decent one I think but there still a lot for me to learn about the car because this car has no traction control or ABS and the weight transfer is very crucial,” Tanart notes. “I think this car will suit the circuit as this was shown last time during the race.”
His aim is to rack up the laps and learn the car and track – but this is a competitive young driver pushed by the desire to win and while he will give the Bangsaen Street Circuit the respect it deserves he certainly won’t be sitting back. “My aim is to learn the circuit and of course to go for a win if possible,” Tanart adds.
Source. Edd Ellison