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THAILAND SUPER SERIES: GAME ON IN BANGSAEN

The weather has been hot and dry in Bangsaen so far this week as the action has got underway for the 10th Anniversary Bangsaen Grand Prix – and the showdown on track has really been scorching. It all started back on Tuesday with the first practice sessions and wound up throughout Wednesday before yesterday (Thursday) saw qualifying take place across all the categories on the Thailand Super Series (TSS) programme. Now we are ready for three days of races which kick off this morning.img_9782

Yesterday’s long day of qualifying sessions threw up some surprises but not at the top of the tree in Super Car GTM as Darryl O’Young returned to Bangsaen with a perfect record of poles and wins – five out of the last five races, for both. Behind the wheel a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup just as the Thursday afternoon sun was fading away he immediately got stuck into the task of keeping that amazing run going by hammering out the fastest time during qualifying to line himself up on pole position for today’s opening Super Car GTM race of the weekend.

In the returning GT3 class, another TSS returnee, Tomáš Enge got back to work in the Camaro GT3 and the Czech former F1 driver claimed pole position for Vattana Motorsport. The team also bagged pole position in Super Car GTC thanks to Jack Lemvard’s efforts in the KTM X-Bow.

And that was just in Super Car. In TCR Thailand an almighty scrap for pole played out between four world class drivers which eventually settled in the favour of Honda Civic pilot Kantadhee Kusiri and the tussling for laptimes continued throughout the depth of the bumper programme: Super 2000, Super Pickup, Super Compact, Super Production and Super Eco as well as the qualifying runs for the more than 60 cars taking part in the RAAT Thailand Endurance Championship. Not to forget Toyota’s bustling one make series which has four categories on travk.

Today’s action kicks off bright and early at 0900 with the 6-hour RAAT Thailand Endurance Championship encounter before the late afternoon sees the first races of the weekend for Super Pickup, Super Eco and Super Car GTM being contested. Then, Saturday and Sunday will enjoy two days of ultra-intensive racing action right across all the categories on the TSS programme as well as competition from the four categories that comprise the popular Toyota Motorsport one make series. Stay tuned, it promises to be the best edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix yet.

Qualifying: Super Car GTM

Darryl O’Young came into Bangsaen with a perfect record of poles and wins – five out of the last five races and yesterday afternoon just as the sun was fading away he successful got stuck into the task of keeping that run going by hammering out the fastest time in qualifying to line himself up on pole position for this afternoon’s opening Super Car GTM race of the weekend.img_2229

His best time was a 1:36.867 and no one else could get close although the top of the classification swapped hands furiously. The Hong Kong driver, back in TSS for the first time since Bangsaen 2015, left it late but banged in the times, once again driving B-Quik Racing’s Porsche 997 GT3 Cup. In fact he was the fastest man in Bangsaen yesterday.

“It was great, the team did a great job with the car, we worked through a lot of things in practice and it all came together in the end,” Darryl said afterwards. “So a big thanks to B-Quik for delivering such a great car to me and at the end of the session I was able to push really hard to get the laptimes down.”

When it shook up Darryl’s closest challenger was championship leader Sarun Sereethoranakul in the #55 Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo. He has a double edged task this weekend, Sarun wants to wrap up a Drivers’ title that’s pretty much a formality and Darryl isn’t eligible to score championship points so he doesn’t have to finish ahead – but, just like everyone else on the entry lists, he really wants to win here. There is no better way to crown out a Thai racing season.

Leading out Row 2 will the Ferrari 458 Challenge of Voravud Bhirombhakdi, the former Super Car GTM champion also beating his highly rated teammate on his way to P3 on the timesheets. “To come out in front in the official last practice was a boost for me as it rarely happens and I was hoping to be in front for sure but I think third place is something I’m very happy with as O’Young is a professional and we know the Lamborghini is very fast and with a very good driver and being in front of my teammate [Kantasak] knowing he’s a very fast driver also cheers me up a little bit,” he said. “I took a big risk during qualifying and I hit the wall but it paid off.”

Voravud also cautions that tyres could prove an issue for the team this weekend. “The [Ferrari 458] Challenge has small tyres and after a few laps in the race we get a lot of understeer,” he explains.

Alongside him on the second row will be the black Lamborghini Huracán of Suttiluck Buncharoen who is having a strong debut in his brand new car – that also made it two Huracán Super Trofeo machines in the top four. Suttiluck’s new car, built to MY2017 specification, only arrived in Thailand a week and a half ago so he has a steep learning curve, but so far so good, that was an impressive afternoon’s work which include topping the qualifying timesheets at points.

Kantasak Kusiri set the fifth fastest time in the second Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari and the team’s race engineer Gianluca Soli was relatively satisfied with how the week has shaped up so far. “We started with the standard setup from last year as we were very strong here last year,” the Italian explained. “This year there is no chicane but the only adjustment we do is tyre pressure, we are happy with the car and the car looks competitive but Bangsaen always suits our car well.”

Sixth place went to Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem in the first of the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup racecars on the entry list, in fact adding in the 997 version there are no less than eight of the German machines running in GTM making it numerically superior.

Row 7 will be led out this afternoon by Daniel Bilski in the quickest of the B-Quik Racing’s Audi R8 LMS Cup entries, his teammate Henk Kiks, who has been left playing catch up after the Dutchman missed most of Tuesday’s running with car issues, will start four places further back in eleventh place. Alongside Daniel is A Motorsport’s Aekarat Discharoen (Porsche 991 GT3 Cup). The top ten in qualifying was wrapped up by the fastest of the red and white factory Toyota 86s, the #39 of Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, and TSS debutant, 24 year old Tanart Sathienthirakul (Porsche 991 GT3 Cup).

Henk was next up in P11 just ahead of the second factory Toyota 86, the #38 of Nattapong Horthongkum, and then came the Holden Commodore V8 of Craig Corliss. Behind them the AM class was led out by Thamrong Mahadumrongkul (Ferrari 458 Challenge) followed by the two Painkiller Racing Porsches of Paul Kanjanapas and Naputt Assakul. It’s an inter team fight for the AM title and first blood went to Paul, who holds the points advantage and did a strong job during qualifying to plant himself ahead of his teammate. Completing the list of runners are two more Porsche 997s, the returning Pinet Piyaoui, back on track after his car was damaged during Buriram round earlier this year, with Saravut Sereethoranakul then wrapping up the GTM class.

Qualifying: Super Car GT3

The GT3 class is back on the programme here and also returning after a year away is Tomáš Enge and Vattana Motorsport’s big and brutal Camaro GT3, neither of which have been seen in TSS action since Bangsaen 2015. There wasn’t much rust to blow away either as the Czech former Formula 1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hours winner planted the rumbling V8 machine on pole with a best lap in 1:39.366.

That was just second ahead of Akihiro Asai, the Japanese driver also making his seasonal debut and stepping up to the GT3 class in Thailand for the first time. Akihiro was a quarter of a second off the pole winning Camaro, the former double Super Car champion is this week driving a Vattana-entered Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2.

Third quickest time went to the McLaren 650S GT3 of Chonsawat Asavahame. It’s the first time that a McLaren has ever raced in Bangsaen and the striking all-orange livered machine has drawn admiring glances all week. It also marks the seasonal debut of Chonsawat, the 2014 Super Car GT3 champion.

Qualifying: Super Car GTC

It was no surprise to see Vattana Motorsport’s brace of KTM X-Bow cars dominate qualifying and lock out the front row, Jack Lemvard’s 1:45.327 best lap gave him the edge over his teammate Narasak Ittritpong – but only just – the gap between the two was a mere 0.091 seconds. It’s the first time the KTM has visited Bangsaen and the ‘Batmobile’ continued its season long dominance of the GTC category. It doesn’t very much look like anyone else is going to get a look in at the front this weekend.

Third quickest went to the debuting Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport of Charvanin Bunditkitsada who impressed, despite only turning in three laps. That was enough though to post a 1:48.128 lap that will see him lead out the second row in the striking silver and orange wrapped car which is entered by the JWD Racing Team. He’s treating this as a test outing for his new standard-spec car which requires future development and unable to match the times of the two KTMs in front Charvanin kept his participation in the session short to save his tyres for the races.

Completing the second row was a best qualifying performance yet from B-Quik Racing’s Attapot Sriprom who coming to the end of his rookie year in GTC; he’s driving a Porsche 996 GT3 Cup as usual.

Row 3 sees the first of the trio of Mazda RX-7s, the #98 entry driven by U-tain Pongprapas; he however had a big bump in the mountain section after just three laps which decimated the rotary engine car’s front end but there was no structural damage and the team set about rebuilding it into the night.

Ian Geekie, the newest face on the driver roster at B-Quik Racing, has been enjoying getting back into the groove and up to speed on a circuit he’s raced on just once previously – and that was four years ago. It’s also something of a reunion for the tall Australian with Porsche’s 996 GT3 Cup as he’s had a lot of success with this particular model of racecar in the past. Anyway he’s going well and satisfied with progress. “It’s fabulous to be back, the atmosphere’s as good if not better than it ever was and the circuit’s got a big wider in places and a bit safer and it’s just an absolute blast to drive it again,” he said. He continued to work his times down to a 1:52 dead and that was good enough to put him on the third row.

Row 4, meanwhile, while comprise of the signature green Mazda RX-8 of Pete Thongchua and the first of the factory entered Toyota 86s, the #19 of Suttipong Smittacharch.

The Rotary Revolution mechanics have had a few busy evenings so far, not least with U-tain’s car last night. But also back on Tuesday Narin Yensuk clipped the barriers on the inside coming out of Turn 2, the backend of the pink Mazda RX-7 swinging outwards as he powered up the hill. The damage was mainly related to the bodywork but it meant he missed Wednesday’s running as a new left hand rear wing section was fitted. However, he was back in the fray for qualifying. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, James Runacres in the sister ‘yellow’ RX-7, who was tackling Bangsaen for the first time, had a suspension issue and clipped a barrier. However again the damage was relatively minor. James would go on to qualify ninth while Narin posted the eleventh fastest time.

In between the two brightly coloured Mazdas of James and Narin was the Mitsubishi Evo X of Prateep Tunprasert; he had to cut qualifying short after three laps due to an oil leak. The final car to post a time was the second factory Toyota 86, this time the #37 entry driven by Manat Kulapalanont.

Qualifying: TA2

The Ford Mustang TA2 has joined the combined GT3/GTC classes on track this weekend as a ‘guest’ on its debut in Thailand and is running somewhere in between them in terms of overall pace. The bright blue machine stands out wherever it is on track and looks highly impressive; it’s turned a lot of heads and that’s not just due to its rumbling 6.2 litre V8 engine.

During yesterday’s 30-minute qualifying session U.S. professional driver Shane Lewis, who is behind the wheel of the Mustang TA2 all week, worked his way down to a best lap of 1:44.218 as he finally opened the machine up and he’s set to fit in nicely on the GT3/GTC grid on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Shane was clearly enjoying the experience of both the car and track. “What an amazing facility here in Bangsaen, the people are incredibly gracious, the officials wonderful to work with,” he said. “A very challenging racetrack, but ‘wow’ it’s a lot of fun, I wish we had a bit more practice time so qualifying was really my first run at full speed.”

Qualifying: TCR Thailand

Put drivers of the caliber of Narasak Ittritpong, Jack Lemvard, Carlo Van Dam and Kantadhee Kusiri on the same track together in a straight down fight for pole position and you have a really explosive cocktail. Each of these drivers is a winner and each isn’t looking for second place.

When it shook out it was Kantadhee who claimed the top spot with a superb 1:43.373 best lap to plant the Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic TCR on pole position with an impressive seven-tenths of a second in hand over Narasak, who was the fastest of the two Vattana Motorsport entries. He also made it an all Honda front row. However, Narasak then hit the barriers with the rear of the Civic leaving the crew with plenty of work to do to get the car fixed for tomorrow afternoon’s first TCR Thailand race of the weekend.

Behind them on Row 2 are the remaining two contenders for the title, Jack, in the second Vattana entry, the #44 SEAT León TCR and Carlo in the similar machine of Singha Motorsport Team Thailand. Jack is three points ahead in the championship standings, 126 points to 123 points, so everything is there to play for. Jack however will be able to call on the help of his teammate Narasak as the points permutations start to play out on track over the weekend while Carlo will have to try to nail down the title on his own.

Row three will be an all Krating Daeng affair after Chen Jian Hong edged out his teammate Grant Supaphongs, the Taiwanese driver also bagged pole in the AM class. Then comes Nattachak Hanjitkasem (AM/Honda), Paritat Bulbon (PRO-AM/SEAT) and newcomer Douglas Khoo (AM/SEAT).

Douglas Khoo enjoying TCR Thailand debut

We have welcomed our first overseas team/driver combination to TCR Thailand in Bangsaen. Douglas Khoo and Viper Niza Racing already compete in TCR Asia Series and, as well as his Bangsaen Grand Prix debut this week, the Malaysian driver will also be joining us for the 2017 TCR Thailand season.

While Douglas doesn’t have a long racing career behind him yet, he’s familiar with the Guia Circuit in Macau and that’s set him up nicely for our street circuit; by all accounts he’s very quickly getting to grips with the track – and enjoying himself at the same time.

“It’s been a steep learning curve, like all street circuits,” Douglas said after qualifying, yesterday being his third day on track. “There’s very little room for error, so you have to give the circuit lots of respect. I’m steadily improving on lap times and still learning.”

As well as the track itself he’s also enjoying the whole Bangsaen ‘experience’. “The circuit is always compared to Macau but I think that it has its own charm and bite,” he adds. “The atmosphere around the paddock is certainly buzzing with so many series participating and with the added beauty of the beach just in front of the pits. I will certainly be back again.”

Qualifying: Super 2000

Munkong Sathienthirakul turned up looking very well prepared with his Honda Civic having undergone upgrades since the last round of TSS back in September and it duly proved that its pace matched its striking looks. The car, which now has a menacing composite front clip, already dubbed the ‘cockroach’, posted a 1:48.612 to claim pole position, 2.4 seconds clear of its closest rival.

That closest rival was the new 2016 Super 2000 champion Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya who continued his fine season form to claim the outside spot on Row 1. This is his final outing in the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Civic FD before he graduates to Super Car next year and he will be looking to wave goodbye in style. Kittipol started his winning spree in Super 2000 during the last edition of Bangsaen in late 2015 where he won both races and made people sit up and take notice. Last year he won three out of six races in the championship and hasn’t finished outside the top three ‘en route’ to a very comfortable Drivers’ title.

Two more Civics occupy the second row of the grid, Ekprawat Petcharak, in the unique ‘FB’ version, edged out the double winner of the last round Pattarapol Vongprai by just a tenth of a second. Then comes the first of the three factory Toyota entries, the #2 Altis of Pure Hongsapan leads out Row 3 with Chayut Yangpichit (Honda DC 5) alongside.

Seventh fastest time went to the factory entered Toyota 86 of Manat Kulapalanont with the Honda City of Phatwit Phayakcso the next car up. The top ten was completed by the second Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Civic FD of Thamrong Mahadumrongkul and the third factory Toyota, the #64 Altis of Thanakorn Buttawong which was also the fastest car in Class 2.

Qualifying: Super Pickup

When truck qualifying shook out it was an experienced hand Waris Onrayab who had locked down pole position, the Isuzu driver thumping in a two minute dead lap to claim pole position on a track he knows inside out. His 2:00.055 best lap put him quarter of a second up on Tanawat Suwannarat, the championship leader, who claimed the top spot in Class B as well as the outside position on the front row.

The second row will be led out by Songsak Kornsirisuepsakun in the quickest of the two new Toyota Revo entries after he posted the third fastest time. However, his teammate Jaras Jaengkamolkulchai will only start from the sixth row of the grid after a tough session, the reigning champion’s best time being a lap of 2:07.88.

Completing the second row of the grid is Yuth Jhannet who is second in the championship standings. In fact, just five points separate Yuth from Tanawat, who will start directly ahead on the front row. They each have three wins from the six races so far this season and the final fight for the title is between them so it’s all ready for a ‘winner takes all’ showdown.

The third row is the preserve of two young Class B hotshots, Phillip Massoud in the Krating Daeng Isuzu will start alongside the similar machine of Nuthaporn Namjuck (Donut D.N.A Exedy Racing) and both these drivers are capable of fireworks.

Qualifying: Super Compact

There are just five championship points coming into this weekend between the top two in Super Compact with the slender advantage going to Pasarit Phromsombat (Honda CRZ) ahead of Kajornsak Na Songkhla (Ford Fiesta). The pair have won every race so far this year and neither has finished outside the top two. It’s been a complete lockout and that state of affairs looks all set to continue.

In Thursday’s Official Free Practice Session there was an interloper in the shape of Mazda’s Michael Freeman who claimed the top spot (see separate story) but in qualifying he had a technical issue and it was back to business as usual as Pasarit and Kajornsak turned on the style, the former grabbing pole position by 0.728 seconds.

The title fight looks set to go to the wire and is an action replay of the Super Production championship climax two years ago here when this pair slugged it out all the way to the checkered flag in the final race. In fact, Pasarit is aiming for the record of making it three titles in three different categories in three consecutive years.

Michael leads out Row 2 in the first of the Mazdas while Silapa Teeraniti will line up alongside, the latter also collecting Class C pole position as a result of his efforts. The third row sees Siraphop Natirojanachaicham (Honda City) and young lady racer Tachapan Vijittranon in the second Mazda2; this pair also claiming the second and third fastest times in Class C.

Mazda flexes its muscles

It’s been a two year long road without much glory for Innovation Motorsport ever since it swapped from petrol to turbodiesel Mazda2 racecars to reflect the change in the OEM’s production bodyshape. In 2015 the cars ran in Super Production where they were really outclassed; however a switch to Super Compact for 2016 – where the cars can take advantage of the Balance of performance (BoP) focused regulations – means they have steadily become more competitive and they have racked up trophies and the lower steps of the podium all season.

That long road took team leader Michael Freeman all the way to the top of the timesheets during Wednesday’s Official Free Practice as he planted the factory supported Mazda2 sedan on P1. The Australian, who has also pushed hard at his fitness regime during the long break since the last round, was satisfied that they are making real progress with the cars.

So why were they able to climb to the peak of the timesheets with the pretty turbodiesel racecars for the first time? “I think it’s really simple,” he said. “We have a bunch of dedicated, hardworking guys supporting us and a driver who is very focused on winning the championship in 2017 so it’s really a test session to show we can actually do that. Our guys have worked very hard, a couple of weekend’s ago during the holidays I’m sure most people were having the weekend off but we worked every day, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, on the long weekend, to midnight every night to get the cars ready, it’s about dedication and focus.”

The team continues to make detail upgrades to the Mazdas. “We have fine-tuned the calibration of the ECU, a little bit more aero work, a little bit more on the suspension and the brakes,” Michael adds. “It’s about a couple of percent everywhere, no specific changes, plus a weight reduction in the car and driver. I was happy with P1 yesterday; okay it’s only Wednesday but it means a lot and the team lost Steve Knott, our engines builder, a few weeks ago so this weekend is also about doing something for Steve as well, so P1 was fitting yesterday.”

Qualifying: Super Production

Thomas Raldorf got the job done in Super Production, which kicked off a long and hot afternoon of qualifying immediately after the lunchbreak yesterday. The experienced Dane banged in a best lap of 1:57.584 in his Honda City which was an impressive half a second clear of the Honda Jazz of Hideharu Kuroki, the Japanese driver who is looking to wrap up the title this weekend – although the crown is little more than a formality such has been the dominance of his season. These two titans of Super Production on the front row should ensure that a thrilling opening race is in store.

But they are also going to have to look in the mirrors as the second row is led out by Anon Rodprasert (City) although he had a deficit of 1.8 seconds to the pole time. It means the TT Motorsport driver is going to have a lot of work to do come the race if he wants to challenge for the overall win – however he claims Class B pole and that will be his first target. Alongside him will be Dechathorn Phuakkarawut who put in a superb performance to claim Class C pole.

Row 3 will be led out by Nattanid Leewattanavalagul, the fastest of the ladies on the grid, and the reigning Class C champion. Alongside her will be another proven Super Production race winner, Yotsarun Sansuk. The next row sees young hotshot Kimk Karnasuta line up ahead of the experienced Sirisak Manthugumphol while the top ten is completed by Pong Trakulthong and Thanasit Bhunyatharanonth.

Qualifying: Super Eco

Best time during the Super Eco qualifying session, held late yesterday morning, was a 2:07.565 posted by Supong Khamtonwong (KTN Garage Racing), an impressive 2.216 seconds ahead of the next best runner, Paveen Dangsa-nga who edged his Krating Daeng teammate Konpichit Toyingcharoen off the front row by little over a tenth of a second, the two black, red and yellow Suzuki Swift drivers proving very evenly matched.

Naruchit Kiatmaneesri wrapped up the second row in the Team Donut Racing by Duce Auto Honda Brio to give the top end of the timesheets in Super Eco a very familiar feel.

Source. Edd Elison

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