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THE BIG BEASTS RETURN TO BANGSAEN

Thailand Super Series (TSS) is always about being one step ahead, setting new trends here, pushing hard at the motorsport envelop and improving all aspects of the show – so when the lights went green for the combined GT3/GTC/TA2 race at the Bangsaen Grand Prix each of those boxes were ticked off.

Firstly, the FIA GT3 cars returned at Bangsaen after almost a full season away from the TSS programme. The grand occasion of the 10th Anniversary edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix was the perfect occasion to put the big racing beasts back onto the schedule and Lamborghini vs Camaro vs McLaren was a perfect tonic for the fans. In a weekend of headline acts, the GT3 cars stood out as their engines reverberated around the streets.

Super Car GTC enjoyed a fairytale in Saturday’s first race as the Porsche’s Cayman, making its racing debut in Thailand with a driver, Charvanin Bunditkitsada, who was also appearing in Super Car for the first time, promptly went and won. Sunday’s second race saw ‘normal service’ resumed as the KTM X-Bow GT4, which has dominated the category all season long, wrapped things up with one more victory thanks to the efforts of Jack Lemvard.

Sandwiched in between the GT3 and GTC action playing out on the street circuit there was some real unmissable thunder as the ‘TA2’ Ford Mustang ripped up the track on its debut in Thailand. The big American racecar was being demonstrated by TransAm driver Shane Lewis and apart from its striking shape its equally striking bright metallic blue finish meant no one could miss it pounding the circuit.

Bangsaen Grand Prix: Super Car GT3

After headlining TSS for the first three years (2013-15) the big GT3 beasts gave way for the 2016 season to Super Car GTM which was promoted to become the top category. But the season wasn’t quite over when it was announced that they would be returning with ‘Super Car GT3’ set to headline the programme on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix.

The three cars lined up at the front of the combined GT3/GTC/TA2 grid on Saturday afternoon for the first of two races of the weekend didn’t disappoint at all – GT3 was back! On pole was the #27 Chevrolet Camaro GT3 of the 2015 Super Car GT3 champion Tomáš Enge with another former Super Car title winner, Akihiro Asai, alongside – the Japanese driver having won Super Car N/A in 2011 and Super Car GTC in 2014. He was driving Vattana’s #4 Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2, and although Akihiro has previously raced this model of car around the world, it would be the first time he had driven a GT3 car in TSS.

Wrapping up the compact GT3 grid was the #28 McLaren 650S GT3 of Chonsawat Asavahame, the 2014 Super Car GT3 winner – meaning all three GT3 cars were driven by former Super Car champions. It was also the first time that a McLaren had ever raced in TSS within Thailand (as the brand was actually represented on the Super Car grid during our visit to Sepang Circuit in Malaysia back in 2014) but it was also the first time the latest McLaren GT3 car – the 650S – had been seen in TSS and the first time a McLaren had ever taken to the track in Bangsaen. As usual for TSS, many ‘firsts’. The striking racecar, wrapped in McLaren’s traditional ‘Papaya Orange’, stood out all week and drew many admiring glances.

When the lights turned green for the first race there weren’t to be any fireworks as the trio of GT3 cars thundered uphill through Turn 1 and then braked for Turn 2. As they went up the hill for the first time it was Tomáš from Akihiro and Chonsawat.

At the end of the first lap Akihiro and Tomáš traded places and now it was the black and white Lamborghini in charge at the front. A couple of laps later and the McLaren had made its way through, first edging past the Camaro and then picking off the Lamborghini to assume the head of the GT3 group.

At two thirds distance the GT3 pack started to split up as the trio of cars made heavy weather when they came to lap the tussling GTC class Mazdas of Pete Thongchua and James Runacres. Chonsawat got a clean run to use the McLaren’s power to lap the pair on the main straight but Akihiro and Tomáš both had to pick them off through the mountain section which cost them a lot of time and into Turn 6 the yellow Mazda spun 180-degrees and the Camaro had to run wide to avoid, dropping it off the back of the Lamborghini.

Next time around the GT3 order would dramatically shakeup as Chonsawat, ran wide through Turn 6 as he took too a tight line on the entry to avoid the backwards facing yellow Mazda and he ground to a halt, requiring the marshals to push him backwards before he could return to the race, Akihiro and Tomáš both came to a halt behind the McLaren but they were able resume the race first.

That would be it for the race as Akihiro took the win, his first with a GT3 car in Thailand at his first attempt while Tomáš hunted him down over the closing laps to finish just 1.5 seconds adrift, the Czech also setting the fastest lap of the race. A further fifteen seconds down the road came the McLaren in third place.

“The car was really good, really perfect and my thanks to the Vattana team,” said the Japanese driver afterwards. “The race was pretty fun, there was a battle going on with Tomáš and Chonsawat and then there was a bit of drama with a car a lap down and then I took the lead and really just won it from there.”

Sunday’s second and final race of the weekend for Super Car GT3 proved a much less eventful affair. At the greenlights the McLaren made no mistakes to dive through into first place with Tomáš and Akihiro tucking in behind. It would remain that was until the race reached the 7 lap mark when the Camaro was forced to make a pitstop after picking up a left hand rear puncture and that meant Chonsawat and Akihiro were left up front on their own. It would stay that way until the chequered flag with McLaren etching its name into the record books in Thailand with its first ever victory, all on its Bangsaen Grand Prix debut weekend. Chonsawat also posted the fastest lap of the race in 1:41.392.

Although Tomáš didn’t get to stand on the top step of the podium this time the ‘superstar’ was delighted to be racing on these streets once again and playing his key role in supporting Vattana Motorsport’s expansive efforts. “It was good to back in Bangsaen and see the track a bit different to what it was before,” the former Formula 1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hour winner said afterwards. “It was fantastic to see all the people coming to watch the races, all the Thai motorsport fans coming and I’m proud to race for this team. We have had great success in Bangsaen once again and everyone is thrilled and looking forward to the 2017 season.”

Bangsaen Grand Prix: Super Car GTC Race 1 Saturday (Race 7 of the year)

On the Super Car GTC grid for Saturday’s first race the ‘Batmobiles’ lined up next to each other with Jack Lemvard grabbing pole position and the already confirmed 2016 champion with two races to spare, Narasak Ittritpong, planting his example alongside – but there wasn’t much between them, 0.091 seconds to be exact!

The second row was led out by Charvanin Bunditkitsada in the brand new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, both car and driver making their debut here, while alongside them was Attapot Sriprom in the quicker of the two B-Quik Racing Porsche 996 GT3 Cup entries, the #99.

Row 3 saw the Mazda RX-8 driven by Pete Thongchua with the second B-Quik Porsche alongside, this one being the #25 and driven by Ian Geekie on his debut with the black and yellow team, the Australian also returning to Bangsaen for the first time since 2012. That in fact was his only previous visit here so plenty of work for him to do. U-tain Pongprapas had been looking quite pacey during the week despite having been on the back foot in terms of getting the best car setup; he had qualified fifth in the fastest of the trio of Mazda RX-7s but he later picked up a grid penalty as the team needed to check that there were no issues with the gearbox following a practice incident and was thus demoted down the starting order.

At the green lights Jack kept it all neat and tidy to convert pole position into the race lead with Narasak tucking in behind as they headed up the hill for the first time. Charvanin and Attapot held onto third and fourth respectively with Pete claiming fifth place and James moving up to sixth. Ian slipped a place to seventh while also moving up was the first of the factory Toyotas, the #37 of Manat Kulapalanont, with the top ten being wrapped up by the Mazda RX-7s of Narin Yensuk and U-tain.

Further back Rudolf Yu, having missed practice and qualifying, was behind the wheel of the Ginetta for the first time in Bangsaen so he was having to get up to speed while Sontaya Kunplome was also starting from the back in his now black and white liveried Porsche 997 GT3 Cup having not been present during the qualifying session.

As the cars went through the first lap Jack pulled out a couple of lengths at the front while Charvanin was having an impressive debut and was snapping at the heels of Narasak as he had his eye on P2.

The top three started to pull away over the opening lap and the main focus of attention was on the battle for P4 with Pete fending off Attapot, who was swarming all over him, while James in the bright yellow RX-7 quickly closed up onto the back of the squabbling pair in front and Ian soon joined the trio to turn it into a four-way tussle. Behind them a two second gap had opened up to U-tain who was leading out the rest of the pack.

At the end of the first lap Manat pitted in the #37 Toyota suffering a loss of boost from a broken turbo pipe that was however repaired by the pit crew and he was able to re-join the race.

On the third lap B-Quik representation in the race halved as Attapot took a hit and pulled off at the mountain hairpin having sustained damage to the #99 Porsche.

With Attapot gone Pete and James locked into a fight for fourth place and at one third race distance the yellow RX-7 squeezed up the inside of the green RX-8 into Turn 2 but it was a short lived pass as Pete had the line and the momentum to regain the place heading up the hill.

At two thirds distance Narasak was now pressing hard and looking to take the lead from his teammate as no team orders seemed to be in place at Vattana Motorsport.

The GTC midfield was then engulfed by the GT3 cars lapping them and James took advantage of the changing dynamic to squeeze past Pete, who was pushed to the outside into Turn 1 by the race leading McLaren and then lost the momentum into Turn 2 and that allowed James into fourth place, however no sooner had he done this than just a few hundred meters later the yellow Mazda spun round as James braked for the entry to Turn 6 and hit the wall on the outside, the rear corner taking a whack that put the RX-7 out on the spot.

Mazda representation took another blow on the same lap as U-tain, struggling with his tyres, went straight into the barriers at Turn 8, that ripped the front clip of the RX-7 and dumped coolant onto the track. The safety crews worked quickly and the green, white and red car was winched away on the big crane.

There would be time for another big change in the race as Narasak passed Jack to take the lead and head the two Vattana cars past the chequered flag first. However, the result wouldn’t stand as both KTMs were slapped with a 60 second time penalty post-race and that dropped them to second and third.

That all meant there was a ‘double’ fairy tale story as Charvanin on his debut in Super Car climbed to the top step of the podium and handed the Porsche Cayman a win on its first ever race in Thailand. Charvanin had looked pacey and considered all week, despite this representing his return to racing after appearing the Lotus Cup Thailand ‘one make’ race series a few seasons ago. The car is fresh out of the box and with just one test behind him he settled in well. Clearly the Cayman is a work in progress and with more development behind it this has to be a very strong driver-car combination for the coming season.

Once the battle for fourth shook out Pete, who successfully fended off all the attentions for his spot, had a lonely final few laps to the flag while Prateep Tunprasert (Mitsubishi Evo X) edged out Ian to claim the final step of the podium. The Australian took sixth place on his debut in Super Car while seventh, eighth and ninth went to Sontaya (Porsche), Suttipong Smittacharch (Toyota) and Rudolf (Ginetta), these three drivers having been embroiled in action with each other all race long. The top ten was wrapped up by Manat in the second Toyota who was two laps down after his lengthy pitstop at the end of the first lap.

The final classified runner was Narin in the ‘pink’ #13 Mazda RX-7 who was forced to pit after debris hit and damaged his windshield coming out of the final turn and sent some glass flying into his face and necessitated a pitstop. The Chiang Mai driver eventually finished five laps down but was still classified having covered two thirds race distance.

Bangsaen Grand Prix: Super Car GTC Race 2 Sunday (Race 8 of the year)

For the final GTC race of the weekend the grid would have a broadly similar feel to the previous day, again the two KTMs would lock out the front row, this time though it would be Narasak on pole from Jack. Behind them it would be an unchanged second row, Charvanin and Attapot, with Pete and Ian once again next up. Then came Suttipong and U-tain with Prateep and James wrapping up the top ten.

The top order would remain unchanged as the pack took the green lights and sprinted for Turn 2, U-tain being the biggest winner as he moved up to seventh place. James though had a bad start, dropped down the running order; he got the car crossed up into Turn 2, just avoiding the inside barriers as he corrected the #17 Mazda. Behind him Manat was caught up behind the yellow RX-7 and clunked the barriers with his left hand front corner; both cars however got going again quickly but were now at the back of the pack.

As the cars raced down towards the roundabout for the first time it was a similar story to the first race as the two KTMs were running nose to tail with Charvanin snapping at their heels, the top three having pulled out a couple of seconds by the time the cars approached Laem Taen Cape. As the two ‘Batmobiles’ braked for the almost 90-degree left hander, Narasak left Jack a bit too much room and he didn’t need any second invitations as he squeezed through on the inside to take the lead, the cars side by side as they powered into the track’s beachfront section.

Narasak wasn’t giving up the lead lightly though and into the S2 Bangsaen Hotel Hairpin he drew right alongside, but on the outside, and the two KTMs swung their way around the 180-degree turn locked together side-by-side. Dramatic racing and clearly no team orders in play once again at Vattana Motorsport.

Out of the hairpin and onto the main straight Jack had the racing line and the advantage and he pulled out a few cars lengths while Charvanin swarmed all over Narasak as they ascended to Turn 2, the debuting Porsche Cayman clearly not respecting the season’s established GTC pecking order.

Into the second lap there was a big battle shaping up for eighth place as U-tain fended off Suttipong, Sontaya and the recovering Manat who reported that his car was fine despite that first lap contact with the barriers. The #19 Toyota took a look at the red, white and green Mazda into Turn 8 but U-tain held the line while Manat snatched P10 off Sontaya under braking into Turn 18, the S2 Bangsaen Hotel Hairpin.

U-tain did a great job of fending off the two Toyotas for P8 until the fourth lap when Suttipong got a better run out of Turn 2 and powered past up the hill while Manat then lined up for his go – he would get the better of braking into the Turn 18 hairpin a lap later to make a move stick. Behind this trio, Sontaya had dropped back into the clutches of James who had passed Rudolf and his teammate Narin as he recovered from his poor start.

The two Toyotas then started to hunt down Prateep who was next up the road before it all went horribly wrong on lap 9 as Manat tried to go down the inside of his teammate Suttipong into Turn 18, the #37 clipping the #19 right in front on the left rear corner, with Suttipong spinning round and the two becoming stuck nose to nose in the middle of the hairpin. Manat would eventually get away but Suttipong was out on the spot. While that drama was playing out James had passed U-tain as he continued to work his way slowly up the running order after his lap 1 incident.

The Safety Car was immediately deployed to untangle the two Toyotas with the #19 being pushed straight across the apron and into the pitlane. At the front it was still Jack from Narasak with Charvanin continuing to hold P3 while Attapot and Pete wrapped up the top five on the road.

When the Safety Car went back in there was time for a two lap dash to the flag but for Narasak it was a case of two laps too many as he hit the wall coming down the beachfront, a couple of hundred meters before the Turn 18 hairpin. The KTM was badly damaged with many bodyparts, including a coil spring, scattered across the track, the rest of the pack picking their way through the debris.

That was the end of the dramas and Jack gunned the #44 KTM over the line for the win. “The car was great,” said Jack afterwards but we have 170 kilos of ballast which makes it really tough on the straights but in the corners it works really well. Today I came out with a win and yesterday a third place so a big thanks to Vattana Motorsport for letting me drive this car.”

Charvanin capped off a superb weekend with the runners up spot to add to his win the day before – for the rookie it simply couldn’t have gone any better. Attapot claimed third, his best finish of the year to round out a strong debut season in GTC which has seen the previous Super Eco driver steadily get quicker race by race.

Fourth went to Pete who claimed his second podium of the weekend while U-tain made up for a tough week by bagging the final step on the podium. In fact, those two results combined together to drive the Mazdas, running under the ‘PTT Yokohama KS The Pizza Company’ banner to the Teams’ title – that DNF from Narasak was costly as it dropped Vattana Motorsport to a final second place in the Teams’ championship final standings, the team having been leading the classification ‘on the road’ up to that point.

Then came U-tain who nailed down his first points of the weekend after having retired mid-way through the opening race. Ian took seventh place adding to his sixth place the day before, making it a very decent debut weekend for the Australian in GTC. Rudolf steered clear of all the trouble to work his way up from the back to P8, while Narin claimed ninth and then Prateep nailed down his second points finish in two days after claiming the final points paying position. James finished eleventh while Manat was the final classified finisher but he was two laps adrift.

Super Car GTC: Final championship positions

Bangsaen didn’t affect the topmost position on the classification as Narasak had already wrapped up the title before he arrived at the season closing double header. The maximum score he totted up in the first race (as race winner Charvanin was eligible to collect points) ensured he finished the season on 126 points.

However, the battle for the runners up spot was turned on its head as Pete overhauled Manat thanks to the former collecting 42 points in Bangsaen compared to the latter’s 23 points. It means in the final standing there is a 14-point gap between the pair in favour of the Mazda driver.

Fourth in the standings goes to Attapot who capped his year off with a maximum score in the second race (as both winner Jack and runner up Charvanin weren’t registered to collect points) and that gave him the position on a tie break with Rudolf who also finished on 64 points.

Next up were Suttipong (53 points) and Prateep, who turned around a tough rookie season to collect 24 points from the weekend to add to the meagre tally of 10 points he had picked up all year to end the year with 34 points. Then came U-tain (32 points). The top ten in the final championship classification was completed by Narin (30 points) and Sontaya (23 points), the latter having only started half of the races this year.

There was a huge sting in the tail in the Teams’ championship though as Narasak’s last race last lap incident swung the title race in the favour of the ‘PTT Yokohama KS The Pizza Company’ team. That means a first ever TSS title for ‘rotary’ engine power, an impressive achievement for this breed of Thai-built machines crafted in the Bangkok workshops of Rotary Revolution.

For the 2016 season the team comprised of the Mazda RX-8 driven by Pete and the Mazda RX-7s of Narin and U-tain. That combination worked well and after a double win during the opening round they hung onto the heels of Vattana’s ruthless race dominating KTM as well as the pair of consistent and pacey factory-entered Toyotas. The rotary cars were very well placed to capitalise when the treacherous streets of Bangsaen had the last word on the Teams’ title race and turned the formbook upside down with the KTM and Toyota cars suffering points costly DNFs.

When the dust settled ‘PTT Yokohama KS The Pizza Company’ emerged from the two races with 53 points compared to Vattana’s 20 points and Toyota’s 18 points. It turned the top three going into the week at the seaside on its head. In the final standings ‘PTT Yokohama KS The Pizza Company’ rest on 134 points compared to 126 points for Vattana Motorsport and 125 points for Toyota Team Thailand. Meanwhile fourth place went to B-Quik Racing (84 points) with the top five rounded out by Singha Cosmo TT Motorsport on 64 points.

Bangsaen Grand Prix: TA2

The ‘TransAm 2’ (‘TA2’) Ford Mustang made its debut in Bangsaen, the striking metallic blue wrapped racecar being seen for the first time in Thailand ahead of the arrival of a new ‘one make’ race series due to join TSS next year that will be exclusively reserved for these 6.2-litre V8 engine spaceframe machines.

To stretch its legs and show exactly what it was capable of the Mustang hooked up with the GT3/GTC race, running in its own class, and it took the green lights at the head of the GTC grid. It looked very much at home and quite capable around the tightest and most twisty sections of the street circuit, so that was the first job ticked off the list. ‘TA2 Thailand’ brought in TransAm professional driver Shane Lewis to handle the machine and he got down to a 1:43 best lap.

The experienced American driver certainly enjoyed his week in Bangsaen, punching out the laps in the raucous Mustang and mixing it up in with field of GTC cars. “Incredible, I started from the pole and led every single lap,” he said after the end of the second race.

“The Safety Car came out mid race and I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen from that point and when I saw the overall leaders in front of me I thought let’s make a run at the overall win, although we finished third [on the track] in the end,” Shane continued. “What an amazing place and what an amazing end to the week here in Thailand.”

That appearance in Bangsaen kicks off a year of appearances for the Mustang and its next date will be when it joins the opening round of the 2017 TSS season which gets underway at the start of next month. In Buriram the car will be demonstrated by Craig Baird an experienced former Porsche Carrera Cup and Australian V8 Supercars driver who also has extensive knowledge of racing GT3 cars.

The New Zealand driver has previously been seen before in the TSS paddock, first driving in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia when the one make series hooked up with our programme two years ago and later when he assisted Kiwi Racing Team in setting up its Holden Commodore and coaching driver Craig Corliss.

Source. Edd Ellison

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