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BANGSAEN GP: EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES

It’s a time of positive change within Thailand’s bubbling touring car racing scene – that was the message that couldn’t be missed during the recent 10th Anniversary Bangsaen Grand Prix where the ‘new kid on the block’, TCR Thailand, rounded out its inaugural season by crowning its first ever champion while Super 2000 ended its long run as the most closely fought domestic championship in style as it now prepares to evolve into a bright future.

Thailand’s ‘touring car’ racing mix has always been robust, boasting healthy grids as well as being popular with both drivers and fans alike thanks to the incessant door-to-door action, even as this motorsport discipline has ebbed and flowed elsewhere around the globe.

TCR Thailand was added to the Thailand Super Series (TSS) programme last year and it proved a perfect complement to Super 2000, the two categories offering different attributes to different drivers and teams. For the first time in Bangsaen both were in action during the delayed 2016 season closer held back in February.

TCR Thailand rocked up for its inaugural races on the Bangsaen Street Circuit to round out a hectic debut season and crown its first ever champion which turned out to be Carlo Van Dam, the Dutchman getting the upper hand in a battle that went to the wire with Jack Lemvard, the pair trading hefty points scores during the races to eventually cancel each other out. However, as they slugged it out for the title they were somewhat overshadowed by Kantadhee Kusiri who ran away with both race victories to cement his claim to being a young star who has really now arrived.

Super 2000 ended its long glittering run in Bangsaen. It’s been the pinnacle category of touring car racing within TSS since the series was formed in 2013 and the roll call of champions has been a ‘who’s who’ of the fastest Thai drivers including Tin Sritrai and Pasarit Phromsombat – as well as the newly crowned final champion Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya.

The last ever Super 2000 victories though belonged to Munkong Sathienthirakul who dominated proceedings in Bangsaen but he didn’t have it easy and the category signed off in style with its usual trademark ferocious battles, dramas, thrills and spills as well as incidents. For the upcoming 2017 season Super 2000 will metamorphosis into the ‘Thailand Touring Car Championship’, the famous moniker being seen in TSS for the first time, the rules are evolving – but the aims are still the same, to provide some of the most exciting racing in Asia.

Finally, the Sereethoranakul ‘brothers’ are really making their mark in Thai motorsport. Sarun armed himself with a Lamborghini Huracán LP620-2 Super Trofeo last season and promptly won the Super Car GTM title. This year his team is acquiring a second Huracán and so his title winning machine will be in the hands of his younger brother Saravut who steps up after completing his rookie year in Super Car GTM.

The pair will get some useful pre-season running in the new car under their belts as they will take part in the opening round of Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia at Sepang Circuit this weekend as – rather unusually – the two brothers, Sarun and Saravut, will be sharing the same cockpit during the pan-Asian series’ trademark 50-minute races which feature mandatory mid race pitstops and driver changes.

10th Anniversary Bangsaen Grand Prix: TCR Thailand Race Reports

TCR Thailand wrapped up its inaugural season at the rescheduled Bangsaen Grand Prix and that meant its first ever champion was crowned – that honour eventually falling to Carlo Van Dam of Singha Motorsport Team Thailand. The Dutchman had put his stamp on proceedings during the early part of the year, kicking off the 2016 season with three wins from the first four races and that let him control matters from the front, despite missing one round and two races mid-season.

Carlo however came into the season closer neck-to-neck with Vattana Motorsport’s Jack Lemvard who had pegged the deficit back during the later rounds. However, if Jack finished both races he would most likely have to drop one of his points scores as the best of eight out of ten scores counted; he already had a DNF to eliminate and his lowest points score was 10 points so deducting that would always put him on the back foot. It proved to be the case as the two title contenders – both behind the wheel of the similar SEAT León – were very evenly matched throughout, both collecting a second and third place to cancel each other out which left the drop scores to decide the title meaning Carlo emerged on top by a margin of seven points to claim the first ever TCR Thailand title.

They both certainly fought hard. On the grid for Saturday’s first race of the weekend – the penultimate race of the year – Jack was third and Carlo fourth but the latter got a cracking start to pass both Vattana cars, Jack as well as the tardy-starting Narasak Ittritpong. Although Jack would pressure Carlo hard over the opening laps he would eventually fade away to finish eight seconds adrift and that meant the momentum had swung in the Dutchman’s direction. He could now afford to follow Jack home in the final race – which is exactly what he proceeded to do.

The second race would see the two Krating Daeng SEATs on the front row thanks to the reverse top five, but the championship action was all on Row 2 with Jack starting third and Carlo fourth. At the green lights Jack and Carlo went straight up the middle of the two black Krating Daeng cars and headed into Turn 2 nose to tail, the ‘battleship grey’ Vattana car with the advantage. That 1-2 would become 2-3 as Race 1 winner Kantadhee Kusiri worked his way through the top order and deposed them, Carlo though had little need to take the fight to Jack as he sat back and collected the points for P3 that allowed him to wrap up the inaugural TCR Thailand title.

However, while these two titans were slugging it out for the points they needed to secure title they were both overshadowed ‘on the road’ by Kantadhee Kusiri who won both races. The Team Eakie BBR driver was returning to the series having debuted during the Buriram round where he made his mark instantly with a double win. He missed the penultimate round at Bira Circuit and returned in Bangsaen to record his second double victory and make it four wins out of four races for the year. Kantadhee, who was primarily committed to racing in EuroFormula 3 single seaters during the 2016 season stamped his mark on TCR Thailand and this year he has continued the theme by joining the opening rounds of TCR Asia Series which took place last month.

Kantadhee led the first race away from pole, eventually finishing a massive 15.249 seconds clear of Carlo while in the second race he did it all the hard way thanks to the reverse grid, fighting his way from fifth up and into the race lead, firstly after spending many laps trying to find a way past Carlo and then deposing Jack before finally taking the chequered flag after 15 laps with 8.291 seconds in hand over the #44 Vattana SEAT.

The Krating Daeng Racing Team ended the year with more podiums and the Amateur class title. Grant Supaphongs claimed fourth place in Pro-Am in the first race, one position on the road ahead of his teammate Chen Jian Hong who won the AM class for the seventh time from the seven races he entered. The Taiwanese driver then made it eight wins out of eight starts (the Krating Daeng team had missed the double header at Bira Circuit) in the final race to end the season in emphatic style while teammate Grant also made it a double podium in Pro-Am with fifth place.

Nattachak Hanjitkasem claimed two more runners up spots in AM, to make it seven second places from the championship’s ten races, and cap off a strong first TCR year after his switch from Super 2000, while we welcomed our first overseas team, Viper Niza Racing, which brought a SEAT for Malaysian driver Douglas Khoo and he came away with two trips to the AM podium thanks to his brace of third place finishes. Also of note was Paritat Bulbon who emerged from the weekend with a fifth and a sixth place in the Pro-AM class in the Sloth Racing SEAT.

In Vattana’s Honda Civic Narasak had a tough weekend. Despite a qualifying bump he had already posted a good enough time to get onto the front row of the grid but was out of the race on the first lap. Narasak – who is also the Super Car GTC champion – was on the back of the grid for the second race thanks to that DNF but worked his way up to fourth place overall by the time the chequered flag waved to earn a trip to the podium.

10th Anniversary Bangsaen Grand Prix: Super 2000 Race Reports

When the cars lined up on the grid it was Munkong Sathienthirakul who planted his aggressively aero-enhanced Honda Civic FD on the slot denoting pole position thanks to his best qualifying lap which had turned out to be a staggering 2.4 seconds quicker than the next car could manage.

Emphasising that qualifying superiority further was an empty space on the outside of the front row as Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya was missing from the action leaving the blue Honda – quickly dubbed the ‘cockroach’ thanks to its big and bare carbon nosecone – all alone up front. Kittipol had suffered a misfire in qualifying but had already set a time good enough to put him the front row. His team didn’t want to break the seals to check the engine as that would have caused him a ten place grid penalty but their diagnosis quickly unravelled on the warm up lap as the engine cut out leaving the double winner here last year a spectator on the sidelines for the first race.

The second row comprised of Ekprawat Petcharak (Civic FB) – who has been getting quicker and quicker all season – and the surprise package from the previous round at Bira Circuit, Pattarapol Vongprai (Civic FD). Wrapping up the top five was Pure Hongsapan who was for the first time in a Class 1 spec Toyota Altis – and it showed with that qualifying performance, his best of the year.

At the green lights Munkong powered away and that would be the last anyone would see of him all afternoon as he romped off into the distance. Behind him there wasn’t any change on the second row of the grid as cars filed through Turn 2 and up the mountain section for the first time as Ekprawat led out Pattarapol; however the big winner at the green lights was Thamrong Mahadumrongkul who powered his way up from the fifth row of the grid to slot into P4 while the big loser was Thanakorn Buttawong in the second factory Toyota Altis who spun the red and white #64 car right round through Turn 2 and clunked the barriers on the outside of the turn with his left hand front corner, although he was able to recover and rejoin the race.

Through the mountain section for the first time the track collected its first high profile victim as Chayut Yangpichit parked the TT Motorsport Honda DC5 up just past the peak with damage gained after contact with a Toyota.

Through the first half of the lap Pattarapol was glued to the back of Ekprawat in an intense battle for second place. The grey and black Civic took a look coming into the left hander at Laem Taem Cape but Ekprawat had it covered – not for long though as they made contact on the exit, Pattarapol tapping Ekprawat into a spin, the unique Civic ‘FB’ smacking the new row of TECPRO barriers with its right hand rear as the back end stepped out while the grey and black Civic narrowly avoided the barriers but was caught up behind and came to a halt. Both got going again but Ekprawat would pit immediately to retire while Pattarapol emerged unscathed but right down at the back of the field and he would be handed a 60-second time penalty by the stewards for the incident that dropped him even further out of the reckoning.

At the end of the first lap it was game over for P1 barring any mistakes or mechanical issues as Munkong was long gone. In second place however was Thamrong in the #24 Civic FD – having started from P9 on the grid he had enjoyed a superb first lap, helped in part as the cars in second and third place took themselves out.

Early race tussling included the factory Toyota 86 of Manat Kulapalanont having to work very hard to find a way past the Honda City of Phatwit Phayakcso and Rudolf Yu, who missed qualifying and thus had to start from the back of the grid and was now working his way relentlessly up the order, he picked off the now fast fading Pure on the second lap as he made his way forward. Pattarapol was the driver on the move as the race approached half distance, but he was clawing back too much lost ground and represented no threat to the top order positions.

After deposing Phatwit out of third place, Manat was firing on all cylinders as he reeled in Thamrong in front and by half distance he had closed down the gap and a battle was erupting for second place. However just as the two got down to action it was all over as the #37 Toyota abruptly slowed up coming out of Turn 6, the mountain hairpin, and Manat would limp away into a disappointing retirement, a broken sensor had cut out the engine.

Munkong was handed a 30-second penalty for jumping the start but such was his dominance at the front he was able to absorb that and in the official results he had a final 22.953 second advantage over Thamrong who was however delighted to have put a long barren spell in Super 2000 behind him and claim the runners up spot.

The field had got spread out over the closing laps and it was another 13 seconds before Phatwit emerged to claim P3 – his best finish of the year – while another driver to enjoy a good afternoon was Wijak Lertprasertpakorn in fourth place – also his best result of the season. The podium positions were wrapped up by Rudolf who had started the race from the back of the grid and kept it together smoothly, helped in part by front running cars that fell by the wayside, to steadily work is way up the running order far enough to earn the last trophy on offer. Almost a minute adrift (once his time penalty was taken into consideration) came Pattarapol with the finishing order being wrapped up by the two factory Toyota Altis entries of Thanakorn and Pure.

Sunday’s second and final race of the weekend for Super 2000 saw the usual top five reversed on the grid and that meant Rudolf started on pole with Wijak alongside. Row 2 saw Phatwit and Thamrong lining up alongside each other while the first race winner, Munkong, would start from Row 3 with the previous day’s sixth place finisher, Pattarapol, alongside. There were some hard chargers at the back of the grid who would be looking to work their way up quickly, previous day retirees, Chayut (Honda), Ekprawat (Honda) and Manat (Toyota), as well as first race non-starter and already crowned Super 2000 champion, Kittipol (Honda).

At the green lights Rudolf made a fast start to convert pole position into the race lead and head the pack as they streamed through Turn 2 and up the hill for the first time while behind him Thamrong made a great start to come down the inside and claim P2. Wijak got hustled at the start but held onto P3 with Phatwit next up and then came Munkong, Pattarapol, Manat and Ekprawat, the latter two getting a great start from the tail end of the grid. Out of Turn 2 Munkong picked off Phatwit to move up to P4, his relentless charge for the front – and a second win from the weekend – had already begun. He would quickly pick off Wijak and move into P3 before closing up on the tail of Thamrong who was swarming all over the back of the race leader, locking up his brakes, but as yet unable to find a way through.

That set up an enthralling battle for first place as the second lap unfolded with Rudolf, Thamrong and Munkong running nose-to-tail. That however became two cars as the blue and white #24 Civic pulled up out of Turn 7 with transmission problems and before Munkong muscled through under braking into Turn 18. That was race over at the front as Munkong disappeared into the distance to eventually take the chequered flag with almost half a minute in hand over Ekprawat who had relentlessly worked his way up from the back and more than made up for the disappointment of the previous day’s first lap retirement by claiming the runners up spot in the last ever Super 2000 race.

Third place went to Pattarapol while fourth went to Chayut who also made up for an opening lap retirement the previous day with a trophy while – despite suffering braking issues that slowed him pace – Rudolf hung on to claim the last step of the podium to made it two fifth place finishes for the weekend. Then came Wijak before the classified order was wrapped up by Phatwit and Pure, they were 1- and 2-laps down respectively.

As well as Thamrong (out of lap 2), the retirement list included the Toyota Altis of Thanakorn, out a lap later, while Manat, after a second race in charging mode and looking on course to bag one of the higher podium steps, capped an unrewarding weekend by retiring on the twelfth lap when transmission problems meant he couldn’t change the gears, and that was one before Kittipol ground to a halt, the new champion crowned after the last round, who ended up the year with a zero points score – a long way from his double Super 2000 win here last year.

The Singha Motorsport Team Thailand driver had started from the back of the grid, impressively battled his way up to P3 and looked set to make a run at Ekprawat just ahead but then Kittipol felt something break in the engine on the ninth lap and two more circuits of the track later the engine overheated. It turned out later to be a timing chain problem and at the least it resolved why he had been suffering problems during qualifying and his non start of the previous day’s race.

In the final Super 2000 championship standings overall Kittipol had already won the title coming into Bangsaen – and he was lucky to have totted up a score of 102 points beforehand as his double DNF and resulting no points while Munkong nailed down two maximum scores, 40 points, meant the final gap was only 4 points. Phatwit’s double podium rounded out a consistent year that has seen him only finish out of the points in one race and thanks to Manat’s zero score from the weekend the Honda City driver moved up to third place in the final rankings with 66 points while the Toyota driver dropped to fourth on 57 points. Chayut, Ekprawat, Thamrong and Rudolf wrapped up the top eight in the championship. Thamrong took the Class B title while Thanakorn won the Class C crown.

In the Teams’ standings overall, the season long efforts of Kittipol and Thamrong as well as the contributions of Thanavud Bhirombhakdi – who missed this final round – meant that Singha Motorsport Team Thailand were the easy winners with a final tally of 149 points, 51 points clear of Ki Sugar who edged out Toyota Team Thailand by a solitary point, it ended 98 vs 97.

Bull riding brothers

The racecar that made its mark in Super Car GTM last year was unquestionably the Lamborghini’s powerful Huracán LP620-2 Super Trofeo. Sarun Sereethoranakul equipped himself with one of the striking Italian machines as he upgraded after a few seasons with his Porsche 997 GT3 Cup – and he never looked back. He kicked off the year with a three wins out of three at the season opening triple header in Buriram to open up a commanding lead in the championship points standings and that was the last anyone saw him. Sarun wrapped up the 2016 Super Car GTM Drivers’ title in Bangsaen during the rescheduled season closer back in February – where incidentally a second Huracán joined the grid, this time in the hands of another driver also upgrading from the ubiquitous Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, Bobby Buncharoen.

Sarun’s team, PSC Motorsport, has recently acquired a second Huracán so the title-winning car is swiftly being moved along the family racing ‘conveyor belt’ and will be in the hands of his younger brother, Saravut, this year. That means Sarun will have a new Huracán to drive and with the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia 2017 season opener coming up this weekend at Sepang Circuit, Malaysia, it’s the perfect time to take part in this event – before the car is swiftly shipped to Thailand for the TSS season opener in Buriram at the end of this month.

For Sarun it’s a chance to blow off the cobwebs since he locked down the title in Bangsaen while for Saravut it’s his first opportunity to get some time in the car under his belt. What makes it more interesting is that the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia format comprises of 50 minute races with mandatory pitstops that allows up to two drivers per car – so Sarun and Saravut will race together in the AM class. It’s very unusual for two Thai brothers to share a cockpit in international racing, emphasising they’re a real racing family – with another brother still to come!

The Sereethoranakul brothers won’t be the only TSS drivers to be in action in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia this coming weekend as Supachai Weeraborwornpong will kick off another season in the ‘one make championship’ reserved for the dramatic Italian sportscars. Supachai previously raced his distinctive day-glo orange Honda DC 5 in Super 2000 and last year he brought the Gallardo Super Trofeo he raced in the Super Trofeo Asia in 2015 (before upgrading to the Huracán for 2016) to our second visit to Buriram back in July. He will be behind the wheel of the Huracán for a second consecutive year across Asia during 2017 and also hopes to join some TSS races with the Gallardo during our upcoming season.

TSS wishes them all good luck racing in Sepang this weekend!

Signing off the rookie year

While the interest is on Saravut Sereethoranakul stepping up to a Lamborghini Huracán LP620-2 Super Trofeo this season, the younger brother of the Super Car GTM champion Sarun has in fact just completed his ‘rookie’ year in Super Car with his brother’s former Porsche 997 GT3 Cup. So it’s a big step certainly, but judging from last season it’s one that he seems well prepared to make.

He was starting from scratch learning the three circuits on the calendar – Buriram, Bira and Bangsaen – as well as getting to grips with the Porsche. Along the way he bagged a visit to the top step of the podium in Super Car AM and during the year he showed a plenty of promise.

That rookie season ended last month with his first participation in the Bangsaen Grand Prix – a steep learning curve and there were plenty of positives although he was side-tracked fighting car issues all week, as he explained afterwards.

“On the first practice day, Tuesday, in the first session my coach tested my car and gearbox broke so I missed all three practice sessions that day and it’s my first time in Bangsaen,” recalls Saravut. Indeed, Tuesday’s unofficial sessions give new drivers plenty of track time to set about learning this technically demanding circuit, so he would be on the backfoot for the rest of the week.

“The gearbox was fixed at night and then on the Wednesday I have only thirty mins for the official practice [session] and on Thursday is qualifying,” he notes.

Super Car GTM enjoyed a triple header format in Bangsaen so that meant three races – one each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – to get valuable laps in and press on with the learning curve – but he would he hit with transmission problems again. “On Friday I was racing okay but later on second and third gears became damaged again,” he says. “So I went to pit and the team manager told me to go back on track again because there were only three laps left so I went back and but got hit at the back because my car was slow.”

Saturday saw transmission problems rearing again although he was able to complete the race and show some pace. “The gearbox had been fixed and I finish the race but have difficulty to shift up to fourth and fifth gears,” Saravut continues. “So that made my car slow to accelerate every time I shift up to fourth and fifth so could not closely follow my competitors and was a few second behind them.”

The third and final race of the weekend saw Saravut still nursing the ongoing transmission issues but able to finally show plenty of speed and mix it in with his rivals in the hotly contested AM class. “On Sunday I was pushing hard but the gearbox still had problems, [however] I was able to overtake [Pinet Piyaoui] and almost overtake Paul [Kanjanapas] but then I too had much speed and the right side of my car touched the wall which damaged my wheel a bit,” he says. “The car still ran [although] not so fast, but I [was able to] finish the race [in] fourth position.”

All-in-all tough first ever weekend in Bangsaen for Saravut but lots of speed in evidence and a good start to learning the circuit – and a brush with the famously unforgiving walls although he was able to escape their clutches. He will be back on these streets in less than three months with plenty of useful experience, important as he will then be in a much newer and faster racecar.

Source. Edd Ellison

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