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TOURING CAR BONANZA IN BURIRAM

Touring car racing in Thailand entered a new era when Thailand Super Series (TSS) 2017 kicked off in Buriram with TCR Thailand entering its second season and Thailand Touring Car Championship joining the programme for the first time to compliment the long running Super 2000 category. It proved to be a busy and diverse three-way portfolio and reaffirmed that the DNA of Thai touring car racing, which is all about ultra-close racing and excitement for both participants and fans, is alive and well.

TCR Thailand ushered in its second season and there was quite a change on the cards as new drivers and teams came into the series while the wins deservingly went to Chariya Nuya and Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya, the latter scoring a sensation win on his debut in TCR and that taking place on a drying track.

Kittipol wasn’t finished their either, the current Super 2000 champion has switched to the Thailand Touring Car Championship (TTC) for its inaugural season and he promptly got the ball rolling with two hard fought wins. Super 2000 was back too with both wins going to Pattarapol Vongprai, the youngster who sensationally burst onto the scene last year now cementing his promise with a double win.

It all added up a great mix – and an excellent debut for the Thailand Touring Car Championship which has arrived to offer a new cost controlled platform that is centred on balance of performance and keeping in tune with the downsizing of production engines it now allows smaller capacity power units to compete on even terms with the traditional two litre units.

TCR Thailand 2017 – Race 1

The order has really changed this year as TCR Thailand heads into its second season. On pole in Buriram however was a very familiar car, the bright metallic hued Honda Civic of Nattachak Hanjitkasem. That was in fact his first ever overall pole position – last year he raced to the runners up spot in the Amateur (Am) class and for the second season he’s raised his game yet further. His best time, 1:46.662, put the Am class in the ascendancy and in P1.

Alongside him on the front row was a driver to look out for – Pasarit Phromsombat. He was the quickest in the Pro-Am class and is making the switch to TCR Thailand this year. He’s one of the top touring car stars in Thailand having won the Super 2000 title two years ago. In fact, after winning Super Production in 2014 and Super Compact last year, he’s aiming for an unprecedented four titles in four different categories in four consecutive years. He came to Buriram without any track time in his new SEAT León so was starting from scratch when the Paid Practice programme kicked the week on track off on Thursday morning. Plenty to learn but he was already at the business end of the action.

Row 2 saw Rattanin Leenutapong and Douglas Khoo line up, the latter joining us for a full season after hooking up with TCR Thailand for the first time at Bangsaen back in February.

Then came the first lady driver to arrive in TCR Thailand, Nattanid Leewattanavalagul (SEAT), she’s the 2015 Super Production Class C champion, and Chariya Nuya in the Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic, he joined TCR Thailand in this car for the penultimate round of last season at Bira Circuit and stated his pace clearly after winning the Am class. He had been on provisional pole but was hit with a penalty and moved down the grid.

Finally, there was a real wildcard sitting at the back of the grid as Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya hopped in Singha Motorsport Team Thailand’s vacant SEAT for the first time when the cars went out to form up on the grid, the Super 2000 champion would be giving TCR Thailand a shot.

At the green lights Nattachak suffered wheelspin as he pulled away and that allowed Pasarit to power through into the lead while Douglas was also slow to get away and dropped to the back of the pack. Behind Douglas, Chariya made a fast start to sweep around the Viper Niza Racing SEAT but as he tucked in in front he collided with Nattanid and that saw her pushed to the outside and losing momentum. Nattanid meanwhile had gone around the outside of the tardy Nattachak and with Chariya pushing up it was Pasarit first into Turn 1 with Chariya following him through, Rattanin next up and then Nattachak who had been monstered on either side but recovered to hold fourth.

That tussle through Turn 1 saw Pasarit, Rattanin and Nattanid, in fifth, all going wide onto the run off and then on the run down the hill Chariya drew alongside Pasarit and took the inside line into Turn 3 to grab P1. Behind them Nattachak also went to the inside of Rattanin and squeezed through to P3, pulling back one of the positions he had lost at the start.

Chariya had the lead with just a third of a lap completed and that would be the last anyone would see of him as he started to quickly pull out a few car lengths. Kittipol ran very wide through Turn 3 as he took the hairpin in a TCR for the first time ever at speed and that put him back behind Douglas.

Nattanid quickly dispensed with Rattanin to move up to fourth. Through Turn 5 Pasarit ran wide and that dropped him back into the clutches of Nattachak who now had Nattanid hustling him hard as they climbed through Turn 6 and 7. Pasarit went wide again, this time out of Turn 8, but still hung onto P3 and as they crossed the line for the first time it was Chariya with a couple of car lengths from Pasarit, Nattachak, Nattanid, Rattanin, Douglas and Kittipol.

By the end of the second lap the race was starting to settle down as Chariya eked out gains at the front and Pasarit started to dial himself in and pull out a couple of lengths from Nattachak who had Nattanid still looking for an opening. Behind them Rattanin was hanging on but loosing ground and then there was a fast growing gap before Douglas and Kittipol came into view, this duo were falling away quickly.

The race wouldn’t settle down for long as Pasarit dropped back into the clutches of Nattachak and Nattanid while Rattanin closed up. Nattachak started looking at Pasarit everywhere, getting alongside but unable to get a clear opportunity while Rattanin also got up next to Nattanid.

On the fifth lap Kittipol pitted with growing electrical issues although he would re-join the race after losing three laps.

On the fifth lap Nattanid had a lockup into Turn 3, ran wide on the exit and Rattanin took full advantage to nip through into fourth place. Behind them Douglas had reeled in the train in front and was on the back of that battle, that meant second to sixth was covered by just a few seconds.

As the race went into the final third Nattachak had closed up on Pasarit and was starting to apply the pressure while further back Nattanid was having to fend off Douglas. Over the closing laps Nattachak would try everything he could to pass Pasarit in front but to no avail and he had to eventually be content with third place overall.

After 12 laps Chariya took the chequered flag for what was a pretty routine lights-to-flag win, his gap was almost seven seconds at the end – he also became the first Am driver to win a TCR Thailand race overall. Pasarit, on his TCR debut, fended off Nattachak to claim second place, and Pro-Am victory, while Nattachak in third was the Am runner up.

Rattanin was slapped with a 30-second penalty for a false start and that dropped him to sixth which elevated Nattanid to fourth and Douglas to fifth, they finished third and fourth in Am respectively. The final classified finisher was Kittipol who re-joined three laps down but got some very useful laps under his belt in the SEAT on what was his first time ever in the car – a ‘shakedown’ in every sense of the expression.

TCR Thailand 2017 – Race 2

The second race saw the usual top five reverse grid and that meant Douglas was on pole with Nattanid alongside. Then came Nattachak and Pasarit with the Race 1 winner, Chariya, leading out Row 3. He had Rattanin next to him while Kittipol would be starting at the back again.

But there would be a sting in the tail though as there was a short but heavy shower just as the preceding touring car race was on its slowing down lap and the track was very wet although the sun was out. With the sky looking bright and intermittent sunlight coming through there was no chance of more rain – but how fast the track would dry was the big question? Grooved tyres were out as the track surface was drying quite quickly and the field all plumped for this option – apart from the polesitter Douglas and newcomer Pasarit who both gambled on slicks.

At the green lights Nattanid got a great start to plough her way down the wet track and lead the pack into Turn 1. Behind her Chariya was the big winner from the scrambled getaway – for the second day on the trot – and he powered up from the third row to be right on the rear bumper of the SEAT at the front as the cars swung right through the first corner and plunged downhill. Douglas didn’t have the grip and he dropped to P3 with already a couple of car lengths opening up to the top two. Behind the Malaysian driver Rattanin grabbed P4 ahead of Nattachak while Pasarit dropped to the back and Kittipol nipped ahead of him as the ‘rookie’ found the wet track suddenly evened up the experience levels with these cars.

Into Turn 3 the order shuffled as Chariya held the inside line and looked to have much better grip, he sailed around the inside of Nattanid and into the lead while behind them Douglas was paying the price for his slicks gamble as he spun through the hairpin, Kittipol was charging, getting past Rattanin and into fourth place with Nattachak in third now ahead and in his sights.

Douglas turned the car around and got going again without any problems but that spin had cost him five or six seconds. Kittipol was demonstrating exactly why he won the Super 2000 championship last season – as the cars gingerly trod their way through the first lap, the race leader Chariya running wide in Turn 5, the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand driver was pushing hard in a car he hardly knew and had never driven in the wet before. Through Turn 5 he nipped down the inside of Nattachak and into P3 as the two cars wobbled across the track.

At the end of the first lap Chariya led them across the line with three or four lengths over Nattanid who had a similar gap to Kittipol, while Nattachak wanted the place back and was locked onto the back Singha SEAT in front. Pasarit, after his poor start, was next up ahead of Rattanin while Douglas was still suffering, having endured another spin, this time in Turn 8, and was off well off the back of the pack.

Although he got pretty wide through Turn 3 and lost time, by the end of the second lap Kittipol had reeled in Nattanid but then in the final turn she went really wide and that dropped her back behind both Kittipol and Nattachak, who by now had slipped a few car lengths back. Chariya led them across the line and his advantage was now up to 2.9 seconds, it was looking very much like he was going to pull into the distance just like in race one – but you can never count out the menace of Kittipol who was now in P2 although he had his mirrors full of Nattachak’s shiny blue and silver Civic.

Pasarit, who was scrabbling for grip on his slick tyres on a track where a decent dry line was still struggling to emerge, slipped back behind Rattanin in the battle for fifth but would fight hard to regain the place in what was the battle of the race. On the fifth lap Pasarit did a neat little switchback between Turn 6 and Turn 7, grabbing the inside line and holding it until they got to Turn 8.

As the race approached half distance and a drying line started to emerge Kittipol commenced chipping very slightly away at Chariya’s lead, it stood at 2.3 seconds at the end of the fifth lap. A lap later though it had visibly come down to 1.3 seconds while Kittipol could fully focus on the car in front as Nattachak by now had dropped to almost three seconds back.

Meanwhile Pasarit, who had been plodding away on his slick tyres but still keeping to a respectable pace, unfortunately wouldn’t see if his gamble would pay off during the closing laps when the track would have been much drier as he suffered a right hand front tyre problem on the seventh lap and had to pit to have it changed.

Chariya was now fully under pressure and he duly ran wide at Turn 3 – and so at the end of the seventh lap the gap was just 0.9 seconds. It was game on and the paddock came alive as this battle reached fever pitch. Kittipol hadn’t even sat in a TCR car before Saturday morning and had suffered technical problems in the first race – now he was really flying and looking like he could be about to make history.

Chariya was driving superbly though, he drove defensively and carefully and was keeping the gap to around half a second as the remaining laps counted down. At the end of the ninth lap though Kittipol came even further into the equation and the gap was just a couple of car lengths, seventh tenths of a second to be precise, as they crossed the line. This really was the clash of the titans, Chariya versus Kittipol, Honda versus SEAT, and as they tried every trick in the book to win the race they were racing away at the front, so much so that the next car was now a massive 9 seconds down the road. It was also a superb advert for TCR as this battle was all about driver skill, a drying line and fading intermediate tyres being pushed for all they were worth.

Into the penultimate lap Kittipol was looking to make a move, through the first esses, Turn 5 to 7, where he had been looking very strong all race, the SEAT closed right onto the tail of the Honda in front; there was just a matter of a few inches between the pair. The pressure was on as the pair went nose to tail out of Turn 7 and powered down towards the final section. This was gripping stuff and everyone in the paddock was on their feet. Into Turn 8 though Chariya overcooked it, ran wide and Kittipol was through into the lead but Chariya was right on the tail and through the final esses they were locked together. Into the final turn Kittipol kept it tight defensively but Chariya got a better run on the drier wider line and they swapped places as they thundered down the main straight side by side.

Into the last lap Kittipol ran a bit wide out of Turn 1 which cost him a couple of tenths, however he was straight onto the back of the Honda, clearly he had superior pace although Chariya was driving an immense race and defended his line superbly through Turn 3, that was one obviously passing point ticked off for the very last time. As the pair locked horns and raced up the hill to the first set of esses for the last time everyone around the track sensed this was going to be where Kittipol was going to make his last gasp effort to snatch victory. It was make or break time for a bit of history to be made over the next few hundred metres.

Chariya defended the line and kept it tidy through Turn 4 and as they exited the turned Kittipol got it wide but he wasn’t fazed and kept the power down and the momentum going to push up on Chariya as the pair slowed for Turn 5, the two cars visibly wobbling as they scrabbled furiously for grip on the damp track. It looked like Chariya had the turn covered but Kittipol got a nose in alongside the Honda and they both ran wide out of the turn which gave Kittipol the racing line and he grabbed the lead as they thundered uphill through Turn 6 and 7. Immense stuff.

Through the final section Chariya gave it all he had and Kittipol went very wide through Turn 11 but came back onto the track to slot in in front of his rival. He took a tight line through the final curve, held it all together as he got on the power for the last time and gunned it to the line.

Kittipol took the win by just three tenths of a second to record his first TCR victory and make a bit of history. It was unquestionably the track battle of the weekend, in a weekend that produced so much close action, and one of the best battles we have seen during TSS’s four-year-plus history. Good, clean racing between two skilled drivers in mixed and changing conditions, it was the perfect endorsement of the equality of TCR cars that allow driver ability to decide races while Chariya deservedly won the Am class for the second day in a row. Emphasising just how evenly matched the pair were during the race was the fact that Kittipol’s fastest race lap was in 1:57.771 while Chariya’s was a 1:57.860.

A further 11.2 seconds down the road Nattachak came home third (second in Am), with Nattanid, Rattanin, Douglas and Pasarit wrapping up the order, the last driver finishing one lap down after making a pitstop.

The two RMI drivers – Pasarit and Nattanid – were happy with their debuts but admitted they have plenty of work to do to adapt to their new cars and get up to full pace. “I have to say that the TCR car is really good and very fun to drive but I might have to take time to get used to the car in term of car setting and driving,” said Pasarit. “And I also hope for the better result for the coming Bangsaen races.”

His lady teammate was also happy to have made a solid start and picked up silverware. “For the beginning of [my] TCR racing experience the results of Race One and Two were very good [as I was] able to finish the race and be on the podium,” she said. “But in the future since I [am] aiming for a better position then I need to try harder [and] in terms of the TCR racing experience I have found some issues about the speed of the car and the brakes.”

Thailand Touring Car Championship 2017 Race 1 & 2

We welcomed a new name onto the TSS programme in Buriram as the famous moniker of the ‘Thailand Touring Car Championship’ (TTC) joined the mix for the first time.

The runners for the inaugural TTC double header joined the Super 2000 grid and the new category’s ambition is to leverage the success of our ‘Balance of Performance’ (BoP) initiatives into the C-segment ‘touring car’ platform and provide equality of machinery coupled with strictly controlled costs to cement the long term future of this enduringly popular category of racing. At the same time TTC acknowledges the fact that production car power unit capacity is steadily reducing and shifts the total focus away from 2.0 litre engines to allow smaller displacement engines with or without forced induction to compete thanks to the application of BoP.

Six cars joined up for the first race. Who else grabbed pole position than Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya, the Super 2000 champion switching, along with his now rejigged #25 Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Honda Civic FD, to the category. Second place on the grid went to another Super 2000 star to swap categories, Chayut Yangpichit, he won in Super 2000 in Buriram this time last year in his Honda DC 5 so could be expected to be knocking on the battle for P1 when TTC went to green lights. Then came Kittipol’s teammate Thamrong Mahadumrongkul, another crossing over, Chayut’s teammate Jesada Yangpichit, Poramin Meesamarnyont, returning to racing after a year’s hiatus with a brand new built Civic FD, and finally Grant Supaphongs who was switching to TTC after contesting TCR Thailand last season.

However, Grant’s race wouldn’t last long; he suffered a transmission issue after the pitlane opened, completed an outlap but gear selection problems meant he had to return to the pits although the crew wasn’t able to solve the problem in time for the race.

At the green lights Kittipol and Chayut renewed their long term Super 2000 rivalry in TTC and they both pushed hard as they mixed it up with the fastest Super 2000 runners, which were also on the track at the same time. While Kittipol sat up front Chayut relentlessly reeled him in as he dealt with traffic and at the end of the 12 lap race he had closed down the deficit and the gap at the finishline was just 1.036 seconds. Another lap could have made all the difference to Chayut but it was a great advert for the birth of TTC on the TSS programme.

In Class B Thamrong suffered something of a hiccup at the end of the first lap when his steering wheel detached as he exited the final turn, he swung onto the grass on the inside, using his hands to rotate the steering column, coolly reattached the wheel and powered back into the race before working his way into the lead and eventually winning comfortably. Poramin, meanwhile, bagged the runners up spot, an excellent result to announce his return to TSS, while Jesada claimed third place, the TT Motorsport driver classified although he finished three laps down.

Race 2 would see Chayut on TTC pole with Wijak and Thamrong next up, but crucially the TT Motorsport driver would have three Super 2000 cars between himself and his closest rivals which could give him a useful cushion in terms of track position. Behind them came Poramin and Race 1 winner Kittipol who would have a lot of ground to make up.

At the green lights Chayut converted pole into the race lead and the story was Kittipol moving up over the opening laps to reach P2. On the fifth lap, with Chayut making heavy weather of passing a Super 2000 Toyota, Kittipol seized the moment to get a great run down to Turn 3 and grab the lead. The Toyota though took advantage to get past both of them and that meant Kittipol didn’t have a clear track to try to put the hammer down. Meanwhile, also on the fifth lap, Jesada pulled off the track to retire with fuel pump failure.

For the second half of the race Chayut remained locked on the back of Kittipol as these two top touring car stars slugged it out for the win. There were no holds barred as Kittipol pulled every trick in the book to keep his adversary behind him and Chayut tried everything he could to squeeze his way ahead of the red, white and black #25 Civic in front. It was a battle that demonstrated everything good about touring car racing in Thailand, a terrific but clean fight between two of the best. It also revived plenty of battles these two have indulged in over recent years.

Not only did Kittipol have to keep both eyes on the snout of the DC 5 behind looming large in his mirrors he was bottled up behind the dynamically superior Super 2000 class Toyota 86 right in front which he just couldn’t get on close enough terms to make a pass stick. Putting the new TTC category on track with the Super 2000 runners created variables that added extra spice to both races.

In the end Kittipol hung on to the chequered flag, but the gap on the final classification after 12 laps was a mere 0.137 of a second – that summed up this battle for P1 perfectly. Both drivers said afterwards they really enjoyed the race – and so did the crowd!

A further 10 seconds down the road Grant came home in third place; that was an excellent result as he had started from the back of the grid due to his DNS the previous day and he had to pick his way through the ranks of the Class B runners to get clear air and close down the top runners. Making it a second clean sweep for Singha Motorsport Team Thailand, Thamrong was next up to win Class B, just like he had done the previous day while a little further down the road Poramin wrapped up a promising return to TSS with his second runners up spot of the weekend.

At the top of the standings Kittipol has two wins out of two from the season opener and headed home from Buriram with maximum points, 40 points to Chayut’s 30 points. Clearly the reigning Super 2000 champion wants to win the inaugural TTC title but Bangsaen is next up and back in February he had a tough time and didn’t trouble the point scorers. However, he announced himself to the paddock at the end of the 2015 season with a double Super 2000 win on those streets, with the same car, so he’s capable of banging out the points – but with two runners up spots in the North East Chayut is also gunning for the title and ‘success’ ballast is going to come into play for the first time this season at the next round so it’s all wide open.

Super 2000 2017 Race 1 & 2

Super 2000’s man of the moment Pattarapol Vongprai lined up the Vattana Motorsport Honda Civic FD on pole with the striking aero-enhanced ‘FD’ of Munkong Sathienthirakul next to him. Rudolf Yu (Civic FD) and Ekprawat Petcharak (Civic FB) were next up and then came Naoki Kawamura who was making his debut in a Toyota Team Thailand entered 86, the Japanese driver the latest recipient of a Super 2000 drive thanks to winning the previous season’s Toyota Altis One Make Race championship – although he is the first of the champions to get his hands on the 86 sportscar for his ‘prize drive’, rather than a ‘B spec’ Altis.

At the green lights Munkong got the power down and surged for Turn 1 to lead the pack downhill with Pattarapol tucking in behind. However, the pole sitter would have an untidy first lap culminating in overshooting the final turn and dropping down the order behind Ekprawat, Naoki and Kittitat Vongprai – the 21-year-old brother of touring car racing’s latest find, Pattarapol – as well as several of the front running Touring Car Thailand machines. As the race moved through the first few laps the battle was Naoki moving up with Kittitat on his tail while in the fight for sixth Wijak Lertprasertpakorn was fending off Rudolf Yu although the positions would swap around after three laps.

Ekprawat, in the unique Civic FB, had been looking right on the pace but he suffered a loosening waterpump belt and that caused the car to overheat. He had to pit to have the problem fixed and that dropping him away from the overall running order.

Naoki versus Kittitat was an enthralling dice and on the fourth lap the grey and black Vattana Civic FD nipped ahead through Turn 4 but the red and white factory Toyota 86 responded and made its move out of Turn 11 to get the repass done through the final turn. It was however a momentary change of place as Kittitat powered back past as they went down the start-finish straight in the shadow of the grandstand and he led the pair into Turn 1. Naoki responded by getting a drag down to Turn 3 and reclaiming the place which he then successfully clung onto as they went uphill side-by-side and through the first esses. That would end their battle as Naoki now started to edge away.

At the end of the sixth lap Munkong, who was beginning to come under pressure from Pattarapol, headed for the pitlane with plumes coming from the rear of his car. That left Pattarapol with the lead – and a pretty routine run to the flag over the second half of the race to start his year off with a win. He also took the Class B win. Naoki eventually drew more than 11 seconds ahead of Kittitat as they took second and third places respectively and a similar position in Class B while Rudolf closed down the deficit to Kittitat to less than a second although he wasn’t able to get a pass sorted. Wijak was a long way adrift of Rudolf although he claimed the final podium step in Class B. Then came the struggling Class A runners, Munkong and Ekprawat, both returning to the race a lap down after their mechanics fixed their respective problems and both made the chequered flag and were classified.

Thanks to the top order reverse grid, Race 2 saw Kittitat on pole, the best front row slot coming on his debut weekend in Super 2000 and just his second race. Next up was Naoki and Kittitat’s younger brother, Pattarapol.

At the green lights Kittitat kept the lead but Pattarapol was quickly on the move and past Naoki out of Turn 1 and into P2. As the pack surged down the hill to Turn 3 it was the two young brothers in the two black and grey Vattana Civics out front and on the run uphill to Turn 4 the mirror image cars swapped places. Kittitat’s race would take a turn for the worse though as he slowed to a halt on the start finish straight with a driveshaft failure just as the cars entered lap 2 and that put Munkong into second with Naoki next and Ekprawat moving up to fourth.

On lap 4 Munkong, who had closed down the race leader, put a pass on him into Turn 3. It would stay that way until the tenth lap when Munkong suffered a right hand front tyre deflation and he would trundle into the pits, for a second day in a row his shot at winning had evaporated.

That promoted Ekprawat to second place and he started to haul in the race leader. That was it though in terms of P1 action although the gap was just 2 seconds at the chequered flag. Race winner Pattarapol also claimed Class B victory while Ekprawat won Class A. Naoki and Rudolf were third and fourth, as well as second and third in Class B while Munkong returned to the race to finish fifth and unlapped; however, he also had a 10-second penalty added to his time due to a pitlane speeding infringement.

After announcing himself to the Super 2000 paddock at the Bira Circuit round last September, Pattarapol endured a slightly rocky Bangsaen in February. But he got his new season off to the best possible start with two wins out of two in the North East. He looked smooth and capable while the car didn’t miss a beat – that’s title winning form – but now he must conquer Bangsaen in July and haul in two high points scores.

Source. Edd Ellison

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