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SUPER CAR GTC: SERVING UP THE THRILLS IN THE THAILAND SUPER SERIES

Thailand Super Series’ (TSS) Super Car GTC category kicked off its 2017 season in real style recently in Buriram. Two very hectic 15-lap races eventually saw both the wins claimed by the factory-entered Toyota 86 of Manat Kulapalanont, but in reaching the chequered flag first he didn’t have it easy at all.

Thomas Raldorf, joining the category for a full season campaign, looked to be comfortably on course for victory in both races, however recurring technical issues stopped him in his tracks although he was able hang on for a second and fourth place finish which worked very well to limits the Dane’ championship points damage.

There were many stars of the two GTC races though and last year’s championship dominating KTM X-Bow GT4 has a new driver, Dechathorn Phuakkarawut, and he grabbed a pole and looked quick, the Mazda RX-7 of James Runacres looked blisteringly fast down the straights and set fastest lap in both races while the Mitsubishi Evo X of Prateep Tunprasert also showed a lot of race pace. It’s already looking like it’s going to be a closely fought ‘golden year’ for Super Car’s ‘entry level’ category.

Meanwhile, work is proceeding at pace for the 11th Bangsaen Grand Prix, which comes up at the end of this month, and with each edition significant improvements are being made to both the track infrastructure and the supporting infrastructure, part of a long term year by year strategy to keep upgrading all aspects of the event.

Following on from the new Administration/Race Control Building that was opened in February, we are pleased to inaugurate another permanent building, the Media/VIP Center, which has just completed construction and is being fitted out ahead of the opening of this year’s Grand Prix.

Finally, to TCR. With one of our top young Thai drivers, Kantadhee Kusiri, comfortably making the step from TCR Thailand to TCR Asia Series this year – very comfortably in fact as he’s third in the Driver’s classification standings after two rounds and four races with a win already to his name – there couldn’t be a clearer example of just how the TCR ‘pyramid’ is really working in practice. That staircase of talent for touring car drivers is something that David Sonenscher, CEO of WSC Asia, the promoter of TCR Asia Series, is keen to emphasise and explain.

Buriram: Super Car GTC – Race 1

There were a few changes in evidence on the grid when the Super Car GTC runners formed up for their first race of the year. Gone were Narasak Ittritpong and Jack Lemvard who dominated at the front last year in Vattana Motorsport’s KTMs; however, one of those two ‘batmobiles’ was still in evidence but with a new driver Dechathorn Phuakkarawut behind the wheel and the car was where one has grown accustomed to finding it – occupying pole position.

Alongside the black X-Bow was a familiar car/driver combination – Manat Kulapalanont in the factory-entered Toyota 86, he’s back for another season in this category and was just a tenth of a second shy of pole.

Then there was a new name. Thomas Raldorf is returning to Super Car full time this season after a few years away in Super Production although he’s made some sporadic appearances in the GTC category over the last few seasons. However, with a new Porsche 996 GT3 Cup – a car he knows intimately – and a settled support team he should be one to keep an eye on. P3 was a robust start as he gets himself up to speed with his new mount – and he was just seventh hundredths away from the front row; in fact, the top three were covered by just 0.186 seconds. Fourth was Charvanin Bunditkitsada, who starred on his debut last time out in Bangsaen, pumping himself up to start just his second weekend in the Porsche Cayman GT4.

At the green lights polesitter Dechathorn was out of position and got bogged down in the KTM. That meant it became a three-way sprint for Turn 1 between Thomas, Charvanin and Manat. Charvanin got squeezed out before the turn and Suttipong Smittacharch in the second Toyota 86 also got a quick getaway and tucked in behind.

Confusion would then reign as the Race Director called for a restart due to the pole sitter being out of position and flags waved. Out of Turn 1 though many drivers missed the false start notification and the front order would shake up instantly as Thomas, who recognised the situation backed off, dropped back, while Prateep Tunprasert in the Mitsubishi Evo X spun out of the first corner. Down the hill half the pack was still racing and U-tain Pongprapas (Mazda RX-7) came barrelling on the inside into Turn 3 to take the lead, with Sontaya Kunplome on his tail in P2, however as the pair stampeded into Turn 3 U-tain ran wide onto the runoff and Sontaya spun.

That allowed Dechathorn, who got the power down after falling almost to the back at the start, to take the inside line and regain the leading spot with U-tain tucking in behind him, and then Attapot Sriprom (Porsche 996 GT3 Cup) and James Runacres (Mazda RX-7). Out of Turn 4 the crazy first lap, with the front runner still missing the flags, continued as, while Dechathorn kept it on the track, the following U-tain, Attapot, James and the recovering Charvanin all ran very wide. Charvanin got the best momentum to pass his three rivals and into second and this action continued a few hundred metres further as the top two, Dechathorn and Charvanin both spun out of Turn 5. That sent cars in every direction as they tried to avoid the spinning machines and although the KTM got going again, the silver and orange Cayman took longer to get moving again.

At that point the everyone became aware of the flags and messages from Race Control and the mayhem strewn first half of the lap ended with James leading out Tosaphol Phamyai (Nissan GT-R) and Attapot. However, with a false start having been declared and less than half a lap completed the race would be restarted from its original grid and the yellow Mazda’s race leading glory would be a very short lived affair.

While the cars formed up on the grid and the track staff shuffled them back into their correct places Charvanin headed to the pits and with fluid appearing under his car he would not take the restart.

At the restart Thomas got a superb getaway to slice through to take the lead into Turn 1 with Dechathorn and Manat tucking in behind. Rudolf Yu in the Painkiller Racing Ginetta G55 also got a great start to move up to fourth place while the big looser was James who plummeted to the back of the pack.

The Dane opened his lead out to a few car lengths by the time the cars had run down the hill to Turn 3 for the first time but the real battle was behind the black and white Porsche as Dechathorn and Manat locked horns. The pair went side by side through Turn 4 with the KTM holding the inside line advantage but up the hill the Toyota kept on the power and took second place into Turn 4. Meanwhile Rudolf’s great start was evaporating as the cars powered back up the hill as he was passed by both Prateep and U-tain. James was fighting back and as the cars existed the first esses he had picked off Tosaphol to move up to P7.

As they came round to complete the first lap it was very close at the front and into the final turn Dechathorn tried to wrestle second place back off Manat by going down the inside but that left him wide open to the attentions of Prateep who powered past as the cars headed down the start-finish straight.

Prateep was flying now and he took Manat through Turn 3, the Toyota bouncing onto the kerbs as it tried to hang onto the place but the Mitsubishi was through and immediately closing the gap down to Thomas as the front runners raced through the stadium esses for the second time. However, Prateep carried too much pace through Turn 7 and both Manat and Dechathorn nipped past.

Its stayed that way until the end of the second lap although Prateep passed Dechathorn for P3 on the main straight. The Mitsubishi then repassed Manat in the run up to Turn 4 and he was back up to second place. Prateep then lost the place through Turn 7 and Dechathorn was back through in Turn 8 as the order continued to shuffle turn by turn.

The top four had now streaked away from the midfield which was around 5 seconds adrift and the battle for the final podium step was between the two Mazdas of U-tain and the recovering James, with the Englishman putting a move on his teammate through Turn 1 at the start of the third lap but with too much momentum and he ran wide handing the place straight back while a few cars further back Tosaphol spun the GT-R round out of the first corner. James however then made a move stick on U-tain out of Turn 3.

U-tain’s race was over though on the fourth lap as he suffered a rear tyre blow out on the exit of Turn 4. That gave James some breathing space although a couple of seconds further back Suttipong and Rudolf were indulging in a real ding dong battle for six place. Then there was another gap before the Porsches of Sontaya and Attapot were tussling away for eighth place.

Rudolf then got past Suttipong as Sontaya closed up and it became a four car battle for sixth place. Sontaya would harry Suttipong until half distance before the Porsche ran wide and allowed Attapot to nip through. However, they would all gain a place as Rudolf spun at the final turn and dropped to the back of the group with Attapot very nearly hitting the Ginetta side on as Rudolf made his way back into the race. On the ninth lap Rudolf got a place back as Attapot spun at Turn 5 while at the same time Tosaphol came in to retire.

At the front Manat then closed up on Thomas who was suffering fuel pressure issues with his new Porsche which cut his engine grunt down and there was some real bumper to bumper action as the Dane vainly attempted to defend his line as the Toyota tried everything to get past. Their tussle allowed Dechathorn to close up. However, Manat finally made a move stick through Turn 5 but as he went through his rear corner caught Thomas’ front and the Porsche spun around which allowed Dechathorn to also get past. The race leader right from the start was now down to third and struggling with a loss of power Prateep would soon also pick him off.

The closing stages of the race saw James as the man on the move, the bright yellow Mazda, now free of his tussle with U-tain, reeled in Prateep and Thomas, the Thai-built ‘RX-7’ finally showing a very strong pace. He would move up to third on the road.

Over the final laps Dechathorn hustled Manat hard in the battle for P1 but the Toyota was able to maintain the advantage to the chequered flag and the KTM driver was slapped with a 30 second penalty for being out of position at the first start and that dropped him down to fifth place. Instead it was James who finally unlocked the potential of the Mazda with a superb second place, not only that but in a clear sign that the Rotary Revolution team are now really getting to grips with this self-developed car he posted the fastest lap of the race in 1:45.070, three tenths quicker than the next best driver, Thomas, could manage. James was only 7 seconds adrift of the winner at the end.

Third went to Prateep, another driver who was seeing a difficult 2016 season suddenly galvanised as the new year got underway – he looked fast all race long but this is a car that suffers from excessive engine bay heat issues as a race progresses and it has to be carefully managed to ensure reaching the chequered flag.

Then came Thomas’ stuttering Porsche, the Dane getting scant reward after leading for most of the race, albeit the 10 championship points that come with fourth place limiting the damage somewhat, with the penalised Dechathorn having the consolation of grabbing the final podium step.

The battle between Suttipong, Rudolf and Sontaya went to the flag, the trio finished sixth, seventh and eighth and were split by a second and a half while further down the road Attapot recovered from his spin to wrap up the classified finishers in ninth place.

Buriram: Super Car GTC – Race 2

Thomas was on pole for Race 2 with the previous day’s winner Manat alongside him. Row 2 saw Dechathorn with Charvanin, who hadn’t made the restart the day before, alongside, while Row 3 was led out by the yellow Mazda of James with the black Ginetta of Rudolf next to him. Then came the Mazda of U-tain and the second Toyota of Suttipong.

At the start Thomas controlled the pack into Turn 1 with Manat tucking in behind. James got a great start to go down the middle of Dechathorn and Charvanin to move into third place while out of the first corner the Cayman GT4 ran wide and lost ground. However, it all went off just behind them as after contact between Suttipong and Rudolf both cars spun, the Ginetta was affected and the British sportscar whacked the barriers hard on the inside of the exit. The driver was okay but the car certainly wasn’t. The Toyota was also stranded on the track and Suttipong had to be removed and taken to hospital for checks. Very fortunately, his injuries were limited and we wish him a very speedy recovery.

Down the hill Charvanin got a flyer on the inside to move up to fourth, but as the cars made the slingshot back up the hill it was the Mazdas in the ascendancy as James powered past Manat into P2 and U-tain overtook Charvanin for P4. However, the blue RX-7 was carrying far too much momentum and ran wide out of Turn 4 dropping back behind Charvanin again while Dechathorn also took advantage of U-tain running off the track.

With the Ginetta well and truly stuck against the barriers and the Toyota stranded on the circuit the Safety Car boards were waved and the frenetic first half of the lap action was ended. As they formed up it was Thomas from James, Manat, Charvanin, Dechathorn, Attapot, U-tain and Tosaphol.

Racing would resume at the start of the fourth lap with Thomas getting the power down to leap away while James defend his second place and Manat was third as they surged through Turn 1. There would be more first corner exit drama though as Dechathorn spun on the inside runoff but this time there was no contact with the barriers and he was able to turn the KTM around and re-join the race. Over the first half of the restart lap Charvanin hustled Manat in the battle for P3 but the Toyota soon shook him off and as Tomas led them over the line to complete the first lap back under green flag conditions the pack had spaced out a bit with a few car lengths between everyone.

The race settled down although a couple of laps later Tosaphol squeezed the big Nissan past U-tain’s RX-7 in the battle of the ‘blue’ cars.

At the end of the sixth lap the front order got a shake up as James was served with a drive through penalty for passing under yellow flags and he dropped to the back – from where he would mount a real fightback drive.

By half distance Thomas had pulled out three and a half seconds over Manat while Charvanin was another second further back but he had James swarming all over him.

James had dropped away behind Attapot, U-tain and Tosaphol down to seventh after serving his penalty, the latter two having swapped positions again although a lap later it was the Nissan back ahead of the Mazda. Then they went round again and at two thirds distance the recovering James caught them up and leapfrogged them both.

Attapot pitted at the end of the tenth lap to retire. “There was a problem with the steering and I had a spin in Turn 4,” the B-Quik driver explained afterwards. “I had to pit to have it checked but the car couldn’t continue.” It was turning into a real race of attrition with just seven cars now still running.

As the race went into the closing laps Dechathorn started to reel in U-tain and Tosaphol who had now settled down with a second or so between them. With three laps to go Tosaphol would spin the Nissan in Turn 10 and that finally relieved the pressure of U-tain while putting Dechathorn up another place. However, with three to go the blue RX-7 suffered a rear tyre failure on the run down the hill to Turn 3.

Thomas then started to lose pace – his fuel pressure problem had returned, as he explained afterwards. “We changed fuel pump and fuel filter for Race 2 and filled up the car with fuel but same thing happened with 3 laps to go but even worse than Race 1,” he said.

That would lead to real drama on the cusp of the final lap as into the last corner for the penultimate time Manat, who had been busy reeling in Thomas’ now-struggling Porsche during the closing stages of the race, got through on the inside to move into the race lead.

Thomas had no answers, he could do little more than nurse his car around the final lap and Manat was able to haul out more than three seconds to take the chequered flag first for the second day in a row. Thomas was however comfortably able to hold onto the runners up spot as there was an eighteen second gap until Charvanin came into view, the Cayman GT4 driver collecting P3 to make up for his early exit the day before. James was next up, however he would be excluded post-race and that gave fourth to Dechathorn while Tosaphol wrapped up the podium finishers. U-tain was the final classified car in sixth but he was a lap down thanks to his tyre failure.

It was small consolation but James claimed the fastest lap in 1:45.419, the second day he had been the quickest driver on the track; he was half a second up on Thomas who posted the second fastest race lap.

In the Super Car GTC Drivers’ championship standings after one round and two races Manat has already opened out a 15 point cushion thanks to his double victory that equates to a maximum possible points haul from the weekend. The Toyota driver has 40 points, with his next closest rival, Thomas, on 25 points, after scoring a second and a fourth place. Next up are Dechathorn (18 points) and James (15 points) before Charvanin and Prateep are both on 12 points.

In the Super Car GTC Teams’ standings meanwhile Toyota Team Thailand is on top with 46 points thanks to the 40 points Manat scored plus a further six contributed by teammate Suttipong in Race 1. The efforts of Thomas and Charvanin means that the JWD-Unixx Racing Team is hot on their heels with 37 points. Then comes Yokohama KS The Pizza Company (21 points) and Vattana Motorsport (18 points).

TCR provides the perfect ‘Pyramid’

With one of our top young Thai drivers, Kantadhee Kusiri, comfortably making the step from TCR Thailand to TCR Asia Series this year – very comfortably in fact as he’s third in the Driver’s classification standings after two rounds and four races with a win already to his name – there couldn’t be a clearer example of just how the TCR ‘pyramid’ is really working in practice.

That staircase of talent for touring car drivers is something that David Sonenscher, CEO of WSC Asia, the promoter of TCR Asia Series, is keen to emphasise. “The idea of TCR in general is to have a level playing field from national level up to regional level and then over to international level,” he says.

He says that the cornerstone of the TCR concept is equality of machinery with the main focus being on balancing the performance of the homologated cars which include models from brands including VW, Audi, SEAT, Alfa Romeo and Honda. “Everybody has the same level of car and the idea is to create a ladder to proceed through from novice all the way up to a professional level with equal chance,” he notes.

With a firm foundation of technical equality bedded into place that has allowed a highly ambitious global web of interlocking championships to have been rapidly rolled out. “The other thing that’s key to the concept is that the regional championships race with the national championships when we go to a country,” David says. “Equally the international drivers, regional drivers and national drivers get to share the platform when they are in the territory so basically it’s a whole family where everyone can participate against everyone else of different levels and measure themselves so it’s really unique in that respect.

“Especially as I think we have already something like fifteen to seventeen championships existing around the world in different places and it’s really starting to prove itself as it develops more and more and as people start to understand this then I think it will become a big success,” he adds.

For Thai drivers that opportunity came first into play last year when TCR Asia Series visited Buriram – and later this month the regional championship, after kicking off in Sepang (Malaysia) and then visiting Zhuhai (China), twice, will be coming back to Thailand for its fourth round to join the Bangsaen Grand Prix for the first time ever.

David says that TCR Asia Series is excited to add Bangsaen to the calendar. “From our side we’re coming for a round in Bangsaen and we’re really looking forward to it as it will be a really good way to get the Thai guys to race against the regional guys and vice versa,” he says.

“We have had great success with that,” he continues, noting that this will be the second time the two series have joined grids. “Last year I think it worked very well, the event will be part of the Thai championship so they will be scoring points for that event as well so I think that’s a really good move.”

David also reckons that the ‘local’ contingent should be able to hold their own; that’s certainly been demonstrated by Kantadhee’s form over the opening TCR Asia Series races of this year. “They’re very competitive certainly, the Thai drivers traditionally have been one of the leading groups in Asia,” he says. “The reason for that has been the national sport is so healthy and vibrant so they have a lot of experience by the time they make that leap to Asia so I’m really looking forward to it and I think it will be one of the strongest races we have this year.”

The unique demands and challenges of the Bangsaen Street Circuit will be a great fit for TCR Asia Series – that’s the message too. “This venue in Bangsaen is absolutely incredible, I’ve been around it since day one, I came and did the inspection years ago before it was even built so I have really been looking forward to bringing a race here, it’s going to be great,” David says. “Touring car racing on a street circuit just can’t be beaten, I think it’s going to be a highlight of our year.”

The inclusion of Bangsaen means TCR Asia Series can boast that two street circuits will be on the 2017 calendar as Macau will come up at the end of the season, albeit as a non-championship round. “Macau is an iconic track, it won’t be a championship round, it’s a one off invitational, but even so it’s a big part of the calendar and the drivers of course are all looking forward to it and it’s a great race and the great thing about this year is it’s mainly for the Asian and China drivers so it will be a much better platform for them to showcase their talents on a big international stage,” David says. “Macau is a great track and has so much history so a real challenge for the drivers and spectacle for everybody following TCR.”

New addition to the Bangsaen landscape

Work is proceeding at pace for the 11th Bangsaen Grand Prix which comes up at the end of this month and with each edition significant improvements are made to both the track infrastructure and the supporting infrastructure, part of a long term year by year strategy to keep upgrading all aspects of the event. In terms of the supporting infrastructure, for the ninth edition we introduced the new permanent support series paddock with technical facility areas while for the most recent running, the delayed 10th Anniversary edition held back in February, we rolled out the new permanent Administration and Race Control Building.

Now we announce the completion of another permanent building, the Media/VIP Center, which has just completed construction and is being fitted out ahead of the opening of this year’s Grand Prix.

“We’re very pleased to add another facility for this year’s Grand Prix,” explains TSS Vice President Preeda Tantemsapya. “The Race Control Building worked out very effectively for the last Bangsaen Grand Prix and it made the decision easy to move forward quickly with the new Media and VIP building.”

Like the Race Administration Building the new Media and VIP Center was also designed in house by TSS and they both have been designed to facilitate optimum use. The new structure’s location is very central as it’s been constructed on the same site that the previous temporary tented Media Center and VIP area occupied. “The new permanent buildings aim to improve conditions for working and they a very clear sign of the commitment to the Bangsaen Grand Prix, that it’s here for the future,” Preeda added.

Meanwhile, at the same time the track infrastructure installation is being carried out, scheduled in distinct phases to reduce inconvenience to local residents and businesses, and while a large proportion of the guardrails have already been installed, sections which impact traffic and pedestrian movements will be fitted later.

Footbridge access stairs have also been moved into position in recent days with the walkways set to be slotted into place just prior to the event getting underway. There has been an extra positive factor in the preparations for the eleventh edition though as Preeda notes, “Since we moved the date to the low season it has been much easier to get the work done with much reduced disruption.”

Source. Edd Ellison

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