‘Opening an exciting new chapter’ can be something of an overused cliché at times, but over the last few days in Bangsaen the opening up of the ‘second chapter’ of the Grand Prix with the start of its second decade and 11th edition simply couldn’t have been any more appropriate.
That leap into the future started early on Tuesday morning with an FIA inspection that resulted in the awarding of FIA Grade 3 homologation and confers this globally recognised safety standard onto the Bangsaen Street Circuit for the first time. It will be a huge boost to the event going forward and underpinned by that robust platform expect the Bangsaen Grand Prix to grow rapidly in stature and reach.
That push for international status in fact gets underway this morning when the drivers and cars of Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series take to the track for their first practice sessions, bringing two major series to Bangsaen for the first time ever.
But over the last few days these cars have remained in their garages being fettled and readied – their time is about to come – and on the track it has been all about Thailand Super Series (TSS) with every category being immersed in qualifying action.
In Super Car GTM Plus Narasak Ittritpong has picked up where he left off in Buriram in April and he will start the first of the three races this weekend from pole – and in the process he became the fastest man to ever lap Bangsaen, smashing away the honour held by Darryl O’Young.
One notch down in Super Car GTM Kantadhee Kusiri posted a stunning qualifying lap to bang his Porsche onto pole position in no uncertain terms, his first Super Car pole, and an equally impressive lap came from Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem who was next up.
Thomas Raldorf was out on his own at the front in yesterday’s Super Car GTC qualifying session and he’s looking to make up for his disappointment in Buriram when he had both races in the bag before the wins slipped away.
And so it continued right down the field as qualifying times shattered in the dry heat. Super 2000, Thailand Touring Car, Super Pickup, Super Compact, Super Production and Super Eco all provided their own thrills and set the stage for a long weekend of on track excitement that gets underway early this morning.
Finally, one more variable came into play during the early hours of this morning – the weather. It’s been hot and dry all week, but a storm moved through Bangsaen in the early hours and the ground is still damp this morning. Will rain return over the next three days to make the action even more dramatic? The forecasts reckon the chance is high – only time will tell.
Bangsaen Street Circuit awarded FIA Grade 3 Homologation
Nothing could sum up the opening of the ‘second chapter’ of the Bangsaen Grand Prix better than the circuit receiving FIA Grade 3 homologation. FIA Track Inspector Tim Schenken made a detail examination of the track on Tuesday morning and pronounced that everything complied with the FIA’s regulations and awarded the status.
FIA Grade 3 homologation for the circuit confers this globally recognised safety standard onto the Bangsaen Street Circuit for the first time and will be a huge boost to the event going forward – it means international series can come and participate here and the event has a wide open window to grow smoothly and rapidly in prestige.
But although TSS Vice President Preeda Tantemsapya was delighted that the Track Development Team’s hard work plus all the work of local stakeholders has paid off superbly, he was quick to reflect on the huge ambition of Racing Spirit, and that this is another step forward, albeit a very big one. They are already looking forward and planning for the next decade, he says. “It was our goal and we strived towards that goal, but it’s the beginning of the next development to make it the best Grade 3 track.”
“We are now achieving the goal we set out to do but our passion doesn’t end there, there’s so much more to go and Bangsaen 2018 will be even better,” he continued. “We won’t stop where we’ve achieved the FIA Grade 3 licence, but we will go forward with the ambition to go as far as we can.
Preeda also points out the unique charm of the seaside resort will help propel the event forward. “With Bangsaen’s beautiful environment, its many facilities, its welcome to everyone and all the local participation we hope that during the period of time of the Grand Prix we can explore more with the tourists who come thanks to the involvement of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.”
He notes that, due to its positioning, motorsport draws higher value tourists. “We see that the highest service hotels in the area fill up first when the Grand Prix comes around,” Preeda says.
“We hope we can continue into the future with the support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Sport Authority of Thailand, their participation will make the event more authoritative and shine as we deliver not just the Grade 3 licence but also the community receiving back for their continuing support,” he adds.
Preeda says that moving the timing of the event away from the peak period for the resort will better facilitate the influx of new visitors – and they expect the many tourists coming to watch the Grand Prix to be impressed by Bangsaen’s unique charms and return to visit in the future when the season is at a peak. “In many ways moving the series into the low season period really shows what business we can bring into the event and then visitors not just coming during the race but they will then visit at other times and explore more and be part of what we have achieved.”
Track Designer Simon Gardini was also pleased with the achievement of the Grade 3 licence – but just like Preeda he sees this event as another stage in the journey of the Bangsaen Grand Prix, which is now well into the running of its eleventh edition. “For me this isn’t the end of journey that started in 2014 when we first came here but it’s probably a milestone,” he says.
“Two things you want on a track, for it to be exciting and safe,” he continues. “Bangsaen has always been exciting and now we have legitimately achieved a world class standard of safety with the FIA Grade 3 rating and drivers and anyone who has been here in the last two years can see that improvement,” he continues.
“It is only a milestone because there are still things we can keep doing in terms of making it better and better for both the spectators and the improvement of the infrastructure so it’s really only just the start and you will see the Bangsaen Grand Prix grow into something better and better and more widely renowned and known throughout the world,” Simon adds.
Qualifying: Super Car GTM Plus
Narasak Ittritpong was a very late substitute back in Buriram into the cockpit Vattana Motorsport’s Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3 and he seized the opportunity with both hands, winning the two season opening races to depart from the North East at the top of the first ever Super Car GTM Plus championship standings – and with a maximum score to boot. Yesterday lunchtime Narasak took another step forward and clearly demonstrated that he wants to win the title with a superb drive to post a 1:35.492 best lap (see separate story) that put him on pole.
But he’s going to have a real fight on his hands. Voravud Bhirombhakdi in the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 GT3 ran him very close with a 1:36.357, the gap 1.2 seconds in the end and the pair will start alongside each other on the front row. But that’s only half the story. After being hit in the rear by another competitor during the qualifying session Voravud posted his fastest times without the rear splitter, which broke off, and the team was confident that he had the pace to have put the car on pole. After qualifying was over the rear bodywork clearly bore the scars as the heat coming off the exhaust tailpipes had bubbled and damaged the composite panel running across the width of the car.
Voravud, a former Super Car champion, is improving each year and he goes particularly well at Bangsaen – last year he led the chase of professional driver Darryl O’Young – and he won’t want to let the opportunity to win this time around pass by. He will start this afternoon’s first race from P2 but he wants to win – and he has three chances with a trio of races taking place this weekend. It’s also the first time that a FIA GT3 category homologated Ferrari has been seen in Bangsaen since Pasin Lathouras raced one here during our inaugural season back in 2013. In neat continuity Voravud’s race engineer, Gianluca Soli, also oversaw Pasin’s car then.
The expected challenge from the Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeos didn’t materialise and the reigning Super Car GTM champion, Sarun Sereethoranakul’s best lap was a 1:41.163 which left him with pace to find overnight if he wants to challenge the front row sitters. He won’t have a clear run at them ether as the fastest GTM car is sandwiched between himself and the Ferrari. However, Sarun was another who sustained damage during the qualifying session that compromised his efforts and he said that he had been driving somewhat conservatively.
The quickest of the three B-Quik Audis in qualifying was the #27 of Daniel Bilski. It was the Australian’s first ever time here and just his second day of running so his 1:37.739 best lap was a very good start to racing on these streets and the three races coming up will be a perfect tonic for him to get fully up to speed.
Next up was Vattana Motorsport’s Camaro GT3 in the hands of Chonsawat Asavahame. He missed the season opener but returns to the fray in the car which was driven here in February by Tomas Enge, then in the GT3 class. Aside from yesterday’s two practice sessions, Chonsawat has tried this big Reiter Engineering-developed racecar only once before and that was just for a few laps around Sepang Circuit three years ago when the team had first acquired it, so his quickest time during qualifying 1:39.736 was a very solid start to proceedings.
Henk J. Kiks and Shaun Varney both posted laps in the 1:40s for fifth and sixth in class, however they are mixed in amongst the fastest GTM cars and will have to work hard to improve track position during the race. Shaun is also racing here for the first time so the young New Zealander had to take it step-by-step learning the circuit from scratch.
The final time in GTM Plus was set by Saravut Sereethoranakul in the second PSC Motorsport Huracán Super Trofeo and like his teammate he didn’t get the most out of the car. It’s just his second time here and after racing a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup on these streets in February he has a lot of work to do to get onto the pace – but certainly from this package there is plenty more to come during the course of the weekend.
The fastest man in Bangsaen
A few years ago Narasak Ittritpong pulled up at the side of the track here in Vattana’s Mitsubishi Evo during an early practice session, hopped over a guardrail and broke his ankle. He was home and in plaster just as the action started to wind up.
What bad luck he used up on that occasion was more than displaced yesterday afternoon when he became the fastest man to ever lap the 3.7-km Bangsaen Street Circuit after banging in a sizzling best lap during the qualifying session in 1:35.492.
That was well over a second fastest that the pole time here last year, 1:36.867, set by Darryl O’Young in a B-Quik Racing Porsche. And that was all despite the extra ‘success ballast’ he was carrying thanks to his two wins in the North East back in April.
And to put that all into context is the fact that in dislodging the honour from Darryl he had pipped a man who is undisputedly one of Asia’s top professional drivers.
Narasak was quite philosophical about his achievement post the qualifying session – he had got the job done and the team had setup the car well to absorb the extra weight. “[One Wednesday] I used old tyres from Buriram and the time wasn’t good and then I did my homework and I change to new tyres and new settings,” he said. “But unfortunately I had the ballast also so I had to add 50 kg from the morning and I had to adjust and add new settings again and I go to qualify.
“Then on the third lap I got the best time but after that I found some cars slower than me for four or five laps and I lost time for those laps and lost the tyres also,” he continues. “So I pit and calm down and then go for the final laps. I had to push myself 100% and I got the time in my target. It was fantastic for me and thank you to the team and to the Reiter team for coming and setting the car up that’s so good.”
He was pretty relaxed about being the fastest driver to ever lap Bangsaen, happier that the Lamborghini under him was working so well. “It was fun because the car can really go but for me I have the order from the team that the car must be safe but fast also,” he says. The first challenge is ticked off certainly. Now he has the next challenge to face today – the first race. And then there are two more to follow. But certainly from P1 on the grid this afternoon he couldn’t be better placed to pull in three sets of high scores of championship points that is his target this weekend.
Qualifying: Super Car GTM
Kantadhee Kusiri has a very busy weekend coming up. The highly rated Thai youngster is driving in TCR Asia Series this year and is looking hard at winning that important international title. Currently he’s just a few points off the top and on ‘home soil’ and on a track he knows inside out he needs to bang in the high points scores. His mount in that series is a front wheel drive/front engine VW Golf GTi TCR. Then he has to jump into a rear wheel drive/rear engine Porsche 991 GT3 Cup and battle for honours in Super Car GTM.
It’s only his second race weekend in the car and his first time ever driving it at Bangsaen, but we got something pretty special yesterday, summed up in five digits that read: 1:36.728. That was his eighth of ten laps and it was good enough to plant him on pole position in the hotly contested category.
Ferrari had the ascendancy in GTM back in Buriram during the season opener, but Porsche has bounced to the fore here and four of the five fastest times in qualifying were posted by 991 GT3 Cup runners. Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem enjoyed his best qualifying session in Super Car to date to claim the second fastest time with a blistering lap of 1:37.289, half a second shy of pole, while third went to the interloping Ferrari of Kantasak Kusiri, the 2015 champion with a time of 1:37.834.
Then came the Porsche of Aekarat Discharoen who has enjoyed slim pickings since winning in Buriram a couple of seasons ago, the A Motorsport veteran posted a best time in 1:38.025, while fifth fastest was another young driver, Tanart Sathienthirakul, with a 1:38.124. Tanart is splitting his driving duties with Porsche Carrera Cup Asia this weekend so he will have four races, all with the 991 GT3 Cup, so expect him to get faster and faster all weekend.
Sixth fastest time went to the first of the factory Toyotas, the #38 of Nattapong Horthongkum but his teammate, Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, will start from the back of the grid as he exited the qualifying session after just two laps and with no flyer to his name.
Then it’s on to the GTM Am (Amateur) class and pole position went to the reigning champion Paul Kanjanapas (see separate story) who carried Painkiller Racing’s hopes on his back after his teammate Naputt Assakul departed the qualifying fray early after a crash and the team set to work repairing that car this evening.
Second in class went to Thanavud Bhirombhakdi in the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 Challenge. He’s the Am class championship leader after notching up a P1 and P2 from the first round and he will be aiming to extend his cushion this weekend, especially as the closest driver to him, fellow Ferrari pilot Thamrong Mahadumrongkul, who is just two points adrift, isn’t in action here. Third quickest was Chairat Sangtong who is returning to Super Car after a few seasons away and is looking quicker and quicker each time he gets in the car. Then comes rookie Chinnapol Jongprasert (Ferrari) with Naputt bringing up the rear.
Starting at the back of the grid will be the Holden Commodore V8 of Craig Corliss. The big New Zealand driver was another in the wars as he lost the car coming down the fast beachfront section and banged the barriers giving his team plenty of work to do to repair the car last night as the damage also include the rear screen.
The league of Gentlemen
The arrival of the Super Car Am (Amateur) category year was clearly designed to galvanise the core of gentlemen drivers that race at the top level in Thailand, give them a clear target to aim for and push them to keep raising their game. They have certainly responded to that challenge and the battles for supremacy in ‘Am’ have been every bit as hard fought as those taking place at the front of the field, all without losing that dash of gentlemanly panache that marks them out.
The fastest of the gentlemen last year was Paul Kanjanapas, who wrested away the lead of the classification from his rivals during the first round and then maintained his advantage at the top as the season gradually wore on. Cool and collected he was never ruffled as the pressure built and built and he went into the season closer locked into a winner-takes-all title showdown with his teammate Naputt Assakul. He held his nerve and swooped down on the trophy. Paul is of course a regular face on the motorsport scene here and most famously was on the driving strength that won the ‘Touring’ class in the 2013 Sepang 12 Hours (then known as the MMER).
His defence of his Super Car GTM Am title didn’t get off to the best start in Buriram back in April, a P3 and a DNF were the scant pickings he took away from the long trip over to the North East. So he arrived in Bangsaen this week needing to up the game and get into a position to be able to target maximum points scores in the races – which he did superbly yesterday lunchtime, keeping his head as others around him were losing theirs, and the net result was that he planted the #60 Painkiller Racing Porsche 991 GT3 Cup on Am class pole position for today’s first race during the official qualifying session with a sizzling best lap of 1:43.549.
Paul was pleased with that result as he said afterwards the team had struggled to get up to the pace during Wednesday’s two practice sessions. “We had a bit of an up and down practice because for the second practice session there were a lot of faster cars and slower cars [GTM Plus, GTM and GTC were combined for the two Wednesday practice sessions] and then that put us further back than what we did in the morning so there was quite a lot of work, a lot of data studying on that side to do.”
However, it all shaped up well for yesterday’s 30-minute qualifying session, despite this being interrupted by two red flags. “We went out in qualifying with new tyres and luckily we didn’t really run into too much traffic and I was able to put in a few good laps and I was happy with the time I made today,” notes Paul.
That said there is plenty more to come from this driver/car package over the coming three days as Paul is still adrift of his previous pace here. “We’re still working back to achieve the race pace we had in February,” he says. “My time then was faster so hopefully in the race we can get settled in quite quickly and maintain our position and see where that takes us.”
Qualifying: Super Car GTC
Thomas Raldorf clearly likes Bangsaen, he always goes fast here, he has notched up the wins here and on his long awaited return to Super Car at the season opener in Buriram he had both races totally in the bag before fuel pump problems agonisingly threw him down the finishing order so it was no surprise in the least that he hooked his Porsche 997 GT3 Cup up superbly here to bang in a best lap in 1:43.355 during yesterday’s 30-minute lunchtime qualifying session to claim pole position. That’s a new record for the GTC category too. He was more importantly also a very healthy 1.374 seconds clear of the next car – his rivals will have work to do tomorrow if they are to prevent the Dane from marking his return to Super Car in style.
Leading the chase and making it an all-Porsche front row will be Charvanin Bunditkitsada in the shiny-chrome-and-orange Cayman GT4. He took a win here – albeit it was slight fortuitously – on his debut in Super Car GTC here back in February and since then has a weekend in Buriram under his belt so he’s ready to take the challenge to Thomas and the other drivers.
Leading out Row 2 and almost a second back from the front row is the first of the factory Toyota 86s of Manat Kulapalanont. He won both races in Buriram to take a maximum score away from the North East and open out a 15-point advantage in the championship standings at the one quarter distance mark. But Manat will be lugging a big compliment of success ballast this weekend and the extra weight showed in qualifying so he’s likely to be playing it slightly more conservatively come the races and be looking to grab as many points as possible.
Alongside him is the first of the Mazda RX-7 runners, James Runacres. The Rotary Revolution-developed cars looked very fast in Buriram at the season opener and for the first time they looked on terms with their rivals in the GTC pack – in fact the Englishman posted the fastest lap in both races.
He’s carried this sizzling form over to Bangsaen and the car’s straight line speed is very useful on the long main straight here so it bodes well for James who came away from Buriram with an impressive P2 finish to his name. However late in the session while pushing very hard to improve his times he whacked the barriers and brought out the red flags. The right hand rear corner of the RX-7 was badly damaged but the car is built strong and the team quickly set about stripping it down and repairing it, working late into last night.
After a fruitless time in Buriram Attapot Sriprom in the first of the two B-Quik Racing entries in GTC has bounced back to set the fifth fastest time in qualifying here as he heads into his second season in the #99 Porsche 996 GT3 Cup. Alongside him on the third row will be the second of the Mazda trio, the #98 RX-7 of U-tain Pongprapas.
Row 4 is led out by the returning Ian Geekie in the second of the B-Quik Racing entries, the #25 Porsche 996 GT3 Cup. He hooked up with the team for the first time at Bangsaen in February and settled in very well with two points scoring finishes – now he’s back and will be looking to up his game and get on the podium. This is Ian’s third time at Bangsaen as he also competed here in a classic racecar during event’s early days. Wrapping out the row will be Rudolf Yu on his debut in the Aston Martin Vantage (see separate story).
Then comes the second factory Toyota of Suttipong Smittacharch, pleasingly returning after injuries sustained during the opening round in Buriram back in April and the whole paddock was delighted to see the Toyota Team Manager, one of Thai motorsport’s central figures, back in his racesuit and helmet and pumping out the laptimes. Then came the Nissan GT-R of Tosaphol Phamyai. At the back of the grid will be the matte black Vattana Motorsport KTM X-Bow of Dechathorn Phuakkarawut, who only managed one flying lap, and the third Mazda, the #13, dubbed widely as ‘Pink Sakura’, which is in the hands of Chiang Mai driver Narin Yensuk. He’s starting a second season with the team having missed opener in Buriram and had a short session, but is all good to go.
Shaken not stirred
We’ve seen a lot of exotic brand names taking to the racetracks of Thailand in recent years – such as Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini – but this weekend there is yet another name to add to that highly prestigious list, Aston Martin.
Best known as the ride of choice of James Bond, Aston Martin also has an excellent record in sportscar racing and just two weeks ago the brand added to that roll call with GTE class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Aston Martin in the paddock at Bangsaen this week is at the other end of the racing scale to those GTE machines, it’s a Vantage GT4, built for gentleman to go racing for pleasure.
And ‘gentleman’ is certainly a tag you can safely apply to its driver for this weekend, Rudolf Yu. The Hong Kong driver is certainly urbane in his mannerisms but he keeps a much lower profile than James Bond. He’s swapped from Ginetta to Vantage as the other British sportscar was damaged during the previous round. However, Painkiller Racing has a pretty wide roster of racecars in its stable and the sleek Vantage has been gathering dust since the 2013 edition of the Sepang 12 Hours where Rudolf was one of the crew that raced it to a podium finish.
So he can dredge his memory banks for some car knowledge, but in reality this weekend is going to be a learning experience and after missing Wednesday’s practice sessions due to work commitments his first time in the car was yesterday’s 30-minute qualifying run.
So it was all about getting used to the car. What were his first impressions? “During qualifying with the red flags I only had a handful of clean laps, having driven the car first time in three years,” he said afterwards. “The car still feels fresh from the box, but we didn’t have time to properly set it up.”
Rudolf admitted enjoying easing himself back into the Aston Martin although he was quick to point out that the weekend would be all about reacclimatising himself to it. “The Vantage is very easy to drive, it has great adjustability and has good brakes,” he said. “However, it is most more accustomed to high speed corners than slow corners at Bangsaen.”
That all said, just having an Aston Martin on the grid is a spectacle to be enjoyed in its own right and if any driver can get it humming on this street circuit then Rudolf can so expect him to be further and further into the big picture as the weekend progresses.
Qualifying: TA2 Thailand
TA2 Thailand has drafted in Australian V8 Supercar driver Steve Owen to pilot the TA2 Mustang around Bangsaen this weekend and he will hook up again with the Super Car GTC grid, running at the head of the pack to demonstrate the American racecar much as Shane Lewis undertook similar duties with this machine during the last edition back in February.
Steve didn’t come into Bangsaen quite blind to the car and track as on Tuesday morning he had a short shakedown in the Mustang at Bira Circuit and his initial impressions of the car were very favourable. “First time in it this morning,” he said after the team had pitched up in Bangsaen late Tuesday afternoon. “It’s good, it’s got heaps of power, it’s light, it’s nimble, it’s good fun.” So a promising start.
He also took a drive around the 3.7 km circuit before the roads closed and liked what he saw. “It looks pretty wild, some fairly good undulations and some fairly tight stuff, some nice stuff, just no run off anywhere,” said the Australian. “I love street circuits, so it’s perfect.
“There’s a couple of long straights where the car will really get the chance to stretch its legs but it handles pretty well and it’s reasonably fast and I’m looking forward to being pleasantly surprised at how quick it is,” he added.
Fast forward two days later to Thursday afternoon and two days that have been well spent in the cockpit getting used to both a TA2 machine and the Bangsaen Street Circuit. It seems to be going well. He posted a 1:41.203 best lap in qualifying which positioned him nicely just ahead of the Super Car GTC pack.
“The car’s going really well, I enjoy street circuits and this is one of the best ones,” he said after Thursday’s qualifying session. “It seems to suit the circuit well, the laptimes we are doing are quick, we’re doing 242 km/h top speed going down the straight and it comparable, it’s good.”
With International V8 Supercars regularly running on temporary circuits as the organisers’ take the ‘show’ to the population centres, is there any other street circuit he’s raced on he can compare to Bangsaen? “The next round of the V8 Supercars is at Townsville and [Bangsaen’s] got some sections that are a little bit similar to Townsville but [Bangsaen] is really narrow and really high speed,” he said.
Steve also got a rude induction to one of the unique charms of the village of Bangsaen. “In the qualifying session I had a monkey run across the back straight and I’ve never seen a monkey run across a racetrack before,” he adds with a laugh.
Steve is thus pleased to be on the entry list here but is fitting the trip into his busy racing schedule this year. “It’s a good opportunity for me to come over here and do it so I jumped at the chance,” he says. “I do V8 Supercar endurance events with Prodrive with a guy called Chaz Mostert who has won quite a few races this year.” Indeed, Chaz has nine V8 Supercars wins to his name to date topped off by victory in the prestigious Bathurst 1000 three years ago.
“I do Australian GT as well,” Steve continues. “I did the Bathurst 12 Hour this year in a Lamborghini, anything that pops up I will do, I’m doing some Toyota 86 racing in Australia and I also did the Spa 24 Hours the last couple of years.” By tomorrow evening he will be able to add Super Car GTC to his highly diversified CV.
Qualifying: Super 2000 & Thailand Touring Car
As in Buriram the two ‘touring car’ categories have been combined, the established Super 2000 runners mixing with the new Thailand Touring Car (TTC) entrants, many of whom have switched over.
In the power stakes the Super 2000 cars have the distinct edge and they occupy the top end of the grid. Munkong Sathienthirakul won here back in February but he suffered a poor start to the new season in Buriram and came away with just a pair of sixth places to his name. However, that gave him 12 vital points so he didn’t lose too much distance to the top runners and he will be gunning for glory here when Super 2000 kicks off its first of two 15-lap races here tomorrow lunchtime.
Munkong’s best lap in yesterday’s 30-minute qualifying session was a staggering 1:48.847 which put him a massive 2.346 seconds clear at the top and his rivals are going to have to come up with something if they are going to challenge him at the front. The charge was led by Super 2000’s shining new star Pattarapol Vongprai, but the best the Vattana Motorsport driver could extract from his Civic FD was a 1:51.193 and clearly the double winner in Buriram needs to find more pace if he isn’t going to be left hoping for mechanical problems to hit his rival – which do seem to happen with regularity to Munkong’s fast but fragile Civic FD. Pattarapol however nabbed Class B pole.
The second row sees the factory entered Toyota of Naoki Kawamura edge out Pattarapol’s brother, Kittitat, in the second grey-and-black Vattana Civic FD. The Japanese driver ‘won’ the prize of driving a factory Toyota 86 in Super 2000 thanks to his win in Toyota Motorsport’s ‘One make’ championship – and he’s clearly looking to use this as a springboard to glory. He was quick in Buriram on his debut with the car and is well placed here. Just over a second faster than Kittitat, who is also showing plenty of pace.
Row 3 will see the fastest runners in the new Thailand Touring Car category next to each other and it’s a very familiar story – perennial rivals (and good friends it must be added) Chayut Yangpichit and Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya will start sid by side and in qualifying they were separated by just one and a half tenths of a second, as usual the gap separating them being barely visible.
At the season opener back in April Kittipol grabbed both the wins on offer with Chayut folling him across the line in both races so its 40 points to 30 points respectively in the championship classification and that means Chayut needs to turn it around here to keep his chances of the title from starting to slip away – and the Honda DC 5 driver certainly set that scenario up in the best possible manner by bagging pole.
Right behind them is the next TTC driver on the grid, Grant Supaphongs, who is looking much better at ease here in his new Civic FD than at the opener in Buriram where he suffered all week with mechanical niggles and the former TCR Thailand driver was just four tenths of a second off pole. Completing Row 4 will be the Super 2000 Civic FD of Wijak Lertprasertpakorn. The top ten in qualifying was completed by Ekprawat Petcharak, who isn’t where he wants to be on the grid in his Civic FB as he hit the barriers on his first flying lap putting him out of the action, and Tony Percy, back in the action to no one’s surprise really after a rather short ‘retirement’ from racing. Tony hung up his helmet at the end of last season but the lure of Bangsaen proved too much and he’s behind the wheel of a Honda DC 5, a car he knows very well and his absence doesn’t seem to have harmed his speed as he planted the car on TTC Class B pole position despite reporting gearbox problems.
Poramin Meesamanyont is next up, he’s also returning to racing after a hiatus, and he put his built-for-this-year Civic FD second in TTC Class B ahead of Cem Yudulmaz, finally making his debut in Super 2000 after an abortive start in Buriram. Qualifying was wrapped up by Painkiller Racing’s Rudolf Yu, who only arrived in Bangsaen yesterday and thus had no practice time in his Super 2000 Civic FD, TTC debutant Natthaphol Pattamaphongse (Civic FD) and TT Motorsport’s Jesada Yangpichit who didn’t make the session and thus without a time will start from the back. Fifteen cars took part in the 30-minute combined Super 2000/TTC qualifying session yesterday.
Qualifying: Super Pickup
Waris Onyarab is something of a qualifying specialist, especially so at Bangsaen so it was no surprise to see him plant the blue-and-black #93 Isuzu D-Max on pole position with a best lap of 1:59.111, almost three tenths of a second clear of his closest rival. That turned out to be the ever improving Chaleampon Phonlookin who claimed the outside berth on the front row – as well as Class B pole position.
Third fastest went to Songsak Kornsirisuepsakun in the fastest of the two new Toyota Hilux ‘Revo’ racing trucks which have generally struggled in qualifying and that places him very handily to unlock race pace; he was just under half a second adrift of pole. His teammate Jaras Jaengkamolkulchai will start from the fifth row of the grid after setting only the tenth quickest time during the 30-minute qualifying session. The second row is completed by Paitoon Thammasirikul.
Row 3 sees two fast truck runners starting side by side with Akasit Kriengkomol (second in Class B) leading out Akekaluck Nakkerd while the fourth row sees the fastest Class C drivers together, Samrit U-songtham comfortably edging out Wuttichai Solgosoom. Also look out for a quick driver, Donut Racing’s Nuthaporn Namjuck, who has taken over the D-Max campaigned in Super Pickup last year by Johnny Masood who in turn is now preparing to swap to TCR Thailand, but Nuthaporn’s taking some time to get up to speed and will start from the sixth row of the grid. As one would expect from Team Donut, the D-Max sports a new and striking wrap so it certainly stands out from the truck pack.
Qualifying: Super Compact
Super Compact is rapidly growing in stature with new drivers coming in with each race and as it heads into just its second season, sixteen drivers took part in the qualifying session. ‘Compact’ takes a focused look at the present and future of automobiles and taking into account the rapid trend towards downsizing and forced induction it provides equality for B-segment cars by applying our ‘Balance of Performance’ formula which has been such a success story in levelling out the Super Car classes. That means equality of machinery for drivers to thrive, and opening up modification for teams to learn and innovate. A ‘win-win’ for everyone – and judging by the close race and growing grid – that also applies to the fans in the grandstands.
The factory supported Innovation Motorsport Mazdas, with their turbodiesel power units have thrived in this category after switching from Super Production and they finished both races at the season opener 1-2 back in April with their drivers Michael Freeman and new signing Mana Pornsiricherd taking a win apiece.
They were certainly the favourites for pole when the Super Compact runners hit the track at 0930, but they didn’t quite manage a front row lockout. Mana, one of Thailand’s top truck stars, is returning to TSS after a hiatus and swapping rear wheel drive for front wheel drive as well as a much lighter and nimbler racecar, although still a turbodiesel. He got the job done and planted the #43 Mazda2 on pole with a 1:56.573 best lap during the 30-minute qualifying session.
His Australian teammate though was more than a second off pole with a best lap of 1:57.706 after overcooking his hot lap and that puts him in fourth place, with two fast drivers that have graduated from Super Production: Hideharu Kuroki and Anon Rodprasert planting their Honda Jazz racecars in between the two red-and-black factory Mazda 2s.
Anon is an experienced driver with a win in Super Production to his name last year and well equipped to thrive in Super Compact. He starts his rookie experience in Super Compact off by planting himself on the front row and expect him to challenge when the lights turn green. Hideharu meanwhile utterly throttled the life out of Super Production last year to romp away from the title and the Japanese driver now makes the step to Super Compact with his Honda Jazz – he starts third, but if his first win in his new category doesn’t come in Bangsaen, then don’t expect it to be very far away.
It’s something a surprise to see a driver of the calibre of Kajornsak Na Songkhla starting down on row three, but that’s exactly where last year’s Super Compact championship runner up ended up; the Ford Fiesta driver’s best lap of 1:58.187 was 1.7 seconds shy of pole position. But Kajornsak usually shows better race pace than in qualifying so don’t count him out just yet, he should be right in the mix when the lights turn green. Completing Row 3 will be Vattana Motorsport’s Settasit Boonyakiat and the Honda Jazz GK driver is a regular on the overall podium even if he isn’t usually quite in the final push for the top podium steps, expect him though to be snapping at the heels of the runners in front.
Row 4 is led out by the blue-and-white Honda Jazz GK of Super Compact rookie Tiruth Suwannamas who also claimed Class C pole. He picked up a second place in Class C in Buriram at the season opener and is clearly looking to go one better here. Alongside him is another graduate from Super Production this year, Thanasit Bhunyatharanonth (Honda Jazz GK), teammate of Hideharu.
The top ten on the grid is wrapped up by Phongthep Wachirarungruang who has taken over the Honda CR-Z that Pasarit Phromsombat drove to the inaugural Super Compact title last year, the RMI Racing Team driver is second in Class C, and Silapa Teeraniti (Toyota Vios), who was always right in the thick of the midfield hunt last year and is third on the grid in Class C. Sixteen cars posted a time.
Qualifying & Race: Super Production
The Super Production runners were the first out onto track at just after 0850 yesterday as the hot and dry week in Bangsaen showed no sign of changing course – despite weather forecasts that were predicting a chance of rain.
This category was set for a busy day – as well as an early start in qualifying, they would have their first race of the weekend in the late afternoon, immediately following the “Bangsaen 200 km” endurance race.
When the 30-minute qualifying session had shaken up there was a very familiar face on pole position, Yotsarun Sansuk, who has been up at the sharp end of the category for a couple of seasons now. The Honda City driver enjoyed a superb start to the championship at the season opener in Buriram back in April with a double win so he arrived at the seaside with maximum championship points to his name and after the title has eluded him over the last couple of seasons – despite winning runs – he wants to put that right and he announced his intention in the best possible way with an unmatched 1:59.458 best lap.
But don’t expect Yotsarun to have it easy at all, as next to him on the front row is 17-year-old ‘wunderkid’ Kmik Karnasuta. He was just 0.267 seconds shy of pole and said afterwards that he could have improved his time slightly further as he lost tenths after encountering traffic on his fastest lap. The youngster, who comes from one of Thailand’s most successful racing families, always goes well here and he marked himself out as one to watch for after taking his first racing win in Bangsaen back in 2015 in the Super Eco category – then he was just 15-years-old.
Kmik’s starting his second year in Super Production and the signs are promising as he claimed a second place overall at the season opener in Buriram while counting back to February’s last edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix he claimed a fifth place, so he’s certainly very familiar with his Super Production Honda Jazz here. It seems almost a sideshow such is his meteoric rise to mention that he bagged Class C pole yesterday morning and he jointly leads the class championship standings after a first and second in Buriram, but that’s also the scene of the bigger picture.
Narmlap Sringen and Jakrapan Davee made up the second row of the grid, and emphasising the usual competitiveness of Super Production, the top four were separated by just 1 second. Seventeen drivers set at time during qualifying.
With the addition of Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series on the programme this year the timetable has become pretty crowded and the TSS schedule kicked off yesterday with the first race of the weekend and it fell to Super Production to get the ball rolling.
The front row had comprised of serial category winner Yotsarun and young hotshot Kmik who were separated by just a couple of tenths in the earlier qualifying and when the green flags waved it would remain that way when the chequered flag was unfurled at the end of 10 laps of racing, the pair also winning Class B and C respectively. Narmlap claimed third place to make it an unchanged top three from qualifying while Kris Vasuratna battled up the order to finish fourth as well as runner up in Class C. The top five was completed by Jakrapan, he dropped a place from his qualifying position during the race.
Source. Edd Ellison