Thailand Super Series (TSS) wrapped up ‘Season 5’ last weekend in Buriram with the premier category, Super Car GTM Plus, playing out some of the most sensational races in living memory. The championship leader’s advantage was overturned as the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles were decided on the final lap of the final race – and that was in the pouring rain.
When the dust – or rather the rain – had settled Vattana Motorsport driver’ Narasak Ittritpong was crowned the inaugural Super Car GTM Plus champion but that stark result in itself tells so little of the story.
Narasak and Singha Motorsport Team Thailand’s Voravud Bhirombhakdi slugged it out for championship advantage over three long and explosive days. First though outgoing GTM champion Sarun Sereethoranakul made up for a pretty tough year with a superb win in last Friday’s first race of the weekend, held in mixed conditions, but come Saturday it was Narasak vs Voravud in a no holds barred battle for P1 and the classification advantage that went on for lap after lap in one of the most enthralling lead battles we have seen for many years. In the end Narasak just managed to keep his arch rival at bay, but that epic duel faded a little when it came to the third and final race on Sunday as the rain came bucketing it down.
Daniel Bilski, so often playing the bridesmaid this season, seized the moment as the incessant rain levelled the playing field to allow the Audis to get on terms with the GT3 cars and he simply powered away into the distance to notch up his first Super Car win while in title terms, once Voravud hit the barriers in the atrocious conditions it was left to Narasak to tiptoe home to swap the positions around at the top of the classification and win the title.
Super Car GTM Plus Race 1 Friday (Race 8 of the year)
With three races within 72 hours to decide the title the atmosphere was highly charged as the big beasts assembled on the grid for the opening encounter last Friday afternoon and the countdown to the green lights entered its final few minutes. On pole was the Vattana Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo of Narasak Ittritpong with classification points leader Voravud Bhirombhakdi alongside. The two were going straight out for the title and Narasak, trailing by 14 points would have the track position advantage.
Then came the first of the B-Quik Audis, the #27 of Daniel Bilski with Chonsawat Asavahame in Vattana’s big and muscular Chevrolet Camaro GT3 next to him. Behind him was the second B-Quik Audi, the #26 of Henk J. Kiks, and the Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo of outgoing champion Sarun Sereethoranakul who had qualified P3 but was moved to the back due to a minor technical infringement. He would take the start after a tough week that had seen him sitting on the sidelines until qualifying – and that have been a compromised session.
It got worse for PSC Motorsport too as their second Huracán, driven by Saravut Sereethoranakul, was out of action before the weekend even started, the Italian sportscar suffering terminal engine problems that couldn’t be repaired. With just a single point separating B-Quik Racing and PSC Motorsport at the top of the Teams’ standings, the latter outfit was at a stroke reduced to a single car and on the backfoot in that brewing battle.
The shape of the race would be decided within the first half of the opening lap as Voravud and Chonsawat made contact and that shifted the title momentum into Narasak’s direction, he converted pole into the race lead and led the pack over the line for the first time while Sarun capitalised best of that chaotic start to elbow his way up to P2 and he was just a couple of car lengths behind the Vattana Gallardo as the top two cars braked into Turn 1 for the second time.
Third at the end of the first lap was Daniel, he was also a key winner from the starting melee as he moved up to P3 but the Australian would soon face intense pressure from the recovering Voravud who was looking to claw his way back up the order and reduce the championship points deficit he was facing.
Sarun was a man on a mission though and he harried Narasak and was quickly past and into the lead. The Huracán driver making light of his lack of practice time and compromised qualifying session as he fended off the Vattana Gallardo and eventually broke that challenge to run home a comfortable 3.6 seconds clear at the front.
“It was [wet] in Turn 3 and Turn 8 and 9 and, and [some drivers] didn’t quite have the same confidence with the car but I’m familiar with it as we had this type of [condition] in Sepang at the start of this year so I’m used to it,” Sarun explained afterward. “So I can get from position six to second in the first lap and then I take around three or four laps to get first position and then the car is good and everything is perfect on the car so I get the P1 on the podium.”
Daniel hung onto the top two over the opening laps but after seeing off a challenge from behind from Voravud who spun while applying pressure, he eventually drifted away to finish 11.1 seconds off Sarun but happy with a better than expected third place.
Voravud having been in the wars on the first lap, with a car that was now showing clear signs of that contact on the right hand rear three quarter bodywork, although the driver reported no ill effects to the handling, had a further moment as he challenged Daniel for P3 and spun. That left him in fourth place. Crucially though the 10 points he picked up for fourth place limited the championship damage, although Narasak pulled 5 points back out of him and the gap between the pair overnight was now down to just 9 points.
Chonsawat and Henk came across the line in fifth and sixth but the former would be hit with a 5 second time penalty for crossing the pitlane exit line and they would swap places, the Dutchman grabbing the final podium step to make it both B-Quik cars on the winners’ rostrum.
Super Car GTM Plus Race 2 Saturday (Race 9 of the year)
The points gap between Voravud and Narasak was now into single figures with two races to come and the Vattana driver seemingly had the advantage and momentum, the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand driver’ would most likely need to finish ahead in at least one of the remaining races if he was to convert his slender classification lead into his second Super Car title. Meanwhile it was equally tight in the Teams’ standings with B-Quik Racing having come into the weekend with a 1 point advantage and having completed the first race with that 1 point lead intact.
That showdown between Narasak and Voravud would play out over the whole race as the pair slugged it out for the lead. Narasak, converted pole into the race lead and within a couple of laps the Ferrari was on his tail. Narasak had to dig in and withstand relentless pressure from Voravud who tried everything to find a way past, even getting alongside at times, but he made no slip ups, stuck like glue to the racing line and after 15 relentless laps the white and black Lamborghini led the red and white Ferrari across the line, the gap a mere 0.916 seconds.
It was one of the most closely fought races we have seen in recent years, two highly capable and very evenly matched drivers raising their game to the max in a no holds barred contest for the title, Ferrari vs Lamborghini, it was a real treat for the fans in the grandstands and crews on the pitwall. Voravud had the small consolation of setting the fastest lap of the race in 1:36.501.
The previous day’s winner, Sarun, dropped out on the sixth lap with a broken driveshaft and that robbed the race of a driver and car that could mix it up with the top two. With the white Huracán Super Trofeo gone it was left to Daniel to mop up third place for the second consecutive day although he was nearly half a minute down the road when the chequered flag came out having lost a huge amount of track position bottled up behind the two GTM class leading Toyotas. With Sarun picking up no points from the race that allowed B-Quik’s Australian driver to whittle away the deficit to third in the Drivers’ standings with one race still to go to just 3 points.
Third across the line had been Chonsawat in the Camaro. The Vattana Motorsport owner had enjoyed a very fast start to move up to second and back up a 1-2 for the team over the opening lap. However, he was quickly picked off by Voravud and settled into a solid third. He was however slapped with a 30 second penalty for being out of position at the start and that dropped him down behind Daniel’s Audi in the final race classification. Chonsawat still made a trip to the podium, finishing fourth for a second consecutive day.
The final podium step was occupied by Henk in the second B-Quik Audi, the Dutchman repeating his finishing position of the previous day, struggling with a down on power car.
Super Car GTM Plus Race 3 Sunday (Race 10 of the year)
For the third and final race of the year and with just 4 points separating the title hopefuls, the track was thoroughly wet after heavy rain had drenched the track earlier, finally the weather had turned after a week of threatening to disrupt proceedings.
It wasn’t just the top two positions in the classification at stake either, Sarun was sitting out this race, handing the team’s only working engine over the teammate Saravut who had sat out the first two races. Overnight the PSC Motorsport crew had swapped the Lamborghini power units around and instead it was the black and bronze Huracán of Saravut that lined up at the back of the grid for the third race. Saravut would be getting his first run since engine problems had stymied him in practice – and he would be starting on a wet track. Quite a mountain to climb for this driver.
At the start Narasak led the pack into Turn 1 while Daniel squeezed alongside a tardy starting Voravud although he couldn’t quite make a pass stick. On the long run down to Turn 3 Chonsawat powered the big Camaro around the outside and up into P2 to tuck in behind his teammate for a Vattana 1-2 which would have a dramatic effect on the championship standings if it stayed that way.
The championship destiny swung further in Narasak’s favour as Voravud ran wide out of Turn 4 and Daniel nipped through to take P3. With rain levelling the playing field, for the first time this season Daniel had a machine that was on equal terms and he quickly squeezed past the Camaro and by the end of the first lap the Australian was up into second place.
As the cars came through the second lap the rain resumed and the waterlogged track was soon awash, spray was being flung up and visibility was down to a bare minimum.
Throughout the third lap Daniel was hustling the race leading Lamborghini hard, Narasak’s car setup looking uncomfortable in these tough conditions. Through Turn 8 with water streaming across the track Narasak got the Lamborghini a little out of shape as the black-and-yellow Audi applied the pressure and that culminated in a spin through Turn 9. Daniel had to put two wheels onto the grass to avoid the rotating Lamborghini as he held it together to move into the race lead while Narasak recovered the car and didn’t lose too much time, holding onto second place – just – teammate Chonsawat was next up and but he safely covered his teammate’s rear.
Behind them though Voravud’s race would be over as the car got out of shape through Turn 11 and whacked the barriers hard before limping slowly along the couple of hundred metres to Pit In. The Safety Car was immediately deployed and as they all slowed down it was Daniel leading from Narasak, Chonsawat, Henk and Saravut. Voravud eventually stumbled into the pits, the car slithering along at an alarming angle, but with a snapped right hand rear steering rod clearly visible once the mechanics got the wheel off his race was over.
That meant it was almost game over for the championship – if Narasak could just bring his car home classified he would score enough points to win the title, but with monsoon conditions enveloping the circuit, that was no foregone conclusion.
When the lights went green again Daniel just disappeared into the distance once more, the driver and car coming alive once more in these conditions and he already had several seconds in hand as the cars reached the bottom of the hill. No one could live with the ruthless determination of the Australian who knew his first Super Car win was within his grasp.
Daniel defied the conditions to hammer out a pace that left his rivals reeling and kept it safely on the road to take the chequered flag after 15 laps of sensational racing with a massive 58 seconds in hand over Chonsawat who had rode shotgun behind Narasak during the second half of the race but nipped past for P2 once the finishline loomed into sight and the title was safe in his teammate’s hands. Narasak followed him over the line to take third, but much more importantly, claim the Drivers’ title. That made it two Super Car titles in two years for the Vattana driver, as last year he won Super Car GTC in the team’s KTM X-Bow.
Henk had to start the race from the pitlane as his right hand door came adrift on the warm up lap. The Dutchman put his foot down in the wet conditions and battled his way up to finish fourth, but he also had to ensure he reached the chequered flag in a podium position to deliver the points required for B-Quik to seal the Teams’ championship title, there could be no mistakes.
For B-Quik Racing, fielding the Audi R8 LMS Cup for the inaugural year of GTM Plus it has been something of a relentless season, they have had to grind out results with a racecar that simply isn’t on terms with the GT3 machines or the Huracán Super Trofeo. It was testimony to how much this team had dug in that they arrived in Buriram with a 1 point advantage at the top of the Teams’ championship standings. In last Friday’s first race Daniel and Henk had finished third and sixth which kept B-Quik at the top of the Teams’ standings, but again by just a solitary point. In the second race the duo took P3 and P5 to open that slender cushion out to 6 points but all the momentum was with the new second placed team, Vattana Motorsport, and B-Quik certainly weren’t the favourites, they would have to slug it out right to the wire if they wanted to collect the prestigious title. Then the rain came and the rest is history as they claimed the inaugural GTM Plus Teams’ crown. It was also Daniels’ first win in Super Car and his first fastest lap while, with Sarun not starting the race, the points he bagged for winning allowed him to climb from fourth to third in the final Drivers’ championship rankings.
The race winner was clearly over the moon after the race and that emotion manifested itself with real punches of joy on the podium. “There was no holding back from the start,” Daniel said afterwards. “It was maximum attack and I managed to pass the 458 GT3 on the opening lap, but dropped a spot to the Camaro GT3 on the straight.
“I quickly worked out where the cars in front struggled, and changed my lines to find better grip and attack,” the Australian continued. “It paid off, with my pace clearly faster than those ahead. I made a clean pass on the Camaro GT3 and was hounding the Lamborghini GT3 for a couple laps which forced him into an error, which I pounced on. Conditions were incredibly tough so it was one of the most focused drives I’ve ever done.
“The R8 LMS Cup was brilliant in the wet and I quickly worked out where the grip was … or wasn’t,” he added. “The Safety Car negated the lead I had built at halfway, but at the restart it was back to 100% attack. I built a solid lead again then had to manage the pace to the end, constantly speaking to my engineer to keep on top of the lap times and gaps.” Daniel did the job superbly, rising to the occasion to win one of the most sensational races in Super Car history.
Source. Edd Ellison