The first race of the first TA2 series into Asia, TA2 Thailand, is still three and a half months away; however, interest in the new concept is already skyrocketing and TA2 Racing Asia, the regional promoter, has just put key building blocks in place to rapidly grow its ASEAN footprint, as, at Bira Circuit, Pattaya, last week, two of the leading Philippines racing drivers tested the current roster of TA2 machines here.
The new dawn of ‘TA2’ will kick off in ASEAN with TA2 Thailand next year, which will run as part of the premier national racing programme, Thailand Super Series. TA2 Thailand racecars are starting to stack up here with teams and drivers beginning to take delivery.
The exciting new ‘one make’ racecar – which comes in a choice of three body styles: Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro – features a 525 hp 6.2-litre V8 engine and sequential transmission in a purpose-developed spaceframe ‘silhouette’ chassis.
Interest has been high already and that is already extending well beyond Thailand. So, into the mix last week at Bira Circuit came two of The Philippines established top drivers, Don Pastor and Gabrielle Dela Merced.
Both Don and Gabrielle have plenty of experience of racecars ranging from single seaters to big V8 sportscars – so they were well positioned to be able to tap straight into the potential of this exciting new breed of racecars.
Don Pastor, one of The Philippines most successful racing drivers of the nation’s current generation has enjoyed a career that’s been underpinned by rewarding stints in Asian Formula 3 and Asian Formula BMW single seaters as well as in touring and GT level cars over a decade and a half that’s seen him also race extensively in the U.S. as well as across Asia. In recent years, he’s best known though for having raced in the powerful Euro NASCAR series and bringing the Asian V8 Championship to The Philippines in 2014, so he was perfectly placed to extract the most from the dynamic power and handling that the TA2 machines exude. He also came with local knowledge having raced single seaters at Bira Circuit in the past.
Gabrielle Dela Merced, became the first lady driver to ever test a TA2 car in Asia when she hit the track at Bira Circuit last week and she has a very similar ‘formula’
background to Don, having raced previously in Formula BMW, Formula Toyota and Formula 3 – as well as turning her hand to big V8 powered sportscars and also taking her career to the U.S. as well as right across Asia. Like Don too, Gabrielle has a strong profile away from the cockpit, she enjoys major mainstream recognition in The Philippines as a regular TV host with her own series as well as making a splash as an FHM cover model, mentoring on the History Channel’s popular ‘Celebrity Car Wars’ series and even appearing as a housemate in The Philippines’ franchise of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ – her race track successes helping to cement a big fan base outside the sport.
Don and Gabrielle shared a Ford Mustang TA2 between them during the day, which stayed hot and dry, and both drivers were quickly into the groove, getting used to the TA2 and putting in representative laptimes.
The latest test comes as TA2 Racing Asia responds to rapidly growing demand from right across ASEAN for its exciting new ‘One Make Race’ series that’s centred on the dramatic new breed of TA2 machines. Cost effective and competitive, TA2 will kick off with a championship in Thailand next year, to be followed by other national series, a regional series and ‘intercontinental’ challenges. The lights haven’t even turned green yet but TA2 is already hitting the sweet spot.
Don Pastor: “My first impression is that it’s very, very easy to drive. Some people get off-guard when they hear of 500 or 600 horsepower with 500 torque, with numbers like that it seems like it will be a monster to drive but actually the TA2 has a very easy quick steer and with a paddle shift, it’s not as tiring or as brute as I would have imagined it to be before, rather it’s actually like a GT2 or GT3 car it’s so easy to drive. It has tons of grip so it’s very forgiving if the car gets unsettled out of a corner there’s so much you can do to save yourself from throwing a lap away, there’s not as much ground to make up for. It’s a beautiful car too, it’s so much more than I imagined in every area.”
Gabrielle ‘Gaby’ Dela Merced: “This car really surprised me. I was a bit worried as we just had an 8-hour race so my body isn’t exactly up to shape so I was a bit concerned about not being able to manage the G’s when I got into this car. I’ve never driven a car with this type of technology but it’s a fun and easy car to adapt to, it sinks you into it. I’m really happy I was able to come in and test the car. It’s a really balanced car, even for this track it’s great. My whole tactic today was to take it slow, I knew I had the whole day to test the car. It was good, times were improving, but in all essence, I pretty much have the feel of the car now, what I needed to gain from the experience I think I already have in terms of the car’s capabilities and it’s a fun car to understand.”
Craig Corliss (Distributor for TA2 Asia Racing Co., Ltd.): “I’m very pleased that Don and Gaby were able to come and test the TA2. They’re both experienced drivers, who are familiar with this type of machine and are arguably the two top Philippines drivers today, so it was really also a case of putting the TA2 concept on the line to impress them. That they were so positive about all aspects of the car is very satisfying for us, as is the fact that they got so quickly into the groove and onto the pace. We’re aiming to roll TA2 out across ASEAN, as well as hooking up with other TA2 championships, such as TA2 Australia, and the robust and cost-effective platform we have put in place with the TA2 concept is perfect for that, so it means getting strong and early interest from The Philippines is very important. With the TA2 concept it really feels like we are pushing at an open door. We will now look to pull together to get Don and Gaby into the cars for TA2 Thailand’s first year.”
Interview – Don Pastor
Don Pastor is arguably the most famous and successful racing driver of the current Philippine generation, with many important wins not only in his native country but right across Asia as well as on the U.S. circuits. He also has a lot of experience of competing with sophisticated, spaceframe V8 racecars so nobody is better placed to understand and extract the most from the new breed of TA2 machines.
During his day long test at Bira Circuit last week, Don (who alternated stints at the wheel of a Ford Mustang TA2 with his compatriot, Gabrielle Dela Merced) took time to recall his racing career and offer his initial impressions of the new machine, the first time he had driven the TA2 generation racecar.
So first to rewind back, how did he actually start out in motorsport? “I did a couple of weekends of karting in 2001 and after a few more weekends I tried out in the Asia Festival of Speed in The Philippines in 2002 in the touring car championship and I won the championship of that year,” he explains, noting that it turned out to be the perfect moment to announce his talent. “It just so happened that the same weekend the BMW factory touring car team were there to race in the Asian Touring Car Championship and they invited me to go to Spain to try out for the Formula BMW scholarship.”
This was a dream opportunity – and one readily Pastor seized with both hands. “I came out the quickest in the Formula BMW series for the try outs in Europe and they gave me a scholarship and I bought the car to buy into the series and I started my own team to do the entire 2003 season,” he says.
Suddenly he was racing a single seater across the continent. “I did pretty well, I came third in the championship and I got a couple of podiums and following that I did Asian Formula 3 in 2004.” That F3 drive came with the prestigious Tom’s Team Toyota and resulted in a win at the Goldenport Park Circuit in China.
“From then, 2005 onwards until 2009, I did the Philippines Touring Car Championship as my sponsors wanted me to go back into touring cars and I got the championship again in 2009 and they awarded me driver of the year FIA at national level,” Don says. That year proved very successful, netting the National Endurance Cup Championship title and set him up for his next career step – Stateside.
“In 2010 I started my racing school and I ventured to the U.S. in 2011,” he says. “I started driving for factory teams, doing Time Attack and some SCCA touring cars and doing GT cars.” It proved a successful couple of years as Don was the ‘Redline Time Attack Class Champion’ in 2012 and the ‘Global Time Attack Class Champion’ in 2013.
It also opened the door for him to try his hand at driving the big V8 beasts of the Euro NASCAR series. “I joined mid-way in 2013 in the Euro NASCAR series and I did pretty well back then,” he said. “But it was just a try out and they gave me only 5 laps experience straight into qualifying so I had to learn the car in 5 laps in qualifying. I qualified I think twenty second and I finished in the top eleven.”
That opened up a new opportunity. “From that we decided to launch these V8s in Asia and call it the Asian V8 Championship in 2014.” The series took in four rounds, two each at Batangas Racing Circuit and Clark International Speedway – and was an instant hit with the fans, clearly a positive pointer as TA2 looks towards The Philippines.
From there family commitments required Don to take a break from motorsport. “I have stopped since 2014 until today,” he says. “So, the test with the TA2 today is basically me coming back into the sport.”
An experienced racer and with probably more cockpit time than anyone else in the region with big big V8 racecars, Don quickly blew off the cobwebs and was soon posting very representative laptimes.
It was also a benefit that he had raced here previously in Formula BMW, albeit more than a decade ago – a year that saw him learning the key tracks across Asia. “We did the entire tour that year,” he recalls. “We went to Autopolis in Japan, here in Thailand at Bira, we went to Indonesia, we went to Malaysia, both Sepang and Johore and we also did the races in the Philippines at Clark and Batangas.”
And he was quickly into the groove of the 2.4-km, 12-turn Bira Circuit, the long-time ‘Home of Thai Motorsport’, which in fact celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. “Actually, it took me maybe one or two laps, but it came back to me, just like riding a bicycle, it’s the same, nothing has really changed,” Don reckons.
So, to the TA2, what were his first thoughts? “My impression is that it’s very, very easy to drive,” he enthuses. “Some people get off-guard when they hear of 550 or 600 horsepower with 500 torque, with numbers like that it seems like it will be a monster to drive but actually the TA2 has a very easy quick steer and with a paddle shift it’s not as tiring or as brute as I would have imagined it to be before, rather it’s actually like a GT2 or GT3 car it’s so easy to drive.”
Don pointed to the handling and grip which means it’s a very dynamic and forgiving racecar. “It has tons of grip so it’s very forgiving,” the 31-year-old says. “If the car gets unsettled out of a corner there’s so much you can do to save yourself from throwing a lap away, there’s not as much ground to make up for.
“It’s a beautiful car too, it’s so much more than I imagined in every area,” he adds.
TA2 Thailand plans to take in races at Bira Circuit during its inaugural season in 2018 so Don is well placed to offer an opinion on how these big and dramatic racecars can really be exploited on the tight and twisty confines of the Pattaya track. “Yes definitely,” he says, explaining, “Cars like this with this much amount of power and torque all you need to do is change the rear end and make the ratios fit for technical short tracks like this and you can also stretch it out and make it suitable for longer circuits, like the Formula 1 tracks such as Sepang.
“In testing today, it felt that with that amount of torque it’s so easy to drive on a technical course like this and I could image it would be even better on a longer track,” he adds. “So, it can definitely supply the demand needed for this kind of track.” Judging by the sizzling lap times Don as well as Gabrielle were very quickly turning in, the Ford Mustang TA2 is a very capable machine around Bira Circuit.
Don also hopes that his arrival in TA2 will open up a route for other drivers from The Philippines to follow in his footsteps, building firmly onto the legacy of the momentum that was started with the Asian V8 Championship. “The Asian V8 Championship is a great stepping stone to TA2,” he says. “The reason why I’m joining TA2 is to also give motivation to Asian V8 drivers that they can graduate to TA2 with confidence.”
Interview – Gabrielle Dela Merced
During her day long TA2 test at Bira Circuit, Gabrielle Dela Merced, not just The Philippines leading lady racing driver, but one of the country’s most recognised and successful racers, found time to talk about the test and explain her career.
“I started pretty late, I started when I was eighteen but I always wanted to race,” she said, recalling how she first got into motorsport. “I started with slalom, it was like a father-daughter thing.” The top step of the podium habit started early for Gabrielle as she claimed class wins in the Philippines Slalom Championship in 2001 and then emerged as Ladies champion in 2002.
That initial promise kicked off the next step as she explained. “Then I went on to circuit racing and that’s when I really realised I wanted to take it seriously,” she said. She started off her step up to the tracks in the production-car based SVI Challenge Cup, finishing third in class in 2003, and then a year later coming home second overall in the final standings as well as bagging third overall in the Philippine BRC Production Touring Car Championship.
By now Gabrielle had well and truly announced herself. “That was back in 2003 and I pretty much sold everything I had to try out for the Formula BMW scholarship and I got that, did that and also did Formula Toyota and Asian Formula 3.” After a couple of seasons in touring cars she was well prepared to graduate to single seaters and as well as winning the prestigious scholarship for Formula BMW, she also finished third in Formula Toyota Philippines while in 2006 she raced in the Asian F3 Championship.
From there, with a big profile at home and a fast growing one abroad, it was a case of out of Asia. “I went to the U.S. and started racing for Spoon Sports where I did the Western Endurance Series championship, they were all races with Honda FDs, 6-hour races, 25-hour races, but then an incident happened with my knees so I went back to the Philippines,” she says.
At the same time she was making waves on race tracks across the world, Gabrielle – now more simply known as ‘Gaby’ – had also become a superstar off the tracks in The Philippines, amassing an army of fans impressed by the skills and success of this lady driver. That high profile led her to becoming a recognisable TV host (including presenting her own show ‘Gaby’s Xtraordinary Files’), appearing on the cover of FHM magazine, acting parts in movies and even appearing as a housemate on The Philippines franchise of “Celebrity Big Brother’ TV show.
Gabrielle has also appeared in ‘Celebrity Car Wars’ on the ‘History Channel’ where she mentored alongside former Malaysian F1 driver Alex Yoong; a popular TV series that has recently been shown here in Thailand.
“After the U.S. my team manager from Korea asked me if I wanted to try out for a Korean team so I ended up racing for them around two years ago. I was in two series’, the CJ Superrace, which was around Asia, and the KIC series, which was around Korea,” recalls Gabrielle. “I drove the Cadillac S6000 which was the premier race then, I did the Veloster series and the Hyundai Genesis, which was the premier race in KIC and did a bunch of stuff locally.”
The powerful Korean ‘S6000’ class is based on a spaceframe ‘stock’ car equipped with a GM 6.2-litre V8 engine with 436 hp and manual gearbox. It means Gabrielle has plenty of experience to call on when it comes to racing big, powerful V8 machines.
However, Gabrielle says that while she thought that the S6000 would provide a measure of parity with the new TA2 machines, in fact the TA2 is a much more sophisticated and well developed racecar with very different characteristics. “I was expecting it to be similar, in terms of the engine the S6000 was 435 horsepower, but it drives totally different,” she notes. “The TA2 is very fun to drive, the S6000 was strange to compare, it drove more like a formula car, it reminded me a bit of the F3 but there was a lot of brute force needed, things were a bit rudimentary, all that horsepower but in terms of the suspension it was a very new series so there were still a lot of adjustments, it wasn’t sequential.”
With an endurance race, just two days before the TA2 test, immediately behind her Gabrielle wasn’t quite sure she would be able to get the max out of the TA2, but she was delighted with the characteristics of the TA2 Mustang she drove. “This car really surprised me,” she said. “I was a bit worried as we just had an 8-hour race so my body isn’t exactly up to shape so I was a bit concerned about not being able to manage the G’s when I got into this car.
“I’ve never driven a car with this type of technology,” she explains. “It’s a fun and easy car to adapt to, it sinks you into it. I’m really happy I was able to come in and test the car. It’s a really balanced car, even for this track it’s great.”
Like Don Pastor, she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with Bira Circuit having raced here previously, albeit well over a decade ago. “I came here once before for Formula BMW in 2004 and it came back to me in piece,” Gabrielle said. “I remember specifically when I came into the track when I saw the tunnel and I saw the tyre bridge and when we got to the paddock we started viewing the video and it still felt new but there was that kind of déjà vu feeling clicking in your head. When I started driving I specifically remember the chicanes, it felt familiar which was nice, it was easier for me to adapt to everything.”
The test, which saw the weather stay hot and dry all day, went very well with Gabrielle happy with the outcome and the TA2 engineers also pleased by the speed to which she adapted to the car and was able to explore its potential. “My whole tactic today was to take it slow, I knew I had the whole day to test the car,” said the 35-year-old. “It was good, times were improving, but in all essence, I pretty much have the feel of the car now, what I needed to gain from the experience I think I already have in terms of the car’s capabilities and it’s a fun car to understand.”
TA2 for Thailand
TA2 Thailand is bringing a completely new dimension to Asian motorsport – in every aspect. The exciting new racing series, which will officially launch in 2018 in Thailand, is underpinned by a state-of-the-art ‘silhouette’ racecar that’s been optimally thought out right down to the very tiniest details and offers drivers the ultimate dynamic track package: a ‘spec’ machine that allows user ability to be the benchmark thanks to that machinery parity while also developing their racing skills in an advanced racecar.
It aims to fill a gaping niche in motorsport across South East Asia, slotting in between the many A-, B- and C-segment production car categories and FIA GT3 cars. TA2 Thailand will allow drivers to make the step from any of the junior ranks, even from karting, and then hone their skills in a pukka racecar that comes at a very affordable price.
Add in a high profile calendar that will be part of Thailand Super Series 2018, a superb support package as well as a clear focus on minimised running costs and TA2 Thailand is putting a firm tick in all the required boxes.
Already, the TA2 ‘concept’ is making its mark outside of the U.S., firstly with a popular pan-Scandinavian series and now most recently with TA2 Australia, which burst into life last year. More than sixteen TA2 cars have been sold in Australia so far meaning the grids are filling up very fast and the fundamental of the concept is to offer franchises and spread it out individually into each of the states.
Now TA2 has arrived in Thailand. Bringing TA2 here is the brainchild of Craig Corliss, a long-time Super Car GTM driver best known for racing ‘V8 Supercars’ such as the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. Craig has recently acquired the rights for Thailand (as well as China, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia) from TA2 builder, Michigan-based Howe Racing Enterprises.
TA2 Thailand has continued that emphasis on identical ‘spec’ fundamentals to underpin a prospective regional cluster that will create maximum value for drivers as well as being cost effective and able to fully support all the competitors’ requirements.
The perfect platform to showcase skills and allow drivers to develop from a basic level to where they can graduate to a GT3 level car, TA2 Thailand will also be strictly reserved for amateur driver – so everyone has the opportunity to win races.
TA2: The Machine
The ‘spec’ spaceframe chassis currently comes with the option of three body styles – Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger – and all are fitted with the same 6.2-litre GM V8 engine producing 525 hp to keep performance level and reduce costs – a bite to match its looks.
No compromise has been spared to ensure the TA2 is a sophisticated and flawless racecar and all components used are from high quality component manufacturers. The car has a fully integrated safety package including a plumbed in fire extinguisher system, (both auto and manual) internal and external kill switches and the recently introduced lateral driver safety nets.
While being identical under the skin in chassis and powertrain terms, each body panel, such as the bonnet, doors and door pillars as well as the front and rear windshields, are unique to the respective versions. Going forward TA2 Thailand plans to offer additional body shape options and will be able to cater for bespoke customer requirements. The whole package weights at around 1170 kg.
As a leading edge racecar, the TA2 not only provides a cost-effective option and real racing thrills thanks to its dynamics but also a challenge for teams to develop their skills as the spaceframe chassis and 2-way Penske shocks means perfecting setup will go hand-in-hand with driver skills in the pursuit of victory.
Optimised for ASEAN
The TA2 concept is currently the hottest property in U.S. racing with 40 plus car grids and booming in Australia but for ASEAN markets the dynamic edge has been raised further with core revisions to the cars. After an extensive development programme in Thailand the TA2 cars sold across ASEAN are all fitted with a bespoke 6-speed paddle shift operated sequential transmission as well as featuring a fully integrated MoTeC M150 data logger.
The TA2 cars for this region additionally come with a 9-inch Detroit locking diff and Traction Control which further improves driveability.
As a pure racing car, the TA2 cockpit has been optimally designed for only the driver. TA2 however also offers the option of a 2-seat/2-door version which, while featuring a number of revisions, still fits into the ‘spec’ chassis format and is ‘ready to race’. Changes to the 2-seat/2-door version include revisions to the chassis, reformatting of the cockpit layout, including fire safety system and rerouting the exhaust system. This car comes equipped with the specific ASEAN market upgrades. The 2-seat/2-door version is ideal for customer ride applications as well as being ready to join the race series. TA2 Thailand has a 2-seat/2-door version, in Dodge Challenger body style, now available for sale and further orders take 10 weeks.
Source. Edd Ellison