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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Feb 23, 2014 - 02:37 PM
Tidbits
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


The arrival of sophisticated purpose-built racecars from the Europe and the Far East has rapidly squeezed the long traditions of Thai built and tuned machines developed off mass-production car platforms - almost squeezed out that is.

 

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When the three Super Car classes line up on the grid in Sepang in May for the Thailand Super Series (TSS) season opener, just a single one of the many new racecars debuting will have been ‘Built in Thailand’. Built in fact from its shell upwards. This car also comes from one of the smallest teams on the grid, one that races first of all for passion and pride. Rotary Revolution will unleash its brand-new Mazda RX-8.

Almost a year in the making the new RX-8 is now taking final shape in the team’s Bangkok workshops and, as usual, this unique racecar will have rotary power under its long bonnet and be driven by the highly experienced Khun Pete Thongchua.

Thailand Super Series Drivers Meeting 2014

Last week saw the Thailand Super Series ‘Drivers Meeting 2014’ taking place and amongst the many changes to be announced for the upcoming season are two new classes for Super 2000; in particular there will be a cost-effective entry-level class to draw drivers to their next career step. There will be tweaks to balance out Super Eco engine capacity differentials and a close eye placed on the booming Super Production category.

In Bangsaen last December, meanwhile, the list of well known overseas names coming here to take part in the fast emerging street spectacular included one of Japan’s most famous automotive journalists - Mr Takashi Oi. He joined 33 Auto's promising youngsters for their challenge in the 6-hour ‘RAAT Endurance by Toyota’ race.

Rotary passion spawns new track weapon

Motor racing is a cut-and-thrust, dog-eat-dog business; the fight to be first to the chequered flag doesn’t leave a lot of time for more romantic stories. But just occasionally there is one. And this romantic story mixes Thai traditions, racing passion, the little guys taking on the big guys and a driver whose features are instantly recognisable to any one of the 70 million people that live in Thailand.

Just a few years ago the top local tuning firms built almost all the racecars to appear on the Super Car grid; primarily the numbers were made up of Mitsubishi’s Evo and Subaru’s Impreza as well as the factory machines from Toyota Team Thailand.

But over the last couple of years the tables have really turned. Now there seems to be a never-ending stream of turn-key European and Japanese racecars pouring into TSS, reshaping the landscape. But the advent of the new Class 3-GTC for 2014 could be about to offer a real lifeline to keep the Thai tuned Japanese machines relevant and competitive. However at the moment only one Thai team plans to build a new racecar locally to use in Super Car this year. It could even turn out to be the last privately built Super Car to be built in Thailand?

The team in question is Rotary Revolution; a tiny outfit running on an equally tiny budget, the driver is Khun Pete Thongchua. They race for a sheer love of racing, team and driver bound together by a passion for rotary engines and a desire to prove that these unique power plants can be tuned up to take on the best. It’s a romantic story of a never say die attitude - and it’s a story that will see them take the battle for competitiveness this year to all the racecars that have come off the global production lines.

And that desire to be on the Super Car grid isn’t just romantic dreaming; it also makes a sound business case, as Team Owner Khun Ma is quick to explain. Competing in Super Car, he says, really works for his company. "I joined circuit racing to prove that rotary engines don't break easily, so many people in Thailand want to have the rotary engine modified but they aren't sure of the reputation."

That’s now been proven in no uncertain terms. The team’s signature #17 Mazda RX-7 has fought with the best in Super Car for five straight seasons and never once suffered a problem in the engine bay. Khun Ma reckons that has helped to make customers confident to come to Rotary Revolution and demand highly tuned cars. "So for the first four to five years with the RX-7 [Super Car programme] we try to show that the engine is ok, but now we will aim to try to prove that the engine is fast," he says.

Passion drives this team forward. Small, close knit and with a love of racing they relish being the underdogs, turning up in the Super Car paddock hoping to pull out an unexpected result against the big teams. "Basically if it doesn’t have a rotary engine I have no interest in driving it in the Super Car class at all," Khun Pete says emphatically - and with a big smile. "We are just here for our passion of the rotary engines."

Those attitudes have made Rotary Revolution a paddock favouite with a big following. It’s RX-7 has been an integral part of the Super Car landscape for half a decade, so it's now perfect timing to reach towards the next phase as the huge rise in competitive standards meant a new machine is really needed.

Enter the RX-8. An ex-drifting ‘shell’ was acquired in the USA and shipped over and the new project was fleshed out. It's coming up to a year since work on the new racecar kicked off at Rotary Revolution's busy Onnut workshops and it’s been a painstaking build process from the ground upwards. But now it's almost complete and next month the RX-8 is set to hit the track for its shakedown.

The half completed RX-8 did get a sneak preview at Bangsaen last December, less the engine, transmission and wiring, a taster for the many fans who support this team and have been anticipating the arrival of this new car. In the team's own - and Thai - style the new RX-8 is a flamboyant racecar, the perfect tool for a dashing high profile driver who has one of the most recognised faces in the paddock and is a perfect marketing tool for this team.

Finished in a similar bright green to the outgoing RX-7, the new RX-8 swells out just about everywhere, a huge front splitter/spoiler gives way to four bulging wheel arches and a massive racing rear wing while an enormous diffuser rises out of the back. Visual details include big air cutouts in the bonnet and an exhaust that exits though the right hand side door. It certainly looks every inch the extravagant racing weapon.

But for now the final stage of the RX-8 build has been slowed slightly as new opportunities are explored driven by Thailand Super Series’ recent announcement that last year’s Class 2 is being divided into a ‘revised’ Class 2-GTM and with a brand new Class 3-GTC added underneath. Thai ‘tuned’ racecars such as the Evo and Impreza will be offered the opportunity to enter Class 3-GTC if their teams agree to new restrictions in terms of power decided through Racing Spirit’s implementation of the FIA's ‘Balance of Performance’ (BoP).

It’s allowed Rotary Revolution to explore entering the new RX-8 in Class 3-GTC where the team believes that the new car could be a perfect fit. But a specially-built racecar like this doesn’t have a ‘ready to go’ spec sheet so it means that the car’s performance data will have to be detailed, measured, analysed and decisions then made.

"I have to give [Racing Spirit] the specification of the car, the weight, the horsepower and they will decide a class that will fit perfectly," says Khun Pete. "I know Racing Spirit is trying to work out the best deal for everybody [and] make everyone comparable in their class."

Khun Ma agrees and he's galvanised by the new rules that will help small independents like himself stay in the game. "With the new rules Pete and I talked and we are going to look to go into Class 3, the GTC class. We don't know how to get into the class yet so we look at the regulations to get into this class and so we stop the project so we see if we can match Class 3."

There are a lot of options for the team to discuss as it shapes up to the requirements of BoP. "Now we have a choice of running a triple rotor N/A or two rotor turbo, so we need to sit down and talk," says Khun Pete. "We have the engines built already so we have to pick the right one for the new class." It’s certainly a unique engine - the last rotary powered machine in Super Car. "The rotary is 1300cc only," says Khun Ma. "We carry 1.4 boost so it's going to be [rated at] 2000cc and something."

Weight is another factor in determining the new RX-8’s performance benchmarks. The outgoing RX-7 always gave away advantage from being overweight and the new project will find it tough going with the Super Car minimum weights although shedding kilos has been a successful metric for the project. "We lighten up the [RX-8] by almost 300 kgs because we were always overweight by 150 to 160 kgs, so we’ve got rid of the weight problems," says Khun Pete.

That will certainly allow the team to better manage weight distribution, although once onto the weight limit the smaller rotary unit will be hampered, notes Khun Ma. "The weight of the car is quite heavy for us to compete, but we can lower it, to make it competitive, but we aren't able to do it. In the world of the rotary there are only a few left [racing], quite a few left because we carry a lot of weight. In Thailand only our team is left."

The RX-8 though is nearly ready to go. The suspension, brakes, transmission, exhaust, roll cage, aerodynamics and bodyshell are amongst the completed tasks. "The engine is ready from last year," says Khun Ma. "We just need to do the electronics.

The rotary unit from the RX-7 will be carried over. "We change the turbo to be bigger to make more power," he says. "But if Class 3 requires less power then maybe [we] have to use last year's [turbo]. The rotary engine has no torque to carry the weight just with the power. [Acceleration] of the rotary engine is faster, that's the strong point of the engine, in the curves it's our weak point, it's tough on the rotary.

"We expect that we want to be in the [new] Class 3," says Khun Ma. "But if the organisers put us in Class 2 we will follow and do our best to try to be competitive."

As soon as the RX-8 is completed the team intends to start proving that its performance is just as potent as the looks. Plans call for the car to have its shakedown at Bonanza Speedway. The team will set up shop and spend some time at the Khao Yai track getting to understand the brand new racecar and start extracting the potential that Khun Pete and Khun Ma firmly believe it has.

"Our plan is in March we’re going to be out there at Bonanza Circuit testing everything for two weeks," says Khun Pete. Khun Ma, meanwhile, adds: "It will be a run in test to get used to the engine, get used to the car, the transmission, everything."

The full race debut for the RX-8 will be at Sepang in mid-May during TSS’s Race 1 & 2. This world-class F1 and MotoGP hosting circuit could also play favourably for the team, notes Khun Ma. "Many people say [Sepang] is good for the rotary as in the [Japanese] Super GT [Series], the GT300 RX-7 won there several times so it's got a reputation as a rotary circuit [and] we look forward to [racing] it there."

Thailand Super Series Pre Season Drivers Meeting 2014

Thailand Super Series held the Drivers Meeting 2014, for all the categories, at the Rama Gardens Hotel on Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road last Tuesday evening as the build up the new season continues apace and the rules and regulations for the second year of the ‘New Era’ are tweaked and finalised.

Thailand Super Series Drivers Meeting 2014

First up on the calendar will be the season opener at Sepang Circuit in mid-May and this year there will be a twist to the shipping of the racecars and teams’ equipment as it will go by sea to Malaysia. That's for two reasons, as Thailand Super Series Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya explained during the Drivers Meeting 2014. "It will be the easiest way to get into the system with Sepang Circuit, they prefer that we send it by sea," he said. "We also felt that as it’s always more risky to send [cars] on trailers as there can be damage so to ship everything in containers would take away that risk. But now we have to work out effectively the costs for the smaller cars such as the [Super] 1500s and [Super] Production."

The format of the Sepang weekend will be very similar to last year with TSS once again slotting into a Malaysian multi-series format weekend with the four Thai categories placed into two key slots. "We will have the same slots as last year," he noted. "So Super Car will be together and [Super] 1500 and [Super] 2000 will also run together.

Lotus Elise outside the Thailand Super Series Drivers Meeting 2014

"We would have liked one more slot but it wasn’t available as the schedule is jam packed already," Khun Preeda added. It will in fact be the only time this year that the three Super Car classes will run together on track and that will provide mouthwatering action for fans in the grandstands and TV audiences alike.

Super 2000 will see big changes this year as the ‘touring car’ category moves in a new direction - a split into a new ‘Class 1’, which will be a more ‘open’ category and a new ‘Class 2’, which will be reserved for less modified cars.

"Class 2 will be governed by a 62 mm intake for the Honda FD’s K20 engine and will be restricted to Class C [licence grade] drivers," Khun Preeda explained. The new concept aims to further develop the motor racing ‘ladder’ that has also being developed in Super Car with the split into three classes for this season.

Super 2000’s Class 2 will see a more restricted set of regulations being implemented. That will aim to provide a cost effective platform for drivers from the hugely popular Super Production category to make the next step upwards in their careers.

"We will limit modifications [in Super 2000 Class 2]," said Khun Preeda. "We will not allow the use of sequential gearboxes and suspension modifications will be more limited so that some parts will need to be retained but there will be allowances to use [different] materials. We will also raise the [minimum] weight slightly so there won’t be the need to spend to lighten up the car." He adds that the Class 2 racecars will be close to the traditional international Gp N specification standard.

"The idea is to keep costs down and close the gap between Super 1500 and Super Production and Super 2000," he confirms. "The rules in [Super] 2000 will compare a lot to these two classes which [already] keep much closer to standard [specifications]."

The overall ‘open’ Super 2000 Class 1 will be eligible to Class A and Class B licence category drivers' and there will be adjustments made to the cars to even up performance notes Khun Preeda. "We will add some kilos for cars with sequential gearboxes and similar," he says.

The new ‘Super Eco’ category was one of the biggest hits of the last season - with drivers and race fans alike - and TSS is fully committed to helping this class continue to grow further this year. Already the entry list for 2014 is seeing more names and cars being added.

In terms of rule changes there will be a few tweaks to ensure all the ‘Eco’ cars can compete equally with each other. "We will try to balance all the cars, so the small differences in the size of the engines will be leveled with weight," he says. "So for example the [Suzuki] Swift has 40cc more than the [Honda] Brio so [we] will add some weight to the Swift."

Khun Preeda stresses that it’s important to continue to build the Super Eco ‘show’ up, especially as the cars are in action first thing on each day’s programme. So he doesn’t want them to be overlooked. "We want Super Eco to get more exposure so we will improve its promotion," he says. "We will give them better paddock positions where they will be recognised more and we would like to connect them more with the spectators as these are cars are new so don’t breakdown and don’t need much work between races or changes as they are quite standard and aren’t in action except in the morning."

Khun Preeda says that they are looking at different ideas to promote Super Eco and at Bira for example he is examining the possibility of displaying the cars together in a ‘mini paddock’ on the spectator side during the day.

TSS’s commitment to developing Super Eco as a low cost and balanced platform to enter motorsports will accelerate further this year. "We will continue to make entrance [into the category] free and we will keep the cars as standard as possible," Khun Preeda adds.

Khun Preeda’s technical team has also been looking over the other categories very closely and the emphasis, with these being focused around more limited modifications, will be on policing the rules and closing loopholes. "This year we will be very strict on camshafts in Super Production," he says. "We have purchased a ‘Cam Doctor’ [a software and sensor based measure of cam lift and valve motion profiles] so we can check on [Super] Production as well as others such as Super Eco."

The ever popular ‘Super Pickup’ category will race into 2014 on the TSS programme and exhaust emissions will continue to be reduced ahead of the trucks going fully smoke free for the 2015 season.

Another area of change for Super Pickup could be tyres, as Khun Preeda notes. "We’re still deciding on tyres as at the moment the requirement is for ‘Made in Thailand' tyres to be used," he says. "At the [Drivers] Meeting there were requests to open it up to imported tyres, but this will depend on retail prices."

Khun Preeda admits that requiring locally sourced tyres means there is limited choice and it also rules out teams seeking tyre sponsorship, but there is a cost downside to making any changes. "I would like to open it up," he continues. "But I don’t want to get into a tyre war so I have asked teams to come back to me with specs and prices and then we will decide."

The ‘Lotus Cup Thailand’ will also be back again as part of the bumper TSS programme this season with the popular 'one make' series reserved for the British sports cars set to travel with the series to the season opener in Sepang for the second consecutive year.

Renown Japanese journalist strapped in for Bangsaen 'Endurance' action

The traditional showpiece of Friday at the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival is 'RAAT Endurance by Toyota' - a frenetic and drama strewn 6-hour race that always attracts top names and top teams. And in recent years it’s attracted a string of star names from Japan, starting at the top with the factory Toyota entries.

However last December, arguably the best known Japanese name on the Endurance entry list was to be found plastered on the blue and white #33 Toyota Yaris, a familiar machine entered by 33 Auto, in the shape of two simple letters on the rear side window, ‘OI’.

But first, the other two drivers in that car are very well known to Thai motorsport fans, Khun Chanincha and Khun Chanucha Punyarungcharoen. Highly rated young brothers, they're just 17- and 21-years-old respectively, they've started to make a real name for themselves here over the last couple of seasons.

The Japanese connection was provided by Mr Takashi Oi, a famous automotive journalist and successful race driver who joined the two Thais in the long distance race. He’s also been acting as a mentor to them, helping them develop as drivers.

Mr Oi is one of the most respected members of the media in Japan, writing for leading publications including Best Car, Best Motoring, RevSpeed and Engine, while also producing and editing RevSpeed DVD.

On track Mr Oi’s career started way back in the domestic ‘Toyota Starlet One Make Race’ series in 1985, where he immediately marked himself as one to watch out for by finishing third overall. He’s also a familiar face to fans of two top Japanese series - Super Taikyu and Super GT. In the former he includes a double championship in Class 3 (2000-2001) in a Mazda RX-7 plus a couple of championship runners up spots and he shows no signs of slowing down as last year he raced a Toyota 86 in Class 4.

In Japanese Super GT, meanwhile, he kicked off his participation in 1994 before coming back and taking third place overall in GT300 in an RX-7 in 2003. He’s also become quite closely associated with the Porsche brand in JGTC having raced the 968, 996, Boxter and GT3-R over the years in the competitive GT300 class. A long and diverse racing career also includes highlights such as winning Suzuki Swift Sports Class at the Nürburgring 24 Hours in 2005. And he’s also driven at Bangsaen three times.

Now add in ‘driver-coach’. So how did the connection with Khun Chanincha and Khun Chanucha come about? "In 2010 Mr Oi came to Thailand to report [about] Thai motorsports," explains 33 Auto’s Mr Naoki Fujita. "I coordinated that reporting and I asked my friend Mr Po from Three Crowns if Mr Oi can test drive his car at Bira."

"He prepared the car for Mr Oi," continues Mr Naoki. "His team’s car is a Vios and in those days [Khun Chanincha and Khun Chanucha] drove [for the] Three Crowns Racing Team. That was the first time [Mr Oi] met the boys. After that he comes to Thailand sometimes to join with [Khun Chanincha and Khun Chanucha] and teach them driving skills at Bira and Sepang."

Those regular visits to Thailand have seen Mr Oi developing an association with Thai motorsports - as well as with the two youngsters. He also expects this to continue into the future. "Of course if I get a chance to coach them I’ll do it," he says. "The Thai race scene has same feeling [as] the great days of [the] Japanese race scene so I want to join it actively."

Having raced on many of the world's major circuits, Mr Oi has developed a favourable impression of the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival. "It’s very interesting course layout," he says. "The racecars, entrants’ skills and organisation [has] improved every time I come." Interesting, he also adds that he would like to race at a much higher level at Bangsaen than just Endurance. "One day I try to drive another class, especially [the] Super Car class."

Mr Oi also sees a lot of future potential in the two youngsters; he reckons they will be able to go a long way on the racetrack. "They improve every time I come [to Thailand]," he says. "[Khun Chanincha] can drive and manage the tyres and [the] car and [Khun Chanucha] can drive faster than car’s potential while he can [still] keep his concentration. They have different but good characters, they [are] learning and [have] respect [for] each other and they will become [better] drivers."

He notes that the Bangsaen event is coming on quickly in terms of professionalism and the show is growing - but he also has a note of caution. "I [was] very surprised at the many GT3 cars in Bangsaen [in December]," says Mr Oi. "And this series will become more international surely, but I hope [it] doesn’t lose [the] Thai originality of this series, you know it’s a very attractive point of Thai racing." With the Endurance race over it’s back to Japan. "But I’ll be back soon [in] Thailand motorsports," he promises.

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