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The Rapid Rise Of 'Eco Car' Racing
Posted by: newsla on Mar 06, 2014 - 06:18 AM
Sports Cars
The Rapid Rise Of 'Eco Car' Racing

Thailand Super Series (TSS) doesn’t just want to be the leading domestic race series and the pace setter in ASEAN, the organisers’, Racing Spirit also want to keep well ahead of the curve, to introduce new standards and to set – as well as respond – to emerging and future trends.


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While these ambitions can be perfectly summed up by the arrival of the new breed of FIA GT3 cars, the adoption of international regulations and safety standards and the implementation of global FIA standards such as ‘Balance of Performance’, it isn’t just in the top tier that Racing Spirit is setting the pace.

That desire to be one step ahead goes right through the programme – and it can’t be any better summed up than by the introduction of ‘Super Eco’, which is positioned at the opposite end of the racing ‘food chain’ to the glamorous GT3 machines.

The new generation of Thai built ‘Super Eco’ cars are rapidly driving the automotive industry here forward – but, significantly, they have been a huge hit with domestic consumers, all the models becoming fashionable accessories as well as highly economical ownership propositions.

There has also been a real desire on the part of owners to get them onto the racetrack. The concept of the ‘Eco Car’ is very simple, low cost and ultra-efficient, they aim to provide a first ownership experience for consumers as well as being fun to drive. The concept of ‘Super Eco' is also very simple, low cost and ultra-efficient, the racing versions of the ‘Eco Cars’ aim to provide access to racing for potential drivers as well as plenty of fun.

Racing Spirit understood that Super Eco would be a hit with motorsport fans and drivers alike and in time for last season found space in the bumper TSS programme for a new ‘Super Eco’ category. “We really wanted to provide a good opportunity for upcoming racers that wouldn’t cost too much and where they would learn,” says Thailand Super Series Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya. “The cars are very competitive with each other, it’s not all about horsepower, it’s about how you drive it and suspension is the main area to get advantages.”

This year others are imitating, but we broke the ground and offered new drivers the chance to race Eco cars as part of the biggest and most professional race series in Thailand. At the first round last August there were just three cars on the grid – but by the time the three round/six race inaugural ‘Super Eco’ series wrapped up in Bangsaen last December the grid had swollen to sixteen cars and all the Thai ‘Eco’ car brands were represented bar Toyota, which had only launched its category contender, the new Yaris, onto the market here just a couple of weeks beforehand. However with the Suzuki Swift, Honda Brio, Nissan March and Mitsubishi Mirage all in action on the street circuit, ‘Eco Racing’ had already come of age, all in just four months. And it wasn’t just the hatchbacks, the first ‘Eco sedan’, in the shape of Honda’s Brio Amaze, was also on the grid.

Keeping costs down has been the aim of the organisers, methodically working through the specifications of the ‘Eco’ machines to ensure drivers can build and run a pukka racecar for the lowest price possible. An example? “We have allowed flexibility in the use of gearboxes,” says Khun Preeda. “On the Swift the new [OEM] gearbox costs say 130,000 baht but were are allowing the use of aftermarket boxes for the 1.5 and 1.6 that cost something around 25,000 baht and are a strong and capable low cost alternative.”

If the cars were diverse – then so were the drivers, ranging from fresh faced novices to well known names. The latter category included top Thai drifting star Khun Daychapon Toyingcharoen, better know to his many fans as ‘Pond Injec’, of the Krating Daeng Racing Team and Super Car Class 1 Porsche 911 GT3 RSR driver Khun Bhisanu Busitarnuntakul.

Within this influx has also arrived some of Thailand’s most promising lady drivers and to ensure Super Eco provides a genuinely level platform for everyone Racing Spirit has added a ‘Lady Cup’. Two girls were on the grid in Bangsaen, Khun Tachanan Yooyen, who has switched to Super Eco after competing in ‘One Make’ racing for a few seasons, and youngster Khun Umaporn Sangtong, who is a relative newcomer to competitive racing but wants to establish herself as a competitive driver.

Both clearly have plenty of circuit racing skills and both are expected to see their careers head upwards, using the Super Eco platform as a launch pad to develop. Certainly Khun Tachanan and Khun Umaporn demonstrated much promise in Bangsaen and both were in the thick of the race action. More lady drivers are preparing to join Super Eco this year.

“We’re very happy with how the first year has gone,” says Khun Preeda. “At the beginning we only had three cars but this year we are expecting full grids and we will continue to waive the entrance fee.” The popularity of the ‘Eco’ car breed with Thai consumers needs to be reflected in the promotion of Super Eco, Khun Preeda also reckons. “They are cars buyers are very familiar with so we want to connect the Super Eco cars with our spectators. So for example at Bira we are going to put the Super Eco pit on the spectator side, so they will see the cars and understand them. This will be an added benefit as the races are early so not many spectators are at the track then. We also hope that introducing the Eco race cars to the public will help drivers raise sponsorship.”

The three pioneers

Khun Daychapon Toyingcharoen, Khun David Yupensuk and Khun Kassapon Dechmark. In the very brief history of Super Eco – three rounds and six races – they have already gone down in the record books as the three pioneers.

Very early in the morning of Saturday August 17 last year two Suzuki Swifts and one Honda Brio took to the grid at Bira Circuit to carve out a small piece of national motorsport history – contesting Thailand Super Series Super Eco 2013 Round 1 Race 1.

However the smallest grid seen in TSS last year didn’t loose any value for the handful of hardcode race fans enjoying the early morning action as the three drivers swapped positions over just about every lap of a very hard fought race. The trio proceeded to repeat their position swapping antics all over again the next morning.

For the record Khun Daychapon took two wins, but more importantly Super Eco had come to life and the concept was an instant hit. And the grids quickly grew, the entries doubled up at the next round and they climbed into double figures at the third round. This year, for the second season of Super Eco, full grids are expected. But its history can all be traced back to three drivers one early morning seven months ago.

The concept in action: first step on the race ladder

Over three rounds and six races last year the Super Eco grid swelled up and all the 'Eco' cars produced here hit the racetrack But it wasn't just the cars that were new, it's really has worked well in attracting a new genre of drivers into the racing world and onto the grid and one perfect example is Khun Chatchai Sridawrueang who joined the action in Bangsaen with a Honda Brio.

He has a very short ‘racing’ story. When Khun Chatchai took to the Bangsaen street circuit last December, pounding the same barrier-lined roads as the cutting edge GT3 Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, it was just eight months after he had made his competitive track debut, as he explains. "I started racing in April 2013 at the 'Japday' at Bira Circuit [with] my Honda Brio in [this] competition, besides [this] I joined [with] a 1500cc Toyota Vios."

From that starting point Khun Chatchai beat a rapid path to the biggest and most professional racing series in Thailand, signing up in time for the season closer. "The Bangsaen battlefield is the first time I have joined the Thailand Super Series competition," he says.

Super Eco was a logical fit for him. "I own a modified Honda Brio and I thought this is a good opportunity to try racing in [the] 'Eco' class," he says. TSS has aimed the cost bar low for Super Eco, modifications are limited; most changes in fact focus around ensuring driver safety hits the highest standards.

The Brio has proved the most popular car choice in Super Eco so far and Khun Chatchai is quick to agree that the Brio ticks the most boxes. "In my opinion, I think [the] Honda Brio has a nice body, tons of accessories to modify [it] and for engine [it's] convenient to tune up."

He's also concurs that Super Eco is proving to be exactly what the organisers wanted it to achieve, fun and affordable racing. "I'm satisfied [with] my driving in every battle because every battle makes me more experienced in racing [and] learning [the] pros and cons about my skills, engine and suspension," says Khun Chatchai. "The Super Eco class is a great opportunity for the limited budget of newcomers [to] join racing.”

Couple the concept of new low cost racing for inexperienced drivers with the biggest and most evocative event in Thai motorsport today and that mix becomes just about as good as it gets. Khun Chatchai agrees. "Bangsaen has wonderful surroundings," he says. "I feel comfortable in the competition plus I love to go to the beach after [the] racing [and] hanging out and [having] dinner with my friends [and] my team at [the] seaside. Bangsaen is the one of my favorite places, I recommended [it]."

So after his first taste of Super Eco will he and his Nitto MPF Racing Team be back this season? "Yes I will join the competition in 2014 for sure [and] hopefully, I [will] get a trophy," he adds with a laugh.

Khun Chatchai is enthusiastic about the opportunities that Super Eco offers and is quick to suggest to other potential drivers to think seriously about joining the category.

"For all [people] interested in circuit racing, I would love to invite everyone who wants to try, please come and join," he says. "Racing is not dangerous as some people think if you know the racing techniques." Khun Chatchai has also brushed up his track skills with the Toyota Racing School.

Thailand's top lady truck racer turns to Super Eco

Super Eco’s new ‘Lady Cup’ is all set to be highly competitive and closely fought this season – and it’s going to see an intriguing twist this year as one of the female racers set to line up on the grid will be well respected truck driver, Khun Pusita Supattatanakul.

She’s is a familiar face in the paddock having spent five years flying flag high for Thailand’s competitive and growing contingent of quick lady racers. But unlike the others, this diminutive girl has been competing where only the strongest and most ruthless drivers prosper – truck racing. And she certainly comes with in-built toughness, she’s never shirked the fight, competing in truck racing’s top category, Super Pickup, having collected a string of trophies on her way there.

Now after a year out racing she’s back, jettisoning her trademark truck to drive a Honda Brio in Super Eco with the support of a new team, Toyota Pattaya 1998, and a new sponsor, Miller Oils. So why a Brio? “I saw the cars [with] 1200cc engines, they [are] a popular [choice] now,” she says. “I want to start to [get] familiar with the petrol engine so I think I should start gradually [in] an Eco car.”

Last weekend Khun Pusita got to grips with her new Brio at Bira Circuit, zipping up her new racesuit and pulling on her helmet for the first time in more than a year. “I’m being [supported] by Team Miller Oils to [come] back to compete again,” she said. “Khun Kobchai, the owner [of] the team [has] helped me and advised how to drive, about the vehicle’s engine [and] suspension and Khun Hok [of] Toyota Pattaya also.”

Khun Pusita actually started her racing career behind the wheel of a well-travelled Isuzu on the club scene before swapping, after just a handful of races, to her signature Mitsubishi Triton. Not one to shirk any challenge she in fact bought the Triton new from a Mitsubishi dealership then and had it converted into a fully-fledged racer.

Truck racing is regarded by many as a ‘breeding school’ for skilled racing drivers who are drawn by the category’s wider opportunities for equality and it produces some of the most no-holds-barred action that fans here can ever see. It’s not for the faint hearted either, when the lights go green and the pack surges away the midfield becomes enveloped in a smoke screen and multiple pile ups are a regular occurrence. But fear simply isn’t a word in Khun Pusita’s dictionary; she’s always wanted to define herself against the best.

After starting in club racing with the Isuzu in 2008, and immediately picking up her first silverware in the Class C Championship, Khun Pusita’s switch to the Triton in mid-2009 helped her to go on to win the Class C title. She also raced in another club series in 2009, and made the climb up to the class podium after every race.

Khun Pusita went one better in club racing the next year, 2010, by fighting off all her male challengers to claim the Class B title, and from there she took her battle straight to the big guns: in 2011 she mixed another club season with action in two leading Thai truck series and that included mixing it up with the best in Super Pickup. Despite a small frame, her fitness and stamina aren’t in any doubt either; four years ago she won a hard fought victory in Class C in the popular end of season ‘1 HR Endurance Race’ for trucks.

Now, after more than a year out of motorsport to have her first child, Khun Pusita is heading to Super Eco as the next step in her career. She’s missed racing too. “Competition is something that I love,” she said after her first runs in the Brio at Bira Circuit. “I get new friendships and experiences, I think [Super Eco] is what I need [now]. I am very happy that I was back behind the wheel again and I'm excited to hear the engine.”

Switching from a truck to a tiny hatchback is just about as big a switch as a driver can make, not least that the Brio’s engine is well under half the capacity of the Triton. She’s not fazed: “The front and rear wheel drive, it’s different, I have to be more careful,” she explained, noting that it requires a totally different driving style, carrying momentum in a smaller and lighter race car with a much smaller engine. The truck racer’s style of wellying the throttle pedal, dumping in the power, using the vast amount of torque generated and sliding their bucking beast in a manner that would make a drifter proud, has to go out of the window.

Always striving to improve herself, she says: “I’m competing against myself, learning, I always [aim to be] focused behind the wheel.” And she’s highly motivated too: “I’m excited every time I’m [on the] track. I have fun with the accelerator and brake, I love [racing] very much.” Having a seasoned truck racer on the Super Eco grid well certainly add extra spice and provide and interesting foil to the other lady drivers who all have raced cars before.

It will certainly open up an exciting new chapter in her career: “I just want to compete, I will be adding to my existing knowledge [and] to drive better,” Khun Pusita concludes. “[Although] I don’t know anything about [racing in] cars.”

Team Donut unleash the 'Smurf'

Motor racing needs larger than life characters, drivers and crews that race simply because they love to race. People who just live to race, to breathe the paddock air and thoroughly enjoy every moment. Winning isn’t always the primary aim, just being on the grid and in the action can often be enough.

One such team is Team Donut, which has in recent seasons has run a Toyota Hilux Vigo in Super Pickup. Usually this machine looks like it’s been structurally pinned together by tank tape rather than welded steel while it’s wrapped in a colour scheme that isn’t always easy on the eye - and it’s nickname, the ‘Crocodile’, is known throughout the paddock.

Driver Khun Nuthaporn Namjuck and his right hand men, Khun ‘Hamee’ and Khun ‘Bank’ never miss an opportunity for humour and in Bangsaen the team was decked out in T-Shirts emblazoned with “Calm Down And Support Team Donut.” The trio are also well respected members of the close-knit Thai automotive media and that means support for the #46 machine is rock-solid in the press room.

However while they like to play the jokers in the pack – things have got a bit more serious for this team during the season just gone as the ‘Croc’ went on a winning spree and was contention for the Super Pickup Class C title down to the wire. Quite a lot more serious, in fact.

So when Team Donut decided to join the stampede for Super Eco, although they immediately branded their new Honda Brio acquisition as the ‘Smurf” and wrapped it in the same garish colours as its big turbodiesel sister – you know that although they want to still have fun, they also want to win; especially so when Khun Nuthaporn admits the team has “grown up’’.

Although he won’t be behind the wheel of the ‘Smurf’ in Super Eco this season, he did hand the new machine its race debut in Bangsaen last December. An entirely different proposition round the fishing port’s tricky streets compared to the big and chunky Hilux Vigo. “Because our new [Brio] is [a] one make race car [there’s] no need to tune [it] up, no need to make more settings and use old settings like an endurance setting,” noted Khun Nuthaporn. “And other cars in the same class are light weight [with] light weight engines so if you modify many things the horse power isn’t much different.” That technical equalisation offers greater chances for the driver on track, reckons Khun Nuthaporn. “If the fight for positions is happening in front of you that is an opportunity to [close] your gap to them.”

Bangsaen was very much a toe-dipping exercise for both driver and team to get acquainted with the ‘Smurf’. But that happened very quickly and a visit to the podium soon dangled in front of them. “We didn’t expect anything from [the] Super Eco class,” admits Khun Nuthaporn. “First thing we think [is that] the one make race car is not a rival of [the] modified car. This Smurf is just for practice of the Bangsaen course because we [also] race [in] Super Pickup for the title. But after the first practice [session] we have the second [fastest] time and in qualifying we have a good position [for the] grid start and that make us hope [for the] podium.”

There simply couldn’t be any bigger change of direction switching from a big rear-wheel-drive, 2.5-litre turbodiesel pickup to a tiny front-wheel-drive 1.2-litre hatchback. So how did the two machines compare around Bangsaen? “There are many, many differences [between] both cars,” says Khun Nuthaporn. “First thing, the size of the cars are so different, the Smurf is too short and the Croc is too long. So on a closed street circuit that doesn’t have [any] run off areas and you can't use other areas of the track, the Croc uses the area too much in the corners [and] that makes the Croc slow when turning. But the Croc is [a] modified car for fighting; it has big front brakes and is more powerful for [the] turn-in and [for exiting] the corners.

“It’s 1.74 tons with 250 PS and torque of 400 Nm, so on Croc we need to slow down [and] then turn in the corner, but the Smurf is 1.02 tons and less than a hundred horsepower so at the chicane we can go with full throttle but if you do [that] with the Croc maybe we went back to Bangkok on first day,” Khun Nuthaporn says with a laugh. “The Croc suspension’s [was made for] heavy loads [and isn’t] comfortable and has bad performance, that’s different from the Smurf [which] is front-wheel-drive and easy to ride.”

Team Donut is coming of age; from racing a single truck the addition of the Brio means they are doubling up – and last year in the Hilux Vigo Khun Nuthaporn started winning and kept on winning. Coming into Bangsaen he was in the fight for the Super Pick Class C crown. “We fight for championship but to no avail,” he says. “But it's okay because our team needs to grow up and the driver too as it’s [now] my time to enter in Class B, but the bad thing is I can't race in Super Eco [as] it’s limited to Class C license [holders] only. The car will still race [but] we change [the] driver to Khun Supakij Danginthawat. He’s a part of Team Donut Racing, he is my old friend and we raced together [in the] street races when we were young and [also the] drag races and kart races.”

After that successful track debut in Bangsaen, which netted a fighting third place and a trip to the podium in the opening race for Khun Nuthaporn, Team Donut has learnt a lot about the new car and will make close-season upgrades before Super Eco kicks off for 2014 in the summer.

“We plan to upgrade many things as this year Super Eco [will] have many competitors,” he says. “First thing we want the brakes [to be] at [the] same point [as the] other competitors. The standard brake system can't carry the speed to turn in the corners. We need to brake at the 100 meter point before the turns but the others can brake at [the] 60-80 meter point.

“And a little bit engine performance, but that a secret,” Khun Nuthaporn says with a laugh. With Super Eco such a new concept and the rules designed to restrict technical development and keep costs low it’s going to be a case of small improvements being made step-by-step and especially from seeing where track rivals are at in their respective programmes when competitive action kicks off. “After [the] first event of Super Eco [this year] we will know what [we] need to do [for the] next round,” he admits.

Despite the wacky liveries, the cute car names and the humorous T-shirts, last season Team Donut gained a much more serious edge and they developed a taste for winning. So expect that to continue and to see the #46 Brio embroiled in the action at the business end of the Super Eco grid this season.

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