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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Mar 16, 2014 - 04:07 AM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


Right at the heart of the Thailand Super Series (TSS) track operations is ‘Race Control’ - everything revolves around its workings, from smooth and optimised running of the event to ensuring the highest safety standards, it’s the most critical area.

 

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TSS is committed to achieving the highest and most demanding international standards and in Bangsaen last December a huge step forward was made as Race Control really became ‘Mission Control’. TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya explains the inner workings, the big strides forward and the future standards that he’s looking to implement.

Meanwhile, B-Quik Racing has announced that it will run a second Audi R8 LMS Cup this season in Super Car Class 2-GTM for Khun Prantarit Nerngchamnong alongside the example already confirmed for team leader Khun Henk J. Kiks. That means B-Quik’s lineup will remain unchanged for a second season but will involve new cars for both drivers, who raced a Porsche and Aston Martin, respectively, last year.

Finally, the prospect of having one of Thailand’s fastest young drivers, Khun Kantadhee Kusiri, coupled to a brand new Toyota 86 now being built specially for Super 2000, is one that will surely excite Thai race fans. Last year his older brother, Khun Kantasak, was one of the biggest stars of the Super 2000 season, this year Khun Kantadhee is likely to keep the family name fighting at the top of the timesheets. However, the dramatic new 86 will debut later in the season, firstly Khun Kantadhee will campaign a Toyota Altezza and he will be looking to mix it up with the pace setters with this slightly older machine.

Double Audi lineup for B-Quik Racing this season

No sooner than B-Quik Racing had detailed a first Audi R8 Cup for lead driver Khun Henk J. Kiks than a second identical example has been confirmed for his teammate Khun Prantarit Nerngchamnong who is set to remain with the team for a second consecutive TSS season, stepping up from the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 which he campaigned for his debut in Super Car.

For Khun Prantarit the year just gone was all about reacclimatising with the cockpit after half a decade away from the tracks as well as bedding into Thai racing as his previous career had seen him racing exclusively in the United States.

The Vantage was the perfect machine to use to shake off the rust although being an FIA GT4 homologated racecar it was never going to set the world alight. "It certainly was a crash course, literally," he notes with a laugh. "But [it was] a good trial run of what to do and not to do."

Khun Prantarit was happy to be part of the TSS programme and a competitor in the 'New Era' of Thai motorsport. "People on the outside in Thailand and abroad often underestimate the level of competition here," he reckons. "Thailand has always [had] top class drivers for years, it was just a question of when there will be supported events and infrastructure for those drivers. Which we did last year, thanks to the Racing Spirit team who worked tirelessly to give us TSS. It was a pleasure being a part of it, and I appreciate the opportunity."

That ‘comeback season’ is now completed, Khun Prantarit is happy to have made his racing return on 'home soil' and is now looking forward to stepping up the gears, move further towards the business end of the grid and support his teammate's title ambitions as well as B-Quik Racing's push for the Teams' championship.

Khun Prantarit raced an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in TSS last year.

With the team already committed to an Audi R8 LMS Cup for Khun Henk it was logical that the proven German sports car was the first choice for a second entry, as Khun Prantarit explains. "It was the natural progression in racing for us really, when we started planning for the 2014 season half way through 2013," he says.

"After we realised that our [Porsche and Aston Martin] are not going to be competitive in [Super Car Class 2-GTM] that we will be competing in [this year] we looked into what's available [and] how it performed against the competition in our class in other championships," Khun Prantarit continues.

Khun Prantarit raced an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in TSS last year.

He also noted that working directly with a manufacturer built car ensures a much smoother parts supply support chain, something that was graphically demonstrated during the team's trackside operations last season. "As well as taking into consideration the logistical benefits of racing two identical cars, one of the concerns was parts availability, something Henk enjoyed with Porsche [but] where I suffered from with the Aston last year. Which [has] a lot have to do with racecar from [the] manufacturer versus the sub-contractor company that built for the manufacturer. Audi is very much in the same boat as Porsche when it comes to that and also its near bullet proof liability really convinced us."

Khun Prantarit has slotted smoothly into B-Quik Racing, the team's environment giving him the support and launch pad from which to focus on improving his performances on track. "I am the second driver in the team, but the team has never made me feel that way," he says. "I've always got full support from Henk and the team and I believe it attributes to me being there from the very beginning with the [Porsche] 944. Ultimately, Henk and I are friends first, and teammates second. There has been a natural progression of racing passion plus friendship from track day events into actual racing over the span of six years."

That has translated into a smooth running relationship and it has clearly helped prepare Khun Prantarit for his racing return. Henk's learning curves have helped me shorten mine," he says. "As he approached this passion we shared very systematically [and we are] pioneers in Thailand for his approach to racing. Henk has always been a great mentor to me even when I was just entertaining the idea of coming back to racing. I am sure others around him feel the same, as he never held back anything. And Henk [is] happy to give advice or helping hands, within reasonable capacity."

It also meant that B-Quik Racing was able to manage two different racecars, the #26 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup and #22 Aston Martin GT4, in as integrated a manner as possible. "The team was very helpful in my first year, even though there was some logistical and technological set backs running a Porsche and an Aston Martin racecar in a two car format for the first time last season," he admits. "But it did give us a platform to work with and helped us decide the approach to move forward for the 2014 season."

Khun Prantarit raced an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in TSS last year.

So Khun Prantarit’s ambitions for year number two? "This year my primary target is to be in the position to support [Khun Henk] in the hunt for the Drivers' Championship, as well as the overall Teams' Championship quest against even tougher and more experienced competitors in Class 2," he notes. "That starts from inside the pit and the way we approach racing this year certainly will be very different starting with running two identical race cars."

At the same time Khun Prantarit admits he has another steep learning curve ahead as he will be at the wheel of a pukka racecar rather than the lightly modified GT4 car of last season.

Official B-Quik mock up of the #22 Audi livery for 2014 TSS season.

"I want to be more consistent with my laps times and that will come with more time on the track," he says. "Last year I had total of three days in the car besides the race weekends. Also I think last year I was more focused on being the 'good citizen" on the track, staying out of the way since my car was not in a position to be competitive anyway due to the class that it was originally built for. But as Henk and other racers I respect said it was about spending 2013 'getting my feet wet' before jumping into it fully in 2014.

"Both Henk and the team already have plans in place in accommodating and preparing me for this year," Khun Prantarit continues. "Henk is a great driver and has always been extremely helpful with dialing me into the car. I look to get the feedback from him and doing what I can to meet the target and benchmarks he'll set in the other car."

Khun Prantarit raced an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 in TSS last year.

Last year Khun Prantarit did add a small footnote to the history of Thai motorsport after he became the first driver to race an Aston Martin here. The Vantage GT4 is a beautiful racecar, albeit one that didn't fit into a class last year; it could however be competitive this season in the new Super Car Class 3-GTC which has been devised especially with GT4 performance level cars in mind.

At the moment though the future of this racecar is in the air. "A few friends of mine have expressed interest in the Aston for the new Class 3 which it will be competitive in and have it run by David Appleby Engineering," says Khun Prantarit. "I have also not ruled out shipping it back to England where it would compete in the GT4 Championship so we'll have to see where the Aston will end up this year. Also a former teammate of mine from the U.S. has expressed interest in competing in TSS for 2014, if that's the case then we'll be racing in the Aston in Class 3 under BQR livery." Certainly Thai race fans will be hoping this machine will continue to add all the rich history and emotion associated with its brand name, not to forget its striking lines, to the TSS grids this year.

Khun Prantarit, while being one of the more unobtrusive and urbane members of the pitlane fraternity, has a deeply competitive streak and a desire to compete to win. In fact his arrival in the paddock fits in with the new generation that is being attracted by the TSS concept. And aside from his commitment to Super Car Class 2-GTM this year, he's also the President of the Thailand Lacrosse Association with a 'World Cup' date looming on the horizon. That means he's going to have a hectic year ahead.

"With this year being the FIL World Championship of Lacrosse in Denver, the Thai National Team qualified to compete in it," he says. "After the strong bronze medal finish in Beijing last year in the ASPAC Championship we're confident of a strong result for Thailand in Denver against top class competitors this year. I will be leading the team there this July. The opportunity of representing Thailand at the Lacrosse world stage is very important to me but at the same time honoring my commitment to the BQR team and TSS Championship is just as important."

That's for the summer though. Coming up first will be the season opener in Sepang in two months time. Expect the two B-Quik Racing Audis to be top contenders amongst the dark horses on the grid. With many question marks though many eyes will be focused on where Khun Henk and Khun Prantarit slot into the timesheets.

Mission Control

At the racetrack the beating heart of the action is the paddock, it's all hustle and bustle and often frantic activity. From immaculate garages with equally immaculately attired mechanics to battered race machines on jacks it's a non-stop melting pot. It's not just teams’ garages but also organisers’ offices, scruitineering bays, weighbridges, podiums, fire trucks, hospitality tents, pit assemblies and all the other accoutrements that combine to make the race weekend revolve around the paddock’s confines.

At Bangsaen add in sea, sand and palm trees and it becomes just about as evocative as it gets, an almost kilometre long glossy mix of speed, adrenaline and glamour.

But arguably the real beating heart of the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival is not the paddock, its right across the other side of the circuit - Race Control. And that's as far as it gets from the glamour and noise of the paddock.

Race Control at Bangsaen isn't even that easy to find unless you are in the loop. Located in a secluded hotel next to the set of high-speed curves that lead into the seafront roundabout, few signposts offer any clues that this is the hub of the event.

Upstairs, in the hotel's conference facility, is Bangsaen's 'Mission Control’; a set of temporary suits that house the sprawling Race Control that manages track activities and coordinates the safety operation. Plugged into this spider's web are the stewards' suits and the RAAT offices. All aspects aim to seamlessly work together to ensure everything runs as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.

The hub of this temporary infrastructure though is the Race Control centre with its endless banks of monitors that cover every nook and cranny of the Bangsaen track. Here, seated behind five rows of desks, the Race Control staff monitor every turn of every wheel, watching the races unfold live and able to respond to every incident real time as it happens.

And at the hub of Race Control is Thailand Super Series Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya. He’s at the top of the Bangsaen ‘pyramid’, he has the final say - but the buck also stops with him. It’s a job that’s a two edged sword.

Khun Preeda thus had the biggest ‘workspace’ in Bangsaen, surrounded by screens that flashed up all the action as it unfolded. This new setup was certainly another big step forward for TSS in infrastructure terms. "We had 42 close circuit cameras to monitor the race, we probably need more as it’s a street circuit so many blind corners and sections," he noted. "The new equipment did its job - but we need to keep improving."

With a big team of staff, both in Race Control itself and positioned around the circuit, Khun Preeda was happy with the progress, reckoning that steps forward have been made at every event of the inaugural year. "All the officials got things done quickly [in Bangsaen] and everyone did their best," he says.

"Everyone was doing an excellent job and [the organisers of Japanese] Super GT came to see us for three days and they were surprised that all the officials worked so well together and got things done quickly," says Khun Preeda. "Especially how we dealt with a non-stop stream of incidents."

His recurring theme is that he’s happy with progress so far - but that’s with qualifications. "We have to keep pushing forward. The Minister [Sontaya, President of TSS] has set a target of [achieving] international standards so we must get there," says Khun Preeda. And that drive to raise standards goes all the way up the chain. "I’ve never been a Race Director, always been a racer before," he adds with a laugh.

TSS pitched its inaugural year as being a ‘learning’ season and Khun Preeda says that they have taken a lot away from Bangsaen and will be making changes for this December’s next edition of Thailand’s biggest motorsports extravaganza. "We need to increase our standards to international level," he affirms.

Those changes will fan out from the headquarters. "At the Race Control it gets very hectic as it involves race after race and if we see problems at the end of each race the referee needs a break as it's a very high tension atmosphere," Khun Preeda says. "Especially at Bangsaen where when a car has an incident it often blocks the track so something has to be done straight away and the referee needs a few minutes break. Often we have to call the driver and inspect and ask questions."

With a jam-packed programme, Bangsaen has arguably become a victim of its own success. TSS therefore will look to spread the programme out this year to reduce the stress on all aspects of track operations. "This year we will start the track [programme] on Tuesday so the schedule won't be so packed and that will make it easier to manage and ease the pressure."

Khun Preeda notes that an extra day, making it six days instead of five, will also ease pressure on the teams that have different cars in different categories which are on track consecutively or when cars have to be adjusted for different race requirements.

Thai race fans have become used to non-stop track action in Bangsaen and Khun Preeda is quick to reassure that the programme won't tail off at any point. "Minister [Sontaya] doesn't want that, he has decided there will be entertainment between the races." So expect more demonstration driving, dramatic displays of drifting and glitzy parades this year.

Many details that were introduced during the latest edition worked well, he notes. "We had better warning systems, they worked well. And usually we use a cement powder on the track but this year we changed to a new material that better absorbs oil and coolant, that worked much better and was certainly worth the extra cost."

So after one year is he enjoying the position of Race Director? "[The] job [is] going well but we [have] no time to rest, we are ambitious and driven. Minister [Sontaya] wants international standards and Racing Spirit will deliver them," he says. Again that’s the mantra that comes through, Khun Preeda and the TSS team; they want to keep progressing. "It’s a big challenge to me, that’s what I enjoy and I’m enjoying my job."

That desire for improvement will also see track surface changes at Bangsaen in December. "We saw the track wasn’t that good so we need to resurface some parts of the circuit, so we inspected a couple of weeks ago," he says. It’s another piece in the jigsaw of going to the next level. "The average speed was faster in every class at Bangsaen," he notes. Every single aspect of Bangsaen is getting faster and more professional.

And international motorsport features arrived last year. Watch any Grand Prix and the timing analysis is broken down into ‘sectors’. That came to TSS for the first time Bangsaen. But it was a work in progress. "We will divide the circuit into three sectors this year," says Khun Preeda. "We wanted to do this last December but with the hills and tall buildings we didn’t manage this and had two sectors, however for the next one we will have three sectors in place."

Fast youngster set to shakeup the Super 2000 top order

Last year the battle for Super 2000 honours between two of Thailand’s fastest youngsters - Khun Tin Sritrai and Khun Kantasak Kusiri - was arguably the defining one-on-one tussle of the inaugural TSS season. Two of Thailand’s genuine ‘stars of tomorrow’ slugging it door-to-door for the prestigious title.

This year the business end of the Super 2000 grid - which is being rolled into a new technology-permitting ‘Class 1’ - is set to be even tougher and hard fought with new cutting edge cars and more proven drivers heading for the mix.

On paper, the BMW drivers’ look likely to be the ones to beat this year. But in terms of those drivers/teams aiming to cause an upset - the ‘dark horses’ to coin a very well used motor racing expression ­- the combination of Khun Kantadhee Kusiri, Team Eakie and a Toyota Altezza are right at the top of the list. They have plenty of plus points as well as a couple of question marks.

To start with the positives: Khun Kantadhee is regarded by many in the paddock as one of the fastest youngsters in Thailand and destined for great things in the future. The younger brother of Khun Kantasak, he is equal in the talent stakes even if his ‘track education’ is a couple of years behind. He’s ultra-fast and generally brings the car home intact, very important when the budget isn’t endless.

Team Eakie, meanwhile, needs no explanation. Team Owner Khun Anothai Eamlumnow has been at the heart of Thai motorsport all his life and knows exactly what it takes to win. Adding strength to this depth is key technical support from Big Dawg Racing, another operation here that knows how to win.

So the weaknesses? Khun Kantadhee hasn’t raced in Super 2000 before although he competed in Thailand Touring Car last year driving the Team Eakie Altezza he will use in at least the first two rounds this season. That brings us to the biggest question mark - the car. It hasn’t been able to match the frontline Honda Civic FDs and it’s creaking a bit. Well quite a lot. With a brand new car on the way the Altezza’s technical development will be halted.

This will be the first time that Toyota’s Altezza will have been seen in Super 2000 and it will prove a welcome alternative to the sophisticated Hondas and BMWs that are expected to cram out the front rows of the grid this season.

Like many other racecars in Thailand it also has an interesting history, as Khun Anothai explained this week. "This car used to be a one make race car from Japan." Toyota ran a domestic single make series for the Altezza from 1999-2003. "I bought this [car] for my personal track day fun but actually I only drove it once," continues Khun Anothai. "I entered one of the ‘Club’ classes four years ago [and] I got fifth place."

Last year Khun Kantadhee and Team Eakie won TSS’s Super 1500 title. Well 'won' is really the wrong word, they strolled to the title; in Bangsaen the driver was showboating despite the extra ballast, possibly earning a quick ticking off from a team owner who knows what winning involves. So it was entirely logical that team and driver stepped up to Super 2000 together. This is a combination that clearly works perfectly together.

Team Eakie already had a Super 2000 machine in the stable, the Altezza, which Khun Kantadhee raced in Thailand Touring Car last year, so it’s also logical to start with this car until a new ‘weapon’ is completed.

Toyota’s Altezza is right at the end of its global racing shelf life. As well as the Japanese one make series from which this example comes from, this popular sedan model has been seen in Japan’s Super Taikyu, the British Touring Car Championship, Asian Touring Car Championship and international events of the stature of the Merdeka 12 Hours, Macau Grand Prix Guia Race and even the Nürburgring 24 Hours.

The Team Eakie example is equipped with Toyota’s 3SG ‘BEAM’ engine and has a relatively modest 280 hp on tap. There will be a lot of work for team and driver to do as they combine again to chase Super 2000 wins. "It’s our first time for Altezza in TSS," explains Khun Anothai. "[Khun Kantadhee] is the best driver but the car is old and we stop developing it because we are developing the new car. I expect him to be on podium every race, which he capable of."

However while there are weaknesses in the car package, team and driver should be able to drive around them if all goes to plan. "Our car is not that powerful but the total package is very good," Khun Anothai reckons. "In Sepang and Buriram, I think we don’t have any advantage, but we are fast in corners so I think he can challenge for the championship." He confirms that the team will be hitting the road to Malaysia for the season opener. "Yes, we are going to Sepang and the rest of TSS."

Khun Kantadhee is the reigning TSS Super 1500 champion.

The Altezza is very much a stopgap though and Team Eakie’s brand new machine - a Toyota 86 - promises to be a real missile that will be capable of winning Super 2000 races outright. While Toyota Team Thailand has developed a full factory 86 for Super 2000 and ran it throughout last season, this car will be fully independently built and all the ingredients are there.

So why choose Toyota’s popular 86 coupé for a pitch at the Super 2000 title? "The 86 is a new model, it will last another six years until the model change," explains Khun Anothai. "It’s worth developing this car because it will not [be] outdated soon."

That also means the team will be able to reuse the Altezza’s major mechanical components, which it knows well. "The car is rear wheel drive and we can use our developed engine and transmission from Altezza," he notes. "That’s why we carefully research and design the car to be the perfect racecar. The suspension of 86 will be updated and we have an engineer from a suspension company [to] custom design the suspension for this car."

The base 86 has been sourced from Japan and recently arrived at the Bangjark workshops of Big Dawg Racing. "They will build the car as usual," he confirms. "Big Dawg always build the car with much professional care. Every car is neat and clean and this will be our third car [built by] Big Dawg. The first one was the [Honda] City, then the Altezza, and [now the] 86."

Big Dawg’s engineers have admitted that the 86’s suspension in particular will require a lot of thought to ensure the whole car package will be capable of winning and Khun Anothai says that they are all taking their time in the build stage. Hopefully the car will debut in Buriram in November, but it could potentially only arrive in time for the season closer in Bangsaen.

Either way this is one car that’s going to be well worth the wait. Expect this driver-team combination to be immediately challenging for wins. Khun Kantadhee is ultra-talented and highly committed, his obvious racecar skills shine through every time he gets behind the wheel and unquestionably he’s destined for a bright future.

Khun Anothai agrees with that assessment. "He has huge potential to be a high ranked world class driver," he says unequivocally. "Our team will push him as much as possible, but we need funds. I'm always looking for any channel possible for him to go further, for example [the Toyota] 86 Asia Pacific [one make series] or any other race, even [the Porsche] Carrera Cup, but I only can send him to Asia level. After he gets [the] Thailand Championship, I hope in 2015, he will not race in Thailand anymore because there is no challenge for him in Thailand."

Next year the Khun Kantadhee/Team Eakie/Toyota 86 combination will certainly be listed amongst the ‘hot’ pre-season Super 2000 title favourites. This year though they are rather destined to be the ‘dark horses’. But expect big things this season from one of the most promising drivers of his generation and a team that knows how to win and isn’t interested in turning up for second places. With a driver that is very popular with Thai race fans, also expect a lot of attention around the black, white and orange Altezza in Sepang.

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