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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Mar 25, 2014 - 01:56 PM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


There are just six weeks remaining until the new Thailand Super Series (TSS) season kicks off at Sepang Circuit in Malaysia and the big guns are finally starting to show their hands.

 

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The second TSS season is going to be bigger, better and brighter in every respect and that’s from top to bottom. But it’s at the top where we focus this week as two leading contenders in Super Car Class 1-GT3 and Super Car Class 2-GTM have been getting into action on track.

Singha Motorsport Team Thailand has grown rapidly and in stature over the last season and over the weekend it pitched up a Bira Circuit for its first test of the year. Khun Voravud Bhirombhakdi now has a teammate for this season, Khun Chairat Sangtong, who is stepping up to Super Car after making his mark in Super 2000 and both drivers were on the track to test their Ferraris.

Also out in the Prancing Horse racecars was professional driver and racing coach, Khun Carlo Van Dam. He will be assisting the team and drivers this year.

TSS already boasts many of the top brand names from the European sports car racing scene - including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, Aston Martin and Porsche. Now add a new one that is just as exotic and emotional: McLaren.

Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri, who introduced the Lamborghini brand to Super Car just two years ago, is now swapping to a McLaren 12C GT3 for the new season and it's another dramatic nameplate on the entry list, as well as being a racecar that is capable of winning straight out of the box. He recently had his first test drive of the McLaren and it was a long way from Thailand, the UK's Silverstone Circuit in fact.

Finally, one of the most exciting - and unknown - packages of the new Super Car season is the U.S. built Ford Mustang. This racecar is currently in the assembly stage but the Kiwi Racing Team has offered a first look at the monster engine that will be under the bonnet, and the Ford block is straight from NASCAR.

Ferrari team hits the testing trail

Last year Singha Motorsport Thailand stepped up from Super 2000 to Super Car, albeit arriving in Sepang with one Ferrari 458 Challenge in standard one make specification and a handful of mechanics. Team owner and driver, Khun Voravud Bhirombhakdi, however targeted finishing on the podium, he ran very competitively in both races and he went on to achieve his targets.

That was just under one year ago. However, when Singha Motorsport Team Thailand rocked up at Bira Circuit last Friday morning for its first pre-season test there were no less than three stunning 458 racers in the garage, all with aero kits to optimise the cars to fit Super Car Class 2-GTM, two fast Thai drivers plus a highly experienced international pilot to help with coaching and car setup while a top Italian engineer is waiting in the wings to guide the team from the pitwall when the team arrives at Sepang this year for Race 1 &2 of TSS 2014.

This is a team that has certainly come a long way and it's one that's rippling with ambition while steadily laying the groundwork for the longer term. Having a teammate, Khun Chairat Sangtong, for the first, as well as a ‘T-car’, should ease the pressure, said Khun Voravud as his team wrapped up two days of testing last Saturday afternoon.

"Basically last year I was running okay but I didn't have a teammate which made my life very difficult, so this year I have Khun [Chairat] from 8 Thonglor as a teammate and I hope we will do well," he said. "We have a spare car so hopefully if we have any problems we can just jump in and start from the back this year. Also this year we will have a race engineer from Kessel Racing, so hopefully we will do better."

That engineer, Khun Gianluca Soli, already has a headstart in terms of integration with Singha Motorsport Team Thailand as he supported Khun Voravud last season.

First up will be the season opener in Malaysia and Khun Voravud is confident that both there and at the rest of the races on the calendar the team will be on the front-running pace. "We think we can be competitive especially in Sepang as I went for the ‘Challenge’ series and got a lot of input from all the engineers and mechanics and we should do well there," he said. That event, in mid-February, was the first round of the 2014 Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific and it gave Khun Voravud useful track time in the Ferrari 458 Challenge Evo around Sepang ahead of the season opener.

Although he was at the wheel of a standard ‘Challenge’ machine, this year’s version, dubbed the ‘Challenge Evo’, includes an improved aero package and Khun Voravud’s best officially recorded time, a 2:13.093 in Q2, is a significant step forward from his times in the TSS races at Sepang last year. With his more optimised car specifically for Super Car Class 2-GTM it implies he will be in the competitive ballpark this season.

In terms of the known quantities in the pack, the Porsches, the Lamborghinis and the title-winning Toyotas, Khun Voravud is quietly confident that the 458 Challenge can be very competitive against them, however there are several unknown new quantities that remain to he seen on the timesheets and he's unsure here as yet how the Prancing Horse machines will line up. Unquestionably though he will be pitching hard for the first row of the Super Car Class 2-GTM grid.

Singha Motorsport Team Thailand has grown up in the last year, Khun Voravud now has an outfit that takes to the track with the ambition of pitching to win while Khun Chairat is a well-proven fast driver who will be able to successfully back up his team leader.

Khun Voravud is one of the biggest supporters of Thai motorsport and also adds an international stamp so it’s pleasing to hear him affirm that he sees Singha Motorsport Team Thailand as a being here to stay and grow. "It will definitely be a long term thing for Singha Corporation," he said during the two day test where he lapped his regular #89 car around Bira on both days. "As you know we support the Ferrari Challenge all over the world and hopefully we will be involving more in Ferrari's family of racing [in the future]."

International dimension

The biggest visual sign of the growth of TSS has been the influx of the international-standard FIA GT3 cars, but equally the fact that international-standard drivers and engineers are being seen more and more on the pitwall is another demonstrable sign that the series is on a rapid upward path. Last year Khun Tomáš Enge became a regular face in the paddock - that’s a huge stamp of approval for TSS, sports car stars don’t really get much bigger or competitive than the Czech driver.

Now there is another name who will be in the paddock this season - Khun Carlo van Dam. The Dutchman also has a winning pedigree. He was hugely successful in karting, culminating in the European Championship title and then having been picked for the ‘Renault Driver Development’ programme, via Formula Renault he went on to win Germany’s ATS F3 Formel Cup in 2007.

From there he pitched up the next year on the other side of the world with the factory TOM’s Toyota team in the All-Japan F3 Championship and promptly swept up the prestigious title in some style, winning nine of the eighteen races and never once finishing off the podium, a new record for this series.

From there Khun Carlo graduated to Japan Super GT’s GT500 class, still with TOM’s and he finished on the podium in his first race. He has raced in Super GT in both classes for the last five years bagging an overall GT500 win at Sepang in 2012 for the factory Honda Racing team. He’s also raced in the Macau Grand Prix, the single-seater Superleague Formula and the famous 24-hour races at Spa-Francorchamps and the Nürburgring where he claimed a class victory in the latter driving a Subaru Impreza.

At the same time the 28-year-old has built a strong reputation as a capable driver coach and this link has seen him slotting into Singha Motorsport Team Thailand. "He's been a very great help to myself and the team because obviously he has a lot of experience with the GT300, GT500 and GT3 cars," said Khun Voravud during the team’s two-day test at Bira last weekend where Khun Carlo tested both Khun Voravud’s regular #89 car and the spare car back-to-back to analyse the performance of the two machines.

It was his first time at Bira Circuit and, without changing setups and not pushing to the limit, Khun Carlo ran mid-1:03 laps in both cars. "He fits in very well, he's been living in an Asian country for a longtime so he understands our culture very well," continued Khun Voravud. "He a very good coach so he's been helping."

Expect to see this Dutch driver perched on the TSS pitwall this season. "He will come to all the races, he will be helping in terms of setting up the cars and helping the drivers," explained Khun Voravud.

So it really has to be asked if Khun Carlo could be seen in the cockpit of the team’s ready and available ‘spare car’ this season? Khun Voravud is rather circumspect, he states that the primary aim is for this experienced professional driver is to help out the two regular drivers and the engineers - but he doesn’t rule it out at some point. "You never know, maybe," he says with a laugh. "But we would prefer him to look after us."

Khun Chairat joins Super Car with Ferrari

It feels like everyone is digging deep and taking ever-bigger steps forward since TSS roared into life almost exactly one year ago. And certainly one driver that ticks both those boxes is Khun Chairat Sangtong.

He's best known for racing a Honda Civic FD2 over the last couple of seasons in a Super 2000, a racecar that's instantly recognisable in the pack not just from its driver’s speed but also its striking black-and-gold '8 Thonglor' livery.

Khun Chairat's ascent up the Super 2000 ‘ladder’ has been rapid. With the 8 Thonglor-Titan VNS-RTM team he won Super 2000's hard-fought Class C in 2012 while marking himself as one to watch out for in the future with a string of drives that not only crushed his class rivals but regularly pitched him into the middle of the overall top-six. Last year he continued that impressive run with more results that kept him right on the heels of the big budget teams at the front.

Those two seasons prompted Khun Chairat to make the next step forward with his career and Super Car Class 2-GTM quickly appeared the logical option for a driver who will obviously be able to match the sky high standards required of this class.

Choosing the right racecar was the biggest issue but after examining the options he decided to team up with Khun Voravud Bhirombhakdi who campaigned a Ferrari 458 Challenge last year. That racecar proved quick and reliable. And as Khun Voravud developed the base 'Challenge' specification to match the limits allowed by the Class 2 rules, notably in improving the downforce, the car moved towards the front of the pack.

However, the standards required in Class 2-GTM will be very high this year and it remains to be seen if the 458 Challenge, even optimised to fit the regulations, can retain its position as a front-runner.

Khun Chairat's car is a 2013 Ferrari Challenge machine that recently came to Thailand from Italy via Singapore and has been checked and given the once over by the team prior to its shakedown at Bira.

It really is going to be a totally new challenge. From a front-mounted 2.0-litre 4-cylinder front wheel drive race prepared Honda Civic, essentially a five door ‘family’ sedan, he has now got to get to grips with a pukka racecar with a mid-mounted 4.5-litre V8 engine; that's going to be double the power he had on tap last year.

But the programme had to start somewhere. And that somewhere was Bira Circuit. The new racecar duly arrived, resplendent in ‘Rosso Corsa’ without any markings and with just a few visual changes from the standard ‘Challenge’ model made in time for the shakedown.

"Only the aero parts, the rear wing, the front and rear bumper, that's it, everything is still the same," Khun Chairat explained. It still has the Challenge suspension, we're waiting for the new front springs, make it a bit stiffer as it's too much with the aero parts. The engine and everything else is original."

It’s likely to remain pretty much in that format for Sepang as Khun Chairat uses TSS’s opening races to get bedded into the car, the main area for improvement, the suspension, will be upgraded after the long Malaysian trip. "We will change the suspension," he says. But in Sepang I will run this one to see what the car would be like [and] in the second round in Bira we will change it."

While the suspension was a long way from where he wants it to be, for the test it was ideal for him to get a feel for the new car. "It's very soft now," he said at the end of the test’s opening day. "This is my first time to experience with left hand [drive] and I want to get a feeling of the brakes and the gear changing."

Also observing Khun Chairat’s Ferrari debut was TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya. With highly powerful and sophisticated racecars pouring into the series Khun Preeda will be running his rule closely over every new entrant into Super Car this season, regardless of their ‘Racing CV’.

"Obviously with the newcomer that's entering into the Super Car category we must make sure that he or she is capable of driving safely for their sake and the sake of others," explained Khun Preeda as he observed Khun Chairat’s opening runs from the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand garage.

"Therefore we can see that although Khun [Chairat] is qualified as he's a ‘B’ [category] licence holder again I’m here to monitor him to see from my own eyes. As you can see from his first run he's already doing a quick time so he's very well qualified." Indeed on his first run in the car Khun Chairat was turning in 1:05.0 laps and dropped later into the mid-1:04s; he should be up to speed in Sepang even if the car is still closer to standard ‘Challenge’ specification than he would prefer. Khun Preeda also noted that Khun Chairat's laps times were very consistent, another metric he is looking for from new Super Car entrants.

Naturally quick and never shy of getting mixed into the scrapping for positions, Khun Chairat is a driver who has methodically developed his racing skills as he’s progressed. He’s thinks carefully and his ability has evolved. That he can reel of quick laps and equally hold his own in any fight means he will certainly be competitive this year and he’s going to be a very welcome addition to the Super Car Class 2-GTM pack.

By the end of the second day at Bira Khun Chairat was happy with his acclimatisation with the 458 Challenge. "What I've found so far [is] that the car is easy to drive, it's easy to control, it's a fun car," he said.

"The only thing is I'm not quite familiar with the left hand drive, today I adjusted myself a bit to make it more familiar," he continued. "For the car itself I also think the gear ratio is too long. From the control side it's really good, I’m less tense, I just go along with the car."

Enter the McLaren

There will be a new brand name on the Super Car Class 1-GT3 grid this year and it's one that’s synonymous with motor racing achievement - McLaren. Top TSS star Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri is swapping from the Lamborghinis he’s campaigned over the last two Super Car seasons for he cockpit of one of the stunning British-built GT3 cars.

And Khun Indharasak has already undergone his first shakedown test behind the wheel of McLaren’s 12C GT3 having recently flown over to the UK to test the striking machine at Silverstone - and he was instantly impressed. "Compared with the Lamborghini the McLaren is faster," he says. "It’s easy to control." The only area that he found wanting during the test was the brakes. "But they told be that they were still setting the brakes so the car isn’t at 100% yet."

It’s no surprise really that he came away impressed. The 12C GT3 is a state-of-the-art racecar based of McLaren’s road production supercar, the MP4-12C. That car was noted for its use of advanced technology drawn from a specialist company that has one of the best winning records in the history of Formula 1.

The road car’s carbon-fibre ‘MonoCell’ chassis, which weighs just 75 kg, forms the basis of the GT3 missile while the 32-valve, 3.8-litre twin-turbo dry sump V8 engine is tuned for racing use and the specially developed 6-speed sequential gearbox has bespoke paddle shifters. To fit the the FIA’s ‘Balance of Performance’ (BoP) regulations the engine is ‘detuned’ to 500 PS while peak torque kicks in at 600 Nm.

Another area that McLaren’s engineers focused on in building this racecar was aerodynamics and after time spent in the F1 windtunnel the 12C GT3 incorporates a well developed aero pack including a prominent front splitter, dive plates, door blades, additional side air intakes and large louvers cut into the front bumper as well as a big racing-style rear wing and diffuser.

McLaren is a pioneer of carbon-fibre in racing, introducing the first carbon chassis to F1 more than three decades ago before collecting the first grand prix win for a carbon-tubbed car. The legendary McLaren F1 was the first production car to feature a carbon chassis so it no wonder the 12C GT3 racecar’s dry weight comes in at 1,100 kg. Another innovation, the steering wheel is lifted directly from McLaren’s MP4-24 F1 single-seater.

The test though was the start of a new direction that will see soon the McLaren brand's GT3 racecars officially represented in Thailand. Emphasising that direction was the fact that this was no ordinary 'customer' test event, rather Khun Indharasak joined up with McLaren's official sports car racing team while it was preparing for the new British GT Championship season, which starts next month. The Thai pilot sharing the cockpit with the team's own factory drivers at the famous Northamptonshire racetrack.

For Khun Indharasak the McLaren represents an abrupt change of direction after two seasons campaigning Reiter Engineering-built Lamborghinis. He returned to racing in 2011 after half a decade away and can be credited with kicking off the ‘GT3 Era’ by turning up in Sepang with a Gallardo LP600-4 GT3 and immediately demonstrating just how much potential this breed of sophisticated racecar really had to offer to Thai racing.

By the end of the season in Bangsaen he had clinched the prestigious Super Car N/A title - and there were already other GT3 machines on the grid. Last year he had a much tougher time of it in Super Car Class 1 with a Gallardo LP600-4 that had been left behind in technical terms by even newer and more potent GT3 machines.

It was time for a change, he reckoned. "There were two main reasons," Khun Indharasak said. "First, at the last race the car had an accident so wasn’t 100% and, two, I like the Lamborghini but this year it will be a bit restricted. I wanted something really different, so I looked at the [Mercedes-Benz AMG] SLS and McLaren," he continued. "But I want to deal direct with the factory and I can deal with McLaren direct. One of my friends knows McLaren and so I went to Silverstone to test where they were preparing for British GT."

Khun Indharasak says that the McLaren team, the way they operated and most of all the extent to which they take the small details, all impressed him. "They were very professional," he says. "The details are amazing, they check everything, much more than others, they know how you drive and how the car drives."

This driver brought the Lamborghini brand to Thai racing and the end result was Vattana Motorsport becoming the official agent here for Reiter Engineering, the experienced German concern that builds the racing Gallardos on behalf of the Italian factory. Last year Khun Indharasak and Vattana Motorsport owner Khun Chonsawat Asavahame teamed up under the Reiter-Vattana-Unity banner and it was a successful partnership - so it’s only logical that these two evolve together into the McLaren programme. "Vattana will run the car, like we had Vattana-Unity last year we will have a Vattana-McLaren-Unity and we will build up the [new] company together."

Intriguingly, once this is all up and running the McLaren brand name could well be seen represented in two of the Super Car classes as the Woking-based company is also introducing new racing version of the road-homologated 12C which will be much less extreme than the 12C GT3. This car, dubbed the 12C GT Sprint, is basically a reworked 12C road car - and that means it’s more inline with traditional ‘Cup’ or ‘Challenge’ specifications and so will potentially fit into Super Car Class 2-GTM.

The 12C GT Sprint retains the same engine and transmission specification as the road car with the main changes revolving around racetrack-focused improvements to the aerodynamics, engine cooling system, suspension and safety features. Details include racing wheels, a bigger rear wing, suspension that is lowered by 40 mm, built-in air-jacks, an FIA-approved roll cage and a composite seat with 6-point harness. Interestingly, the 12C Sprint retains the road version’s innovative ‘Brake Steer’ system and 'Proactive Chassis Control’ (PCC) suspension, innovations that are ditched by the 12C GT3. "We will try to bring the new racer for Class 2 if anyone is interested, but first we bring the GT3 car," Khun Indharasak says.

While he was testing a factory machine destined for the British GT Championship this year, his actual racecar is already located in Sepang - and the clock is now ticking down. "Early next month I will go and test the car, then build up to the first race," Khun Indharasak says. For Sepang he reckons it’s most likely that top Taiwanese team AAI, which has plenty of experience running the McLaren 12C GT3, will support the new car trackside. AAI already has close ties with Vattana Motorsport so it’s logical that all parties consolidate their strengths in Malaysia.

Muscular heart of the Pony

One of the most dramatic racecars set to join the grid this season will be the new Ford Mustang of Super Car regular Khun Craig Corliss. Such is the rapid pace of change in TSS that the New Zealander has traded in his Holden Commodore VE after just a season for a brand new machine, which is now being specially built to his specifications in the USA.

First look at the new Ford Mustang's 7-litre engine

The new Mustang is the creation of a specialist tuner called UBB [Ultimate Bad Boy], which is well versed in developing ultra high performance road and race cars based on the famous ‘Pony Car’. While the chassis build process is now in full swing, Khun Craig has presented a first look at the brutal V8 engine that will be squeezed under the long bonnet.

The new powerplant has been built by RoushYates Engines, that in itself means that this unit is going to be able to hold its own with anything else on track. The company is one of the USA’s top race engine builders, formed in 2004 by two veterans of the race engine building business, Jack Roush and Robert Yates, with the assistance of Ford.

And they have never looked back. RoushYates engines is at the top of its game - winning the NASCAR manufacturers championship last year and in the most recent round of the series, held a week last Sunday, its engines, under the bonnet of the NASCAR Ford Fusions, stormed to a 1-2-3 finish.

Choosing a win-proven NASCAR block from RoushYates Engines was really a ‘no brainer’ for the Kiwi Racing Team. "We decided to have a normally aspirated injected engine and chose a 7-litre Ford ‘NASCAR’ block," noted Khun Craig.

This 7-litre V8 unit, sporting ‘RoushYates Engines’ stamped on the cam covers, will certainly come with an impressive pedigree. The unit will then be mated up to a sequential gearbox with paddle shifts before being fitted into the Mustang, which boasts four-wheel-drive, ABS, Traction Control and a full MoTeC amongst many other features.

However, while the build programme is currently in full swing at UBB, there’s been an awful lot of ground to cover since the project started from a blank sheet of paper last year. That means it really is also a race against time to have the stunning machine ready for Sepang in mid-May. But there is a ‘Plan B’ if the car doesn’t arrive in time, the Holden Commodore will be on standby.

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