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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Apr 04, 2014 - 05:35 PM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


With just five weeks to go before the opening round of Thailand Super Series (TSS) 2014 at Sepang Circuit, big plans are unfolding by the day - and they don’t get any bigger, or more successful, than Toyota Team Thailand which will be represented during the season in four of the key categories: Super Car Class 1-GT3, Super Car Class 2-GTM, Super 2000 Class 1 and Super 2000 Class 2.

 

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At the 35th Bangkok International Motor Show over the last week and a half Toyota Team Thailand has presented its newest racing weapon, the eleventh-generation Altis sedan, a car that only made its production debut here in January. Two race versions will be on the Super 2000 grid in Sepang next month.

Factory representation in TSS doesn’t stop with Toyota either as the Innovation Motorsport Mazdas will be back for a second season in Super Production this year. After a later start to the programme last year, this time the Mazda2 racers will be heading for Sepang to take in the whole season - and last Friday the team’s pre season test programme kicked off at Bira Circuit.

A new name is heading for Super Car Class 2-GTM, Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul. He’s already well known in drifting circles after a successful career going sideways, but after testing out the Super Car waters a couple of years ago he’s now taking the plunge by running a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup this season. That sportscar recently arrived from the UK and Khun Sarun enjoyed his first shakedown runs at Bira Circuit earlier this week. And as you would expect he immediately looked quick and comfortable.

Big team with big ambitions

The fundamentals of top-level Thai racing are in constant flux as the standards required to win skyrocket. But not quite everything has changed, Toyota Team Thailand, the biggest and most successful team here, continues to win and it will go into the new TSS season in top form having throttled the life out of its opponents in Super Car Class 2 last year. In fact the team swept up every available honour, all that coming against the backdrop of top-level opposition.

And Toyota Team Thailand has no intention of stepping back from the pinnacle as it gears up for the new racing season. As usual this factory outfit has big plans and will be taking on the best that TSS has to offer in Super Car Class 1-GT3, Super Car Class 2-GTM, Super 2000 Class 1 and Super 2000 Class 2. That's ambition, strength in depth, experience and confidence all wrapped into Toyota’s familiar red, white and silver racing colours.

Toyota utterly dominates the new vehicle market here and fortunately it's one of the strongest and most long-term supporters of Thai motorsports. It's also has had the busiest booth at the Bangkok Motor Show, more new vehicles have been sold on its stand than that of any other OEM and a key part of the lavish backdrop is Toyota Team Thailand's racecars and trophies.

Toyota has two racecars on display, the #39 Toyota 86 of Khun Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, which comfortably won the Super Car Class 2 title last year. Although, unusually, this fearsome machine with its potent 4.8-litre V10 engine isn't the star attraction this week, that honour goes to Toyota Team Thailand's brand new weapon, the eleventh-generation Altis racecar which has made its public debut at the show and is heading for both classes of this year’s Super 2000.

The new production Altis, the biggest selling car here in C-segment, only made its showroom debut earlier this year, so Toyota Team Thailand has had to work extremely fast to get the first racecar show-ready, as Team Manager Khun Suttipong Smittachartch explained on the sidelines of the Motor Show. "This year Toyota launched the new Altis in January and so then we have to change to the new body," he said.

"This is just the new prototype, we have to develop it a lot more [but] we have time to test," he added. With a little under four weeks to go until the Super 2000 cars are loaded up onto vehicle transporters for the long trip south to Malaysia, Toyota Team Thailand has plenty of work to do to get the two new-generation racers ready for what promises to be the toughest year in the history of Super 2000.

And the competitive bar in Super 2000 really has ratcheted up. Toyota has a lot of expertise in this category to build on, most recently it won the Drivers' championship overall in 2012 and the Teams' title overall last year; however the influx of state-of-the-art racecars, such as the BMWs, will give this team a tough job to get onto the pace and Khun Suttipong sees that their long-running engine is the new package's weakest point.

"For the balance of the car the handling is quite okay but for the engine we will use the same engine as last year so compared to the BMW I think the power is not like this car," he says. "But we try the best because we have to build the car [but] it cannot compare [to the BMW].

Toyota plans to have a pair of new-generation Altis racecars ready in time for Sepang. And, along with the one-off Super 2000 category 86 which it ran in the series last year for the first time, that should really give the Japanese brand the strength in depth to pitch hard to defend its Teams' title.

Retaining its two leading Super 2000 drivers should also give Toyota further proven strengths. "In Sepang for Super 2000 we will go with three units, one will be the 86 and two [new] Altis," confirms Khun Suttipong. "The 86 driver will be Khun Manat [Kulapalanont] and a new Altis for Mr [Chen Jian] Hong and the other [new Altis] is [for] a newcomer, the Yaris One Make Champion Khun Arthit [Ruengsomboon], so three [drivers] for Super 2000."

That also means the Toyota challenge will be spread out as Khun Manat and Khun Hong will be running in the new ‘unlimited’ Super 2000 Class 1 while the debuting Khun Arthit will be entered in Super 2000’s new Class 2, which is restricted to C-category race licence holders and is thus aimed squarely at newcomer drivers. It means his car will be much less sophisticated under the bonnet than that of the Taiwanese star driver in the other outwardly visually similar Altis. Running in ‘Class 2’ should prove a perfect choice as a learning ground for this highly rated 31-year-old driver.

Last year in Super Car Class 2 the two Toyota Team Thailand-built Toyota 86 racecars were unstoppable and an impressive tally of three wins and two second places for Khun Nattavude from the first five races effectively put the title out of the reach of his rivals in arguably the category with more strength in depth than any other on the TSS programme.

His team mate Khun Nattapong Horthongkum surged to the front over the final two rounds of the season collecting three wins and a third place from the last four races, including an important double win at the prestigious Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival.

That gave Khun Nattavude and Khun Nattapong a 1-2 finish in the Super Car Class 2 Drivers’ championship and the 86 six wins from the season’s eight races, a stunning performance, as only Khun Narasak Ittiritpong and Khun Grant Supaphong (both Mitsubishi Evo) interfered with the 86’s dominance. Meanwhile Toyota Team Thailand romped to the Teams' title to cement a clean sweep of championship trophies for the factory outfit.

With the further evolution in Super Car regulations for this season as well as the split into three classes Toyota Team Thailand will keep running its current pair of 86s in the revised Super Class 2-GTM while awaiting the arrival of its exciting new contender which will slot into Super Car Class 1-GT3. "Because of the regulation, many things change for GTM, GT3, the tyres, many things change so we keep the 86 as from last year," says Khun Suttipong.

Indeed, for last year’s ultra-dominant 86s the biggest change will be the new limitation in tyre widths, which is being pegged to 300mm, with an extra 3kg weight penalty for each millimetre above that. With the 86's running 320mm tyres last year that could well add up to a marked disadvantage.

However Khun Suttipong is cautiously optimistic that with the 86s now being fully developed and sorted as well as having showed good reliability last year while being piloted by two of the fastest drivers in TSS, they should be able to mix in the fight to retain the two titles. "The [86s] are exactly, almost exactly the same, just the tyres [as] we have to use the 300mm [size]," he says. "We tested in Bira, the time is a little bit slower but I trust in my drivers."

Khun Suttipong does admit he’s yet to see some of the new racecars heading for Super Car Class 2-GTM this year in track action so he cannot predict how his cars will match up to them. "I don't know the rivals yet, right now the new European cars are coming a lot and we don't know them," he says. "But our car is developed, it's better than last year."

The real jewel in the crown of TSS however is Super Car’s Class 1-GT3; it’s the most competitive racing category that Thailand has ever seen - and it’s hardly got started. It’s also exactly where a Team Manager like Khun Suttipong wants to be represented, going up against the very best out there.

And Super Car Class 1-GT3 is exactly where Khun Suttipong plans to be this year as Toyota Team Thailand will take delivery of one of the first batch of five racecars that are currently being built in Japan to fit the next-generation ‘Super GT’ series’ GT300 class. The new car promises to be stunning. Built around a composite monocoque, the 86 GT300 should be capable of being highly competitive here with the FIA GT3 standard Porsches, Lamborghinis and Ferraris in Super Car Class 1-GT3 and take the Toyota name to the front.

Khun Suttipong, who has been closely monitoring the build phase of the new project in Japan, had originally hoped to debut the new 86 GT300 in Bangsaen last December, but the car is coming to realisation somewhat slower than had originally been expected. Now his target is to get the car into race action for the final two rounds of this year’s TSS, at Buriram and Bangsaen.

"We’re still waiting for the new [86] GT300, but for Toyota they delayed [the project] so we’re still waiting," he reveals. "I don't want to buy the first car and test it, we want the complete car. We hope to get a car to join in one [Japanese] Super GT [race] and then we will join Super Series for [the] last two races."

Khun Suttipong plans to drive the new 86 GT300 himself in the final two TSS rounds, using the races to conduct an on track test and development programme. He’s an experienced and accomplished test driver plus his two top stars, Khun Nattavude and Khun Nattapong, will most likely be preoccupied fighting for vital championship points by that point in the season.

To that end he will keep a valid entry open by once again driving in Super Car Class 1-GT3 with the turbocharged Altis that won the 2012 Super Car Drivers’ title in the hands of Khun Nattavude.

"I am also entering in the Class 1 of Super Car but will use the old Altis," he confirms. "So we [will] use this for the first two races and after that when the 86 GT300 comes we will change [to] that."

Another very busy year lies ahead for Toyota Team Thailand in categories at the top of the TSS pyramid. And just like for more years than most motorsport observers can remember, expect plenty more silverware to be headed for the Japanese OEM’s trophy cabinet.

Drift star signs up for Super Car

This week has seen another new name making preparations to join the ranks of TSS 2014 by taking to the track to shakedown a new car. He’s not really a new name to Thai motorsport as he’s already an established star of the highly competitive world of drifting. In fact, he’s also been seen on the Super Car entry lists a couple of seasons ago although that was more low key.

Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul is the driver in question and he was out at Bira Circuit last Tuesday afternoon putting the first kilometres on his newly acquired racecar, a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, which he will utilise to open up a totally new chapter in his racing career. He will campaign the German sports car in Super Car Class 2-GTM this season.

He’s been around the motorsport scene for sometime and Khun Sarun explained more about his career in the Bira paddock during his first runs in the Porsche. "I started in gymkhana in 2005 and got second in the championship and then in 2006 I started in drift as the drift competition [had] started in Thailand," he recalled. "So I changed to drifting [and] I raced for eight years and I got sponsorship from Potenza."

But he really wanted a new challenge and first gave Super Car a shot two years ago in the now-defunct class that was introduced especially for high-powered ‘Retro’ racecars, Khun Sarun campaigning a Toyota hatchback. "I come to join Super Car, I used an AE-86 in Super Retro, but that car was not so good, it was always broken, broken and didn’t have reliability."

A year away and with the arrival of TSS - Khun Sarun plotted his next step to establish himself in circuit racing, by aiming for the highest domestic level. "I decided to buy a Porsche, I selected Khun Pom to be my engineer," he says. Khun Somboon Kittitanagorn is regarded as one of the leading race engineers in Thailand and the expert to go to with the Porsche 997 breed. It was an obvious choice to make and in fact Khun Sarun says that his close relationship with Khun Somboon goes right back to the days when he started out in motorsports.

Porsche’s 997 GT3 Cup has become one of the cars synonymous with the new rise of Thai racing and so it was a case of finding the right car - there are always plenty to choose from. "I bought the car from England," he says. "After I saw four or five cars, this one the condition is quite good, so I purchased it."

In the pitlane at Bira Circuit the gleaming white 997 GT3 Cup looked in perfect condition and was still bearing many decals from its previous racing life in the ‘Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain’.

Khun Sarun and his team will have plenty of work to do to get the car ready for Sepang, which is looming ever closer. "I will update it," he noted. "Now for the test the suspension hadn’t come yet, it just came yesterday, but today I come here as I’ve never driven [the car] here before [and] we change some settings. [By] next week we will change the settings and fix some small issues and come again to test."

So with an unsorted car Khun Sarun took to the track - and immediately showed plenty of promise by getting into highly respectable times on his opening runs. "It’s very easy to drive, I feel the car is comfortable when going fast," he said after completing his first two runs.

The Porsche 997 is a very particular racecar that requires a certain understanding to extract the best from it; so perhaps a career of drifting cars is now giving Khun Sarun a head start in terms of unlocking its potential. He’s optimistic that he can be competitive in amongst the ultra high standards required of Super Car’s Class 2-GTM. "I hope I can get to the podium [this year]," he says. [But] I need to practice with this car."

So a drift star who is switching to Super Car and one that's pitching straight at the top. That’s quite ambitious. So there is really only one person suitably qualified to pass comment, Khun Johnny. TSS’s irrepressible trackside commentator is the ‘voice’ that seamlessly connects the fans in the heaving grandstands with all the intricate details of the track action, he also breathes real passion for drifting, his life is a mission to bring the pleasures of the ‘sideways sport’ to as wide a possible audience in Thailand.

"It’s a very special surprise for TSS events this year," says Khun Johnny. "The ‘Drift God Thailand’ fourth year makes [a] surprise for his fan club. The superstar in drift events is enjoying to test the new machine and new experiences from drift to circuit at Bira Circuit to prepare himself for [his] TSS program this year."

Mazda gears up for Sepang trip

Last year, unquestionably, the most bumper-to-bumper action was to be found in the Super Production category as jam-packed grids of very closely matched racecars allowed drivers’ skills and tactics to come to the fore. As ever there were the usual suspects mixed up with the new boys, all vying for supremacy.

At the top of the list of ‘new kids on the block’, at least new to Super Production, was Innovation Motorsports; a team that’s already well known in the paddock having crushed all the opposition in Super Pickup over the last couple of seasons. This outfit stepped into Super Production last year, teaming up officially with Mazda Sales Thailand to become the second factory outfit here (after Toyota), while retaining its two truck stars, Khun Pete Thongchua and Khun Michael Freeman, to drive its pair of pretty new Mazda2 racers.

Despite the whole project starting off from a plain piece of paper several months into last year, the duo were able to hit the track just in time for Race 3 & 4, although the team admits to having put in quite a few late nighters as the mechanics raced against time to build the new cars from the ground up. In the subsequent rounds Khun Pete and Khun Michael steadily moved towards the business end of the field with the former scoring the team's first win in Super Production during the penultimate round of the year at Bira Circuit.

Innovation Motorsports is a tiny offshoot of the giant RMA Group, a global company based in Thailand that provides engineering services to OEMs and military in some of the most demanding of environments on the planet - and it’s core philosophies run right through the way the race team goes about its business.

So to recap, it was strong and steady building process through the first season in Super Production then for a race team that puts methodical engineering development and in-depth data analysis at the heart of its operational model.

Small wonder it has that approach as the team's Chief Engineer, Khun Ross Holder, has previously engineered racecars to several Australian V8 Championship titles as well as earning prestigious Bathurst 1000km wins. Australian V8 racing is ultra-competitive so it’s all about finding those elusive extra tenths and obsessing over the smallest details. Khun Ross has long since been proven capable of making cars win at the top level and is regarded by many in the paddock ‘down under’ as the best data engineer in the cut throat world of 'Australian V8' racing.

Innovation Motorsports’s build-up to the season kicked off at Bira Circuit last Friday with an afternoon's testing that focused on analysing upgrades and evaluating new components. "We want to get a benchmark as we made a lot of changes to the car at Bangsaen," explained Khun Mike, who was carrying out testing duties in the #55 sedan version. "We changed the aero for Bangsaen and [did] a little bit of engine work which we didn’t get to test at Bira before Bangsaen so the car has effectively come here today exactly as it was at Bangsaen."

As well as benchmarking the upgrades the team had a few new tweaks to try out ahead of the new season. "We’re also testing some different ECU programmes [and] some suspension programmes as the starting point for this year," the experienced Australian added.

The test day went to plan as the team worked its way through the job list. "There’s definitely [an] improvement in the car," Khun Michael noted. "The tyres have done nearly 70 laps so they’re well past their sell by date, but we would like to be effectively a second faster than we were at Bira last year."

This year, for the second consecutive season, Innovation Motorsports will run its brace of Mazda2s, again with one being in hatchback format and the other a sedan. For this year, however, the team will be starting its campaign from the first round and the two cars will head for Malaysia at the end of this month.

"We have continued the contract with Mazda Sales Thailand, last year we started very late so we missed the first races but this year we will do the full season," confirmed Khun Michael.

Missing the trip to Sepang and foregoing the ‘bonus points’ on offer proved costly to the team, even if its Super Production debut season was regarded simply as being one to start developing the Mazda2. "If we look at the points last year, if Pete had gone to Malaysia and picked up the 40 points, not even finished the races, he would have finished second in the championship and I would have been fifth in the championship," notes Khun Michael. "So this year we will do the whole eight races and hopefully we will do well in the championship."

Sepang will be a new experience for both Khun Michael and Innovation Motorsport although his teammate has previous experience of this F1 circuit. "I’ve never been there before, Pete’s obviously been there before with the rotary [Super Car Mazda RX-7] but for me it’s the first time," says Khun Michael. However he’s looking forward to next month’s races and thinks the team should perform well. "I hope it will suit my style of driving and our car as it’s a fast circuit with flowing corners."

From something of a ‘hobby’ for Khun Michael, solid foundations were put down and Innovation Motorsports has grown quickly over the last few seasons. Unquestionably it now must be counted as one of the most professional teams in Thai racing; winning the 2012 and 2013 Super Pickup Drivers’ titles caps its recent successes.

"Our team started off as all the guys who worked on our production lines [at RMA Group] with Ross and [Software Engineer] Martin [Laermann] as mentors," says Khun Michael. The growth of the team and the development of its technicians and management have allowed him to concentrate more and more on developing himself as a driver.

"The car’s getting better and I’m getting more confident as I don’t have to worry as it never lets you down," he says. It’s perfect, so as a driver I have more confidence to drive and push on as you know that nothing is going to fail, so rather than trying to engineer the car from the driver’s seat I just get in and concentrate on driving it."

The team’s workshops are located close to the RMA Group’s global headquarters in Laem Chabang and Khun Michael says that within the company interest in the team is growing, particularly since the new Mazda2 programme kicked off last year.

"Internally a lot of people follow the team, people are genuinely interested in it," he says. "More so with the Mazda2s than the trucks, I guess most of our staff don’t drive trucks, they drive sedan cars so there is a lot more interest as they relate to it a lot more."

Although Innovation Motorsports put its name on the map by running Mazda BT-50s in Super Pickup, the team’s focus has changed now and it’s not even sure it will run any trucks this season as it throws all its weight behind the Mazda2s. Focus is the keyword and it doesn’t want any distractions.

"This year there is a very heavy focus on the Mazda2 programme, last year same amount of people were trying to run the Mazda2s and the trucks, this year we are clearly focused on the Mazda2," explains Khun Michael.

"I wont run a truck, but this year if we are in a good position Pete will run the truck again, but we won’t make a decision until after KL and see where we are," he adds. With the Super Pickup category not joining the TSS trip to Sepang and instead kicking off its season at Race 3 & 4 at Bira Circuit in August, Innovation Motorsports can adopt a wait and see approach. "Both trucks are now fully prepared and ready to go racing but I won’t race again," Khun Michael reckons.

If Khun Pete does start in Super Pickup he will certainly be the overwhelming favourite for the title; he’s also a driver with a strong passion for truck racing - and so is Khun Michael. Despite all his denials, factoring in his love of Bangsaen coupled to his natural speed in trucks (he has won at Bangsaen previously in the BT-50), don’t be surprised to see Khun Michael lining up on the truck grid in December if the Mazda2 programme has already achieved its targets.

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