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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Apr 25, 2014 - 06:16 AM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


With swathes of carbon menace and a throaty grumble a new name has dynamically announced itself this week for Thailand Super Series (TSS) 2014 - Nissan. It’s the result of a fresh project that has had Thai racing fans anticipating for several months the arrival of the dramatic GT-R in Super Car.

 

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And last Tuesday, on a blisteringly hot and dry afternoon at Bira Circuit, the project turned to reality as the GT-Rs slunk into the Pattaya track for their shakedown runs. This new race programme is the result of months and months of hard work from the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team and in the shadows of the pit garage the two racecars looked stunning.

With two star drivers confirmed for the cockpits - Khun Traitanit Chimtawan and Khun Naoya Yamano - the next stop for the GT-Rs is now Sepang Circuit for the opening round of TSS 2014 where they will make their competitive debut.

And while this project has been completed after a race against the clock, other racecars are already in Sepang - with several leading Super Car drivers already in testing action. They include Khun Henk J. Kiks, who had his first run in the new Audi R8 LMS Cup he will race this year, and Khun Umar A. Rahman in the Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo he first blooded in battle at Bangsaen last December.

At the same time as this action in Sepang was unfolding, TSS organiser Racing Spirit was loading up a dozen more Super Cars at Laem Chabang Port for the trip south by sea. Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis packed into 40-foot containers and heading off - it all means the countdown to the opening round is now really well and truly underway.

A beast is born

There are many exciting new racecars coming into TSS this season but few have struck such an instant chord with Thai motorsport fans as the new Nissan GT-Rs that will be entered by the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team this season - and few are the result of such ambitious projects and the desire to win.

Nissan’s GT-R is one of the best-loved high performance sportscars with the Thai public. So when the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team revealed that their would ditch their fast-but-fragile Mitsubishi Evo Xs and focus on a new project for TSS’s Super Car Class 2-GTM for 2014 based around the GT-R, a lot of people sat up, paid attention and eagerly anticipated the outcome.

That ‘outcome’ took to the track for the first time on Tuesday afternoon at Bira Circuit. And in one respect the two new cars immediately ticked all the boxes - visually they are stunning. The NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team always develops immaculate racecars that scream aggression, its Evos were a perfect example of this, and its latest two new creations are simply no different, menace and intent pour from every surface. But now the big job starts.

And it’s certainly going to be a big job. From scratch, the team has to develop these two cars from lookers into TSS winners. The ‘shakedown’ really was just that; these are raw machines, a steep development curve lies ahead. But unquestionably, when the dust settled on a hot and dry afternoon at Bira, and despite the usual new car niggles that follow any ‘shakedown’ runs, the promise is clearly there to be unlocked.

This team earns much respect and affection from motorsport fans here as its keeps alive the long traditions of the Thai ‘racing-tuning’ house, building and developing cars itself, putting time, effort and love into every nut and bolt. And while it has bought in one of its GT-Rs from a Hong Kong team, Top Racing, although it's a car that will be utterly evolved to suit its new racing life, the second machine has been built in the team’s Bangkok workshops from the ground-up.

The real story goes back a couple of months to when that first racing GT-R landed in Thailand. That machine already came with a competition pedigree, it actually won the prestigious ‘Roadsports’ race at the Macau Grand Prix a few years ago - so it has a winning history locked down; but it’s quite lightly modified and that particular race is very short in duration.

However, the GT-R project is very much aimed towards reaching the level of ‘Cup’ or ‘Challenge’ cars and so these two cars will slot perfectly into Super Car’s Class 2-GTM this season.

Once the GT-R had been shipped over from Hong Kong and arrived in the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team’s workshops, the engineers poured over it to understand the inner workings of the machine, particularly so as they don’t as yet have any racing experience with this particular Japanese sportscar.

"We just pulled out the engine and everything and check everything, we just want to know what everything does in the car," explained Team Owner Khun Thongchai Kittisiriprasert during Tuesday’s shakedown test at Bira.

It was a case of disassembly, check and reassembly - apart from some changes required allow the GT-R to fit the TSS regulations for this year and also to add electronic upgrades. "We just [put] all the old parts back in the car but [fit] a new brake system because the car came with 20-inch wheels and we make the caliper and rotor smaller to suit the 18-inch," Khun Thongchai notes.

The team also worked on the electronics, particularly the management units. "The ECU came with a Japanese version [so] we use a new ECU MoTeC for the engine and also [a] MoTeC for the transmission," he explained. "The cars that they run in Japan have some problem with the transmission because of the transmission ECU and the F-Con, both ECUs cannot talk to each other, so the engine makes the power but the transmission will only work for the ECU that came from the factory. So now we replace everything so they talk to each other in the same language so it should be ok."

Managing the electronics aspect of the project is the team’s new data engineer, Khun Rhommell Singh. He’s in the pit garage assessing the performance of the cars during the shakedown, which is being conducted by Khun Traitanit Chimtawan who is set to drive one of the two GT-Rs this season.

"Basically I do all the electronics, which means the engine management system [and] the data acquisition system as well," says Khun Rhommell. "We’ve added in additional sensors to monitor the cooling, to monitor the aerodynamic performance [and] to monitor the mechanical grip of the car, that’s that we’ve basically done so far."

The GT-R will race in Sepang in a broadly similar format to how it arrived, Khun Thongchai says. "The engine and everything else should be the same, but we [have] lowered the power." He says there will in fact be a significant reduction in horsepower, both to fit the regulations and to ensure the cars can finish their first race - the blistering heat at Sepang is tough on cars that already run hot under the bonnet.

Khun Thongchai is an ambitious team owner and the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team doesn’t plan to rest on running just the one car they have acquired - at the same time as that first car pitched up in Thailand they started out building a second, almost identical, race machine - and that was built completely from scratch. Basically they examined, analysed, copied and assembled the new car to the specification of the first GT-R, which essentially formed a ‘template’.

"First of all we don’t have any experience with the GT-R before, so since we got the first car we checked everything, so I think we have many things to shortcut from the first car, so we make the [new] car within a month," Khun Thongchai says.

"We search for a [road] car and buy a local car and then pull out everything and do the same thing as the original car," Khun Thongchai continues. "The body parts I ordered the originals, the roll cage, everything I order from Japan and ship by air."

It’s required an ambitious schedule to build a full racecar in just a month and the mechanics have been working round the clock to achieve that target. "We worked nearly 24 hours a day, even the last week was [the] Songkran holiday and we never stopped until now," Khun Thongchai admits. He says that although it was a tight schedule, they have just made it. The project is on target. "So the last week now we test the car and [then] we just ship the car and then we have another week before the race."

Side-by-side in the garage the two GT-Rs looked stunning - and they soon gathered a small crowd of onlookers. This is a car that resonates with Thai race fans so expect this team to have a lot of support in the grandstands this year. Raw cars though always have a few teething problems, that’s what a shakedown is for, so the GT-R heads in and out as its carefully bedded in and checked.

The test is all about learning about the car, and that goes for everyone involved - the team, the driver and the engineers. The development here curve is at ‘day one’, and there will be aspects to be managed such as optimising what is a heavier racecar for the new tyre regulations this year. "Today is the first time the car has been to the track, it’s now completely different [in terms of electronics] to the way it came," explains Khun Rhommell. "So today is more or less about getting some data from the car, trying to do more laps, trying to manage the cooling and the fuel economy."

Behind the wheel is Khun Traitanit, one of the two drivers slated for Sepang. He’s always fast straight out of the box; in fact he only returned to the cockpit late last year after a layoff and was instantly back in the groove.

He’s also a driver that wears his heart on his sleeve, has boundless enthusiasm and a never say die attitude. So what are his first thoughts, albeit after a just couple of gentle runs around Bira Circuit? "Compared to the Evo [he raced last year] it’s like heaven to me," Khun Traitanit says with a big grin.

Khun Traitanit points out that this is full racecar, but there will be areas they will have to work on to turn it into a winner. "It’s a complete car, it’s easy to drive, but I feel it’s a little bit too heavy, it’s heavier than the Evo so we need a bit more setup," he says.

"But it’s better than Evo, about the power, the driveability, the traction, everything I think is better. We do need more time to develop this car; the normal tyre is 20-inch so we have to change to 18-inch so the heavier car like the GT-R and with the smaller tyre we need a lot of setup, but it’s comfortable to race."

Khun Thongchai and his team are ambitious to keep the tradition of developing Japanese racecars alive and strong here - the satisfaction of evolving a winner with their own hands motivates them. "We want to build a car rather than buy a race car," he says. "The GT-R is identifiable to people here as you see them on the roads."

The ingredients are certainly all there. And in the driver lineup they have two star names that can make a real difference. Khun Traitanit is an underrated driver, he’s returning to racing now and moving to the top tier, so expect to see him to raise his game much further.

In Khun Naoya Yamano the team has a fast and experienced ‘pro’, so long as he is available, something which didn’t prove to be the case last year. Khun Yamano though will arrive at Sepang in terrific form, coming off the back of a win in the first round of Japan’s ultra-competitive Super Taikyu series at Motegi in a BMW Z4 and bagging a pole in the popular Toyota 86 ‘one make’ series the same weekend (he is the defending champion) while earlier this month he claimed pole and victory in the Porsche Carrera Cup Japan race at Okayama.

However, for the new GT-Rs the target in Sepang will be quite modest, the team will aim to learn about the cars, start developing them and look to make the checkered flag. "We just try to get a result for the cars," says Khun Thongchai. "We want to finish the race, we’re really racing ourselves."

Next stop Sepang

A shipment of dazzling Super Cars is now heading in the direction of Sepang International Circuit, the racecars making the long trek southwards by sea. Fourteen front-running machines, split between Super Car’s Class 1-GT3 and Class 2-GTM with a couple of extra Super 2000 machines thrown in, were loaded into containers and lashed down over the weekend in Laem Chabang and, along with several additional containers packed full of teams’ equipment; everything is now making the 1,600 km trip by sea.

Many new Super Car arrivals have gone straight to Sepang for next month's opening TSS round, some are in fact there already and have been in testing action, while some teams are making their own arrangements particularly due to last minute testing commitments.

That meant the official TSS programme for transporting Super Cars would see an array of racing machines gathering at Laem Chabang to be loaded into 40-foot containers, although not as many as previous years. "There are many cars already in Sepang so this is really an additional number to be transported," explained TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya.

He also wanted to ensure that all the racecars being shipped by TSS would be there in plenty of time to allow teams to prepare early if they so wish and to be ready to take advantage of the additional practice sessions scheduled to run the day before the official TSS programme in Sepang next month. "We planned [the journey] quite a way ahead and the cars should be ready to collect at the other end on the 2nd May," Khun Preeda says. "We wanted to give the teams more time to get the cars ready at the other end."

This year the transportation of the Super Car category machines, as well as the teams' ample equipment needs, is being done via shipping containers to provide for a smoother operation and reduce the possibilities of any accidental damage occurring in transit.

"We gave the owners of the cars several choices this year as last year there was only one choice to get to Sepang, so it was no choice really," notes Khun Preeda. "This time they can choose which way suits them best. By container the cars should all be safe and ready to race."

On a very hot day the cars arrived and lined up to be packed into the containers. Representing Super Car Class 1-GT3 were the two MY2013 Porsche 997 GT3-R machines of Khun Vuttikorn Inthraphuvasak and Khun Piti Bhirombhakdi.

The former star name is the reigning Super Car Class 1 champion while the latter returned last year from retirement and ended the season as the in form driver in the top class. These two stunning racecars from the highly professional Singha AAS Porsche Krating Daeng team will be the ones everyone has to beat in Sepang if they fancy their chances at making it to the top step of the podium.

Also headed for Super Car Class 1-GT3 in Sepang, while being seen in its new livery of matte grey with orange stripes it will race in this season, was the Lamborghini Gallardo LP600-4 that’s set to be driven by Khun Sanchai Engtrakul who is returning to top level racing after a few years in retirement. This Gallardo, to be entered by RPM Motorsport, has seen its aero kit upgraded to the latest ‘FL2’ version specification.

The two Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 Challenge racers of Khun Voravud Bhirombhakdi and Khun Chairat Sangtong are expected to be front runners in the Super Car Class 2-GTM pack this year, with the former driver starting his second season in the ‘Prancing Horse’ one make car while the latter is stepping up to Super Car after several successful seasons in Super 2000. As well as the cars of Khun Voravud and Khun Chairat, the team has also packed a third 458 Challenge to act as a ‘spare’ car.

Porsches however made up the bulk of the numbers on the loading apron and, as well as the two GT3 cars from the Singha AAS Porsche Krating Daeng team, there were four of the popular Porsche 997 GT3 Cup cars heading for the Super Car Class 2-GTM entry list in Sepang.

The ‘Bumblebee’ B-Quik Racing 997, which has been piloted by Khun Henk J. Kiks in TSS for the last two seasons, will be in the hands of Khun Thomas Raldorf in Sepang as the team leader is switching over to an Audi R8 Cup this year. It was also packed up in Laem Chabang. Khun Thomas, meanwhile, retired his long serving Subaru Impreza at the end of last season.

Super Car debutant Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul’s crisp white 997, which only recently arrived in Thailand from the UK, is another that car has been packed up for the trip south. This long established ‘drifting’ star will be making his TSS debut next month and he heads to Sepang off the back of a couple of promising tests at Bira Circuit with his new car earlier this month.

Also making the trip is the Singha A Motorsport 997 of Khun Aekarat Discharoen, this car - which has been rebuilt since Bangsaen last December - is also wrapped in an eye-catching new livery for the 2014 season. The fourth 997 was the regular machine of TSS President Khun Sontaya Kunplome; he’s been piloting this racecar for a few seasons now and its two tone blue colours are a very familiar sight to fans of Thai racing.

Finally the striking widebody 997 GT3 Cup that Khun Piti drove at Sepang a year ago on his racing return, was also loaded up - it hasn’t raced since then but was seen as a static exhibit headlining the Singha booth at the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival last December. Now it’s back and is set to join Super Car Class 2-GTM next month under the Singha A Motorsport banner.

Also joining this shipment were a trio of Super 2000 machines, the BMW E90 of the reigning champion Khun Tin Sritrai, who is back to defend his title, the aero-enhanced Toyota Altis of Khun Jakthong Navasoopanich and the turbodiesel VW Golf Mk V of Khun Paritat Bulbon.

With the cars packed, Khun Preeda also noted that the regulations regarding tyre usage are being amended for this season. "We wanted to control tyres and keep costs [down]," he explains. "We will permit eight tyres, two sets for qualifying and the races. So the four tyres used for qualifying must be used for Race 1 and then they can use another set for Race 2. Practice is unrestricted and we have also left rain tyres open, so if it rains the teams can make their own choices."

Meanwhile, the remaining cars that are part of the TSS programme at Sepang this year - comprising the Super 2000, Super 1500 and Super Production classes - will be loaded up in a few days on the outskirts of Bangkok and make the journey to Sepang by car transporter. This is a shorter undertaking in time terms than the trip by sea, so the extra week will allow the teams’ to squeeze in any final testing and preparations they might require.

Audi shakedown for Khun Henk Kiks

Familiar name drivers wielding striking new racecars is quickly turning into the theme of the second season of TSS. And they don’t get much more striking in the ‘looks’ department than Audi’s R8 LMS Cup.

The R8 ‘Cup’ is the mainstay of Audi’s popular one-make race series focused on China and that’s where the story of this particular example starts. In fact the story really starts late last year with B-Quik Racing lead driver Khun Henk J. Kiks deciding that it was high time to change wheels.

The Porsche 997 GT3 Cup he’s raced for the last two Super Car seasons took him to within a whisker of the Super Car N/A title in 2012, but last year the pace was lacking and with competitive standards shooting up a change was deemed the favourable option.

And once the options had been considered and studied closely the Audi R8 LMS Cup was the one that stood out to B-Quik Racing. Khun Henk certainly wanted to remain in Super Car’s second tier, Class 2-GTM, where the competition will be at its most fierce this year, but it’s also a category where hard working and intelligent amateur racers have the opportunity to shine. So the one make specification ‘Cup’ version of the R8 sportscar ticked all the boxes.

Locating an R8 ‘Cup’ version was the next task as supply and demand is very similar. This example was actually used as the ‘show’ machine of the Audi Cup China last year, so it’s in pristine condition following a year primarily spent running ‘hot laps’ during race weekend breaks.

With the car already garaged in Sepang, last week Khun Henk and the B-Quik Racing technical team headed for Malaysia for the Dutchman’s first test run, which would be undertaken with the assistance of Audi Sport engineers to help the Thai team get up to speed with this sophisticated racecar.

Running time was limited to three sessions spread over one day, the first early in the morning with the final two back to back over teatime - but it was enough to allow Khun Henk to get a decent initial feel for the car and work through the day’s job sheet, as he admitted afterwards. "For a shakedown it went okay, it was [my] first time in the new car," he said. "The car is all good, we focused on installation laps, systems checks and later on a bit of set up work."

B-Quik Racing’s engineers were also satisfied with the first day’s action as Khun Henk put the car where they were expecting him to on the shakedown. "We know where we need to be in terms of times and looking at the data we think we should be able to be quite competitive," said the Dutchman afterwards.

He added that they were just getting used to the R8 LMS Cup without any emphasis being put on laptimes. "The track was very busy and also had a bit of rain so the focus wasn’t really on doing qualifying runs," he said. "We focused on tyre wear and effects on [the] car’s behaviour, settings for ABS and TCS and their effects on the driving, in both wet and dry."

All in all a promising first test which has given B-Quik Racing plenty to go away and think about to help them with their preparations for the TSS season opening double header at this same track next month. "So we had good sessions, very productive and we think we should be okay for [TSS] race one and two," said Khun Henk.

First Lamborghini test at Sepang test for Khun Umar A. Rahman

One of the TSS drivers in testing action at Sepang last week was Khun Umar A. Rahman - and in his case it was all about getting invaluable cockpit time in his new Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo, as well as conducting tyre evaluations, ahead of next month’s season opener.

Khun Umar chose a Gallardo Super Trofeo for his step up to Super Car last year and this striking black-and-gold machine only arrived just in time for a debut in the final race of the year, at the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival. That’s certainly not the best place to bed into a Gallardo racecar, so Khun Umar, who is very experienced around these tricky streets, played it cautiously, using the event to gain time in the Vattana Motorsport-run car. His strategy certainly paid off as his laptimes tumbled with every session.

Four months later and he was in Sepang and back in the Gallardo Super Trofeo - the car still in the same specifications as it finished last season. "I tested with the settings from Bangsaen," Khun Umar said. "I just used Michelins [for the first time], as I had used [Pirellis] in Bangsaen, on the Monday, and [then] on Tuesday I used the Pirellis." Back-to-back running looked more favourably toward the French tyre brand, he admitted. "The Michelin is more forgiving on the straights when you brake."

It’s very likely Khun Umar has turned in more laps around the 5.543-km, 15-turn Sepang International Circuit than any other TSS driver has since the Thai series was here last May to kick off its 2013 season. Then he raced his regular Honda in Super 2000. Since that event Khun Umar has contested the gruelling Merdeka 12 Hours last September with Painkiller Racing’s Aston Martin Vantage GT4 earning a fighting podium finish, while at the end of last year he took part in the Sepang 1000 kms with the same team’s Honda City. Last month he competed in the MSS race at Sepang, which supported the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix, again with the Aston Martin, while he also plans to contest the remaining MSS races this season, apart from the next round, which shares TSS’s billing in Sepang, due to the overlap.

So Khun Umar is well placed to offer an opinion as to how the Italian sportscar works around this track. "I think [the] Lamborghini suits Sepang very much," he says - pointing out that it has one characteristic that sets it apart from the other racecars he has driven on this track. "Its four-wheel-drive is good for the longer corners, but for the smaller corners, like Turn 1, there is more understeer." That’s also the same story back on home soil, he adds. "In Bira, in the fast 100R it is good, but in smaller corners it struggles."

Last year Khun Umar became the first driver to choose a Gallardo Super Trofeo for Super Car’s then-new Class 2, which was designed for ‘Cup’, ‘Challenge’ and ‘Trofeo’ level cars. The Gallardo Super Trofeo forms the base point for Lamborghini’s own ‘one make’ race series, sharing the lightweight underpinnings and powerful 5.2-litre V10 engine of the road production sportcar, but with full racing upgrades all round.

This particular example previously raced in the European ‘Super Trofeo’ series and came to Thailand late last year from a Swiss owner via Reiter Engineering, which overhauled the car so it landed ready to race. As usual for Khun Umar, Vattana Motorsport ran the new car in Bangsaen.

"The super Trofeo is the right car for me," he says, but admits he needs to get much more familiar with the racecar to extract more and more of its potential. "I need to brush up my skills," Khun Umar says. "It’s definitely a lot faster than the Aston [at Sepang]. My top speed in the test [last week] was 247 km/h, but with the Aston it was around 234 km/h. The Aston is front engined and two wheel drive, the Lamborghini is a different animal, you drive it very different."

Track time was quite limited during the two test days and rain also saw Khun Umar sitting out the late day sessions, as he explains. "We only have the slot for very early in the morning and then very late, 6-7 pm, as the track was busy," he said. "In the evening it was raining and I didn’t have rain tyres so I didn’t run." That is most likely to be his last time in the car before the TSS week gets underway. "Before TSS the [Sepang] track is very busy," he says.

"I need more time in the car," he notes. However, despite just one race weekend in the car (at Bangsaen last December) so far, the two test days last week allowed Khun Umar to make steady progress and he’s happy with where he stands now with the Gallardo Super Trofeo. "After the test I feel more confident now than in Bangsaen," he adds.

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