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


At a hot, humid and occasionally showery Sepang International Circuit preparations have been in full swing for the opening round of Thailand Super Series (TSS) 2014. A long, much talked about close season has finally given way to the reality. Yesterday the racecars started rolling into the circuit and the teams swung into gear, this morning the some of the cars will hit the track for the unofficial circuit test sessions.

 

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The TSS programme, which is running together with Malaysian Super Series, will build up to the qualifying sessions on Friday followed by two rounds of races on Saturday and Sunday. From Super Car’s two classes through Super 2000, Super 1500 and Super Production - the biggest and most professional motorsport show to have even been seen in Thailand is going to be locked into days of exciting and dramatic action.

By Sunday evening there will be a set of new winners names etched into the roll call of Thai racing history and the drivers, cars and teams that everyone will have to beat for the rest of this year will have already established themselves.

And the opening round is once again playing out a world class race circuit that hosts F1 and MotoGP annually - it really is true that every aspect of Thai motorsport is reaching upwards and it’s going to keep on climbing. There is no going back. Rain is also likely to play a part over the next five days. Already this week the weather has shown its hand, a heavy downpour at teatime on Monday was followed by a mid afternoon shower yesterday. Rain is forecast to hit proceedings this week - the only question is when?

Super Car Class 1-GT3

The top of the Super Car tree is set to get even more competitive this season with the arrival of new and more potent racecars, new teams and new drivers. The professional level of Super Car Class 1-GT3 is almost unrecognisable from a couple of years ago and trying to pick winners before the cars start going head-to-head on the timing screens isn't wise.

However, the one constant throughout the meteoric rise of Super Car over the last year has been Khun Vuttikorn Inthraphuvasak - it could possibly be argued that his standard is so high that everything else has just travelled towards his level. The question now is who is on his level? Can anyone go steaming past? Or can he still keep ahead of the pack? So how far have his rivals really come and can their new cars match his Porsche 997 GT3-R?

Few would be prepared this week to tip against the champion bagging two more wins this weekend to match the two wins he claimed here last year. In fact his double win the year before means that no one else has won the top class here since Super Car added the Malaysian racetrack to its schedules for the first time back in 2012. It's a perfect record complete with a sweep of poles too. And he arrives in Sepang having signed off last year with another pair of wins in Bangsaen. The most successful Super Car driver of this generation isn’t ready to give up his position at the front either.

But the man who doesn't know how to come second is going to face top level opposition - and that opposition will start on the other side of the Singha-Porsche AAS-Krating Daeng garage.

Khun Piti Bhirombhakdi retuned last year after a hiatus and very quickly worked back up to speed. Armed with a MY2013-spec Porsche 997 GT3-R in time for round 2 he was back at the front just the series wrapped up in Bangsaen and was very unlucky not to notch up his first win of the season. But he finished 2013 as the in form driver in Class 1 and certainly he will be collecting wins this year - whether that's in Sepang this week is really the only question remaining.

So Singha-Porsche AAS-Krating Daeng starts the year in the strongest possible position. Khun Vuttikorn and Khun Piti will be the ones to beat this weekend, two very evenly matched drivers at the wheel of highly capable racecars with a very strong team behind them.

The chasing pack will certainly have other ideas about letting this pair get away at the front and the list of pretenders kicks off with a new brand name to the TSS entry lists - McLaren. Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri is the driver who has acquired this breathtaking GT3 car; he’s swapping mounts after a couple of seasons driving a Lamborghini Gallardo. He admits though that his new MP-4 12C GT3 isn't yet where he wants it to be in terms of setup and Sepang is really a soft debut, but still expect a surprise or two.

Another Super Car front-runner is Vattana Motorport team leader Khun Chonsawat Asavahame; he was one of only two drivers to beat Khun Vuttikorn to the top step of the podium last year (the other was the now departed youngster Khun Pasin Lathouras) and this is a highly experienced driver who knows how to fight and to win races. And he has a surprise for the new season as he will debut the new Reiter Engineering developed Camaro GT3 in TSS. Brutally powerful, it’s going to be a case of how fast Vattana Motorsport and the supporting team from Reiter Engineering can get the max out of this dramatic car which is a last minute arrival and due

The MY2013 Gallardo GT3 FL2 that Khun Chonsawat raced last year features also some new close season aero upgrades as well as new graphics - but the biggest attention is on the name decal stuck above the doors as it’s a new name to TSS. And it’s not just any name, Khun Tomas Enge is one of the world’s top professional racing drivers; a former F1 pilot and Le Mans winner, he’s going to provide a serious benchmark that every driver in Super Car Class 1-GT3 can measure themself by against.

Meanwhile, the Gallardo GT3 that Khun Indharasak raced last year will be on the grid in the hands of a newcomer, Khun Sanchai Engtrakul, who is returning to racing after a spell away. The car is now in matte grey colours with orange and black flashes, but how quickly this driver can get up to speed with the Italian machine is really still a bit of an unknown.

The time sheets will be the clearest indicator of where Khun Sanchai is going to slot in this coming weekend. Another Gallardo in action will be the True Visions version of Khun Bobby Buncharoen. This will be his second trip to Sepang with this car, so he should also be pushing further onto the pace.

Khun Suttipong Smittachartch will be keeping Toyota represented in Class 1-GT3 by bringing the Super Car Altis back out again. The Toyota Team Manager is really just maintaining the brand’s entry slot in the top class until a new racecar is bedded in later this year and so is making up the numbers with the ageing Altis.

Super Car Class 2-GTM

This category promises to be one of the most wide open in the series this year - as well as being one of the most competitive. With a real mix of machines and drivers, including new brand names and new faces, it's impossible to predict who will come out on top.

So to start with the champions, Toyota. They steamrollered the category last year as Khun Nattavude Charoensukhawatana and Khun Nattapong Horthongkum swept to a 1-2 finish in the Drivers' championship while Toyota Team Thailand won the Teams' title. With two drivers who know how to win and a proven car that showed excellent reliability last year, the signs are good. However, the new tyre rules will hurt them and the standard of cars in the series continues to skyrocket so the 86s aren't going to have it as easy this year. If they are to win they will be made to work very hard for it.

One of the most exciting new names on the entry list will be the Audi R8 LMS Cup, and on paper at least it should be very strong package. B-Quik Racing will field the car and driver Khun Henk J. Kiks has plenty of pace. After an impressive 2012 the Dutchman however had a difficult 2013 but the new R8 should be just the machine to unlock his pace again; it would be a surprise to see him absent from the battle for the top steps of the podium. With strength in depth at B-Quik Racing expect all eyes to be looking for his lap times.

Porsche will be numerically the strongest brand in Class 2-GTM and there are plenty of drivers at the wheel of these popular German cars with the ability to win. Khun Aekarat Discharoen will be starting his second season with the 997 and he finished 2013 showing a lot of pace. He was the top privateer in the championship standings last season as well as third overall, behind only the two factory Toyotas, thanks to remarkable consistency. He should be in the hunt again.

One established Porsche to watch out for will be the B-Quik Racing machine that has been campaigned by Khun Henk for the last couple of seasons. Now that the Dutchman's upgraded to an Audi the team has drafted in Khun Thomas Raldorf to hoover up Teams' championship points. Khun Thomas was without a drive after retiring his unreliable Subaru Impreza at the end of last year and although this 997 started to show its age last year it will be very interesting to see where the Dane can place this car.

He’s certainly ready for the role of supporting B-Quik Racing’s chase for points. "I am really excited to get this great opportunity from Khun Henk and the B-Quik Racing team," he said last week. "It's like a dream come true for me, to finally drive a real race car like the ‘Bumblebee’ and then to drive it around a circuit like Sepang, is just fantastic.

"A few years ago the car was likely one of the best and fastest on the grid," Khun Thomas adds. "However during last year and leading up to this season there are so many new cars with the newest developments on the grid that I will just concentrate on enjoying this weekend in this great car," the Dane continued.

Khun Thomas is familiar the 997 having raced one in the Dubai 24 Hours a couple of years ago. "The results will be what ever they will be, I will of course try my best to help the team, and bring the car home with as many points in the bag as possible," he added. "But mainly I will just enjoy my self a lot."

A newcomer in the Porsche ranks will be Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul. He's a well established drifting star but has little circuit racing experience, apart from a few runs in the now defunct Super Retro class a couple of years ago. However in two recent shakedown tests at Bira Circuit with his new car he quickly got to grips with the unique features of the 997 and looked comfortable and quick.

Khun Sarun as a lot to accomplish this year as he’s switching to an entirely different motorsport discipline. He’s also never raced at Sepang before, but last week he usefully gained some track time after having his first taste of the circuit during morning free runs ahead of the ‘Time Attack’ event.

"It was my first [time] in Sepang," he said after the acclimatisation runs. "Before I know the track and learn the racing line from racing video clips in YouTube. I think track is very wide. But after practicing [I found that] not only is the track is wide like I thought but [it] also has many high-speed corners. I recommend [to] come to drive [on a] good and safe track. So I’m impressed with [the] huge track and [it’s] fun with high speed cornering, I have smile all time I drove and track is very safe." Expect him to be pushing hard for a podium, Khun Sarun is another driver likely to spring a surprise or two this season.

TSS President Khun Sontaya Kunplome will be in action in his regular ‘Bangsaen Blue’ 997, while finally - and it really is some ‘finally’ - Thailand’s wonderkid of the moment, Khun Kantasak Kusiri, will be joining the Porsche ranks. This is the machine that Khun Piti debuted at Sepang this time last year and it’s been on the sidelines ever since, popping up as a showcar on the Singha booth in Bangsaen. However it’s been rebuilt and honed to fit Super Car Class 2-GTM.

On paper this is a winning car/driver combination, few would ever rule out the youngster from bagging the top step of the podium in almost any car he races, but he still has to learn the unique characteristics of the rear-engined Porsche and it will be interesting to see how quickly he can get to grips with the German car. Khun Kantasak has had a couple of recent runs, albeit on the short side, in the 997 of Khun Paul Kanjanapas at Bira and that should help him get off the mark - but one of the biggest question marks of the week is currently hanging over the #34 entry.

Then there is Ferrari. Last year Khun Voravud developed the basic spec Ferrari 458 Challenge towards Class 2 rules, a task that primarily focused on improving downforce through the incorporation of a new front splitter and big rear wing as well as by shedding weight and making tweaks to the cooling. The car showed potential all year and by the time the series reached Bangsaen his 458 Challenge was locked in the battle to chase down the Toyotas.

With a year's development behind it the #89 Ferrari should be amongst the front-runners although such is the step up this year it remains to be seen where it can slot in.

And it won't be just one car either, as over the close season rapid Super 2000 pilot Khun Chairat Sangtong joined Singha Motorsport Team Thailand and he will race an identical spec 458 Challenge. The team plans to have an extra card to play as they are the only ones in the paddock to have a spare car in tow; they also have a professional driver in hand, Khun Carlo Van Dam who is supporting the team from the pitwall this year and may well also drive. However both the regular pilots are fast and there is more potential to be extracted from the 458 Challenge this year while the team is also quietly confident that the Prancing Horse cars can be up there this season.

There will be another Italian sportscar brand represented as there’s also a pair of Lamborghinis entered in Class 2-GTM, two different versions of the Gallardo, but both entered by Vattana Motorsport. Khun Umar A. Rahman will run the Gallardo Super Trofeo he debuted in Bangsaen, he’s also had a recent test with the car at Sepang so that will help him as he gets to grips with the Italian machine, while Khun Visarut Chotiwitsavaitkul also took to the track for the first time at Bangsaen in his Gallardo LP600-4 and he’s ready for a second outing in the machine. Khun Visarut however will be starting from scratch, he’s never raced at Sepang before.

He always goes his own way - and he plans to do so again this year with a powerful new bespoke Mustang racecar. But the new machine has hit delays and so it’s back again behind the wheel of the Holden Commodore he ran last year. With long fast straights and high-speed turns Khun Craig Corliss is in his element at Sepang with his powerful cars and the ‘Australian V8’ refugee machine should work well here. After debuting the car here last year, the big New Zealander is now comfortable in the car, he ended last season in Bangsaen on a high note and he’s also been chopping time away here - crucially Khun Craig raced the Commodore around this track last month during the opening MSS round. So don’t count him out, he’s looking to make his mark.

RZ Racing scored its first victory of the year when this small band of enthusiasts actually finished their new Mazda RX-8 just in time to make the second shipment south. That had involved a week of working round the clock.

The RX-8, which will be driven by one of the most famous faces on the grid, Khun Pete Thongchua, is debuting in Sepang and the first time it ever turns a wheel will be here when testing gets underway this morning. Don't expect any miracles from a project that started from a blank sheet of paper and relies on the skill and ingenuity of the Rotary Revolution mechanics to squeeze the max from a tiny budget.

And so finally to the GT-Rs. Since they broke cover during their shakedown a couple of weeks ago the new Nissan racecars have become something of an overnight sensation with Thai motorsports fans. The big, brutal machines will debut in Sepang and they represent a real change of direction for the NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand team, which has dropped the Mitsubishi Evos it’s campaigned for the last few seasons.

The GT-Rs squeezed in two tests at Bira Circuit before leaving, although the team has spent most of the time learning about the cars. The promise is there though and with two fast and proven drivers - Khun Naoya Yamano and Khun Traitanit Chimtawan - all the ingredients are there. The question is how soon will it be before these two raw racecars can deliver?

Super 2000

Unquestionably, the reigning champion, Khun Tin Sritrai, has to start the new season as the driver to beat. Last year he won the Super 2000 title after soaking up year long pressure from another fast and promising Thai youngster, Khun Kantasak Kusiri, who battled him all the way to a DNF at the second Bira round which opened up a gap that would never close again.

This year Khun Kantasak is graduating to Super Car and that means it’s going to be down to other drivers to take up the fight. Khun Tin has a strong team behind him and the BMW E90 stands above all the other Super 2000 racecars. Sepang's characteristics will suit the German ‘touring car’ so the job becomes even tougher for everyone else.

However there's still no shortage of pretenders with their eyes on his title. And that has to start with the biggest outfit on the block. Toyota Team Thailand swept up the Super 2000 Teams' title last year; this factory operation is in Sepang with three cars. Khun Manat Kulapalanont will be back with the Toyota 86, which goes into its second season in Super 2000 trim. Last year he gave chase to Khun Tin and Khun Kantasak all season and was at times really snapping at their heels.

With a full year of racing now behind the Super 2000 spec 86 he knows the car much better - although new upgrades won’t come in time for Sepang, as he explained at the weekend. "It’s all the same [as the] Bangsaen settings, [the] engine [and] suspension," he said. However, Khun Manat points to transmission vibrations being an on going weak point as well as gear ratios that don’t suit Sepang as much as they could. Upgrades to the 86 are likely to arrive in time for the next round as Toyota fine-tunes the car to the new Class 1 rules.

Last year the Super 2000 86 debuted in Sepang straight out of the box - and it really showed; however that experience with the raw car on this track should give Khun Manat a very good starting point for this week’s action. "I think from last year’s experience [with] settings, I know more how to make it [perform] well for this race," he agrees. "I hope [to do] good for this race [and] I will do my best [with the] 86."

Meanwhile Khun Chen Jian Hong and newly crowned Toyota One Make Champion Khun Arthit Ruengsomboon will hand the new-generation Altis its racing debut, the former running in Class 1 while the latter will be entered in Class 2.

Aside from the factory Toyotas, look out also for the privately run Toyota Altezza entered by Team Eakie. While Khun Kantasak has stepped up to Super Car, into Super 2000 comes his equally talented younger brother Khun Kantadhee. Big things are expected of this youngster in the future and he has a strong team behind him. However, although Khun Kantadhee knows the Altezza well, it's the weak point in the package, a stopgap to a brand new racecar that's being developed now. Expect Khun Kantadhee to be very quick - however whether he can take the fight to the BMW remains to be seen.

Once the choice for winners in Super 2000, Honda's Civic FD has been eclipsed recently, but it's still good enough to win with the right driver and there are several on the entry list which tick that box. Khun Pitsanu Sirimonkolkasem is already a proven fast driver and he’s equipped with the quick FD that Khun Chairat Sangtong raced to good effect last year, which now incorporates a wider track.

"I really don't know [if] it’s competitive enough to fight with BMW," Khun Pitsanu admitted last week. "Winning the races is my goal but we all know it's not going to be easy, I will do my best to be on the podium." Expect this package to cause a stir.

Meanwhile Khun Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya will be armed with the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Civic FD2 and, as this driver seems to make big career strides every year, it’s a combination that means race fans should expect another step forward this season. "[This Civic FD] is more powerful and better balanced," he admits. Close season upgrades will be limited to a few key tweaks through. "I swapped in my dog box gearbox to this car and it's got a new Motec unit," he notes.

Also look out for his teammate Khun Thamrong Mahadumrongkul; last year the two Singha-Cosmo TT Motorsport drivers punched above their weight - impressively claiming the runners up spot in the Teams' title race - and they will be looking to repeat that feat this year. Also in the action will be the FD’s of Khun Munkong Sathienthirakul (MS Speed) and Khun Wijak Lertprasertpakorn (TBN MK I HERE Racing Team) as well as the quick Integra of Khun Supachai Weeraborwornpong (Siam Gas Racing Kong).

Finally, the two Speed Buster-Ducati Chiang Mai entries are well worth watching out for in Class 1. Khun Jakthong Navasoopanich will be back in his aero-enhanced Altis having swapped to a ‘shorter’ DC5 for the tight hairpin at Bangsaen in December while his teammate Khun Paritat Bulbon will be at the wheel of his unusual turbodiesel VW Golf MkV and looking to prove that the unique characteristics of this engine can prove competitive around Sepang.

Super 1500

A compact entry list should nevertheless provide for some very close racing. Last year Khun Kantadhee Kusiri completely dominated Super 1500, reaffirming this category’s position as a breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow, but now he’s taken his talents to Super 2000.

Khun Weerasak Homsuwan (TTS Racing) should start as the favourite for overall honours in his well proven Civic while Tony Percy (The Pizza Company MyPay Petronas) will be looking to turn in a challenge, but his Vios didn’t turn a wheel before departing south, so he’s going to be on the backfoot. His teammate, actor Khun Ray McDonald, will also have plenty of work to do as he debuts a new build Civic EK9 in Class C. Wrapping up the entry list will be the Civic of Khun Vutha Jaisamran (Race Factory Racing Team).

Super Production

It looks like it’s going to be very competitive on paper in Super Production, picking up exactly where it left off on the streets of Bangsaen with nose-to-tail racing. Unquestionably the driver to beat this coming weekend will be Khun Kajornsak Na Songkhla; he won both Super Production races here last year with his Ford Fiesta and that set him off on his way on an almost stroll to the title.

However a year is a long time and there are several drivers looking to knock the blue and white Fiesta off the top of the lap charts. The most noticeable challenge should come from the Parker Innovation Motorsport Mazda2 machines of Khun Pete Thongchua and Khun Michael Freeman. They skipped Sepang last year as the brand new factory-backed programme raced to a Bira debut and before the season was out Khun Pete had bagged a first win for the red and black cars.

It means the team will have a lot of work to do as it will be their first ever first visit to Sepang - all their category rivals have raced here before. That’s the big negative, as Khun Michael admitted last week as the cars were shipped off. "If the first race was at Bira we would be in shape," he noted. "We think we have good handling and brakes and if our average power does not hurt us we should be good for a top five start and podium finish." For Khun Michael it will be his first ever trip to Sepang although Khun Pete knows this track very well. However there are some positives for this two-car team, says the Australian. "In qualifying we hope to use the two cars for some slip streaming."

Chasing the Fiesta and Mazda2s will several quick Honda Jazz’s. The ones that stand out include the OMP Vattana Motorsport entry of Khun Thanapol Pruttipong and the RMI Racing by SUNOCO machine of Khun Pasarit Phromsombat. Both are quick and capable drivers.

Khun Thanapol is another of Thailand’s fast youngsters, but hasn’t really had the equipment to unlock his potential - however he’s back in the Jazz that’s kept him in the Super Production hunt for the last few seasons and it’s had some overdue upgrades during the close season.

"I did a lot of adjustment [to] my Jazz," he explained after a final pre-season shakedown at Bira a week last Sunday. "I can say [the] changed car is better. [At] Bangsaen my Jazz is still [a] one make racecar so after that race [I] discussed with my father and my team to improved my Jazz for [this] season. So what was have changed [were] the body [parts] and [fitted] a new suspension and new roll bar but [I will] still use the same engine [as] the 2013 season."

He’s also relishing being back at Sepang having been very competitive here last year. "I do like Sepang circuit," Khun Thanapol says. "Because [the] circuit has exciting corners and it was my dream that one time I hoped to drive [on an] F1 circuit so TSS [has] made my dream happen." He also confirms that he will contest the full Super Production season and it will be very interesting to see what laptimes this talented youngster can turn in with a more competitive car.

Super Production’s Class C is always a hotbed of new talent and with seven cars entered it’s really difficult to pick any obvious winners - expect the battle for the podium positions to ebb and flow during both races this weekend.

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