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May 10, 2014 - 06:45 AM
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Superstar And Supercar Make Grand Entrance
Posted by: newsla on May 10, 2014 - 06:42 AM
Sports Cars
Superstar And Supercar Make Grand Entrance


‘Pumped up’ has really applied this week - the biggest teams and drivers were raring to go here, right from the first free practice session for Super Car Class 1-GT3 on Thursday afternoon, the most powerful machines in Thai racing grumbling and jousting for track positioning even before the lights had turned green at the pitlane exit. From there it’s hit fever pitch as qualifying unfolded - and that’s applied right across the rest of the programme, Super Car Class 2-GTM, Super 2000, Super 1500 and Super Production.

 

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Today at Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit we stand on the brink of the first races of a new season that is all set to be the best and most exciting ever in the history of Thai racing.

Thailand Super Series (TSS), dubbed the ‘New Era’, is entering its second year and appropriately there was a new name right at the top of the timesheets, the fastest of the fastest. And it wasn’t just any name; one of the world’s top professional racing driver names is now on the entry list. Khun Tomáš Enge.

He's just about a fast as it gets on a racetrack and has a CV to match which includes a spell in F1 and winning the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours. Now he's a test, development and race driver for Reiter Engineering, the German firm that builds the successful Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 breed and, most recently, the dramatic new Chevrolet Camaro GT3 via its Sareni United offshoot. One of Thailand's biggest teams, Vattana Motorsport is the agent for Reiter Engineering here and that joined up the dots.

But it wasn't just all about a new driver and a new car, throughout the programme the strength in depth and sheer quality of the competitors and their machines was striking. Qualifying was hard fought and unpredictable across the categories and two sensational days of race action now swing into view.

Qualifying: Super Car Class 1-GT3

On Thursday, during the single free practice session, Khun Tomáš got to grips with the Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2 Vattana team leader Khun Chonsawat Asavahame raced last year and he planted it at the top of the timesheets. It was a sign of things to come.

However, overnight, the team made the decision to swap its top cars around, Khun Tomáš yesterday taking to the wheel of the new Camaro GT3. "It’s team strategy," he explained. "The team has decided to put me in the Camaro and put Khun Chonsawat in the Lamborghini."

With a brand new racecar on its books it was also important for Vattana to focus on exploring its potential. "We wanted to also prove that the Camaro is capable of doing fast laptimes and we’ve improved 1.2-1.3 seconds since yesterday," continued Khun Tomáš. "Because the car arrived so late we had no time to test, we could only do a few laps [Thursday] in practice and today straight into qualifying. We did a lot of changes overnight, we improved the car pretty good as 1.2-1.3 seconds is a lot, even if the lap is long."

Khun Tomáš also points to the mixed conditions being a factor this weekend. "Generally you see the laptimes were the same as yesterday and I think it will be the same all weekend as the rain makes it more difficult for everybody," noted the Czech. "The rain actually washes out the grip from the day, everyone is running in the day and then the rain comes at night and washes out the grip." Humidity levels have also been high here this week.

But there was undeniably an upbeat mood in the expansive Reiter Vattana Motorsport camp, unquestionably they are looking to win. "We're happy and I’m happy that I could to the same laptime today with [the] Camaro that we did with [the] Lamborghini yesterday, also on new tyres, so it’s going in the right direction," he added.

As a Reiter Engineering test driver Khun Tomáš has been core to the Camaro’s on going development programme and for the record he thumped it around Sepang yesterday in a best lap of 2:08.305, which was good enough to grab pole position on the occasion of the big American muscle car's Thai racing debut.

He’s cautious though about predicting if the team can convert pole into race victory for the brand new car and he points to the reigning Super Car champion as most likely being his biggest and most deadly adversary today. "It will be a tight fight with Vuttikorn, the gap was pretty small [in qualifying]," he said. "I’m pretty sure he will be even stronger [in the race] as we will try also to be stronger, so it will be a great fight I believe."

The fact that the new Camaro GT3 only arrived from Europe on Wednesday afternoon has meant a huge amount of work has been put in to get it from shipping pallet to pole position, noted Khun Tomáš. "Those guys in Reiter Vattana Motorsport, they’re working flat out since they got here," he says. "It’s a great example that when people don’t give up it can go great."

So will he pushing for the win this afternoon? Ever the team player Khun Tomáš is keener to focus on the bigger picture. "I’m representing Reiter Vattana and the team wants to score as many points as possible in the Teams’ standings so I’m going to try to win for them," he says. "I’m representing the team, it’s not about the driver, it’s about the team and all our drivers will try to do their best to score as many points as possible."

While Khun Tomáš is unquestionably a global sports car racing superstar, Thailand has its very own superstar in the shape of Khun Vuttikorn Inthraphuvasak and he capably took the ‘home’ challenge to the Czech driver yesterday. The Porsche driver isn't used to coming second, he's fast and highly intelligent in the cockpit, and his best time of 2:08.768 was less than half a second off pole and puts him on the front row for this afternoons race. But he also kept his powder dry, turning in just four fast laps compared to Tomas' nine, admitting that his team were watching the situation. Ever the modest driver he was quick to point to Khun Tomáš’ status. However he’s sitting very pretty and is well positioned for the battle today.

Expect it to be a battle too, such was the pace of these two yesterday that the driver in P3, Khun Suttiluck Buncharoen, was almost three seconds away from pole. However for the True Visions supported driver it was his best Class 1 qualifying performance to date and will also make him the top Lamborghini driver on the grid. "Today is very good for me," said a pleased Khun Bobby who noted that it was a big turnaround from Thursday when he had suffered many problems with the matte black sportscar.

Fourth quickest yesterday was Khun Piti Bhirombhakdi in the second Singha Porsche AAS entry with a lap of 2:11.231 which was two tenths behind Khun Bobby. It means the two Porsche 997 GT3-Rs will line up behind each on the outside of the grid.

Back in his familiar Gallardo GT3 FL2 Khun Chonsawat whacked in a 2:12.151 to lead out row five. However with an arm injury he's going to struggle this weekend and maximising his points haul will be his main priority.

Then came the McLaren MP4-12C of Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri; this is the Thai debut of the British machine but it needs further setup work before it’s turned into a winner. The penultimate car in Class 1-GT3 was the Lamborghini Gallardo LP600-4 of newcomer Khun Sanchai Engtrakul, while the top class was wrapped up by the ageing factory-run Toyota Altis of Khun Suttipong Smittachartch.

Qualifying: Super Car Class 2- GTM

The talking stopped at half past three in the afternoon yesterday as Super Car’s second ‘tier’ took to the track to sort out the action from more than four months of feverish talking. And there really has been a heck of a lot of closed season talking about Super Car Class 2-GTM.

He had already shown his hand during the previous day’s first official practice session by planting the #89 Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 Challenge at the top of the timesheets with a best lap of 2:13.540, but yesterday Khun Voravud Bhirombhakdi restated that intent by claiming pole with a quickest time in 2:13.829. He’d been bang on the pace here during the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific series’ round earlier this year and his team looks well prepared for the weekend’s races. It all means that Khun Voravud is going to be the benchmark to beat to win here today and tomorrow.

He was happy that everything had come together after a tricky start to the week. "[On Thursday] I have problems with my car, we were nowhere in the times," he said. Khun Voravud also noted that the team will collect the additional weight penalty in order to run on 19-inch wheels and this has to be factored in for the race. But there was no doubting that this team is in good shape and he expects to be able to carry his qualifying momentum forward into the race. "Obviously there is a very big chance that I could be on top, definitely," he replies in response to the question of if he can win today.

This is a team that has, in terms of all round professionalism, come on a long way since it pitched up here a year ago. Now with two ‘Challenge’ cars plus a ‘spare’ machine, a crack race engineer, Khun Gianluca Soli from Kessel Racing in Europe, and an expansive pit presence, everything is now focused on delivering wins.

Singha Motorsport Team Thailand also has a professional driver-coach perched on the pitwall, Khun Carlo Van Dam, who is providing guidance to their trackside operations and he also drove the T-car on Thursday. "As I do with my coaching activities I always drive the car first to put some good references of the data and see if the setup is in the range where I want it to be so that’s what we did [yesterday]," Khun Carlo explained as the team prepared for the qualifying runs.

"I’m here throughout the weekend to help mainly Voravud on his driving, his strategy, everything involved in the racing," Khun Carlo continued. He’s slightly cautious however on how what race pace they will have. "I think the car is okay but Sepang is really very special on the track conditions, one day it’s fast, one day it’s slow. [For] the car we make some slight modification to make it suit the track as we have the Bira setup on, now we have to go back to Sepang [settings], it’s ok and it seems alright."

Joining Khun Voravud on front row in Class 2-GTM will be Khun Kantasak Kusiri. He’s graduating to Super Car after electrifying the Super 2000 category last year and despite very little running time in the Singha A Motor Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, yesterday he did what exactly he does best, whacking out fast laps. The one that counted stopped at 2:14.556; that was just good enough for second slot although he’s seven-tenths adrift of the red Ferrari.

Next up was something of a surprise as the brand new NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand Nissan GT-R R35 machines locked out third and fourth places. With just a couple of tricky shakedown tests at Bira behind them, this team has really dug deep and yesterday afternoon at Sepang they started the big job of delivering the potential that this project obviously has.

Everyone at NSports-Yokohama-Project Mu Thailand is putting in 110% and the team has two drivers that can really push a car that right at the moment really needs pushing, and, with a best lap in 2:14.745, Khun Traitanit Chimtawan edged out teammate Khun Naoya Yamano by a mere tenth of a second. "The car has so much power and also four wheel drive so it’s good on a straight and on the cornering exit but before that point the braking [is a problem] as the car is heavy, it’s very easy to heat everything up like brakes, engine temperature, oil temperature," explained the Japanese driver who is seeing his GT-R for the first time week.

He’s cautious. "I think qualifying is very good for us but maybe in the race it’s very tough for us," reckoned Khun Yamano. "Our aim is to finish the race, this weekend is first time so we must develop everything more, it’s step by step."

Also looking cautiously ahead to the main raceday programme was Team Owner Khun Thongchai Kittisiriprasert. "We have to try to finish the race that’s all we can do," he said. However he was pleased with the qualifying result. "We got third and fourth, [that’s] better than we expected."

The team’s Electronics Engineer, Khun Rhommell Singh, explained that they are continuing to make steady headway with these raw new cars. "[The] first few days here [we were] just sorting out issues with cooling but [did] not have any issues with the transmission as we are still using the OEM style transmission not the racing transmission. It’s the transmission of the road going car, which we are modifying for racing use, so yesterday [it] was working ok." He also noted that the limited track time in the programme didn’t help them. "We have had one day of looking through the data, trying to set up the car and we have made some progress since yesterday," Khun Rhommell added.

The reigning Class 2-GTM champion, Khun Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, could only manage P5 in the first of the factory-run Toyota 86s with a 2:15.089 best lap while his team mate Khun Nattapong Horthongkum was back in P8 with a 2:16.597. With the competitive bar moving forward the Toyotas drivers’ clearly will have work to do today, but with a pair of experienced stars that are capable of hauling out top performances they cannot be ruled out.

Sixth place went to the UBB Kiwi Racing-entered Holden Commodore VE of Khun Craig Corliss (2:15.653) and it was a decent performance after an up and down practice session the day before which had seen the Australian V8 machine picking up a left front puncture and parking up trackside. The outside of Row 3 is a pretty decent place to start but the big New Zealander wasn’t happy with his qualifying session. "[I’m a] bit disappointed today," he said. "We went out there only to do four laps so we put a bit more pressure in the tyres and they came on much quicker and got too hot so we came in and took a bit of air out and did one faster lap but struggled for grip, so disappointed today."

Seventh went to the Singha A Motor Porsche 997 GT3 Cup of Khun Aekarat Discharoen with Khun Nattapong’s Toyota completing Row 4. The TSS-debuting Audi R8 LMS Cup of Khun Henk J. Kiks led out the fifth row. He had missed the practice sessions due to business commitments, which meant the qualifying session was his first time in the car this week. As such for B-Quik Racing qualifying became a test and acclimatisation session.

"I missed practice so qualifying was first of all getting back in the car and getting the car sorted in the first outing, which was alright," the Dutchman explained afterwards. "The second outing was good and I thought I would get there but it started to get a bit slippery out there at the back of the track with the rain, there were a few specks coming down, and then I ran into a bit of traffic so we decided to call it a day instead of running the tyres down as I have to keep them for the race. So okay, not quick enough but the car is good, and we should be good for the race." Khun Henk’s best lap was a 2:17.563.

Eighth slot went to the second Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 Challenge, this time the #98 car of Khun Chairat Sangtong who is making his Super Car debut this weekend - and it’s really a learning process taking place in the full glare for the former Super 2000 star. "I’m still not quite familiar with the car, but the car is very good, it’s very easy to control," he said. "Yesterday I was still whacking the tail a lot as I’m still getting used to the driving style of a rear wheel drive car, I have to get used to a new style of driving."

Kicking off Row 6 when the grid forms up this afternoon will be the Vattana Motorsport-run Gallardo LP560-4 of Khun Visarut Chotiwitsavaitkul; this is his first time at Sepang. Meanwhile alongside him will be another TSS debutant, Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul; he posted a best lap of 2:21.104 in his new Porsche 997 GT3 Cup.

Next up was another Gallardo, this time the ‘Super Trofeo’ of Khun Umar A. Rahman; he needs no introduction to this track though, but was also adapting to the conditions. "I think it’s a very slow track, it’s not me alone, I think everyone experienced the same conditions," he said. "I push a bit more than in practice but I got a slower time so I need to sit back and look at the data."

Finally Khun Thomas Raldorf, driving the B-Quik Racing Porsche 997 GT3 Cup that team leader Khun Henk has dropped in favour of the new Audi, suffered bad luck and was out with a blown engine on the first lap of qualifying. That was his weekend over.

Not appearing on track for the qualifying session was the brand new Mazda RX-8 of Khun Pete Thongchua, as well as the Porsche 997 GT3 Cup of TSS President Khun Sontaya Kunplome. "We’re just here to run in [the] car [and] it can't go that fast so we decided not to go [out in qualifying]," explained PTT Performa Yokohama RZ Racing Team Manager Khun Ma in the paddock afterwards.

His team had made a superhuman effort to be in Sepang and will now be looking to collect grid and appearance points and make a steady run to the checkered flag as they start to sort out the raw car. "We will be there at [the] end of [the] grid start," he confirmed.

Qualifying: Super 2000

The question was always going to be - what would be the gap to the BMW E90 of reigning champion Khun Tin Sritrai? And when the dust settled mid afternoon yesterday, the answer was 2.345 seconds. Khun Tin banged in a 2:24.418 on his second of five laps and that was good enough to put the qualifying session to bed.

The fastest of the ‘rest’ turned out to be Khun Pitsanu Sirimonkolkasem in the Singha-Eight Thonglor by PN90 entered Honda Civic FD. This is his debut race in the car, which was driven by Khun Chairat Sangtong in Super 2000 last year, and Khun Pitsanu looked smooth and fast in the black machine, albeit not able to match the pace of the highly sophisticated BMW.

Third went to the Toyota Altis of Khun Jakthong Navasoopanich after an impressive qualifying session; his best was a lap of 2:28.342 which was 1.579 seconds adrift of Khun Pitsanu, while fourth went to the factory Toyota 86 of Khun Manat Kulapalanont in 2:28.912. ‘[Thursday] in practice I had a little bit of oversteer in the high corners so we change to softer [settings]," he said. "So for qualifying it’s better than yesterday and I have qualifying for three laps. I have a little bit [of a problem] about the gears but the service team will fix it, I think everything is ready for the race."

There was a strong performance by Khun Munkong Sathienthirakul (Civic FD) who finished ahead of the first of the new factory Toyota Altis entries, the #58 of Khun Chen Jian Hong. This car is fresh out of the box; however the Taiwanese driver posted a 2:30.017 as Toyota’s development of the new-generation sedan gets underway on the racetrack. His new teammate, Khun Artit Ruengsomboon, had a less promising start; completing just 2 laps of the session in his new Altis and that left him down in P11.

Behind Khun Chen Jian Hong were the two Singha-Cosmo-TT Motorsport Civic FDs of Khun Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya and Khun Thamrong Mahadumrongkul. The pair missed the previous day’s practice session so qualifying was in reality a test session and for the former driver, his first chance to drive his new car, the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Civic FD2.

Khun Supachai Weeraborwornpong (Honda DC5) and Khun Paritat Bulbon (VW Golf MkV) completed the top ten with the final timed runner being Khun Wijak Lertprasetpakorn (Civic FD) who will start alongside the Altis of Khun Artit. Finally, right from the back when the lights go green this morning will be the Toyota Altezza of Khun Kantadhee Kusiri.

Much was promised from this driver, however he peeled off into the pits at the end of his qualifying session out lap and that was all the action he was to see yesterday. The team later reported that excessive oil pressure had caused a crankcase oil seal to blow out; however it caused no damage to the engine and Khun Kantadhee will be in shape to start the race this morning.

Unfortunately, without any recorded laptimes, he’s going to be lining up dead last today and tomorrow, so expect to see this talented youngster busy battling up the order in both races.

Qualifying: Super 1500

Last year Khun Kantadhee romped to the title in the Singha XO Team Eakie Civic. He’s headed for Super 2000 now and for this season the cockpit of this car has been taken over by Khun Sorasak Saeng-Xuto. He’s already looking like he can continue the orange-and-white car’s winning pedigree after posting pole in 2:41.325. That was also the best Super 1500 Class C time.

Next up was The Pizza Company Team’s Toyota Vios, driven by Khun Tony Percy (2:43.986) who has switched from Super 2000 this year and also led out Super 1500 Class B on the time sheets, while third place, as well as second in Class B, went to the TTS Racing entry of Khun Weerasak Homswan (2:44.657). Making it two cars in the top-four for The Pizza Company was Khun Ray McDonald in the team’s new-build Civic.

Qualifying: Super Production

Khun Pasarit Phromsombat laid down his marker by sweeping to the top of the timesheets in Thursday’s free practice session and he kept up the heat on his rivals with an unmatched 2:41.367 lap yesterday afternoon in the 30-minute qualifying session. That was also the best Class B time.

The reigning Super Production champion Khun Kajornsak Na Songkhla (Ford Fiesta) was next up, 1.766 seconds adrift, to lead out Class A, with Khun Thanapol Pruttipong third (2:43.875); he’s running in Class B and is bedding in car upgrades.

"I’m quite happy with my qualifying as it’s my new car here and no time to practice as I just finished my exams," said the well regarded youngster after the qualifying session was completed. "So I need more time to learn about the tracks and the new car settings."

Row 2 was completed by Khun Thanasit Bhunyatharanonth (Honda Jazz); he turned in a best lap of 2:44.445. However, the factory-supported Parker Innovation Motorsport Mazda2s have some work to do on their first trip to Sepang, they qualified seventh (Khun Pete Thongchua) and ninth (Khun Michael Freeman). Fastest Class C driver was Khun Passakorn Yamgathom who turned in a 2:44.876; that was also good enough for fifth overall in Super Production.

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