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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Jun 26, 2014 - 07:04 AM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


News over this last week? Well one half of what is set to be biggest showdown seen in Thai racing in living memory has been out testing at Bira Circuit ahead of that clash at the top. Khun Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak is the ‘half’ who hit the track in his Porsche 997 GT3-R as the hostilities – and the bubbling anticipation – now approach fever pitch.

 

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The big boys of Super Car, Vattana Motorsport, are pulling out the biggest guns for the clash of the century next week as Khun Narasak Ittiritpong and Khun Jack Lemvard are both returning to the team – it means two of the fastest drivers in Thailand today will no longer have their talents squandered by sitting on the sidelines. They will be in Super Car Class 2-GTM and Super 2000 respectively and both, unquestionably, have to be amongst the hot favourites to win in their respective categories.

Meanwhile, an international superstar driver, Khun Keita Sawa, flew into Thailand last week to coach just one of the new many exciting new faces in Super Car this season. All in all just another average week in Thailand Super Series…

Preparing for battle

The reigning Thailand Super Series champion is facing the toughest challenge of his highly successful domestic career so far with the arrival in the pack of one of the world's top sportscar racing stars. And with the countdown well underway for Race 3 & 4, last week it was testing time at Bira for Khun Vutthikorn and the Singha Porsche AAS team, just as the pressure now ratchets up higher than it has ever done before.

And while every move of the battle between Khun Tomáš and Khun Vutthikorn in just over a week’s time, will be played out in front of thousands of fans in the main grandstand, the media, VIPs and models on the grid, as well as audiences watching live on TV at home, racing isn't always so glamorous. For the build up test it was just driver, car, mechanics and equipment and a racetrack that was quietly snoozing away in the hot afternoon sunlight. No one about, not even the obligatory stray dogs.

While the mechanics readied the orange-and-white #1 Porsche 997 GT3-R, and sorted out some niggling issues, there was time to reflect on that sensational win in Sepang where Khun Vutthikorn proved to everyone what we already knew - that he could mix it with the very best that international racing has to offer.

Maybe he wasn't reflecting too much, this is a driver that, as well as being more used to racing against himself in Super Car, isn't prone to wallowing in his successes, rather he’s always looking forward, looking to improve himself.

He's also quite modest and quick to offer pointers as to his sensational win in Sepang. "I think it’s because Tomáš Enge had used tyres for the second day and I've got new and that's why I've got a bit of advantage," noted Khun Vutthikorn.

Although he forgets to mention just why he had fresher boots on his car. He simply wasn't fazed as one of world’s top driver names was thumping in blistering times during the qualifying session and hogging P1. He didn't feel any pressure to respond as everyone else banged away furiously at the time sheets, the coterie of Class 1-GT3 drivers released like a tidal wave after the long closed-season finally gave way to the first qualifying session of the year. P2 at a track like Sepang, which is wide, fast and offers plenty of overtaking opportunities, is a pretty good position to start from if you have the right package under you. Considering every last detail is one of Khun Vutthikorn’s trademarks.

"I try to get closer every time in the lap to see if he's going to make any mistakes and when I come closer I see the tyre is maybe overheated or something so I keep pushing on the straight line but he was still flying," he recalled of Race 2 in Sepang. "I was almost going to take him before the back straight but once he settled his car down he just goes, but that lap I think I have no more chances to win the race. So I just put my head down again and concentrate on my driving style as usual and try to go as fast and as consistent as possible." The rest is history.

As well as tyre issues, Khun Vutthikorn is quick to point out that the muscular Camaro will be a much more sorted proposition at Bira as it was flown into Sepang only prior to the first official practice session getting underway. "The car just arrived in Sepang, the setup is not yet the right setup as he has no time," notes Khun Vutthikorn. "Here in Bira he will have more time."

Although Khun Vutthikorn certainly knows Bira Circuit like the back of his hand there isn't going to be much of a 'home' advantage as his Czech rival has also tested here. "Tomáš last year, when he was test driver for Khun Chonsawat, he was pretty fast already, he did pretty well," he reflects.

The ‘success ballast’ that Khun Vutthikorn will have to carry at Bira, thanks to his P1 and P2 in Sepang, is causing some head scratching for his team as well as the weight requirements of the FIA’s BoP limits for 2014. He earned 40 kg for his win and 30 kg for his runner up spot; however the maximum ‘success ballast’ in Class 1-GT3 is being pegged by TSS at 50 kg this year and so the #1 Porsche 997 GT3-R will be lugging this weight next week. "This year we have additional weight and at the moment I get stuck with the setup and I hope I can get it right to be competitive with everyone," says Khun Vutthikorn.

Khun Tomáš will also have an extra 50 kg in Bira and that means they will once again cancel each other out in that respect - the issue will be which racecar can be better adapted to the features of this track with the extra weight onboard. In terms of the fight at the front, this pair aren’t as likely to runaway and hide as they did in Sepang - maybe.

It also means that we are less likely to see new record-shattering laptimes at Bira next week. Last year the bar dropped dramatically, in fact who else but Khun Vutthikorn reset the ‘unofficial’ lap record into the low 58-second bracket. So are we likely to see a sub 1-minute lap in qualifying for Race 3 & 4? He is cautious though. "I think it’s difficult to say, I don't think I can do below 1-minute with the additional weight," he says. "It's not just the thirty to fifty kilos you see here it’s [also] the dry weight of the car because of the BoP this year."

That extra weight he believes won’t translate so well into finding an optimum setup for Bira. "The track here is very tight, it's like a roller coaster with a short straight line, the rest is turning in to tight corners, so the weight will really affect it a lot."

Setting the ‘champ’ back further as he prepares for the big showdown was a difficult opening test day. The first day at Bira saw the Singha Porsche AAS team lose out on track time with car problems meaning they returned for a second day’s testing 48 hours later but running was also restricted and Khun Vutthikorn’s best time was a 1:01.2.

Another problem that’s come into play again is his on-going back injury. For a driver who seeks perfection and isn’t prone to complaining about injuries, he doesn’t like to talk about the back problem that he’s been nursing since the Merdeka 12-Hour race in Malaysia last year. But Khun Vutthikorn’s still wearing a harness to support his back in the cockpit and his mechanics were busy mixing foam during the test as they look to make his seat more comfortable for him.

Clearly this problem is affecting him more than he will let on - to the point it could hinder his performance next week. However, this is also a driver that hopped back in a racecar less than 24 hours after a huge shunt into the wall out of the final turn at this same meeting last year, dismissively brushing it’s effects off although he was clearly in much discomfort, while he also bears ‘trophy’ scars of major burns sustained after a crash earlier in his career that sent boiling radiator water spurting over his left arm.

So how does he rate his chances of winning next week? Khun Vutthikorn has been sticking to a rigid line ever since Khun Tomáš rocked up in TSS, that the Czech is world-class star and his aim is simply to get as close to him as possible. "As I've said before with Tomáš Enge I try to be as fast as possible, to lose the gap to the front," he repeats.

But Khun Vutthikorn is one of the best drivers that Thailand has ever produced and unquestionably he’s the most successful of the last decade and still glued to the number one spot. "I will try my best," he adds. "I [need] to get the right setup, that’s is the right way." With a smile, he admits. "If you leave the room open I will try." Thailand will be right behind him next weekend - and one thing’s for sure - he won’t disappoint his fans in terms of commitment.

The 'boy wonder' is back

Well he’s not really a boy, but his ever-youthful looks certainly don’t fit with his age. The recent news that Khun Narasak is returning to Super Car has been greeted with delight by motorsport fans here. A fast, thoughtful, intelligent and highly committed driver - without any hesitation he has to be immediately listed amongst the potential race winners next week. In fact the pressure is already building on him.

Last year, Khun Narasak joined Super Car for the first time after Vattana Motorsport dusted off the striking Mitsubishi Evo IX that team leader Khun Chonsawat Asavahame previously campaigned in the championship, dragged it away from its sleepy retirement in the company’s Petchaburi Road showrooms and rolled it out into the paddock at Bira Circuit in time for Race 3 & 4. Despite very few laps with the car in pre-race testing and it running shy of the right tyre sizes, Khun Narasak planted the dramatic carbon clothed machine on pole position and then won the first race after fending off all his rivals. It was the stuff of fairytales; one of Thailand’s most popular drivers had announced himself to the TSS paddock in real style.

However the fairytale then tailed off a bit. Electing to skip the penultimate round of the series at Bira Circuit, Vattana Motorsport instead focused on improving the car to try to make a big splash during the season closer at Bangsaen. This would also be the last race in the life of this Mitsubishi racecar - billed as the ‘fastest Evo in Thailand’ - before it retired to Khun Chonsawat Asavahame’s car collection. Upgrades focused around having the gearbox overhauled and optimised ratios fitted to suit Bangsaen. But the plan went up in smoke almost immediately - and literally. The engine blew in free practice and the Evo IX went out with a whimper, while it got worse as Khun Narasak also broke his ankle.

The Evo is now history but Khun Narasak’s isn't, he's back, once again with Vattana Motorsport, but this time behind the wheel of a totally new mount. However it’s also another one that should also give him the chance to win races.

That is the Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo that Khun Umar A. Rahman debuted in Bangsaen last December and also used during the season opener this year at Sepang. The car arrived from Reiter Engineering fully overhauled so with just two races under its belt since it arrived in Thailand it should be all good to go.

Lamborghini’s Gallardo Super Trofeo is a member of the popular ‘One Make’ breed of racecars, such as Ferrari’s ‘Challenge’ and Porsche’s ‘Cup’, which Super Car’s Class 2-GTM was designed especially for. It is however regarded as one of the weaker packages of these machines. Upgraded for racing by Reiter Engineering, the Super Trofeo retains the Gallardo’s production direct injection V10 engine with 560 PS on tap but with a slightly higher compression ratio. The car’s aero is improved somewhat, but certainly the rear wing is much smaller than its rivals, while it also lacks some of the driver aids that other class contender boast. This is a ‘Model Year 2011’ machine so lacks a few of the Super Trofeo’s later improvements, especially to aero efficiency. It means that the Super Trofeo is more of a raw package - so there is probably no better placed driver on the entry list to understand this racecar, adapt to its unique character and to extract the most out of it than Khun Narasak.

And it bit more. There is also an extra 60 kg added to the car under TSS regulations to compensate for the in-built four-wheel-drive system. Then there is another 80 kg he will have to lug on Saturday thanks to the being a new entrant to the series.

Last Thursday he got his first run in the black-and-gold machine when Vattana Motorsport pitched up at Bira Circuit for a test day as the team counts down to Race 3 & 4. This would really be something of an acclimatisation run as driver and car got used to each other - Khun Narasak has also never raced a Gallardo before, or a left hand drive car for that matter. In fact he only competed in just one race meeting last year (if his few kilometers in Bangsaen is discounted) after his comeback following a few years out of motorsport, so he’s a bit rusty too.

The day consisted of multiple test runs as the Vattana Motorsport mechanics started to fettle the machine to suit this driver. "The car needs the settings [changing] more because this is the first time for driving the Lamborghini for me," Khun Narasak admitted afterwards. "We will try to get the best settings, but [have] less time to do it."

However he was relatively satisfied - as satisfied as this driver who pursues racing perfection can ever be - with his first impressions of the Gallardo Super Trofeo. "It’s more powerful, has more traction and [it’s] also a lot of fun to drive, but I have to learn about this car," he cautioned. "It’s very raw, [it] needs sensitivity to control."

With the car taking to Bira Circuit just as it came back from Sepang, it still had settings for the Malaysian track and was shod with the tyres that Khun Umar had used there. So the target was never going to be laptimes. However his best of the day, in 1:04.2, was a pretty impressive starting point.

"The car works very good, but this car and the man need time, I think the car can be faster and faster, the handling better," he said afterwards. Ominous words for his rivals. Khun Narasak is back, the razor sharp brain is fully engaged (if it ever isn’t?) and he’s busy trying to cover every angle, such is his style.

In fact he reckons that if all the conditions are right then there are another two seconds to be found from this car - and that would certainly put him in the hunt for outright victory. "If we have time for another test [before the races] and with new tyres I think maybe the car can do 1:02, even if it’s not 100% right [and] maybe 80% to 90% right."

He’s also pleased to be back in action. "I’m very, very happy to be back," he said. After switching to circuit racing following a long and successful rally career, he quickly made his mark on the Thai racetracks, but before driving the Evo IX last year he had been out for a couple of seasons, and now, after breaking his ankle, he hasn’t sat in a racecar since Bangsaen at the end of last year.

That ankle - as well as a bit of rustiness - could also be chinks in the armour next week. "Because I stop since Bangsaen as I have an accident with my foot I have physiotherapy until now," he admits. "The condition is not so good, but it’s getting better. I have a little bit of pain but I have [to] wear a support [on the ankle] all the time." There is one advantage of racing a Gallardo when your feet aren’t at 100% though. "Lucky the car doesn’t have a clutch, only brake and accelerator," he says with a laugh.

However against this, he’s probably the fittest driver in the Thai racing paddock and is regarded as one of the leading experts in sports science here, putting himself through an F1-level training regime.

Certainly the paddock has ultra-high expectations of his return, many onlookers tipping him to win as soon as his name unexpectedly appeared on the entry list. But there are a lot of hurdles. The car needs development work and he needs more seat time in it, the weight will be a bit higher that ideal, his ankle is still not perfect and there is some rustiness. But this is also a driver than is driven to win, driven to seek perfection down to the very last detail - his biggest rival of the weekend is always himself.

So how does he rate his chances of coming back with a victory against such tough opposition? He’s pretty noncommittal but will be trying to gain P1. "I hope that [I can win] I hope that," he says. "Every time I race I think of winning."

Khun Narasak - who has famously made #13 a racing ‘lucky number’ - is pleased to be back with Vattana Motorsport and admits the phone call to inform him that he had the Super Trofeo drive came as a bit of a surprise. He’s a keen team player - and now he has to fly the flag for Vattana in Super Car Class 2-GTM. "My reputation isn’t important for me, I just want to make success for the team," he says. "That’s the task."

So a very big question mark is hanging in the air. Last year Khun Narasak stunned the paddock by nabbing pole and victory on his racing comeback (which was also his Super Car debut) - so the big question now is can he pull it off again? Few would be prepared to write him off and ‘N Ittiritpong’ is going to be one of the first names to be looked out for when the timesheets are issued next week.

Vattana set to unleash new BMW as Jack returns

Lock up your daughters, Khun Jack Lemvard is coming back - and Thai racing has certainly missed him. The announcement that he will be on the Super 2000 grid behind the wheel of Vattana Motorsport’s newly acquired BMW E90 in a week and a half’s time has been greeted with much anticipation by everyone associated with Thai motorsport.

Khun Jack is arguably the fastest and most successful driver of his generation, winning in the top series across Asia and even making waves in Europe. In recent years his antics in ‘Touring Car’ racing here have had the crowd on their feet every time he's taken the green light. Leaving aside the overflowing talent, he’s certainly the most exciting Thai driver to watch on any racetrack.

He’s been away from Thailand on family business for almost a year now and the news that he was coming back to race at Bira was something of a surprise to the paddock. It apparently was also a big surprise for Khun Jack. "It’s great to be back," he said this week from Denmark where he was busy preparing to fly home. "It was quite an unexpected call from Khun Santi and team Vattana, but I am very happy that they called. I’m very grateful that Khun Chonsawat Asavahame has asked me to be part of his team in the series again."

This is a driver that lives to race, more so than almost anyone else he expresses himself on the racetrack with a repertoire of flamboyant driving skills that have made him a winner countless times. "I haven't been behind a racing car for over a year so I’m really looking forward to race again as I have been doing since I was 10 years old," he said. Khun Jack's commitment is also second to none which has earned him the respect of team owners.

His most recent appearance on the Super 2000 grid was this time last year, although on that occasion his regular Honda Civic FD let him down in both races. Since then he has been keeping a close eye on the growth of the series from overseas. "I’ve only been able to follow TSS over the internet because I have been in Denmark for so long on personal business but I have always followed very closely on how much it has evolved into such a great series now," he said.

For the moment Khun Jack is penciled in to drive the new BMW E90 that Vattana Motorsport recently added to its stable of frontline racecars. This car is a state-of-the-art machine, raced by crack outfit WSR in the British Touring Car Championship a couple of seasons ago and is latest-generation in technical terms.

Reigning Super 2000 champion Khun Tin Sritrai raised the bar when he introduced the E90 to Super 2000 last year and he’s already the early championship leader this season after showing the Honda runners a clean pair of heels in Sepang. The German machine is clearly the car to have now, although Khun Jack’s previous Civic FD is fettled and waiting as a backup incase any issues occur with the new BMW which has barely turned a wheel since arriving.

"I will probably be driving the BMW E90 that hasn't been raced yet in Thailand so I’m looking forward to that," says Khun Jack, who is scheduled to touchdown at Suvarnabhumi Airport this morning. "But we always do have the Honda FD2 that has been rebuilt from the bottom up, so both cars should be able to finish a full race distance.

The ‘Jack’ that the Thai fans have come to appreciate is never far from the surface - this is a driver that has rarely shown much interest in second place. "I do believe that many people think that I drive the car too hard but I think it's racing not cruising unless you're so far in front that you don't need to race," he says. "I don't mind which car Khun Chonsawat lets me drive [I'm] just happy to be back again."

Although he’s been more associated with racing front wheel drive Hondas in Thailand during recent years the BMW E90 wont be a completely new proposition. "I have driven a BMW E46 for Team Engstler, which races in the WTCC, where I won the Asian championship in 2008 and four races in ADAC Procar in Germany, but have never driven an E90," says the 29-year-old. "But from what I’ve heard it’s basically like a Toro Rosso to a Red Bull, it’s very similar, just a bit better all round."

The news is still fresh and sinking in. A week ago Khun Jack saw his racing return being as a much more distant prospect and he hadn’t thought about planning to build up towards the racing cockpit. But he’s clearly delighted to have this opportunity. "I still want to thank everyone for thinking of me at the team and in Thailand, I just can’t wait to get behind the wheel again and have a blast," he says.

"Hopefully I will finish the race on top of the podium, but I would be happy with a finish for this time," adds Khun Jack. One assumes the last half of the sentence is just polite words for the record.

The new BMW E90 enjoyed its first track runs here last week although it was restricted to just a few laps right at the end of the Vattana Motorsport test day at Bira Circuit. The body-in-white car was given a quick spin by Khun Narasak who is also returning to Vattana for the first time this season to drive the team’s Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo.

He wasn’t out for long on the 2.4-km circuit and with just 20 minutes or so available before the track closed as well as a suspension issue rearing its head he couldn't to give any meaningful first impressions. "The BMW needs a lot more settings," Khun Narasak said afterward. "The BMW had some problem with the suspension."

Khun Jack certainly has a reputation as one of the wild boys of Thai racing with an off track lifestyle image that’s as fast as the one on track. But behind all that image this is a quick, committed, ultra-talented racer and one who few would bet against winning on his comeback if the car is in equally good shape and reliable. Despite the image, expect him to be back, fit and prepared, too.

Learn from the best

The rapid rise of TSS has seen top drivers from other motorsport disciplines attracted to our concept - and one of those making the switch this season is well-established drift star Khun Sarun Sereethoranakul. Not only has he switched to circuit racing, he’s plumped for the unique qualities of Porsche’s 997 GT3 Cup, but it’s a car that really has to be discovered by the driver.

After a couple of shakedown tests at Bira Circuit with the new car, where Khun Sarun immediately showed flashes of promise, it was quickly off to Sepang for the first races of the year. More promise, certainly - but also a lot of ‘drift style’ in the mix. And while locked up brakes and billowing tyre smoke are a must for drifting fans and are certainly enjoyed by circuit racing fans, they aren’t good when aiming for optimum laptimes.

So ahead of next week’s two races at Bira Circuit, Khun Sarun drafted in a top circuit racing name to help him adapt to his new challenge. And it certainly was a big name - Khun Keita Sawa is one of Japan’s most experienced professional sportscar racing stars who has been a Japanese Super GT Series regular for the last decade and was in fact championship runner-up in 2003.

Crucially though he’s an expert with Porsche’s ‘Cup’ breed having raced the 996-997 lineage almost non-stop throughout his career. That includes winning the ultra-competitive Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) championship title in 2011 and finishing runner up in 2007 and 2012 as well as bagging third place in 2006. He’s also won the prestigious, highly specialist and very tricky Macau GT Cup twice - so clearly an all-round capable driver.

"After Sepang, I try to improve my racing skills so I ask Sawa-san to help me for three days," Khun Sarun explained in the pit garage on the final day of the test last Thursday. "I have done many procedures of driving but it’s the first time a real racing driver has come to train me so now we can solve so many problems, for example tyre wear that we faced in Sepang [where] the tyre [condition] collapsed and the tyre was finished."

That meant an intensive three days of back-to-back driving between the pair, crunching through the data and working on every single little detail. "He drives first and then I drive with the same settings and then we compare and in every corner we see the MoTeC data [and] the VBOX Video so I see how he drives and I try to do that," said Khun Sarun. "He also explains a lot and gives me some understanding how to do like this, how to do like that, why we have to have the balance; he can also answer all my questions."

The connection with Khun Keita was actually made through Khun Somboon Kittitanagorn; he’s one of the leading race engineers working in Thailand and he previously spent a many years in the PCCA where the Japanese driver was also a regular feature. So paths crossed. Now Khun Somboom is engineering Khun Sarun’s Porsche in TSS this season and the trio hooked up at Sepang during the opening round where Khun Keita was also in action, but driving in a difference race series.

"He has already many years experience," says Khun Keita, who explained how the extended tuition programme schedule had played out. "So this three days is a very good experience for us because at first I have to know his driving style for the first day and also he says the car still has problems, especially [it’s] understeering. When I drive this car I see it has a problem with understeering, so first I know his driving style problem and also [the] car problem.

"For second day we can find a good setup to fix the understeer problem and also I can teach him to fix the car’s understeer problem by his driving style," continues Khun Keita - who is also making his first ever visit to Bira Circuit, as well as his first ever trip to Thailand. "So on the second day I can feel that his driving is improving but the tyre every time the condition [is] different. Also the setup needs to [be] adjusted for the driving style, so not a good setup just for me, but [also] for him."

The programme had gone to plan - and Khun Keita believed that Khun Sarun had made great progress over the three days, but admitted he also had plenty more to do. "We’re not the complete 100%, so we have to adjust [the] last 5% and also [the] setup for [the] last 5%, it depends [on the] temperatures [and] road conditions as well.

"So the main point for this time is that he can understand for himself his problems, so the car can be fixed, almost," noted the 37-year-old Japanese racing star. "He’s a gentleman driver but has very good driving skills already; he has to adjust depending on the situation. Now he understands in his brain, but still [does] not communicate between brain and body."

Khun Somboon is the man right in the middle as he knows both drivers very well and he’s also happy with how the test has panned out. "I think the car is okay as this car is quite good already," he explains. "So we follow the teacher, do what he wants to do." The only brief interruption comes on the final day as the throttle cable requires changing and a new part has to be sent down from Bangkok, stopping testing for a couple of hours. "The cable is too long," he explains. "I think because the car is from England, they use a different cable but we change to a new one."

His only minus point is that there hasn’t been a chance for Khun Sarun to test the car in wet conditions while Khun Keita is on hand. The three days have been baking hot and dry at Bira Circuit and Khun Somboon keeps one eye on the sky as testing winds down on the last day just incase any dark clouds should move in.

Finally, it’s always interesting to get the opinion of an international driver on their first ever visit to the 2.4-km long historical ‘home’ of Thai motorsport. "Bira Circuit is just like an older style European circuit, the length is not so long and the track is very narrow," says Khun Keita. "Here it’s a little bit risky and also the track condition is not so good and the surface level not so good, and some places [are] bumpy, so it's not so clean. So no need to take a harder setup, just take a softer setup and a good turning setup.

"Turn 1 braking is very difficult, [it’s] high speed and already when the car starts to brake its starts to roll and also [it’s] down hill and bumpy there so difficult to stop the car there and also Turn 2 is very simple corner but it’s very difficult and Turn 3 and 4 outside are very narrow so dangerous and also are high speed corners [so] difficult to control to keep in the turn.

"And the two chicanes, both are high speed, third gear or fourth gear, very high speed chicanes so the driver must understand how to control the car correctly and also the last two turns are tricky, especially the last corner, cannot keep full throttle, need to lift a little bit, but need to understand when to lift best.

"So small and narrow but almost all the corners are right hand side so difficult to keep conditions, especially the left hand side tyres, especially for race distance," Khun Keita concludes.

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