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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Aug 09, 2014 - 07:08 AM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


NEXT STOP BURIRAM

There is now a little under three months remaining until the next round of Thailand Super Series (TSS) – and this event will represent the bright dawning of a new chapter for Thai racetracks as the championship moves eastwards to the brand new Buriram United International Circuit the likes of which has never been seen here before.

 

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A new circuit, built to exacting world class standards, the dramatic Buriram project promises to offer Thai motorsport a world class platform with which to move forward and last Thursday the Racing Spirit organisational team visited the now almost completed track and facilities as the preparations for the next round on the calendar get underway.

And everyone was certainly very impressed with the work accomplished. TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya led the delegation to Buriram and he reckoned the new track will be a superb venue for all the stakeholders in Thailand's premier racing series who will make the trip in early November, the drivers, the teams and the fans.

The first McLaren racecar to touch wheels in Thailand is now just days away arriving. Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri, who this year has switched away from campaigning Lamborghinis to become an official agent for McLaren GT, the special division that builds the racing sportscars, is bringing the new machine here. But there is a twist to the story, the McLaren GT Sprint is a brand new machine built by the English factory and it’s set to slot straight into Super Car Class 2-GTM where it will be looking to shake up the established order.

Last week a meeting reserved for drivers and teams competing in TSS Super Car Class 1-GT3 and TSS Super Car Class 2-GTM this year was held at Don Muang’s Miracle Grand Convention Center Hotel to fine tune the direction of the regulations for the remainder of the season. The primary focus was to tweak the ‘success ballast’ rules for this year.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

Finally, after a slightly quiet start to the season by its own very high standards, Super 2000 really burst into life at Bira last month with two action packed and explosive races. When the dust had settled there was a fairytale ending – a double win for Khun Jack Lemvard and Vattana Motorsport on their return to the top domestic touring car championship. This very successful pairing was back in business in some style, and all with a new mount in the stable, a BMW E90.

Buriram becomes an exciting reality

Last Thursday morning the steady build up to the next round of TSS really started to crank up the gears as a delegation from Racing Spirit visited the now almost complete Buriram United International Circuit to take a first look at this highly impressive new facility and kick off preparations for November's event.

Impressive is certainly the word. The track is currently just two months away from seeing its inaugural competitive action while a month later TSS will visit here for the first time. The circuit layout is mostly completed, the tarmac has all been laid, while the huge grandstand and all the supporting facilities are now being fleshed out to completion.

The circuit is the work of well known Formula 1 track designer Khun Hermann Tilke and it blends a real mix of three long high-speed straight sections with several shorter straights and many consecutively flowing turns and twists, most of which will be taken at high speeds.

Rising above the sprawling circuit layout is the massive centerpiece grandstand; it will also house all the track’s supporting functions – such as the race control, media room, VIP areas, management offices and driver briefing room – within its vast confines. The ground level, meanwhile, is given over to the garages while the pitlane will offer a world-class sized apron. From the grandstand’s steep inclined banks of seats spectators will be able to see the whole of the track as well as the pitlane action unfolding directly below.

"It's nice at last to see a track of this calibre in Thailand," commented TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya who led the delegation to Buriram. "Having this track in Thailand is amazing, we should be very proud of what they have done and intend to do."

All aspects of the facility impressed him. "Many things were way above what I expected," Khun Preeda admitted. "They have had professional help from Tilke to create the track, to specify what they need to use and it looks like they have the best money can buy.

"It's now the best [circuit] Thailand has, but really there are none that are comparable," he continued. "It's way out of what we are used to and it's going to be a big leap for our motorsport."

Khun Preeda also reckons that the distance from Bangkok to Buriram isn't going to be so much of an issue as this track will offer so much. He also sees it quickly becoming a recognisable international fixture and going from strength to strength. "It will attract a lot of foreign participants in the future, as well as all the Thai drivers."

He's also pleased for TSS fans that are planning to make the journey in November as they will have excellent viewing opportunities. "The track is nice as you can see pretty much the whole track from the grandstand and having the pitlane beneath the grandstand will bring another dimension for the spectators who will see everything happening at close range. This will create a lot better understanding."

The first visit to Buriram by TSS was all about grasping the bigger picture, while at the same time getting a detailed understanding of the facility that will allow the Racing Spirit team to start planning and preparing for November's event. That went right across the delegation which included staff responsible for organisation, management, technical, scrutineering, safety, public relations and marketing.

Khun Preeda is certain that everyone involved with TSS is going to enjoy the trip eastwards. "We came to see with our own eyes so today is the reality," he says. "The whole picture came into reality and I think it’s not only going to be us, the racers already feel the same, the mechanics and teams are all excited and it's going to be great for the new spectators who will come and what TSS has to offer."

Khun Preeda was quick to pay tribute to the hard work that the Buriram team clearly has put in to turn this ambitious dream into a tangible reality in such a short period of time and he was happy with the input and support received during the visit.

"Even Khun Nevin [Chidchob] came and wanted us to feel at home and welcome in his place and he's there to listen, he's very much an open minded person. So with the cooperation of the team he has I'm sure we will have a great race here."

There is just under three months to go until TSS makes its first visit to Buriram. It's a big break in the middle of the calendar certainly, but now the big countdown to the next event is really – officially – underway. As are the preparations.

Super Car gets set for McLaren invasion

The first McLaren racecar to reach the shores of Thailand is now well on its way here and is in fact due to arrive at Laem Chabang Port in just a few days time. There's a twist to the story too as it’s one of the British sportscar brand’s new 12C GT Sprint machines and so will be joining Super Car Class 2-GTM and that's going to shake up an order which is already in the process of being shaken up.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

This is step one in an ambitious plan to establish the McLaren brand in Thai motorsport that is being driven by one of the leading racers here, Khun Indharasak Techaterasiri and his ‘Unity Auto’ company. He's the 2012 Super Car N/A champion and is regarded as having set the ball rolling on the recent influx of Lamborghini Gallardos into Thai racing. And he's set to repeat that all over again, this time with McLaren, one of the most emotive and successful names in motorsport history.

It all kicked off with him visiting the UK factory earlier this year and then driving a McLaren 12C GT3 during the TSS season opener at Sepang in May and it has since mushroomed into Khun Indharasak becoming an official agent for the English brand's ‘GT’ racing division here.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

Now, while he’s waiting for a brand new McLaren GT3 racecar to arrive to propel him back into the Super Car Class 1-GT3 fight, Khun Indharasak's full attention has turned to the firm’s latest track creation, the 12C GT Sprint.

The 12C GT Sprint, which is brand new, aims to sit in the middle of this supercar’s ‘family’. Primarily designed as an ‘ultimate track day toy’, it reworks the production MP4-12C package in every area for the track, but it’s not as extreme as the 12C GT3 racer. It’s designed to match the level of the Ferrari 458 Challenge, Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo and Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, although it doesn’t yet have its own ‘one make’ series, so will be a perfect fit for Super Car Class 2-GTM.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

However McLaren GT, the division responsible for building the racing sportscars, developed this project so it means the 12C GT Sprint is comfortably attuned to racetrack life. Khun Indharasak also explains it’s a necessity, as any McLaren GT agent is required to have at least one GT3 car and one GT Sprint.

However he also reports plenty of interest here in the package, which has already created international attention. The 12C GT Sprint is – literally – brand new, making its show debut earlier this year and there have been just few international media test drives so far. However the motorsport journalists that have sampled the car have been highly impressed and compared it very favourably to the benchmark Porsche.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

The 12C GT Sprint retains the same 616bhp 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 engine and transmission specifications as the production car with the main changes revolving around racetrack-focused improvements to the aerodynamics, including a front diffuser, new front bumper and bonnet with air vents, as well as dive plates and a big rear wing, a new engine cooling system that incorporates the radiator from the GT3 car and reworked suspension that is lowered by 40mm and electronically retuned.

There are also 19-inch centre locking wheels and carbon ceramic brakes as well as mandatory tow hooks and kill switches. Inside, the cockpit the 12C GT Sprint has been stripped out and there are race application toggle switches, an FIA-approved roll cage, a plumbed-in fire extinguisher system and a composite seat with 6-point harness. Thanks to the addition of safety equipment and the already trim weight of the MP4-12C, despite gutting unnecessary items such as the infotainment system and soundproofing, the 12C GT Sprint still weighs in at around 1434 kg. Interestingly, the 12C GT Sprint retains the road version’s innovative ‘Brake Steer’ system and 'Proactive Chassis Control’ (PCC) suspension, features that have been ditched by the 12C GT3.

The first McLaren racer to come to Thailand, seen here prior to departure.

Of note is the news that, while the first 12C GT Sprint is due to arrive here in a few days time, Khun Indharasak has actually ordered three examples in total and he says “at least two” will be headed for Super Car Class 2-GTM. Along with his new GT3 version, that could mean at least three McLarens on the entry list at the season closer on the streets of Bangsaen in December. It’s a big commitment in a very short period of time and just like he is associated with making the Gallardo the numerically strongest top level racecar here, Khun Indharasak is now going to do the same for the McLaren brand. But this time he’s taking it all a step further as an official agent and putting a customer support structure in place. With a clear strength in connecting drivers with racecars it will be interesting to see just how far this project will go in the future. Certainly though Thai race fans will also be winners as the McLaren name comes to TSS.

Mid year tweaks regulation tweaks

A special meeting for drivers and teams competing in TSS Super Car Class 1-GT3 and TSS Super Car Class 2-GTM was held at the Miracle Grand Convention Center Hotel last week to fine tune the direction of the regulations for the remainder of the year.

With half the season, four races, now completed the main focus of the meeting was to assess and analyse as well as to draw opinions and conclusions surrounding the new rules governing the addition of extra ‘success ballast’ after races, which have been implemented this year.

With the overall direction of the regulations for 2014 being agreed before the start of the season, and the year being now well underway, the meeting was focused on tweaking the format, rather than introducing any big and sweeping changes.

With input and agreement from stakeholders present, ‘success ballast’ will now be capped at 50 kg maximum and proportioned after each race in the following increments, 30 kg for first place, 20 kg for second place and 10 kg for third place. Super Car Class 2-GTM will adopt this to fall into line with Super Car Class 1-GT3.

These weights will now be rolled out for the new Super Car Class 3-GTC, which debuted at Bira Circuit, meaning there will be a more simplified common approach across the three ‘Super Car’ categories.

In Super Car Class 1-GT3 homologation requirements will strictly remain adhering to FIA homologation for the GT3 cars – such as in the area of transmissions – in the pursuit of fairness and equality across the board. However TSS, will now open up one area, bodywork.

“Body parts for Class 1-GT3 cars can now be made as replacement parts,” explains TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya, who chaired the meeting, which was opened by TSS President Sontaya Kunplome. “But they have to be to a similar weight and to the exact dimensions and specification of the original FIA homologated parts.”

With exposed composite body parts – such as front wings, splitters, dive plates, spoilers and bumpers – often bear the brunt of impacts and even relatively minor contact can involve changing a lot of expensive components that often cannot be repaired, while these replacement parts also have to be imported.

That will however be the only area to deviate from the FIA homologation rules for GT3 specification cars this season, Khun Preeda confirms. “Everything else apart from body parts have to be FIA homologated, “he says. “For example some teams asked if the exhaust or the radiator could be remade, but we will stick with FIA homologation for all these parts.”

Dream return in Super 2000

The second round of TSS at Bira Circuit last month saw many big stories involving top drivers at the wheel of state of the art racecars. And certainly one of those big stories to stand right out was the return of Khun Jack Lemvard and Vattana Motorsport to the cutthroat world of Super 2000. It was a dramatic return that in the end netted an impressive two wins from the two races – this driver and team were back with a real bang in Thailand’s top championship reserved for touring cars.

A couple of weeks beforehand however this scenario wasn’t even in play, Khun Jack was far away in Europe, out of sight and cockpit-rusty having been away from racing for almost year, while Vattana Motorsport’s shiny new BMW E90 was sitting in the company’s lavish Petchaburi Road showroom almost forgotten as the team pumped up its participation in Super Car Class 1-GT3 to unprecedented new levels.

Then, literally overnight, that all changed. Khun Jack received a phone call from Vattana Motorsport Team Manager Khun Santi Sukcharoenkijkul to inform him that Team Owner Khun Chonsawat Asavahame had called him up to blood the new BMW E90 at Bira Circuit. The biggest team here was going to be back in the Super 2000 ballpark. The rest is now part of Thai motorsport history – a clean sweep – it was a sensational debut for Vattana’s new BMW and an equally sensational return for the irrepressible Khun Jack.

This fairytale however starts quite a while beforehand – last year in fact. Vattana Motorsport had run Khun Jack in Super 2000 where the front wheel drive Honda Civic FD had been the car to have, with lots of success. However last year everything was turned on its head by the arrival of BMW’s E90.

Pitched against the locally built Civic FDs it simply wasn’t a fair contest. The sophisticated rear wheel drive E90, built by the BMW factory in Germany and a proven winner across the world, including in the most competitive arena of all, the FIA World Touring Car Championship, rocked up and raised the bar. Last year, fresh from success in the Touring Car Series in Asia (TCSA), fast youngster Khun Tin Sritrai won the Super 2000 title despite the best efforts of another equally fast young driver, Khun Kantasak Kusiri, who was driving a Civic FD. In the end it was really no contest as Khun Tin emerged the clear champion. The game had now changed.

With Khun Jack absent in Europe on family business and Vattana Motorsport now sitting on the sidelines of Super 2000 – Thailand’s biggest team unquestionably needed a new track weapon to get back into the fight, this after all is an ambitious team that only turns up to win races, they don’t hang around for second place. The Civic FD was clearly no longer up to the job. And ditto the driver; Khun Jack has never been known to settle for P2 – even when P1 was out of reach.

So if you are looking to source a winning mount in Super 2000, there isn’t anyone better to bring into the picture than Khun Vasin Tantibhakdi of BigDawg Racing. He’s been behind two of the E90s that have already arrived here for the PTT Research and Technology Institute team, that are driven by Khun Tin, as well as his younger brother. The first E90 that Khun Vasin brought over in 2012 came from Sweden where it had been raced in the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) and was then campaigned by Khun Tin in TCSA, while the second machine came from a leading British team, West Surrey Racing (WSR), and had raced in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).

In fact the PTT Research and Technology Institute team now has three E90s that have been switched between Super 2000 and TCSA; the third car arrived last year and was sourced by the team themselves from Portugal. With Khun Tin’s 2013 Super 2000 title plus his TCSA titles the E90 is clearly the car to have.

“Khun Chonsawat called me last year to say that he wanted one car for Super 2000 and I recommended that he got a BMW,” says Khun Vasin. The ball was now rolling. “I saw four cars for him and I got this car for him from WSR.”

“This is the last bodyshell out of BMW Motorsport so it’s a pretty new car with a used engine and gearbox, but they’re pretty new,” explains Khun Vasin. “It has done seven races only so the whole car is pretty new.” WSR is one of the top British touring car teams. After running the factory MG effort in the BTCC in the early to mid 2000s, WSR swapped to the E90 and after a successful stint the team has for this year switched bodyshell to BMW’s 1-series to suit the BTCC’s NGTC regulations. This car was last used by WSR during the 2012 BTCC season. So the car has a very good pedigree and it also came from a professional team – which helped. “When we get the car in here it’s just turnkey and we can get a good laptime,” notes Khun Vasin.

As well as the new car, Vattana Motorsport had a WSR engineer on hand in the garage at Bira Circuit last month to help set up the car during pre race testing and get driver and new team used to its characteristics. “For the first laps I asked an engineer to come and help us for with testing only,” said Khun Vasin as the Vattana Motorsport mechanics fettled the car for the race weekend. “He’s went back [on Thursday night] and I took over the engineering side of this car.”

For the British engineer, Khun Mark Wood, there was already a connection with BMWs competing in South East Asian motorsport – and that had driven the arrival of the latest E90. “The cars were bought from West Surrey Racing,” he says. “I looked after the cars for Tin and Vasin in [TCSA], where obviously [Tin’s] gone from strength to strength, had good results with the first few cars and now this car has come out. So it all stems from selling the cars from England to Thailand and it’s going on and on and on.”

Getting the E90 setup to suit Bira Circuit isn’t straightforward, says Khun Vasin, but with his and Khun Mark’s combined experience of the car it was a step-by-step process to get where exactly where they wanted to be. “We have to find the right springs for a track like Bira which is very tricky,” he noted. “Like you have S1 and S2, so you have to find the right combination of the springs, dampers and anti-roll bar and also with the tyres we have they’re a lot different to the tyres the car used to run on back in the UK so we’ve got to find the right setup for the tyres.”

Khun Mark was also satisfied with how the testing had shaken out and pleased that Khun Jack was settling into his new car. With Khun Jack having chopped chunks out of his times during the testing programme, he reckoned that the #44 car should be right on the front running pace come race weekend.

“We’ve had to get a good setting for the driver which we seem to have found,” he said on the Thursday afternoon as the team wrapped up practice for the day. “We’ve put in some good laptimes and hopefully we can be at the front of the field. From the driver’s point of view it’s his first time in the car so we don’t know where we’re going to be but we obviously have pace so it looks good.”

It’s his first time at Bira Circuit and first time working with Vattana Motorsport. “I wouldn’t say it’s been difficult but we’ve had to try to find a good setup for the car which hopefully we have found,” he continues. “Now we have to make the tyres last, but that’s the same for everybody. We haven’t done a huge amount of running, but when we did some decent running we found out what we need to do and other changes on the car [and] straight out of the box we have been on the pace which is good.”

Khun Mark explained that the E90 was the perfect car for a track like this – or really any other. “The BMWs being rear wheel drive are renowned for looking after their tyres,” he said. “The driver might think the tyres are going off after a certain amount of laps but in a front wheel drive car they go off quicker so the BMW is stronger towards the end of the race so hopefully it will bring him through to a decent result. The BMW is suited to most tracks, it’s just finding the idea setup, like with any car [and] for sure with the tyre wear we should have an advantage.”

With three days of testing completed, Khun Jack and the Vattana E90 were ready to face the official weekend programme – while the timesheets clearly demonstrated that the driver was now up to speed in the car, he was posting laps that were around a second quicker than anyone else was able to manage in Super 2000 having knocked chunks out of his personal best times in the BMW everyday. “At first [Khun Jack] didn’t have much confidence as he’s been away for a year or more so he’s not had much confidence with the car,” said Khun Vasin.

“The car is a BMW and it’s quite expensive to repair so he tried to be gentle with the car, he tried to attack S1 and S2 and bent some rims so he had to back off a little bit,” he continued. “Also he has to adjust himself to the driving style for a rear wheel drive car, like on the throttle, on the brakes, so he has to be gentle on the throttle but can be more aggressive on the brakes so he can get used to the car more and more so he can put on a better and better laptime.”

And the races? Well the first race saw Khun Jack starting from pole position after posting a 1:05.509 in qualifying, nine-tenths better than anyone else could manage. Although front row sitter Khun Hideharu Kuroki kept close station over the opening half dozen laps the Japanese driver eventually drifted away and it became something of a textbook lights to flag win for Khun Jack, especially as the ‘other’ BMW in the race, the #99 of Khun Tin never featured at the top end due to mechanical issues.

It’s great to be back,” Khun Jack said afterwards. “I had pole position so I just had to make sure I got a good start as I didn’t have any weight. I got away quite well and Turn 2 up the hill was quite good so I just pushed for five laps, got a good lead and then just saved the tyres as if you push the tyres for too long I thing they will go off. Kuroki in second place was quite quick at the beginning but I pulled away two tenths, three tenths a lap and I started pulling away more and more and then I saved the tyres after lap 10.” It’s not often you hear of such an uneventful race from Khun Jack, who is arguably the most spectacular driver to watch in Thai motorsport.

In the week before the race, Khun Jack had stated a few times that he would prefer to be racing his ‘old’ Civic FD for his comeback event, the driver keen to consider a ‘comfort zone’ that he knows so well – and which has certainly carried him to so much success. However once he had got to grips with the BMW, and as he has previously raced BMW’s E46 for Team Engstler he had a head start, all talk of the Civic was soon forgotten. “The FD kept on falling apart but it’s proven it’s the FD not me,” Khun Jack said with a laugh. The [BMW] is great, it handles nice, it’s just nice to drive, it’s fun. Not a lot faster than the FD but just reliable.”

Khun Jack then made it two wins from two on Sunday – although in all honesty he was somewhat lucky to bag the win. But luck often plays a part in motor racing destiny. Starting from P5 on the reverse grid, Khun Jack had an off track moment which cost him track position – however the mid race deployment of the Safety Car played right into his hands and put him back in the fight. The front running Civic FD of Khun Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem was the big loser from the arrival of the Safety Car, it swept away his advantage out front, and that was compounded by a late race car problem that saw him vacate the lead. Meanwhile the ‘other BMW’ was once again out of the reckoning as Khun Tin continued to struggle with mechanical issues.

But that doesn’t take away anything from a fighting drive from Khun Jack, after his ‘excursion’ he had to work hard to make up lost ground and the ‘old Jack’, the flamboyant star, was on show for the fans to enjoy. “I started first as on Saturday I was first as it’s a reverse grid, so I know I have rear wheel drive and the Hondas have front wheel drive so after five or six laps they’re going off,” he explained.

“So I’m just waiting and waiting and waiting and taking my time as there are 22 laps so no point of pushing the car too much,” the continued. “I just want to make sure we get to the finish and I think I cruised too much and made a small mistake in S2 and just went off but luckily the Safety Car came out and I got back into the race again.

“After that I was just pushing and pushing and the extra 50 kilos has cost me a second straight away and we didn’t have the right setup,” he continued. “I will have 100 kilos for the next race at Buriram so it’s going to be quite difficult there.

So it was a dream return for Khun Jack. One of the most naturally talented drivers to emerge from Thailand during the last couple of decades Khun Jack couples skill that with the steel and bravery of a hardened pro. But he’s also something of an enigma, the ‘wild man’ of Thai racing, known as much for his off track lifestyle as his wins on track. That meant his comeback was seen as something of (another) last chance.

For the fans though he’s exciting to watch – even if it was all a little bit more ‘routine’ at Bira with the sophisticated BMW. “I’m really thankful to Vattana motorsport and Chonsawat Asavahame, it’s been a perfect weekend comeback,” he said. “I’m really happy.”

Last word to the engineer. Ominously, Khun Vasin reckons there’s plenty more to come from the E90. “We’re pretty happy with the weekend but hopefully we can get a better laptime in the next race meeting,” he said. “If we can get more time with the car and more time to play around with things.”

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