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Latest News From Thailand Super Series
Posted by: newsla on Sep 05, 2014 - 07:03 AM
Sports Cars
Latest News From Thailand Super Series


There are two exciting new entries now gearing up to join Super Car Class 1-GT3 and Super Car Class 2-GTM respectively during the second half of the season. In the former category Khun Umar A. Rahman will trade up at Buriram to a Vattana Motorsport-run Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2 while in the latter category at Bangsaen Innovation Motorsport is set to unleash a Mazda RX-8 to be driven by Khun Michael Freeman.

 

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In fact, just two days ago Khun Michael took to the wheel of the RX-8 for the first time during a shakedown test at Tsukuba Circuit in Japan where he shared the car with a star name, Khun Tatsuya Tanigawa. In fact the Knights Sports Japan car will be making a late year Asian tour - heading to Macau for the Road Sport Challenge race where Khun Tatsuya will drive before being shipped to Thailand to race at Bangsaen. With the factory hovering over this project, Khun Michael got his first laps in the powerful machine under his belt on Wednesday - and he was impressed.

Khun Umar, meanwhile, is one of the most popular figures in the paddock, a gentleman driver who is pushing his career as far as he can take it on the motor racing ladder. At the next round in Buriram he will hit the top rung as he makes the transition from Super Car Class 2-GTM to Super Car Class 1-GT3. And he really can’t go wrong in choosing a Gallardo GT3 prepared by Vattana Motorsport, the car’s a proven winner - literally - so he will have the right mount and the right support to get stuck into the most competitive category in Thai motorsport.

On Tuesday morning TSS held a technical seminar to explain in detail the rules and regulations surrounding engine compression - one of the key issues that has arisen this year during racecar scrutineering. Our own scrutineering team was on hand to instruct representatives of the teams involved in TSS to ensure everyone has a very clear understanding of this issue.

There’s been only one name on everyone’s lips in the biggest category on the TSS programme - Khun Poomee Phromatham. He rocked into Super Eco at Bira Circuit with a rapidly growing reputation and promptly won all three races. So who is he? Where does he come from? And what’s his secret?

Finally, in terms of racing legends they don’t come much bigger than Khun Sak Nana, he straddles motorsport and A-list celebrity status with ease - and now he’s got a Porsche. It also seems that this coming together of two famous names was almost predestined.

Innovation Motorsport to unleash potent RX-8 in Bangsaen

Innovation Motorsport is set to crank up the big gears at Bangsaen in December and will enter Super Car Class 2-GTM for the first time. The Laem Chabang team based team, which already runs a factory-supported Mazda2 programme in Super Production will now debut a Mazda RX-8. The car is from Knight Sports Japan, one of the world’s leading Mazda affiliate teams.

The racecar will in fact be making a double date tour from its home base in Japan as it will first be going to the Macau Grand Prix to contest the Road Sport Challenge race where it already has an enviable record with three podiums in five years. The prestigious Road Sport Challenge has regulations that broadly slot in someway below Super Car’s popular Class 2-GTM, so the potent RX-8 will be a perfect fit in the TSS ‘middle’ category.

The crack Knight Sports outfit has just finished preparing the car for its appearance in Macau and prior to its shipping a ‘double’ shakedown took place the day before yesterday at Japan’s Tsukuba Circuit as Japanese star Khun Tatsuya Tanigawa, who will race the RX-8 in the Macau Grand Prix support event, took to the wheel and he alternated with Khun Michael Freeman who will drive the RX-8 on the second leg of its tour, in Bangsaen.

For Khun Michael it was a big step up to get behind the wheel of the RX-8 racer. The Australian’s track career actually kicked off in the competitive Super Pickup category here some years ago, and the Innovation Motorsport-run Mazda BT-50 trucks subsequently enjoyed a lot of winning success. Last year the team progressed further, gaining crucial support from Mazda Sales Thailand, and so he moved onto drive one of the new Mazda2s in Super Production.

Khun Michael had never been to the Tsukuba Circuit, which is located in Shimotsuma, Ibaraki Prefecture, in fact this was his first time on a track not on the Thailand Super Series calendar, but he quickly got to grips with the powerful car on the 2.045 km, 14 turn circuit which is mainly used for testing.

"The car was set up for Macau with softer suspension which will carry over to Bangsaen as both are low grip and bumpy," explained Khun Michael afterwards. "Tatsuya Tanigawa did the shakedown then gave the car a workout on new tyres and then handed over to me for two sessions. Traffic was bad as there were many [Mazda] MX5 Cup cars practicing and every lap was baulked but I still came down to close to Tatsuya Tanigawa’s times."

So first impressions were very favourable although Khun Michael acknowledged that this test was a huge leap forward in terms of his driving career - he had never driven anything like this RX-8 before. "The car is simply awesome and the engine is powerful, so it’s big step over the Mazda2 and BT-50," he said.

The test was really all about acclimatisation, getting a first feel for the car and for the Knight Sports engineers to help him learn to understand the RX-8 and bed in. According to the schedule there should be just enough time before Bangsaen for a decent shakedown at Bira Circuit.

"I was learning about the grip levels, it was my first time with a sequential gearbox, a new circuit, it was not a great seating position and closing in on the traffic at rates I am not used too," said Khun Michael. "But I was really happy with my performance. I had two slow second gear spins and some struggles with the right gear selection that were part of the most satisfaction I’ve ever had in racecar."

The Macau Grand Prix weekend is scheduled to take place on 13-16 November, which is exactly a month before the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival. It means that once the RX-8 is shipped straight to Thailand afterwards the Innovation Motorsport crew will have to work round the clock to prepare the car, as Khun Michael explains. "The car will come here straight after Macau and will be rebuilt in Thailand after it arrives and given a shakedown at Bira."

However, as Innovation Motorsport is part of the multinational RMA Group - where specialist advanced engineering is part of the fabric - this is a team that has all the best technicians in all positions and they're backed up by well-equipped facilities.

Very usefully too, for Bangsaen the Innovation engineers’ will enjoy addition assistance in running their new racecar. "Nakamura-San owner of Knight Sports decided after the test that he will support the team at Bangsaen and will also come along with two or three technicians," says Khun Michael.

For the driver it’s going to be a big career step. Fast and determined he made his name in truck racing - in fact he already has a Bangsaen winners’ trophy in his cabinet - and Khun Michael has really taken a step forward with the Mazda2 programme over the last year and a half. Although the B-segment car’s development has been right from scratch and the engines lack the top end grunt of their main rivals, Khun Michael has developed into a regular fixture on the highly competitive Super Production overall podium.

But now he faces the biggest challenge of his career - and he’s relishing in. "Now it’s up to me to get fit and lose five kilos before December and finally put to rest any thoughts of a truck comeback at Bangsaen," he says with a laugh.

With his first test in the RX-8 successfully completed, Khun Michael’s attention will turn next to Buriram where Innovation Motorsport will be running its Mazda2s for the Australian and his teammate Khun Pete Thongchua. Then, following the trip eastwards, the team will then have to dig deep and prepare for the arrival of the new car.

Interestingly, and most appropriately, the RX-8 will be finished in the same official factory Mazda SkyActiv ‘Soul Red’ colors as the Mazda2s, emphasising the factory’s closeness to this programme. It’s a big step for Khun Michael, he’s never raced a Super Car before, but clearly he has the speed and ability and Mazda have faith in him. "I want to thank Knight Sports for the trust they put in me for this test," he added.

Khun Umar arrives at the top

He's a very familiar face in the Thai paddock. A gentleman driver who doesn't accept any career limits. He's pushed and pushed his way upwards and now he's all set to climb onto the top rung of the motorsport ladder in Thailand and join Super Car Class 1-GT3. Khun Umar A. Rahman is the driver and he’s going to be a very welcome addition to the highly competitive top category grid at Buriram in November.

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 seen at Sepang during TSS Race 1 & 2

In making the final step, a jump from Super Car Class 2-GTM to Super Car Class 1-GT3, it's set to be something of an evolutionary process for Khun Umar as he will be swapping his regular Lamborghini Gallardo Super Trofeo for a Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2.

However the similarities really stop with the brand and model name. From the Gallardo Super Trofeo, which forms the backbone of Lamborghini's ‘one make’ race series in Europe, the US and Asia, a more mildly modified end of the scale machine, he's stepping into another version of the supercar that is a totally different animal, the fearsome state of the art race bred Gallardo GT3 FL2. The final tag in the name - 'FL2' - immediately denotes that this is the very latest version of a powerful winning breed of the ‘Bull’.

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 shakedown test at Bira Circuit last month

In fact this will actually be the machine that Vattana Motorsport team leader Khun Chonsawat Asavahame campaigned in TSS last year as well as during the 2014 season opener in Sepang. So it's proven fast, reliable, capable - and also a previous overall winner.

Khun Chonsawat moved onto a brand new Gallardo GT3 FL2 in time for the most recent TSS round, held last month, vacating his previous machine, so that has given Khun Umar the opportunity to make the step forward. As a Vattana motorsport driver he has the perfect support package right behind him to extract the full potential of this machine as this Bangkok based team is the official Reiter Engineering agent for Thailand; Reiter Engineering is the experienced German concern that builds these sophisticated racecars.

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 seen at Sepang during TSS Race 1 & 2

So what was the attraction for Khun Umar to run in the top racing category in Thailand - apart from the obviously unmissable chance to drive a pukka GT3 machine in anger? "The main reason [for] moving upwards is actually I would like to now further my racing activity to a higher class," Khun Umar says. "No doubt I only spent little time in Class 2, but it was fun to drive the Super Trofeo which I believe is the best machine in its class."

Khun Umar reckons that due to his racing career kicking off more recently than that of other drivers, the onus is on him to push as fast as he can towards his peak and not sit back; that really is the essence of any hungry racing driver. "I started racing a bit late compared to others, thus my age is not young anymore and I have to make the best of time whilst I still have the energy to move forward," he explains.

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 shakedown test at Bira Circuit last month

With a firm grounding in motorsport and having enjoyed a smooth progression through the ranks, he says that it's now the perfect time to open up a new chapter. "I spent a bit of time on lower capacity engines driving [in] one make races and touring cars which I believe gives me the basic tricks of racing, which is very useful before stepping to Super Cars," he says. "I don't believe in short cuts in dealing with speed as any mistakes could be very serious both on safety and commercial grounds."

As a longtime Vattana Motorsport driver and having already progressed to Super Car Class 2-GTM with the Gallardo Super Trofeo, plumping for the blistering GT3 version was a no brainer, especially as Vattana is the official agent for the car's builder, meaning full factory backing is right there in the garage. "The Gallardo is a good and reliable machine," Khun Umar says. "Having been in the Vattana team, it is best to go that way as we have the ultimate technical support from Reiter."

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 seen at Sepang during TSS Race 1 & 2

Khun Umar will debut his new car at Buriram in November but he admits it's going to be a case of bedding himself in and a steep learning curve is ahead. "I do not expect a quick and have a surprise victory in the upper class as all names behind their machines are among the greatest drivers in Thailand," he admits. "I'm looking forward for my debut in Buriram and I will go from there for whatever chapter [is] coming next."

He's had his first, albeit brief, shakedown in the new car although a technical issue restricted him to just a handful of exploratory laps. However it was a good acclimatisation with the racing cockpit and offered him a quick glimpse of this machine's immense power. "My first impression?" he says with a laugh. "As I expected the [Gallardo] GT3 is an awesome machine with great power now it's a matter of how much I can cope with the car for the very next race."

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 shakedown test at Bira Circuit last month

However there wasn't an awful lot that could be drawn from the shakedown. "I tested with old tyres and couldn't really determine the actual settings that would suit me for the best performance," he admits.

It's unquestionably a big step for any driver to go from Class 2-GTM to Class 1-GT3 and Khun Umar is under no illusions that he's really going to have to raise his game. However he has a deep passion for racing and is raring to go. "It's challenging and I'm really looking forward to be at work in the cockpit again soon," he adds.

Khun Umar's new Gallardo GT3 seen at Sepang during TSS Race 1 & 2

It all means that the biggest team in Thai racing - Vattana Motorsport - is going to get even bigger in Buriram and field another Gallardo in Super Car Class 1-GT3. That means there will be at least four of the ‘Raging Bull’ machines on the grid and Khun Umar will be an exciting addition to those ranks.

Who is Khun Poomee Phromatham?

That's a question that's been asked an awful lot in the paddock this season. Who exactly is Khun Poomee Phromatham? Seemingly from nowhere he arrived at Bira Circuit in July as the ‘Eco’ pace setter after the opening chapter of this season in Thai motorsport and he didn't lift his foot off the gas over the three races that comprised the opening round of the 2014 Super Eco championship. Three wins out of three - including one where he was forced to battle hard to reach the front thanks to the reverse top-five grid format.

He left Pattaya with maximum points and his reputation not just intact but bolstered. He was also the only driver to dip into the 1:17s. With such a turn of pace he was in the gun sights of the scrutineers, but the #18 Honda Brio was given the all clear. With five races remaining he's in prime position to make a serious run on the title and his rivals have been simply left scratching their heads.

So where did he come from? In fact this is Khun Poomee's second season in the racing cockpit but he didn't make too many waves last year so the name didn’t resonate. "I started in Toyota in 2013 but the result wasn't that good at all," he explains. "I finished around 13 out of 30 cars but because the cars are similar but not the same with all the suspension setup it was like a trial for us as we are still fresh.

So it was a case of being in at the deep end. "It was kind of new for us last year," he agrees. And as well as a new driver, his team, C-Four Motorsport, is also new and growing up with him. Driving a Vios in the Toyota One Make Race however whetted his appetite and he looked around for the next career step - and logically he saw it as joining Super Eco. "For this year I switched to [the] Honda Brio and it's been really good for me," he says. The signs were quickly there as he in fact made his Brio debut late last year and promptly earned his first podium. "In my first race with the Brio I got third place in the Honda Night Race in October."

He was also on the podium for his opening race of 2014. "For the first race this year my car was exactly standard as it came out of the factory, the gearbox is also stock, the engine is also stock, I qualified second, finished third."

Those runs warmed him up nicely for the start of the TSS Super Eco season - the biggest prize in ‘Eco’ racing. "Later on we tried to do some modifications on the gearbox and engine just a little bit to fit the regulations and the outcome was pretty good," he says.

So what is the secret of the runaway success he is now enjoying in his rookie year? And it really is runaway; no one else has been able to keep up with him so far. This however is clearly an intelligent and analytical driver, he's carefully thought his way through every single aspect of racing a car - as well as every single twist, turn and bump of Bira Circuit. He puts his pace down to a lot of practice, day after day at Bira, learning, benchmarking and improving.

"I've been here quite a lot of times for practicing and so on and I feel like I've paid for the practice sessions more than the value of the car," he says with a laugh. "As I came here almost every day for the early stages but people didn't realise or notice I was here.

"I come here and keep practicing so we get the reference time for the lap so when I'm in the race I'm competing against myself for the best time rather than with anyone else, that's how I look at it," Khun Poomee continues.

And he's combining that thinking with obvious mental strengths. So what's the motivation driving him to the front? "Determination, everything based on determination," he says emphatically. "All of my support has come from my brother, he keeps saying do you best, so I keep trying to do my best."

If Khun Poomee wins the title - and it’s really looking that way - he won't be able to race in Super Eco next year as the category is being reserved for novice drivers and so he's already thinking ahead, looking at the next step to take his career forward. "I will try [Super] Production 1500 and we have already started preparing a new car for myself which is the new-generation Jazz GK," he reveals. "So it's being modified, putting roll bars in and safety equipment."

Khun Poomee's new Honda Jazz GK racecar is now taking shape

In fact such is the pace of the preparation that it should be ready to start testing later this month - and that should put the car in prime position for a TSS debut at Buriram in November. If people didn’t know who Khun Poomee was, then they are really going to know about it as he will double up in the hotly competitive Super Eco and the even more ferocious Super Production.

Resolving engine compression

On Tuesday morning TSS held a technical seminar to explain in detail the rules and regulations surrounding engine compression - one of the key issues that has arisen this year during racecar scrutineering. Our own scrutineering team was on hand to instruct representatives of the teams involved in TSS to ensure everyone has a very clear understanding of this issue.

TSS has put fairness and equality at the core of the ‘New Era’ of Thai motorsport, and so application of the rules and regulations is being strictly enforced by our scrutineering team to ensure that no one gains any unfair advantage.

Competitors need to be fully reassured that everyone else is adhering to the same rules - and that is the task of the scrutineering team. Engine compression has been the main standout issue this year with a number of cars being excluded from both Race 1 & 2 at Sepang and Race 3 & 4 at Bira.

Thus the seminar sought to analyse the rules focused around compression, how they are defined and how the scrutineers will measure it, explained TSS Race Director Khun Preeda Tantemsapya on the sidelines of the event. "Today we are demonstrating how compression is measured by our standards," he said. "We do it the way it’s been universally done but most of the mechanics have built up different information from one to another over time and so what we are trying to do today is to get all our points across and make everyone understands the same procedure of measuring compression."

Khun Preeda pointed out that engine compression has been an area that many cars have fallen foul of this year so far, so it stood out as requiring explaining in detail. "The reason for doing this is there are a few cars that have been disqualified once this rule has been governed strictly, which it has been this year," he said.

"The reason for doing this today has been that the understanding of the measuring by the teams has come from different teachers or instructors in the past, so this is really to get everything clear and on the same understanding level.

"Hopefully we have got our point across and any questions that the teams have had have we have gladly entertained," Khun Preeda continued. "After today I think that from now on we can be sure everyone will understand the area of compression."

He also pointed out that the scrutineers are very detailed in their measurement of the engine and teams need to have a clear understanding of how they go about this task. "Today is about how to measure the displacement and how we go about measuring it, especially to make clear that it’s not just measured at one point, it’s all the way round, at any point."

With around sixty people, including drivers and representatives from the teams, all attending the seminar, which was held at Bangkok’s Soopanava Port, the attendance was higher than had been anticipated.

Significantly, this pointed to a strong interest in developing knowledge, reckoned Khun Preeda. "We didn’t think there would be this many people coming in and they are focused on what we are doing and they want to learn and have the same understanding," he said. "Once they know we do this for their sake also I think we can move much more further and all develop better understandings."

Iconic pairing

Getting to the front of the pack in motorsport is a tough, hard and ruthless business - but even so there is always a little bit of room for romantic stories. In Khun ‘Kiki’ Sak Nana, Thai motorsport has a urban legend personified, his rise to the top has become a myth that has been retold time and again by his many fans - arguably he is the most popular driver in the sport here.

The arrival of dazzlingly exotic brands such as Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini and Aston Martin has also added a new romance to the unfolding TSS story. So then add the two together, it was somewhat inevitable really. This year Khun Kiki has swapped mounts and he’s now driving Porsche’s evocative 997 GT3-R, the state-of-the-art racer that swept to last year’s Super Car Class 1-GT3 title.

Khun Kiki has raced many brands of car over his successful career but his connection with the legendary German sportscar maker has been a longtime coming - even if one day the two were always destined to make the connection.

"To be honest Porsche has been my favourite since I was born," Khun Kiki said in the paddock at Bira Circuit during the last TSS round where he was debuting the Krating Daeng-sponsored 997 GT3-R. "When I was born my father loved Porsches so much and even until now. He had the first 911 model and he still owns that one at home, the car has done 30,000 km and still looks brand new.

"So in my brain it’s Porsche, Porsche, Porsche," he says with a laugh. "Because my Dad used to own a Jaguar E-type, and an Alfa [Romeo], and a Ferrari, he would say all these cars are ‘scheisser’ but the Porsche is the one that never goes wrong, you can drive it to Singapore or China and back and it won’t ever go wrong.

"But I never really believed him, but in the same time I own Lamborghini and Ferrari, but twenty years down the line owning Porsche I find that whatever my Dad says is true," he continues. "With Porsches never one thing goes wrong, but others breakdown. So I think you have to trust your father and the racecar is the same thing.

Having taken his career up a big step and raced in Europe over the last few seasons where he’s competed in many top events - such as the Nürburgring 24 Hours - has perfectly exposed Khun Kiki to the real cutting edge of racecar technology and development. "After I went to Germany for the last three years I have been driving so many cars, pretty much all the top cars, so I seem to be in love with this car more than any other car," he says.

"So when Peter [Rohwer], Khun Vutthikorn’s manager, invited me to join the Porsche Team Thailand, I was very grateful and very happy for him to ask me," Khun Kiki adds. TSS Super Car Class 1-GT3 champion Khun Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak is the official Porsche importer for Thailand and with six Super Car titles he’s made Porsche the brand name to aspire to in racing here.

This latest 997 GT3-R to arrive here is the very final one of this hugely successful line, built over the winter to match the specifications of the similar racecars of Khun Vutthikorn and Khun Piti Bhirombhakdi. "So another good thing the Porsche factory allow me to drive this car because I register as one of the Porsche drivers of the Thailand team," Khun Kiki notes. "Porsche says even if you are the Sultan of whatever country you can’t buy the car, but unless you are the driver of Porsche China or Thailand or whatever. So I’m very lucky to own it."

Khun Kiki was very quickly into the groove during pre-race testing at Bira Circuit and on his first day in the car - his shakedown - he was lapping as fast as he had managed during the whole of the previous year when he was driving a Lamborghini Gallardo GT3. Clearly car and driver were very comfortable with each other. "I already love this car more than any other racecar," he said.

This is a driver who wears his heart on his sleeve and he really fits the overused tag of ‘born to race’. His enthusiasm for racing rubs off on everyone around him - but he’s also committed, focused and a real street fighter on track. Now he has the tools to get on the podium and fight for victory especially as he has the support he needs behind him. "To be honest this is the first racecar I feel excited to buy, he says. "But ok I have a job to do to drive it."

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