Written by Edd Ellison.
The ninth edition of the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival will see significant structural changes as the street circuit achieves FIA Grade level status for the first time. One year short of the tenth anniversary running, next month event will usher in the ‘second generation’ of the Speed Festival.
Last year saw a real international breakthrough for Bangsaen in terms of both growing recognition and wider regional interest and that was the catalyst to introduce operational upgrades that will be phased in over two years to bring the event up to a world class standard in time for the landmark tenth edition in late 2016.
Last year saw track design inspectors observe the event in detail and that has been followed up with multiple survey visits, detailed computer modeling and improvements put into motion to reach FIA approval, the processes being submitted and analysed by motorsport’s world governing body in steps this year.
Of key significance in terms of track layout will be two new runoff areas that will reduce potential flashpoints. They are Turn 8, the sharp right hander at the end of the high speed straight incorporating the temporary chicane and, probably the most significantly, at Turn 13 the sharp left hander at Laem Tan cape that has seen many drivers overcook it over the years and take a trip into the tyre wall.
“From the suggestions of [track designer] Simon Gardini from Apex those are two hotspots that we have had to take into consideration,” explains Khun Preeda. “At [Turn 8] we have managed to create an extension into the [grounds of the] Bangsaen Villa [Hotel]. The purpose there is to do a run off area incase the car comes in too fast so we were lucky to be able to extend that opening. The second [Turn 13] where frequently we would see accidents we have managed to extend it out with a runoff and there will be a permanent crane there now just like at Lisboa [a flashpoint 90 degree right hand corner] in Macau to lift off cars so it will be much quicker and the race can resume quicker than if we bring in a recovery truck.” Up to now the recovery truck used at Turn 13 has had to be deployed from the escape road at Turn 10, the ‘roundabout’, with the recovery operation then terminating in the paddock.
Another change to circuit safety in fact comes immediately after this tricky corner, on the inside between Turn 13 and Turn 14 where original stonewalls that have thus far formed a barrier will be upgraded. “The stone surface won’t suffice,” explains Khun Preeda. “The FIA suggested to us to eliminate all stone walls from the circuit. There is another as you go up Kao Samuk [between Turn 3 and Turn 4] where we used partially the existing stonewall and partially with fencing so we have to take out all the stone wall and have permanent fencing.”
All the arrangements of netted catch fencing, steel- and concrete-barriers are being optimised this year to meet demanding FIA requirements, as Khun Preeda explains. “The concrete barriers have to be reconfigured and improved and each one must now carry no less than four tons weight,” he says. “We are in the process of having them built now, the length of each has to be 4 metres and being that heavy we have to upgrade our forklift trucks to 10 ton [load capacity] ones.
“For the fencing we need to have the correct size of hole so the marshals can wave their flags and for their posts to be covered in a correct way,” he adds. Khun Preeda also notes that the horizontal sections of the guardrails need to be slightly adjusted in terms distance to each other in order to maximise their absorption capabilities in the event of contact.
With a permanent crane installed on the inside of Turn 13 (at the point of entry) reduction in racecar recovery times – and thus shortening yellow, red or Safety Car periods – will be improved and to further optimise the speed of recovery the number of trucks with cranes will be increased from the three used last year to four this year, each being situated strategically to cover a key section of the circuit.
The supporting medical facilities, very centrally located, will also see an upgrade this year. “The Medical Center will be up to FIA standards, such as having a bathtub incase of fire,” says Khun Preeda. “It will be located opposite 6 O’Clock [Restaurant, on Bangsaen Sai 2 Road].
That brings us to the key supporting structures. The first phase of a reorganisation of the dummy grid, paddock and administrative zone is being put into place with a large permanent paddock apron currently being constructed opposite the dummy grid area. This 9,000 sq. m. paddock will house all support series while Super Car and Super 2000 will remain in their traditional position on Beach Road as usual. The paddock will be accessed by a new large gate on Bangsaen Soi 5 (the first road running between Beach Road and Sai 2 Rd), big enough to allow full size transporters to access.
There will also be a new administrative zone located between Beach Road and the support paddock that will include the race organisers’ and VIP offices as well as the Media Center. Two new pedestrian gates have been fitted to allow access from the dummy grid area, eliminating the trestle bridge arrangement over the wall in recent years. This will create a more compact format which is easier to manage, will give better access for both teams and racecars making their way to live areas and especially for improved paddock security, which is very difficult to manage with the current highly spread out arrangement.
The year-by-year growth of the Beach Road paddock had reached a tipping point where a new long-term practical solution was required. “Last year the extension of the pit got beyond being able to control it all in a correct manner,” notes Khun Preeda. “The stretch was 1.6 kilometres from one end to the other, it creates a lot of traffic problems.”
Moving the support series paddock will in turn extend further the reach of Beach Road during the Speed Festival and that will improve spectator traffic flows, as well as allowing fans and racecars to enjoy greater parking facilities and access to beachside food outlets.
With a little over a month still remaining until the Speed Festival gets underway work is underway round the clock. The first phase sees the non-constricting structures installed. This includes barriers in the Kao Samuk section and grandstands on both sides of the start finish straight on the run up to Turn 2. Sections will gradually join up to complete the ‘jigsaw’ with the final pieces that close down routine access being moved into position overnight the day before the track goes live while at that point temporary foot and vehicle carrying bridges will move into operation to minimise inconvenience. Managing the smooth flow of traffic movements and access for local businesses and residents is always a key priority for the organizers and that process will in fact be greatly improved – and also made safer – by the required incorporation of new access gates in circuit barriers.
“The opening gates we had aren’t up to FIA standards so we have created thirty new gates that can be opened quite easily but can also be secured once the race starts on Tuesday,” says Khun Preeda. “The gates used to cause quite a few problems, for example the gates for going into the houses had to be closed down. The new permanent gates can be opened with convenience.” As well as improving safety, the gates will provide a double bonus by cutting down delays in operation and thus will increase convenience within the circuit zone.
Attaining FIA Grade 3 status has been a lengthy and demanding task – in fact the work started during the last edition of the Speed Festival almost exactly ten months ago when inspectors from Apex first examined the track in detail and observed the overall operation of the event – as well as involving significant investment by the organisers, but Khun Preeda is sure that it will all be worthwhile. “The final inspection by the FIA will be done on the Monday [22 November] but we can’t close the whole track down until the community are ready so the work will go on overnight and the final inspection won’t be done until Monday morning,” he says.
He’s confident that the circuit will meet all required criteria. “That will set Bangsaen up on the world motorsport map as another street circuit with FIA Grade 3 approval,” he adds. “It will be the same grade as Macau and I think with this grade the future of Bangsaen will look very bright especially for 2016 which will be our tenth anniversary and with that approval we can certainly draw in more international events next year.”