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Thailand’s most competitive racing category, Super Car Class 2-GTM, is set to continue its relentless growth this year with new cars and drivers being announced to join the ranks even though the start of the Thailand Super Series (TSS) season still around four months away.

saravut - sawaAnd in terms of new drivers this week comes news that the ‘Sereethoranakul’ name is set to double up on the grid as, while well established Super Car star, Khun Sarun, will trade up to an exciting new machine for the new season, his younger brother, Khun Saravut, will smoothly step into his now vacant Porsche 997 GT3 Cup to join Super Car for the first time. And on his rookie year Khun Saravut isn’t planning to make up the numbers either, last Tuesday he kicked off his pre season training programme at Bira Circuit with Japanese pro Keita Sawa on hand to guide him.

The newest cutting edge racecars are coming here in ever growing numbers and at Bangsaen last November the representation from Porsche’s latest-generation 991 GT3 Cup in the series expanded to three. Top Super Car driver Khun Aekarat Discharoen who has traded up from the 997 that has previously carried him to victory in Class 2-GTM has just acquired one of the newly arrived ‘991’ racecars.

He debuted his new car in Bangsaen and as the machine only arrived in Thailand a few days before the event kicked off and was in ‘Cup’ specification the week was really something of an extended test session. Certainly though Khun Aekarat looked quick and the driver said it was a definite all round improvement over the 997 so expect fireworks this season.

Finally, Super 1500 has long been a racing category that’s offered strong appeal towards the ‘middle’ of the TSS ‘ladder’, providing a viable and effective stepping stone to Super 2000 and it comes with strict cost controls. Entry has always been accessible and that’s meant enduring popularity – and close racing. As the times are changing in Thai motorsport so the category will evolve this season.

Super 1500 however signed off the 2015 season in real style on the streets of Bangsaen with two explosive races that saw the advantage changing by the lap. In the end a new champion was crowned, well not quite new as Khun Nuttapong Lertlumprasertkul also won this title four years ago, but he had to work all the way to the checkered flag of the final race to secure honours for a second time.

New name from a familiar family

Another new driver has announced he will join the top ranks of TSS this year. However the overall package will include some familiarity of ‘Super Car’ – the car is certainly very familiar to the fans and so is his second name; the first name is new though, even if he’s quite well known, a regular in the TSS paddock and indeed a regular of the Thai supercar scene.

aekarat - 1That’s because Khun Saravut Sereethoranakul will be joining Super Car this year, taking over the potent #55 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup that’s been vacated by his brother, Sarun, who is moving onto a new machine for the 2016 Class 2-GTM season.

Khun Saravut arrives with a very solid motorsports background. Just like his brother, Khun Sarun, he’s best known for competing in drift racing, in fact the pair are successful former teammates, while he started off in karts, circuit raced in cars such as the ubiquitous Mitsubishi Evo and is also recognised for his drag racing exploits with powerful quarter-mile machines.

When Khun Sarun switched from drifting to Super Car two years ago it was really only a matter of time before Khun Saravut also made the move to the upper categories. “I came to see my brother race many times,” he says. “Supercars are my life, I join supercar activities on track days with Ferrari and Lamborghini. Every time I see my brother race and racing is challenging, it needs skill, and I think it’s fun.”

With Khun Sarun now preparing to step up a notch to race an exciting new car this year his successful #55 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup becomes available, a car that’s carried him to multiple podium finishes in Class 2-GTM over the last two seasons. The ‘997’ is certainly a demanding racecar with its rear mounted engine and unique dynamic characteristics, but Khun Saravut won’t have to start quite from scratch, it’s no surprise to find he has a 911 Turbo in his road car collection.

So with a capable machine for his entry into Super Car, the #55 Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, already ‘in the family’ so to speak, it’s now down to bedding in and preparing for the new season. That in fact started with a first track test, held at Bira Circuit last Tuesday. “I’m training and practicing with [Keita] Sawa my coach, who is [also] my brother’s coach,” he said after the day-long test had wrapped up. ”I’m getting used to [the car] but we have another four months, I used to race on Bira, but need to practice a lot.”

Guiding Khun Saravut up to circuit racing speed is the task of Japanese pro driver Khun Keita Sawa – and he comes with a proven track record in this department. Over the last two years he’s worked with Khun Sarun as he adapted his racing skills from drifting to a very different circuit racing application.

The result at the end of his ‘Season 2’ in Super Car is a driver that has now placed himself amongst the best drivers in Thailand. So Khun Keita certainly seems up to the job. But now he’s going to have to start all over again and perform the same task with Khun Saravut. “He already has experience of drifting and he has potential but he doesn’t have experience of circuit racing,” admitted Khun Keita during the test day, a hot and dry Tuesday at the Pattaya circuit. “We’re [improving] his driving style so until the season opens we will do private training.”

The Japanese driver reckons that Khun Saravut will be able to hold his own in Super Car, but he has plenty of work to do. “For sure during the next two to three months he will do more and more and become better [but] I don’t expect too much at first,” he says. “Making good [lap] times doesn’t make for a good race [so] now he tries to understand the system of driving.”

Khun Keita sees a clear similarity between Khun Saravut and the excellent progress his older brother has made. “I try to make him 60 to 70 percent completed as a driver to start with,” he says. “Now he can do 4 seconds slower than me, Sarun is about 1 second slower [now], so he has to close [up and] improve [that difference].”

Super Car star trades up

Last year Porsche’s new-generation ‘991’ GT3 Cup joined the Super Car ranks. The first example to arrive in Thailand stood out too as Khun Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem acquired the 991 raced by factory driver Khun Martin Ragginger during the 2014 season of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) and he retained much of the car’s striking gold wrap for his TSS campaign. Khun Pitsanu quickly started getting to grips with the new car and it soon became very clear that the long serving ‘997’ generation was now showing its age.

By the time Bangsaen loomed into view last November there were two more 991s lodged on the entry list, although the trailblazing ‘gold’ car was absent from the season closer’s grid as Khun Pitsanu had picked up a sporting injury.

The new pair of 991s were in fact quite familiar to TSS fans. Last year three very recognisable Thai drivers contested PCCA and two of that trio, Khun Suttiluck Buncharoen and Khun Sontaya Kunplome, had their respective cars shipped back to Thailand immediately after the season finished. While Khun Suttiluck would hop back into the cockpit of his familiar matte-black car in Bangsaen with a full season of PCCA experience in it behind him, Khun Sontaya’s blue-and-white example was instead acquired by leading Super Car star, Khun Aekarat Discharoen.

The two 991s only arrived in Thailand a few days before the Speed Festival got underway and that meant there was no time for any shakedown tests and so they would be run in PCCA’s standard ‘MY2016’ specification and thus weren’t optimised for Class 2-GTM.

Khun Aekarat had previously notched up a win in Super Car with his 997 (in Buriram in late 2014) but he would now have a steep mountain to climb to learn the intricacies of his new 991 and be ready for the event’s three races, although in reality he was treating the whole of the Bangsaen week as an extended shakedown test.

He quick got down to work and after bedding into the car during practice he posted a 1:45.497 in qualifying and that was good enough to plant him on the fifth row of the grid. Job well done.

Now well used to the unique characteristics of the rear engine Porsche sportscar breed, upgrading to the 991 was a logical choice, reckoned Khun Aekarat. “I love the Porsche and I think this is the good car,” he said in the paddock at Bangsaen after getting a few sessions on the track under his belt. “It’s the perfect car for racing, everything is designed for racing and it’s low maintenance, everything is easy to set, to adjust [and] to match with the track.”

Khun Aekarat said he immediately noticed improvements that the 991 offers over the 997. “They are a lot different,” he explained. “The 991 is easier to drive, the track is a little bit wider and longer, it has a paddleshift [operated] gearbox which makes it easier to drive also and more comfortable compared to the 997.”

“It’s like a test,” he admitted. But, for the first time in Super Car history, there were three races in one event, so it became something of an extended race test. In the first race, held late on the Friday afternoon, Khun Aekarat had a superb debut in the 991. Right on the pace from the green lights he moved up to finish in P6, just one place off the podium and was locked tightly onto the tail of the cars in front and only three seconds away from the third placed driver when the checkered flag was flourished, although Bangsaen makes passing very tricky and with a new car in shakedown mode and championship points being irrelevant he wasn’t going for heroics.

Significantly, his best lap of the race, in 1:44.939, was set with just two laps of the race remaining and on by then very well worn tyres; that tipped him under the 1:45 barrier and was the fourth quickest of the race and demonstrated, literally, that he was getting faster in the car lap by lap.

Khun Aekarat followed that strong first race result up with two more top ten finishes although his qualifying performance dictated that he would spend the weekend chasing the leading cars in front on a narrow and very difficult to pass circuit. Clearly though this driver-car combination is going to be one to look out for this season when the package is honed and fully up to speed.

“This is my first time to drive this car,” he said afterwards. “I’m okay, I’m happy with the weekend and I just try to adjust the settings a little bit as I don’t have settings for this track with the 991.”
 
Bangsaen: Super 1500 Saturday Race Report
 
This was yet another category that saw the destiny of the title going right down to the wire as the two title contenders came into Bangsaen separated by just 5 points. Khun Nuttapong Lertlumprasertkul had edged into the lead of the classification, thanks to an impressive double win at the previous round at Bira Circuit to make it four wins from six races, while Khun Kajornsak, the outgoing Super Production vice champion had two wins – but crucially he had scored in every race so far and that had kept in right in the hunt for the title.

With all the wins so far this year divided between the two of them it seemed unlikely that anyone else was going to get a look in on the streets of Bangsaen as Khun Nuttapong and Khun Kajornsak slugged it out one last time for the title.
 
After qualifying it certainly didn’t look like they were going to share spoils with any other competitors either with first blood going to Khun Nuttapong with an unbeaten time of 2:03.019 (108.276 km/h). That was a second and a half faster than Khun Kajornsak meaning those two locked out the front row of the grid, although the latter would have to find more pace during the races if he was going to overhaul the championship points’ deficit.

The Ford Fiesta driver, whose best lap was a 2:04.698, had another problem too – he would also have to look over his shoulder as Khun Nuttapong’s teammate and brother, Khun Komkrit, posted the third fastest time. Khun Komkrit’s quickest lap was in 2:04.717 and that meant he was just 0.019 seconds adrift and would lead out Row 2 with Khun Isara Limthanetkul alongside him, a further eight-tenths of a second back.

At the green lights it was Khun Komkrit who seized a wide open door, he simply powered up the outside through Turn 1 as Khun Nuttapong covered the options of his championship rival to the inside. Into Turn 2 Khun Komkrit came in wide to sweep into the lead while Khun Nuttapong closed off Khun Kajornsak, who was looking to his inside, and as the pack powered up the hill it was the two green and black Honda Civics in control at the front.

By the time the cars had gone up and down the mountain section and into the hairpin the two Honda drivers had pulled a couple of cars lengths out over Khun Kajornsak who was having to fend off Khun Isara, the #155 Honda driver after having made a very good start was now taking a good look down the inside of the Fiesta through Turn 2. On their tail came Khun U-tain Pongprapas who was also looking quick.
 
By the time the leading cars got to the roundabout the top three were locked together and Khun Komkrit had the two championship leaders all over the back of him. Khun Nuttapong had to find a way past while at the same time fending off Khun Kajornsak who was hoping to capitalise on any mistake. Down the start-finish straight for the second time Khun Komkrit had a little bit more power than his rivals and held P1 as they thundered into the mountain section.

However the lead battle changed abruptly as the cars ran down to the chicane for the second time, Khun Komkrit suddenly slowing with transmission problems and that allowed Khun Nuttapong to nip through into the lead while Khun Kajornsak was also immediately through and into P2 without losing any time. Within the space of a few meters Khun Isara got past into P3 and in fact Khun Komkrit would miss out the chicane and coast to a halt, his race over.

Over the next few turns Khun Kajornsak pressured Khun Nuttapong for the lead but he soon started to show signs of a problem as he dropped back a few car lengths. Clearly he was struggling as into the mountain section for the third time Khun Isara powered past him out of Turn 4.

After attempting to regain second place from Khun Issares over the next few turns, Khun Kajornsak then fell back into the clutches of Khun U-tain who outbraked him on the inside into the S2 Bangsaen Hotel Hairpin to claim P3 and then the following Khun Teerasak Sakphaet powered past on the main straight to depose the Fiesta to P5 as the cars completed the third lap. With Khun Nuttapong now stretching out a lead at the front it wasn’t looking at all promising for the title for Khun Kajornsak. As it stood there was a now a 15 point deficit ‘on the road’ in terms of the classification.

The race settled down for a few laps until the Safety Car was deployed to remove Khun Komkrit’s stricken Honda and as the pack slowed down to a trundle and linked back up it was Khun Nuttapong, who saw his healthy advantage at the front wiped out, from Khun Isara, Khun U-tain, Khun Teerasak, Khun Kajornsak and the #128 Honda Khun Chanapol Choochavalit.

After a couple of laps circulating behind the Safety Car at the green lights for the restart at the beginning of the seventh lap Khun Nuttapong kept his lead intact but there was further agony for Khun Kajornsak as his car was swallowed up and he dropped to the back of the pack, finishing the lap in ninth place.
 
Khun Kajornsak dug in and pulled back a couple of places on the next lap, the eighth of the race, to climb up to P7 but the gaps had grown in front of him. At the front, meanwhile, Khun Nuttapong quickly pulled out a couple of seconds but the main action of this stage of the race saw Khun Isara come under intense pressure from Khun U-tain who had strong designs on P2.

The race would stay that way until the end of the tenth lap when Khun Teerasak coasted to a halt just yards short of the line and that allowed Khun Chanapol to move up to P4 overall with Khun Naratip Kerdchuay picking up P5 and Khun Kajornsak adding a couple of vital extra points as he took P6. Khun Teerasak however recovered the car and cruised at a slower pace to the line, albeit down in ninth place.
 
Into the final lap and Khun Nuttapong eased off to allow Khun Isara to close up, but behind him Khun U-tain who had dropped back a couple of lengths away from the black #155 Honda after his sustained pressure hadn’t seen him find a way past instead ran wide out of Turn 11 and into the tyre barrier. However the damage was light and he was able to collect the car and retain his P3 as the car behind was almost half a minute adrift.

So after 13 laps Khun Nuttapong took a 2.485 second victory over Khun Isara and more importantly a maximum score of 20 points while with Khun Kajornsak finishing in fifth and collecting just 8 points, the championship classification had swung a further 12 points in the direction of the race winner. With the 5 point advantage that Khun Nuttapong had brought into the event, his cushion had now opened up to 17 points. It was 110 points for Khun Nuttapong and 93 points for Khun Kajornsak.
 
That meant, with just one race remaining, the eighth and final race of the year, Khun Kajornsak needed nothing short of a win with Khun Nuttapong retiring or finishing no higher than ninth place overall. Eighth place for Khun Nuttapong if Khun Kajornsak won the race would tie them equally on points but on countback Khun Nuttapong would still win the title.

It looked a slim possibility for the #104 Ford but his P5 in the first race however handed Khun Kajornsak pole for Race 2, thanks to the top five reverse grid rule, and Khun Nuttapong would start from the third row. It wasn’t quite all over.
 
Second place went to Khun Issares while a swift recovery from his last lap accident saw Khun U-tain finish third to bag Class C victory and it was a comfortable win, 24 seconds ahead of Khun Naratip who claimed his third runners up finish of the year in Class C as well as fourth overall. Behind Khun Kajornsak, who took fifth overall, came Khun Chanapol, who finished third in Class C, while in seventh and eighth overall came Khun Wichaiyut Meesai and Chalemnpong Funna, the latter one lap down; these two drivers also claimed the last two steps on the Class C podium.

Missing out on the Class C podium was Khun Teerasak who still finished sixth in Class C and ninth overall despite a couple of very slow final laps of the race where he lost around two minutes a lap. However he had already wrapped up the Class C title at Bira so the loss of points wasn’t important.

Bangsaen: Super 1500 Sunday Race Report

The final race of the weekend for Super 1500 saw Khun Kajornsak line up on pole position with Khun Naratip alongside. Khun U-tain and Khun Isara were next to each other on Row 2 and this pair had battled together for much of the first race so more of the same could be expected.

At the start Khun Kajornsak kept everything smooth and tidy while Khun Naratip was swallowed up by the pack, Khun Isara and Khun U-tain going down either side of him as the field accelerated through Turn 1 and just behind them Khun Nuttapong swept one way and then the other as he looked to make up places.
 
The Fiesta led the pack into Turn 2 and up into the mountain section while behind him Khun Isara and Khun U-tain were side by side through the sharp lefthander, the former getting the nod thanks to holding the inside line, and Nuttapong also capitalised on Khun Naratip slipping back to move up a place to P4. Khun Chanapol held P6 while Khun Komkrit, who had started from the back, was up to P7, and Khun Naratip after dropping back held P8.

Khun Nuttapong nipped past Khun U-tain, who was having a problem with his third gear, as they raced through the mountain section and by the time the pack dropped down to the hairpin the championship leader was locked onto the back of Khun Isara, the top three running as one. Khun Nuttapong, who needed just three points to be assured of the title didn’t look like he was going to take the cautious route to the title, as he really was a driver on the move.

Behind them Khun U-tain’s gear problem saw him drop further back and as he braked for the hairpin he was tapped by Khun Chanapol, who was swarming all over him as he swung into the circuit’s tightest turn. Khun U-tain spun round on the inside and had to wait until the rest of the field had picked it way round the outside of the #198 Honda before he could turn back round and proceed.

Khun Nuttapong outbraked Khun Isara into the S2 Bangsaen Hotel hairpin to move into second place. Holding that position it really was game over in terms of the championship – albeit with 12 laps of the race still to race. Also on the move on the first lap was Khun Teerasak who had started the race from the back. He made a good start and then pushed Khun Naratip over the second half of the lap before deposing him out of P6.

Khun Komkrit had a wide moment into the S2 Bangsaen Hotel Hairpin but rejoined and lost virtually no time, a little further back though Khun U-tain peeled off into the pits to retire. “After the hit at the U-turn, my gears were damaged because the gear leaver got pushed and forced in and my second, third, fourth and final gears were gone,” he explained. “I went around the track slowly thinking I could bring the car [to the finish] but I couldn’t and retired.”

The top three – Khun Kajornsak, Khun Nuttapong and Khun Isara – wouldn’t change positions for the rest of the race, from lap 1 to lap 13; the trio would soon split up to run lonely races, but behind them it was action all the way.

On the second lap Khun Teerasak moved up another spot to P5 as he got past Khun Chanapol and in fact he would be up to P4 the next lap as he went down the inside of the #134 Honda of Khun Komkrit, who was struggling with an LSD problem, through the hairpin. However a lap after that, the fifth of the race, Khun Teerasak slowed and pitted for his team to fix the issue and thus dropped to the back of the pack, allowing Khun Komkrit back into P4 and Khun Chanapol into P5.

Khun Komkrit then started to drop back as his transmission problem worsened and he would lose three places on the eighth lap as an impressively recovering Khun Teerasak went the other way, climbing three positions up to P5. In between them Khun Naratip and Khun Wichaiyut made and lost a place each. Quite a lap!
 
The race then settled down until the eleventh lap with just two to go and Khun Teerasak’s hard change up the order came to a messy end as he had a big moment through the chicane; he clipped the first section, lost grip and the car spun round and hit the barriers on the inside hard before bouncing round and onto the track. He was out on the spot.

That was it in terms of action and at the end of thirteen relentless laps Khun Kajornsak took an emphatic 18 second victory. That was his third of the year, a great result for his switch year to Super 1500 but it wasn’t enough to deprive Khun Nuttapong of the title as he safely brought the #141 Honda home next. That gave him his second Super 1500 championship title and his first in the ‘TSS era’ as his previous crown came in 2011. It was a controlled weekend’s performance with no hiccups and the season has really come to him during the closing stages. “I am very pleased, [it was] fun,” he said afterwards. “I like Bangsaen and I had no problems with the car.”

Another 15 seconds down the road was Khun Isara to claim P3 and, added to his P2 the previous day, that represented his best weekend of the Super 1500 year. He looked quick and tidy and the black #155 Honda was always on the pace over the weekend.

Khun Chanapol took fourth place to win Class C. While that was his first Class C win of the season it was also his best overall finish of the year, roundly topping his previous high point of sixth place, a position he had achieved no less than four times previously during the season, including during the day before, while fifth overall went to Khun Naratip who enjoyed his best weekend of the year and that equated to the runners up spot in Class C.

With an ailing car Khun Komkrit however held on to claim seventh place while Khun Chalemnpong wrapped up the top eight overall and took third in Class C.

In the final championship standings Khun Nuttapong has 125 points to Khun Kajornsak’s 113 points while the big mover on the classification table over the final weekend of the year was Khun Isara who arrived in Bangsaen in fifth place overall and, thanks to a second- and a third-place, moves up to third in the final overall standings with 83 points. Khun Teerasak (62 points), Khun Komkrit (62) and Khun Chanapol (42 points) wrap up the top six in the championship.
 
In Class C Khun Teerasak was crowed champion before he even set foot in Bangsaen, which was a good thing for the driver as he had a troubled weekend and despite showing a fast pace he left the seaside with his 6 points to his name. He ends the year on 116 points while Khun Chanapol, thanks to a second and third place, cements the runners up spot. Khun U-tain, who won Class C in the first race and retired in the second keeps hold of third place, ending the year with 75 points, while an excellent weekend for Khun Naratip sees him finish on 70 points and secure fourth in the class standings.

Ben Potter

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