Breaking new ground and raising the bar are fundamentals of Thailand Super Series (TSS) and this news update focuses on two brand new – and clearly exciting – concepts. Last weekend TCR Asia Series came to fight out its second round in Thailand and four drivers from TCR Thailand, itself just a single event old, put straight into practice the core idea behind TCR Thailand, to be able to take on the best international drivers on even terms.
Meanwhile, the latest category in the bumper TSS programme is ‘Super Compact’ and this new initiative, a platform that’s also been designed to allow drivers and teams to make real progress up the racing ladder, kicked off during the season opener in the North East mid last month and it’s already showing signs of hitting the mark.
‘TCR’ has become one of the most widely spoken acronyms in Thai motorsport so far this year and that’s because this brand new racing format is already delivering on its promises. ‘TCR Thailand’ became the first national level ‘TCR’ championship in Asia when it took the green lights for the first time last month as part of the Thailand Super Series programme.
The bold idea behind TCR Thailand is equally balanced and cost effective ‘touring car’ style cars where drivers can develop and hone their skills. Importantly, the TCR platform applies complete parity across all its affiliated championships worldwide and so when TCR Asia Series came to Thailand last weekend it provided the perfect opportunity for Thai drivers to mix it up with the best in Asia while driving the same machinery and using the same tyres, all with the added benefit of the event playing out on ‘home soil’.
Four TCR Thailand drivers’ took up the challenge as TCR Asia Series hooked up with the Buriram Festival of Speed. Vattana Motorsport fielded its proven duo, Khun Jack Lemvard and Khun Narasak Ittritpong, in a SEAT Léon and a Honda Civic respectively, while two promising amateur drivers, Khun Nattachak Hanjitkasem and Khun Paritat Bulbon, were also on the entry list.
The quartet rose to the occasion and they all made it onto their respective podiums over the weekend. In the overall ‘pro’ level class Khun Jack and Khun Narasak flew the Vattana Motorsport flag high in their new ‘battleship grey’ livered racecars with a close 2-3 finish in the first race although in the second race mechanical issues set them both back, the latter retiring early on with brake problems while the former took a knock in his stride to still bring his SEAT home in an excellent fifth place.
In the AM class there was well-deserved double podium joy for Khun Nattachak. He won the class outright in the first race after seeing off many of the best amateur drivers plying their trade in Asia, turning in a superb drive where he showed a fast pace and steady rhythm coupled with keeping a cool head and in the end he was well rewarded with the top step of the podium. He followed that up with the runners up spot in Race 2. It was superb work from this driver who has taken a big step forward following several seasons racing in Super 2000.
Also bang on the AM class pace was Khun Paritat who looked quick in both races. Technical issues in the first race though saw him limping to the line but he wrapped up the weekend with a well judged drive to third place in Race 2 and that meant all the TCR Thailand drivers’ made a trip to the podium. The TCR concept is clearly delivering on its promises as it’s already breeding Thai drivers that can take on the cream of the established international competitors.
TCR Asia Series 2016, Buriram – Race 1
As the quartet of TCR Thailand drivers trundled round to form up on the grid last Sunday morning for the first race of the weekend the early questions had been answered, all our drivers lined up in a position of strength, all four were on the first four rows after each driver had raised their game during qualifying and pulled out excellent laptimes.
As one would expect Khun Jack Lemvard was the quickest, he planted the first of the Vattana Motorsport entries, the #44 SEAT, on Row 2 with a 1:45.477 best lap while alongside him was his teammate Khun Narasak Ittritpong on his debut in the team’s newly acquired Honda Civic TCR. This was Khun Narasak’s first time in a TCR event so he was happy with progress; in fact he was less than two-tenths away from Khun Jack’s time.
Completing the ‘TCR Thailand’ lineup was Khun Nattachak Hanjitkasem in the TBN MK Ihere Honda Civic TCR in seventh place and Khun Paritat Bulbon, in the Sloth Racing SEAT, who would form up alongside him on the inside of the fourth row.
The two ‘battleship grey’ Vattana cars were quickly on the move as soon as the lights turned green, helped by the fact that the front row sitters were a little tardy getting away from the standing start, as were several competitors at the tail end of the grid.
Khun Jack and Khun Narasak elbowed their way through and were level pegging on the run downhill to Turn 3 but polesitter Khun Andy Yan Cheuk Wei hung onto the inside line to put himself in the middle of a Vattana sandwich and as the leading trio powered round the hairpin and back up the hill it was Khun Jack from Khun Andy and Khun Narasak, the latter though ran wide at Turn 5 and dropped a place to Khun Kevin Tse Wing Kin.
Khun Jack led them over the line for the first time but his advantage was just 0.220 seconds over Khun Andy and the Hong Kong driver came at him along the straight where the VW Golf was showing a clear speed advantage over the SEAT, but Khun Jack successfully defended first place into Turn 1. It wasn’t just the Vattana drivers that were flying the flag for TCR Thailand as Khun Paritat made a superb start and to move up two places to finish lap 1 in sixth while Khun Nattachak had a slightly unsighted start and slipped to ninth.
Khun Jack held the advantage through the second lap but the SEAT was struggling for top end pace on the circuit’s signature long straights and the chasers were queuing up behind him. At the end of the second lap Khun Jack had four tenths of a second in hand as they crossed the line but Khun Andy was all over him and the Thai driver had to work really hard to defend the inside line into Turn 3; at this point the top four were all running tightly together.
TCR Thailand’s AM drivers were really flying now. Khun Nattachak had the bit between his teeth and picked off a place to move into eighth while a few metres further up the road Khun Paritat was now up into fifth as he had put a neat move on Khun Filipe de Souza through the final turn of the second lap while he was at the same time driving a great defensive race as he looked to make up places with the cars behind him locked on his tail. There was no room for any mistakes. Both Khun Paritat and Khun Bulbon were clearly looking for the AM class podium.
At the end of the third lap Khun Jack had half a second’s advantage but Khun Andy was much faster out of Turn 1 and onto the run downhill and he was side by side with the Vattana SEAT and gave him a little nudge in the rear. Khun Jack kept his cool though and held the racing line while Khun Narasak got past Khun Kevin past into third place. A little further back and Khun Paritat ran wide at the last turn and dropped a place.
Into lap 5 and finally Khun Andy made a pass stick, this time he successfully squeezed Khun Jack off the inside line into Turn 3, the Hong Kong driver was into the lead and Khun Jack now had Khun Narasak on his tail. Khun Jack wasn’t giving up P1 lightly although Khun Andy had six-tenths advantage as they crossed the line.
Khun Paritat now had a technical problem to contend with and was dropping away, he was down to ninth and looking like he wasn’t going to get a lot of reward for his excellent driving. However the other ‘AM’ driver, Khun Nattachak, was having a superb race, pulling back the places he lost at the start and was now into seventh and right on the rear bumper of the car in front.
At the end of the next lap, lap 6, Khun Andy had eased his lead out over Khun Jack to 0.909 seconds but the top four was still covered by just 2.7 seconds although there were few car lengths between them with Khun Narasak dropping back a second off his teammate. The top four would change though as the timing screens flashed up that Khun Kevin was “under investigation for a collision at Turn 5” and sure enough a lap later the Macau driver was in to serve a drive through penalty.
That turned the battle for P1 into a three-car affair and eased the pressure off Khun Narasak in third place. At the end of lap 7 Khun Andy had pulled out a cushion of 1.533 seconds at the front while Khun Narasak dropped to 1.9 seconds off Khun Jack so the front end battle was spacing out now.
With Khun Kevin serving his drive through penalty that dropped him to tenth and thus elevated Khun Nattachak to sixth place overall and Khun Paritat to seventh overall while they were both locking into the AM podium positions, it was looking at this point very promising for all four TCR Thailand drivers to be on the two podiums.
Khun Nattachak wasn’t hanging around either and had been right on the back of the Engstler-run VW Golf of Khun Filipe in front of him for a few laps now, but with that driver being in the overall battle, the Thai wouldn’t want to compromise his chances of a hardening AM class victory by trying too hard to get past and open up the possibility of an incident.
With three laps to go Khun Andy had edged the gap in front to 2.275 seconds over Khun Jack and it was really looking all over – that would prove to be the case over the final couple of laps as the VW Golf TCR had P1 under control.
However at the end of 15 laps Khun Jack brought the #44 Vattana Civic home in second place, just 2.7 seconds adrift of the Khun Andy, while Khun Narasak was a further 3.3 seconds behind his teammate to make it a 2-3 finish for Vattana Motorsport on their debut in TCR Asia Series, an excellent result and a real ringing endorsement for the competitiveness of TCR Thailand that its drivers had locked down two of the three overall podium steps.
Khun Jack admitted after the race that he simply couldn’t keep on equal terms with the race leader over the full race distance, there just wasn’t enough parity between the two to allow him to realistically challenge for the win. “I had a great start, but I didn’t have any straight-line speed, I think I was 10 [km/h] off,” he said.
“[Khun Andy] just got past me on the inside, I made a tiny mistake at Turn 1 and it was pointless to try to block him for 12 laps,” said the Vattana Motorsport driver afterwards. “I think we would have crashed and because of Race 2 being a only few hours later I settled for second.”
Khun Nattachak sealed a triumphant morning for the Thais by finishing in an excellent sixth place overall, but that heroic performance wasn’t the biggest story as he had won the AM class on his TCR Asia Series debut. There were last lap technical problems for Khun Paritat although he limped in to be classified in tenth place, scant reward after a promising race.
“I started in the middle pack and I was quite lucky in the first turn and took a couple of places and I was right in the battles but on the third or fourth lap I [flat] spotted my tyres and I had to slow down a bit and that was two places gone and after that I had a car problem over the last couple of laps,’ said Khun Paritat afterwards.
However, successfully nursing his SEAT to the checkered flag meant that all four TCR Thailand drivers had finished in the overall top ten. But much more than that simple statistic three of the four Thai entries were on one of the race’s two podiums – and that in truth was a better result than had been expected and it demonstrated that TCR Thailand is already hitting the marks it set out to reach.
TCR Asia Series 2016, Buriram – Race 2
The reverse grid jumbled up the top runners and that meant Khun Andy and Khun Jack were down on the fourth row while Khun Terrance Tse was on pole position. At the green lights though there was a slow getaway for Khun Narasak and he dropped back down the field after losing several seconds before he could hook the car up and get away.
As the pack surged down to Turn 3 Khun Jack came down the inside in an audacious move that moved him up to second place while after a very good start Khun Nattachak ran wide at the hairpin and dropped back.
Khun Terrance who had started from pole held the race lead until the last corner of the opening lap but he ran wide after making contact with Khun Jack and it was three abreast across the start-finish line with the Vattana driver actually triggering the timing barrier first and nominally leading at the end of the first lap.
However Khun Jack’s car had suffered from that last corner knock and he quickly dropped places, being demoted to fifth by the time the cars braked into Turn 3 for the second time. Over the line at the end of the first lap, Khun Nattachak, Khun Paritat and Khun Narasak were running together in eight, ninth and tenth places respectively.
Khun Narasak now had the bit between his teeth and was flying, on the third lap he had clawed his way through the lower top ten order and passed his struggling teammate Khun Jack to move into sixth place. Having a good race for a second consecutive day Khun Nattachak was now ahead of Khun Terrace and into eighth place.
On the fourth lap Khun Jack got back past Narasak in the Vattana battle for sixth place and clearly there was something amiss with Vattana’s brand new Honda Civic as it quickly shed places before pitting at the end of the lap. It would turn out there was a brake problem and Khun Narasak’s race was over. That moved Khun Nattachak up to seventh place and Khun Paritat to ninth.
Lap 5 and Khun Paritat was up to seventh as Khun Terrance dropped back after a big lockup but the Hong Kong driver recovered and was quickly right on the back of Khun Paritat and wanted the place back.
Khun Tin Sritrai (who is a former TSS Super 2000 champion and now races in TCR Asia Series) pitted with overheating issues and that moved the TCR Thailand drivers up the order, Khun Jack was now fifth, Khun Nattachak sixth and Khun Paritat seventh.
As the race approached half distance there was a three car battle for fourth between the VW of Khun Filipe, the ill handling SEAT of Khun Jack and the Honda of Khun Nattachak; they had been covered by just a couple of seconds for a few laps but no one could seemingly get close enough to take a look. Khun Nattachak was driving a superbly consistent race for the second day in a row and was pressurising Khun Jack who was trying to nurse the #44 SEAT to the finishline.
Over the closing laps of the race the gaps started to open up and as the checkered flag approached the race settled down. In the end it was fifth for Khun Jack who did a good job to bring his car to the line. “I had a good start off the reverse grid, I came up to first by Turn 12,” he said.
“But then I braked a bit late and the guy in front turned in a bit early and the guy that won the first race was right behind so it’s one of those difficult situations should I brake late and go for the first place or block the car behind,” Khun Jack continued.
“We made contact and that ruined the camber and after that I just let everyone go as there was no point as the engine kept on heating up every time I came close and it cut ten percent of the power so every time I got close to the car in front I would try to come up and it would cut off and I would go really slow and then I would come back up to him,” he added. “Everything was alarming and when the SEAT goes on the alarms the engine power cuts off so there is nothing you can do if you are behind someone.”
Meanwhile there was a superb sixth overall finish for Khun Nattachak, which planted him firmly on the AM podium for the second consecutive day, this time as the runner up, while after an excellent drive Khun Paritat came home in seventh place to claim the third and final step on the AM rostrum and make up for the disappointment of his car issues the previous day.
Khun Paritat reckoned that the strong level of competition and fair play prevalent in TCR Asia Series made it an ideal platform for the TCR Thailand drivers to make a step up. “It was great fun, I was quite happy and there was plenty of respect with the others racing with TCR Asia and it seems like they respect each other very well and give each other space so I was very happy to race with them.”