Big Names Bounce Back as Super Car Hits Bira
Pattaya has been at the heart of top-level motorsport here for three decades—the very best in Thailand come to race at the Bira Circuit, located just 15 km outside the city. And at the very top of the tree is Thailand Super Series (TSS). So there is always big anticipation here when this championship rocks up.
This year though is different, instead of the traditional double date on the calendar, just one round is taking place at Bira Circuit; the other has been snapped away by the brand new world-class circuit in Buriram. And there is even more of a tinge as this was likely to have been the last time that the Super Cars race here, the sophisticated racecars simply having outgrown this ageing circuit.
So a poignant weekend for Pattaya race fans. The event was billed as the ultimate showdown between the Porsche of Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and the Camaro of Khun Tomáš Enge, the two drivers that dominated the opening round of the TSS season, which took place at Sepang in Malaysia back in May. However no one read that script to one of the most experienced and popular Thai drivers, Chonsawat Asavahame. He turned up at Bira Circuit with a brand new Lamborghini Gallardo GT3, the biggest team in the paddock and with the biggest ambitions. Chonsawat then won both Super Car Class 1-GT3 races, leading each one from start to finish. Job well done.
Chonsawat had firmly etched his highly experienced name into the record books here with two well controlled drives where he simply didn’t put a foot wrong, and as mentioned before, he’s probably going to be the last Super Car driver to win here. Of the other likely winners, Vutthikorn was forced to withdraw before qualifying started with a recurring back problem while the Chevrolet Camaro, the racecar that everyone had been talking about before last weekend unfolded, departed on Sunday night with a couple of strong second places to its name.
The Camaro though had a superstar driver behind the wheel, former F1 pilot Tomáš Enge. With his clear focus being on supporting his team leader, Chonsawat, the Czech was pleased with his runners up spots, putting more useful kilometres on the Camaro at Bira, and being in the middle of a 1-2-3 finish that brought maximum Teams’ points as well as knocking points off rivals.
“It’s a short circuit as well, it’s not easy to overtake. It was hot and I have to say, without putting massive risk, I wouldn’t overtake him easily,” said the former Le Mans 24 Hours GT winner. “We’re going for the Teams’ championship; that’s our main priority rather than Drivers’ championship, so rather than putting both cars out, there wasn’t a chance of me to get into a position to make an easy move. He didn’t make any mistakes and give me any chances.”
Tomáš and Vattana Motorsport had been testing here throughout the previous week before the race so all that hard work really paid off. “I’m very, very happy. It was a clean sweep on the podium with all three cars, we couldn’t ask for any better, it’s a fantastic result, we got a little help by the Porsche team [not competing],” he continued. “We are concentrating on our job, we got the maximum out of the situation with all three cars and taking all three spots on the podium and with [Sanchai Engtrakul] putting down fantastic laps and having a fantastic battle with Bobby.”
In Super Car Class 2-GTM it was business as usual for Nattavude Charoensukhawatana. The reigning champion had a tough start to the year in Sepang but was back to his very best with two quite comfortable wins in the factory-entered Toyota 86. In fact his team mate Nattapong Horthongkum made it a 1-2 in Race 1 for Toyota as their Teams’ title defence also got back right on track. Lugging extra weight thanks to his double win in Malaysia, championship leader Voravud Bhirombhakdi did well to grab two third places in his Ferrari and to retain his advantage in the points classification.
For the second round of the year—and the first on ‘home’ soil—aside from the headlining Super Cars there were many categories that stood out, in fact it could be said that every category beat all expectations. But certainly two really sprung into dramatic life, Super Car Class 3-GTC and Super 2000.
For Super Car Class 3-GTC it was a significant date with destiny. Saturday 5 July 2014. That day a brand new racing category was born with its first-ever competitive race. It’s a new class that seamlessly slots into the bigger TSS picture, providing an optimal entry step for drivers and teams into the very successful Super Car ‘franchise’.
The grid for the first race was on the compact side, but despite this the track action was plentiful – and it's already very clear that the new Super Car Class 3-GTC category is going to be a big future hit, bring a new dimension to the programme and take its place on the Thai motorsport landscape. For the record, Grant Supaphong took both wins in his Mitsubishi Evo.
While Super Car is certainly close fought, the action doesn’t involve too much trading of paint, it’s much more strategic than that, involving sophisticated racecars that don’t respond well to direct contact. That’s quite the opposite story in Super 2000 where plenty of contact is part of the game as the drivers battle it out in true ‘touring car’ style.
So although there was lots of action at the season opener in Sepang, at the front the reigning champion Tin Sritrai ran away and hid in both races and that took a little bit of a shine off the proceedings as far as the fans were concerned. However in Bira, Super 2000 was back to its best as both races saw non-stop battling as the category lived up to its reputation for exuberant driving and raw excitement.
There was a new name in town too. Well he’s an old name, but he hasn’t been around for a year but his driving style is pretty much synonymous with Super 2000. Jack Lemvard was back—and he hasn’t lost any pace, as, armed with Vattana Motorsport’s dashing new BMW E90 he won both the races in some style, even if he was a little bit fortunate in the second one.
In true Super 2000 tradition both races were action-packed from start to finish, even Jack had an off track moment, and there were plenty of heroes led out by Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem, who set an electrifying pace in his front wheel drive Civic FD.
There was also a top international pro on the starting grid, Carlo Van Dam, he certainly impressed in Race 2, as well as a couple of Japanese hotshots, while the championship points leader, Tin, had an off weekend although he still retains his perch at the top.
It certainly was a busy and hectic weekend programme for both the top tiers of Super Car, while Bira Circuit baked in blisteringly hot and dry weather from start to finish. Super Car delivered a string of close fought races with many twists and turns to the unfolding plots. And at the halfway point in Thailand Super Series 2014 it couldn’t be any tighter in the championship standings.