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‘Touring Cars’ start the new season in style

Super 2000 has earned a big reputation as the most competitive and closely fought touring car category in South East Asia, it produces winners and the bumper grids denote its strength in depth; it’s become one of the most popular race categories here. And judging by the frenetic track action seen during the two opening races of this year it looks like it’s going to be another ‘golden year’ for Super 2000.
When the dust had finally settled on a very hot Sunday evening at the first race of the year there were two wins out of two races for Jack Lemvard in the Vattana Motorsport BMW E90. But that didn’t tell very much of the story, Jack had to work hard for his trophies. However he’s a highly accomplished and ambitious Super 2000 driver with an equally accomplished and ambitious team right behind him and so at only the season's quarter distance he’s already staked his claim to be the man everyone has to beat if they want to win the championship this year.
Behind Jack there were many, many impressive performances, so it’s hard to pick out just a few. Certainly though Pasarit Phromsombat had a weekend to remember; the reigning Super Production champion has graduated to Super 2000 and he immediately started trading the top spot with Jack. He eventually headed home with a second- and third-place overall to his name, job well done and a very happy driver and team.
Munkong Sathienthirakul started from the back of the grid in the first race and battled his way up the classification to snatch the final step on the overall podium, while in the second race he went three places better to nab the runners up spot; he walked away from Buriram with the championship lead in Class B in his grasp. Munkong’s another who is going to fancy a shot at the title overall title too.
Another driver to make a run from the back of the grid to the overall podium was Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya who did the business in Race 2 after blowing his engine in Race 1; he’s made another step forward as a driver and was locked into the overall lead battles during the weekend.
A highly experienced name, Jakthong Navasoopanich, was as usual in the middle of the front running action all weekend; he rightfully claimed a double podium finish. Hong Kong driver Rudolf Yu turned up here last year and impressed, he did the same again this time and clearly he's another Class B driver who has higher ambitions.
These are just a few of the many names that stood out over the long, hot opening weekend of the year. Super 2000's big – entirely justifiable – reputation means it's a firm favourite with motorsport fans that know there is simply no better bumper-to-bumper racing to be found in Thailand. And for Pattaya’s many race fans they well see the series in action up close when the ‘touring cars’ visit Bira Circuit in September.

Krating Daeng makes a splash in truck racing

For most fans in Buriram at the season opener there was something of a surprise in store when the pitlane lights went green and the racing trucks surged onto the track for the first time this year as, amongst their ranks, were two brand new pickups in a colour scheme that is a very familiar sight on the Thai racing circuits – black with a split red and yellow logo.
That’s because one of Thailand’s top motorsport outfits, the Krating Daeng Racing Team, has rocked into Super Pickup for the first time. This is a big team with sky-high standards that understands all about winning and has an ambition to match its success rate. That it has decided to jump into Super Pickup is a ringing endorsement of one of Thailand’s popular racing categories and the levels of preparation and expertise that Krating Daeng brings with it means it could well already be said that truck racing will never be the same again.
As befits the Krating Daeng Racing Team the two D-Max trucks were brand new and immaculate, bringing a level of finish and presentation not seen in this category before. And typically of this team there was a real twist in the story as the two drivers behind the wheel were real rookies – neither have ever raced before.
Controlling a pukka racing truck, a machine that was never designed with the race track in mind, takes real skill and ability, seeing the top pickup stars wrestling their big machines around the circuits of Thailand is one of the reasons that this discipline has become so popular with fans.
Team Manager ‘Kiki’ Sak Nana, arguably Thailand’s most famous racing driver, is a man who always challenges convention and loves a new challenge, so it’s little wonder he decided to take this ambitious new route, as he explained in the pitlane as his two new trucks took to the track for the first time. “I’m very happy with TSS and we want to do more variety, we have never done pickup [racing] before and we want to try a new challenge so we want to try racing this car,” he said.
The opening weekend of the year was really just being used as the starting point of this new programme, admitted Kiki, although with a team of this stature there were expectations. “The pickup truck is long term planning,” he said. “This is the first race, there is a lot of development and learning of the car to do.”
“The drivers have no experience of racing but of course they love racing and come to the races with me many times,” he continued. “But this is the first time they drive on this track, so it’s very interesting.” Indeed, it is interesting to say the least, few drivers step into the cockpit of a racing truck for their first competitive track outing.
Kiki reckons that apart from talent both drivers have the mental and physical attributes needed to become successful drivers. “Philip [Massoud] was my Team Manager in my drift team for a long time,” explains Khun Kiki. “He has a lot of discipline, everything with him is very efficient. Both of them are very efficient persons.”
Thailand’s superstar driver races with passion above everything else, few people love this sport more and indeed have given more to it than Kiki, and clearly he wants his new protégées to feel the same buzz, to be moulded in his style. “They have followed racing all their life so I think it’s time for me to put them behind the steering wheel and start to feel what it’s like to become a racing driver and start to become professional drivers and start pushing hard and start to feel my stress and start to feel the butterflies and churning stomach when you go out there, we want them to feel that,” he says.
Kiki also demands fitness from his drivers and they certainly exude that. “Basically I knew Kiki from drifting and became good friends with him and I’ve been supporting his drifting team and supporting his Porsche and I was interested to drive and he gave me the opportunity to drive if I wanted to in the pickup,” said Philip as he got to grips with his new mount. “So I took it.”
He’s a raw recruit, certainly, but he settled in quickly and was soon posting fastest times in Class C, the category that is reserved for novice truck racing drivers. “It’s my first time racing and my first time in a pickup so I’m very happy, I think it’s a good achievement and it motivates me to push harder and harder,” he said.
Racing trucks have a reputation for being difficult to extract the full potential from and unique handling and driveability characteristics, so what was it like for Phillip behind the wheel of his new D-Max? “It understeers a lot when you push it, it also tends to oversteer at the rear as there is no weight there so you have to find an optimal balance which is very difficult,” the Australian explained.
“As you are running leaf springs in the rear with a shock absorber, you don’t have a coil so you cant really do corner balancing so it’s a difficult car,” he continued. “You’ve got to gain confidence as you go and find your braking point and turn-in point and not to find the throttle too early as then the tail will come back out, so very tippy toe.”
Phillip’s teammate, Songkran Yamamura, has also been eyeing up a racing career for quite a while. “I’ve known Kiki for over 15 years now,” he said in the pit garage. “We met in the UK, and since then I’ve been looking at his driving, looking at his cars, looking at his motorsport life and been dreaming of getting into motorsport events, but I’ve never had a chance to join the racing circuit. This year we had a talk and I was asked to join as one of the truck drivers.”
Kiki is known for his demanding standards, few cars look more pristine than the Krating Daeng-liveried machines and he demands a very high level of fitness from both himself and his drivers, so it wasn’t a great surprise that Khun Songkran didn’t profess to be satisfied although he posted the fastest time in Class C during practice.
“That’s still not good enough, the car is about 80% ready, it’s not 100%,” said the Japanese driver. “Myself, I’m not ready yet, I have to tune my driving style to a car racing style, so that’s going to be the difficult part for me to get together. If the car is 100% ready I think I can do better than this but myself I’m not good enough yet.”
Come the first race and despite being in the thick of the front running action in Class C Phillip and Songkran ended up empty handed. However valuable learning experience had been gained, their first race was now behind them and, crucially, they both clearly looked like they can make an impression in truck racing.
In the second race though the rookies came through superbly to record a double podium finish. Songkran impressively won Class C outright while Phillip made an excellent recovery from an issue during the race to nail down the last step on the podium, a rewarding end to their first racing weekend.
Pattaya race fans will have the opportunity to see both these drivers as well as the whole Krating Daeng Racing Team in action when Thailand Super Series and the Super Pickup category visit the city’s Bira Circuit in September.