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Malaysian Caterham racers roll into Pattaya

Words and pictures by Edd Elliosn

TSS was joined during the last round at Bira Circuit by the Caterham Motorsport Championship, a so far Sepang Circuit based series exclusively reserved for the historic Caterham Seven single seater racecars, which slotted into the overall programme as a ‘guest’ series.

The Caterham Motorsport Championship is based on a similar series held in the UK, the original home of these cars, and first kicked off last year so this was its second season – and the trip to Bira Circuit was not just its first visit to Thailand but the first time the series had ventured outside of Malaysia.

The cars are broken up into two classes with two very distinctively different powered versions of the Caterham Seven. The top class is contested by the ‘420R’ which features a 2.0-litre dry sump engine with 210 hp mated to a 6-speed Quaife-sourced sequential transmission and that means this lightweight ‘rocket’ is good for a top speed of 230 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds. It also adds up an impressive 400 bhp/tonne and means the 420R can blitz its way round Sepang Circuit in a very handy 2 minutes and 22 seconds. The second string class is powered by a 1.6-litre engine coupled to a 5-speed manual gearbox; it has 140 hp on tap and can reach 205 km/h while making the dash from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.

The Sevens are pretty well kitted out too with a plethora of track specification parts including a lightweight racing flywheel, side exit exhaust, limited slip differential, beefed up cooling system and quick release steering wheel while on the safety front there is an FIA homologated rollcage, race seat with 6-point harness, plumbed in fire extinguisher system and electrical cutout switches.

The championship’s first race outside of Malaysia didn’t fail to surprise and historic Bira’s short and narrow characteristics perfectly suited these small, lightweight and highly agile racecars. The drivers’ reported that they loved the different feel of the cars around Bira, most notably the kart-like handling while speeding around the Double Apex and through the S1 and S2 Chicanes.

There was also some local TSS flavour thrown into the proceedings as B-Quik Racing’s Shaun Varney signed on in the Supersport class with the aim of racking up some extra track time as the Super Car GTM Porsche driver was in fact making his first visit to Bira Circuit.

The New Zealander would make a big impact as he won both races in the Supersport class, his second victory coming at the last gasp following an audacious dive down the inside of his rival out of the double apex during the dying seconds of the race. In the 420R class both victories went to Tan Pye Sen, his second win coming after the first driver across the line, Arnaud Dupuis, was handed a post race time penalty.

Relentless drive to the title

Winning Thailand Super Series’ Super 2000 title means you are a pretty special driver, the top table in Thailand’s hectic ‘touring car’ racing is reserved only for the best. It’s arguably the most fiercely competitive category nationally and the roll call of champions backs that up.

At Bira Circuit Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya added his name to that roll call – and he did it in real style, only rarely in Super 2000 has a champion been crowed during the penultimate round of the season. However this year Kittipol did it with the two races in Bangsaen next month – and where there is a maximum of 50 points on offer – still to spare.

Kittipol turned up this year superbly prepared. His fitness levels were impeccable as he’s added a second string to his bow alongside racing by becoming the paddock’s pukka ‘marathon man’. Mentally he has Super 2000 worked out while in terms of his car, once again driving a Honda Civic FD, he chose to pursue absolute reliability over trying to squeeze extra horses out of it – when a championship is fought over just eight races even a single DNF can crush title aspirations. He didn’t put a foot wrong all season and the rest is history.

At Bira Circuit he played a careful game focused around the needs of the classification, as he explained afterwards. “My strategy for the weekend was to collect as many points for the championship as possible which meant finishing the races, not really aiming for outright wins as that would have been difficult with a heavy car and a bumpy track that would punish you if you are too aggressive,” said Kittipol.

In the first race he avoided incidents and accidents to finish in third place which handily equated to the points for second as the race winner wasn’t registered to score any and with his only serious remaining rival, Toyota’s Manat Kulapalanont, retiring from the race it left Kittipol poised on the brink of securing the title.

His rival’s chances were at the extreme end of any mathematically possibilities – but the title still wasn’t official his. However in Sunday’s race he enjoyed another productive afternoon, finished runner up and the title was his.

A perfect mix of speed, tactics and intelligent thinking combined with slightly conservative and reliable car has been the ticket to the title and clearly he’s delighted to have ‘got the job done’. “It's been a good year for me this year having secured two firsts, two seconds and two thirds – and more importantly finishing all the races so far,” he reckons. “That was the strategy that we aimed for – to finish the races while not aiming for outright wins. We sacrificed power for durability for the engine while we changed the gearbox to a sequential to prevent a miss-change but haven't quite got the gearing right for this lower powered engine. And of course, driving as conservatively as fast as possible – if that makes sense! It worked. And we have secured the championship! I’m very happy indeed.”