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By Edd Ellison
The Porsche Carrera Cup Asia is one of the continent’s most enduring and prestigious motor racing championships. It’s also a familiar name to Pattaya race fans as the series used to visit Bira Circuit.
However Porsche’s sophisticated breed of ‘911’ shape racecars and the growing mix of professional and fast gentlemen drivers behind the wheel simply became too fast for Bira Circuit and the last visit here is now almost a distant memory, in fact it took place in 2005. In the meantime the professional standards of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, more simply known to fans by its acronym ‘PCCA’, has continued to climb and a return trip to Thailand just wasn’t a possibility – until now.
Exactly a decade on PCCA made a very welcome return to Thailand last month and that’s thanks to the rapid rise in stature of Thailand Super Series and the arrival on the motorsport landscape of Chang International Circuit. The state-of-the-art racetrack in Buriram, built to such high standards that it needs little more than a nod in safety terms to be able to hold a Formula 1 Grand Prix, has brought with it a revolution to circuits here.
More dots were joined up this year as Thai representation on the PCCA grid, for so many years absent, came back in force as three of our drivers lined up for a full season in the series, which takes in Asia’s top racetracks including Sepang (Malaysia), Fuji (Japan) and Shanghai (China) as well as Singapore’s Formula 1 temporary street track.
Two of those drivers are well established names in PCCA, Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak and Sontaya Kunplome, have been flying the flag for Thailand for many years now both nationally and internationally. Both drivers raced at Bira Circuit when the series last came here in 2005 and both were back on the grid at Chang International Circuit for the return last month. In motorsport the sweeping hand of history is never very far away and these two seasoned battlers made sure that there were more footnotes to be written into the record books.
This time though there were actually three Thai drivers on the grid as another of our leading names, Bobby Buncharoen, has also joined PCCA this year for the first time. Pattaya native and one of the most successful of our local drivers. In fact his signature matt-black racecar colours with brightly coloured True He’s a well-known driver to our readers as he’s a Visions sponsorship, so familiar here, have been carried straight over to his PCCA Porsche.
It meant that with Vutthikorn, Sontaya and Bobby on the entry list as part of a 28-strong line-up of the latest-generation Porsche 991 GT3 Cup racecars Thai interest was sky-high.
The return of PCCA here didn’t disappoint one bit either and, as soon as the cars poured out of the pitlane and onto the 4.554-km, 12-turn circuit for the very first free practice session on the Friday morning, there was plenty of drama as the swathe of drivers started to learn the track and test the braking zones to the limit. None of the international cast of drivers, and it really was international as the countries represented included New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Holland, Australia, Macau, Canada, France, Norway, Austria and Germany, had seen the track before, apart from, of course, the trio of Thais.
In the run up to the Thai round, ‘PCCA 2015’ has been all about one man, Chris van der Drift. The tall New Zealander of Dutch descent, who has a long and successful single-seater background, arrived in Buriram having won the last four races on the trot and he proceeded to leave Thailand having made it six consecutive wins, and that’s out of just eight races held so far this year.
He took to Chang International Circuit like a duck to water and although he had to fight hard for both the wins there was really the presence of a man who is determinedly stamping his mark on PCCA 2015 and certainly isn’t planning to loosen the one hand he already has closing in on the championship trophy.
Chris said afterward that he enjoyed the circuit and the challenge it provided, particularly he noted it suited the unique characteristics of the ‘991’. “The track was fantastic and the facilities around the circuit were also great, it really is a top notch venue of European standard,” he said. “It was very enjoyable to drive the Porsche there, my favourite corner was number four, the fast left hander.”
In the end PCCA slotted very neatly into the TSS programme but one of the questions in the build up to the event was just how would a highly professional international race series like PCCA fit with Thailand’s top racing championship? No one better to ask than Chris then. “I managed to watch a few sessions of the TSS and it was great to see the vast differences of cars running which made some great racing I thought,” he said.
The New Zealander was also impressed by some of the details, especially in the pitlane. “The pitlane also looked great above the pit boxes with pictures of the drivers and what team they were with,” he added.
So with two wins out of two from his first time at Chang International Circuit, in fact his first ever visit to Thailand, the PCCA points’ leader was very happy with the outcome. “For me personally it was great because we were able to win both races and make some more points for the championship,” he added. Certainly he celebrated the wins on the podium in true racer style.
The trio of Thai drivers didn’t disappoint their fanbase either, and as one would expect from the top domestic star of the last decade, Vutthikorn elbowed his way onto the Class B podium in both races. This is a driver who responds to a battle and put in a high powered ‘One Make’ sportscar and he’s always going to thrive. Two runners up spots, both of them bumper-to-bumper with the car in P1 further cemented Vutthikorn’s long-standing reputation as a Thai driver who can deliver against the best.
Vutthikorn in fact raced in PCCA from 2003-2006 and he returned to the series this year, so he’s well placed to offer an insight into how this championship has changed since it last visited Thailand back in 2005. “Then, years ago, there were mostly Asian [competitors], only a few Europeans came then, so we [were] quite competitive,” he says. “But in the past few years the professionals [started] coming in because of the China market and that’s why they started Class A and Class B, and the Class A is very competitive now.”
The strength in depth provided by the PCCA included New Zealander Craig Baird who has earned the reputation as the most winning driver in the world in Porsche, that’s some accolade from a brand that is utterly synonymous with motorsport and arguable wrote the rule book on ‘customer’ racing. At the other age scale there Nico Menzel stood out in Buriram; the 17-year-old German driver chased Chris to the line in both races to take two runners up spots and clearly he’s going to be a star of the future.