RAAT 6 Hour Thailand Endurance Championship – Buriram
by Earl Brown
In many previous articles, I have mentioned the rollercoaster ride that motorsport can be, that analogy has never been truer than now when describing the last two events for TR Motorsport!
Chang International Circuit in Buriram,
The penultimate endurance race of the season was held at the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, regular followers will remember our previous race and the handicaps we faced due to our ‘mini' fuel tank compared to the other cars’. As soon as the team returned from Buriram work began on the car. including the installation of a new 95 Litre fuel tank, brand new engine and a new clutch with a super light flywheel. The FIA certified fuel tank was installed and checked and it quickly became apparent that it did not hold 95 litres, the capacity was well short at only 75 litres, and to make matters worse the new clutch system required a unique clutch bearing for it to work, after several failed R & D attempts the mechanics fashioned a system.For the event in Buriram, we had some extra team members join us, this proved essential as the weekend played out….
The problems began as early as the first practice session when 3rd Gear decided it would prefer not to hang around with its fellow gears and jump out at every opportunity possible! Back at the pits, the gearbox was taken apart and it was discovered that the custom clutch bearing seemed to be the culprit so this was quickly repaired in time for qualifying. Even with these issues, Thomas set a practice time 2 seconds faster than the previous fastest time in Round 1.
The ‘Blue Blur’ with the ‘Danish Dynamo’ at the helm began the qualifying session, however, after only one lap Thomas radioed the pit wall to say there was an issue with the engine, as it was down on power. With only one lap completed Thomas still managed to take provisional pole. After investigating the engine back at the pits no issue could be found so Thomas went back out to consolidate his position but again the engine issues started and quickly became worse. With pole position seemingly secured it was safer to bring the car in early and try to save the engine for the race. As the chequered flag dropped to end the session Toyota Team Thailand was still on a flying lap and beat TR Motorsport to pole by just 0.1 seconds, meaning Thomas and Tony would start in second but importantly on the front row.
The evening was spent running full diagnostics on the troublesome engine and it was found that the injector for cylinder 3 was failing intermittently and causing the loss of power. A completely new set of injectors was installed and the engine re-tuned remotely from Bangkok. As the race began it was apparent that the engine was still losing a drastic amount of power resulting in Thomas falling back to 12th in just one lap, so another trip to the pits beckoned. Unbelievably it was found that one of the new injectors had failed! With no replacements left in stock, the mechanics begged and borrowed from another team, however, as the injectors were a different specification they would need re-tuning remotely again. The tuner in Bangkok was not available for at least 20 mins so the team took the decision to go back on track albeit driving at a lower RPM.
After 20 minutes the car was back in the pits having the new tuning program installed. After the all clear was given it was time for co-driver Tony Percy to hit the track. Tony was soon setting fastest laps until brake issues caused him to ease off somewhat and conserve the car. During his pit stop, he reported that 3rd gear had decided to leave the party altogether, sources reported it was seen in the Buriram United Megastore trying on the new pink football shirt! Tony also mentioned that the brake pedal was getting worse with each lap. Thomas started his second stint and reported that the brake issue seemed to have rectified itself and he began to fight back through the field. Tony again took over the car which was now a respectable 3rd in class. It wasn’t long until the gremlins came back, with Tony reporting in that 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th gear had also decided to take advantage of the 10% discount in the Buriram United Megastore. Tony along with his new best friend 4th gear was told to keep pushing as nothing further could be done to improve the situation.
Tony pitted and luckily 4th gear decided to stay in the car as Thomas took the reins once more. Thomas was pushing hard but, while coming into turn 4 the gearbox said: "I've had enough, and I shouldn't be working on a Sunday" causing a massive lock up and resulting in oil and smoke billowing from the car. Due to the gearbox being so selfish, a piston rod in the well-behaved engine gave up all hope and decided to end it all by propelling itself through the engine block and that was that. The despondent team then set about packing away with not many words being spoken to each other as the horrific weekend was reflected upon. Although it had been a disaster other results had gone in their favour meaning that the team still have an outside chance of claiming the championship in Round 3 at the Bang Saen Street Race Friday 25th November.
Thailand Super Series – Bira
With the bad memories of the endurance race still fresh in their minds, it was time for the team to now try and concentrate their efforts for the Thailand Super Series. Coming into Rounds 5 & 6 of the TSS, the team still had a mathematical chance of claiming the driver’s championship, although with the leader Hideru Kuroki having a 30 point advantage, the team would need two victories and hope other results went in their favour. The #29 Honda City had been fitted with a new gearbox for this event and during practice the car ran perfectly raising some much-needed confidence in the team.
Qualifying was going well until the car started to understeer which got progressively worse as the laps went by. Thomas still managed a time that put him second on the grid while for the 5th time this season Hideo put himself on pole. The understeer problem was rectified and the car was finalised for Race 1. As the five lights went out Thomas made an uncharacteristic slow start dropping to 4th straight away and the engine problems that had plagued the endurance car in the previous event had now shifted to the Honda City. Down on power, Thomas fell to 7th. With the Championship slipping away he pushed the car to its limits eventually making up one place to cross the line in 6th, with leader Hideru crossing the line first again as he has done in all the races so far this season.
Back in the pits, tough choices had to be made regarding the engine and the race ahead…
The team had three options
Make no repairs to the engine and drive Race 2 underpowered and not competitive
Break the engine seal to try to make some repairs and incur the 5 place grid penalty
Replace the engine completely and incur a 10 place grid penalty , but race with a competitive engine
The championship title was now a very distant dream so focus switched to consolidating 2nd place meaning the team took option 3. Thomas said on choosing option 3 “this is the only way I can take the fight to the other drivers and hopefully I can get through the field as fast as possible to give me a few laps to attack the leaders, it should be fun for the spectators”
Due to a penalty to another driver Thomas started 15th and by the first corner had already made back several places, as he closed in on the leaders and traded paint with a couple of cars squeezing by at the notorious Bira chicane. With the new engine roaring like a tiger Thomas began to set consecutive fastest laps. The charge, which included a bit of grass cutting had now put him in 6th place and saw him gaining on the leading cars at over a second a lap.
As the last lap started Thomas was hugging the bumper of the 5th place car which in turn was hugging the bumper of the 4th place car. Entering the last 2 corners of the race all the cars were bunched up but Thomas with over 35 years’ experience in racing could smell blood and positioned himself inside the pack. He charged to the chequered flag overtaking the 5th place car along the pit straight and finished a very creditable 4th. During his fight from 15th to 4th Thomas set the fastest lap for the third time in six races. Hideo Kuroki won the race and with it the championship with two races to spare, a faultless first season from the young Japanese driver.
TR Motorsport is still second place in the championship and holds an 11 point gap to Khun Yotsarun in third. This means that in no way is second place secured and the team will have to perform well in Bang Saen as there are 7 drivers who could still take the second place. This promises to be a nail-biting finale to the season. Thomas said “We have shown we have the pace to fight for the wins with us setting the fastest laps of the race several times this year, and with Bangsaen being our favourite track, we are aiming for a good result there to finish off the year on a high note"
Rounds 7 & 8 will be held at the Bang Saen Festival of Speed November 26th & 27th
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