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 “TCR” PODIUM GLORY AS THAI ‘TCR’ STARS TAKE ON ASIA

words and pictures by Edd Ellison

TCR’ has become one of the most widely spoken acronyms in Thai motorsport so far this year and that’s because this brand new racing format is already a big hit. ‘TCR Thailand’ became the first national ‘TCR’ championship in Asia when it took the green lights for the first time back in May as part of the Thailand Super Series programme. The bold idea behind TCR Thailand is very equally balanced and cost effective ‘touring car’ style cars where drivers can develop their skills. Importantly the TCR platform applies complete equality across all the affiliated championships worldwide and so when TCR Asia Series came to Thailand last month it provided the perfect opportunity for Thai drivers to mix it up with the best in Asia while driving the same machinery and using the same tyres, all on home soil.

Four Thai drivers took up the challenge as TCR Asia Series hooked up with the Buriram Festival of Speed. Vattana Motorsport fielded their proven duo, Jack Lemvard and Narasak Ittritpong, in a SEAT Leon and Honda Civic respectively, while two promising amateur drivers, Nattachak Hanjitkasem and Paritat Bulbon, were also on the entry list. The quartet really rose to the occasion and all of them made it onto their respective podiums over the weekend. In the overall ‘pro’ level class Jack and Narasak flew the Vattana Motorsport flag high in their new ‘battleship grey’ livered cars with a close 2-3 finish in the first race although in the second race mechanical issues set them back, the latter retiring early on with brake problems while the former took a knock in his stride to still bring his SEAT home in an excellent fourth place.

In the AM class there was well-deserved double podium joy for Nattachak. He won the class in the first race after seeing off many of the best amateur drivers plying their trade in Asia, turning in a superb drive where he showed a fast pace and steady rhythm coupled with keeping a cool head and in the end he was well rewarded with the top step of the podium. He followed that up with the runners up spot in Race 2. It was superb work from this driver who has taken a big step forward following several seasons racing in Super 2000. Also bang on the AM class pace was Paritat who looked quick in both races. Technical issues in the first race though saw him limping to the line but he wrapped up the weekend with a well judged drive to third place in Race 2 and that meant all the TCR Thailand drivers’ made a trip to the podium. The TCR concept is clearly delivering on its promises as it’s already breeding Thai drivers that can take on the cream of the established international competitors.

GT ASIA” AUDI AND FERRARI SHARES THE SPOILS IN ‘GT ASIA’

For the second year on the trot Asia’s top international sportscar racing championship, GT Asia Series, pitched up in Thailand, as it joined the Buriram Festival of Speed programme last month. There was plenty of quality on show with GT3 cars from Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Bentley on the entry list from top teams running top drivers. The Absolute Racing entered Bentley had won both races at the opening round in Korea so all eyes were on them when the cars arrived in Thailand, especially as Thai star Vutthikorn Inthraphuvasak would be guesting in one of the trio of cars.

Another Thai favourite was Piti Bhirombhakdi, he was in a Ferrari 458 GT3 that he was sharing with Carlo Van Dam and the Dutch pro planted the car on pole position. At the green lights for Race 1 Carlo led the pack away and kept the lead to hand over to Piti at half distance and the Thai then reeled off a string of fast laps to extend their lead. However an error that had occurred during the pitstop saw them hit with a late race drive through penalty although Piti was able to keep fourth place to the finish.

Instead victory went to the dazzling gold Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Marchy Lee and Shaun Thong and that represented a first ever GT Asia Series victory for Phoenix Racing. Marchy turned in a superb stint having emerged from the pitstops in fifth and the Hong Kong driver battled past the two Bentleys to take the victory.

In the second race victory went to the Ferrari 488 GT3 of Davide Rizzo and Anthony Liu, the pair making up for the opening race where the Italian had suffered an early spin that knocked them out of contention for the victory.

That win in fact was one of the never ending ‘firsts’ in Thai motorsport as it was the first time that Ferrari’s new-generation ‘488’ sportscar had been seen on a Thai racetrack and the ‘GT3’ missile had delivered a well deserved win on its arrival. This is actually the same model of racecar that Thailand’s top sportscar driver, Pasin Lathouras, is in fact racing across Europe this year.

There was also another ‘first’ worthy of mention as Craft Bamboo has switched brands from Aston Martin to Porsche this year and they rocked up with a pair of new 991 GT3-R racecars, the first time the GT3 version had been seen in Thailand. One example was in the hands of experienced racer Frank Yu and Pasin’s former teammate, Richard Lyons, while the other was piloted by last year’s triple Thailand Super Series GTM category winner in Bangsaen, Darryl O’Young, who had local driver Naiyanobh Bhirombhakdi alongside him. Porsche’s latest creation looks completely stunning but it hasn’t been able to show its hand yet. But don’t expect that situation to last for too long though.

Asian Formula Renault’‘FORMULA’ CARS RETURN TO THAILAND

It’s been a longtime since ‘formula cars’ have been seen in Thailand so the arrival of Formula Renault Asia was well overdue – and eagerly awaited by the fans in the grandstands and the single-seaters didn’t disappoint at all, serving up two thrilling races. For the record Leo Ye won both races but the fans’ eyes were focused on local driver Umar A. Rahman who had an early exit the first race after being caught in a spectacular Turn 1 incident that typified why single-seaters are always exciting to watch but made up for it with a smooth and steady run to the flag in the second race. Also in action was Thai domiciled James Runacres who had something of a mixed weekend but was always right on the pace.