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TOYOTA BOUNCE BACK AS ‘TSS 2016’ REACHES THE HALFWAY MARK

words and pictures by Edd Ellison

Thailand Super Series 2016 has reached the halfway mark after making its second consecutive trip to Chang International Circuit. The return visit to the North East turned out to be an extravagant weekend too as in the headline category, Super Car GTM, the formbook was shaken on its head. Round 2 in fact turned out to be about just one team – Toyota Team Thailand – as the factory outfit dominated at the front with a ruthlessness that squeezed its rivals into the shade.

The opening round of the year back in May had been the preserve of the newly arrived Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo, with three wins out of three, but the return trip seven weeks later saw the running order shaken up as the signature red and white racing Toyota sportscars locked out the front row of the grid and then won both races to bounce right back into contention in the championship. There have been some tough times in the wilderness for Toyota in recent seasons but they are right back in business with a bang. Often left in the shadow of his hugely accomplished teammate, Nattapong Horthongkum claimed both pole positions and proceeded to win both races with ease while Nattavude Charoensukhawatana took a second and third place and that allowed Toyota to depart from Buriram at the top of the Teams’ standings. They're right in the Drivers’ and Teams’ title fights now – and clearly hungry.

Lamborghini star and Drivers’ championship leader Sarun Sereethoranakul emerged from the weekend with a second and third place finish which allowed him to retain his title lead – and keep his margin at the top intact – so it was excellent tactical play from the man they all have to beat if they want to win the title this year. Starting his third year in Super Car, Sarun and his support team did exactly what they needed to and can clearly be very satisfied with the results. It’s his title to loose now, but he will have to keep grinding out the podium finishes to manage his points advantage – however it looks like Sarun knows exactly what he has to do to clinch the biggest prize in Thai motorsport.

In the ‘new for 2016’ Amateur (AM) class Paul Kanjanapas cemented his grip on the top of the championship standings with a well judged victory in the second race to add to his four consecutive runners up spots this year. The AM class has been a big hit this year and Paul has emerged as a canny competitor, neat and tidy he’s kept his driving smooth and unfussy, avoided trouble and most importantly he’s significantly improved his pace when compared to last year. Meanwhile Thamrong Mahadumrongkul claimed the other AM win from the event with with that – quite comfortable in the end – victory coming on his debut in the class.

There were a couple of very welcome new faces on the GTM entry list, former Super 2000 regular Supachai Weeraborwornpong made a one off appearance in the eye-catching Lamborghini Gallardo he raced in the brand’s Super Trofeo Asia series last year while Tosaphol Phamyai slipped into one of the NSports-built Nissan GTRs as the striking machine, dubbed ‘Godzilla’, made its first competitive appearance of the year.

However ‘Round 2’ wasn’t just about the biggest racing ‘Super Car’ beasts here, a number of the supporting categories grabbed a heck of a lot of attention including TCR Thailand, which held its second ever pair of races, and 'guest' series Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, joining the programme in the North East for a second consecutive year. In TCR Thailand for the first time Vattana Motorsport swelled up to two cars and that second car was in the hands of top Thai driver Narasak Ittritpong who promptly won the first race after planting his No 13 Honda Civic on pole before showing everyone a clean pair of heels when the lights turned green.

The entry list for the weekend also included a new international driver who joined the frontline Krating Daeng Racing Team as they swelled up to a full compliment of three cars. The driver in question was Alexander Mies and the German racer was a pretty logical choice as he already has a strong connection with the team – and he left his mark with a trip to the podium.

Porsche Carrera Cup Asia meanwhile brought a plethora of international star names into Thailand to race the equally prepared the zippy Porsche 991 GT3 Cup machines and its races were nail-biting from start to finish. Both championships added something a little bit different to the programme and both certainly generated plenty of interest.

Super Car doesn’t stop with ‘GTM’ either as the ‘second tier’ ‘GTC’ is bubbling along very nicely now and here Narasak, fresh from his TCR victory, capped a superb weekend, this time driving Vattana Motorsport’s new KTM X-Bow GT4. He’s started to assert a vice like grip on the ‘junior’ category with two reasonably comfortable wins out of two races. Add that to his debut victory in the KTM during the season opener and he's bagged three wins out of the four races so far and at the season's halfway point he looks to have established a firm grip on the championship standings. With the just completed round at Bira and the final calendar date in Bangsaen both likely to better suit the KTM than Buriram did it was all very ominous for his rivals and it doesn't at the moment seem obvious where a challenge to him is going to come from.

The Toyota team bounced back into a rich vein of form in Buriram in ‘GTM’ and they were also the ones to take the challenge closest to the KTM in GTC as the Japanese factory supported brand enjoyed a renaissance weekend in the top categories. Toyota’s Manat Kulapalanont, who was also driving in Super 2000 the same weekend, was the driver to get the closest to Narasak in both races.