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TSS” turns on the style at Asiatique

by Edd Ellison

When Thailand Super Series holds its annual Press Conference to announce plans for the new season that’s a sure sign that the new racing year is right upon us. This time around the press conference took in a new location, Asiatique The Riverfront, the prestige shopping and leisure complex on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok – and it really was a fashionable setting for what turned out to be a glamourous event as the organisers really turned on the style.

Asiatique is a setting that wasn’t just conducive to the attending media but also able to connect the top echelons Thai motorsport with the wider Bangkok public as well as many passing international tourists who detoured from the venue’s usual attractions to examine the racecars on show. Bookended by the ambience of the waterfront and the striking 60m high ‘Sky’ Ferris Wheel, the event put racing right into the spotlight a much needed boost for a sport that has slowly descended into niche appeal over the last few decades – but one that is very visibly fighting back. And from the banks of the Chao Phraya River it was abundantly clear that there are a lot of new and exciting developments coming this year – on multiple fronts. That was the overriding theme of the ‘Press Conference 2016’ as Thailand Super Series Vice President Preeda Tantemsapya explained. “We wanted to get across the changes, especially for Bangsaen, as we will reach FIA Grade 3 [circuit homologation] this year, we have done so much work towards this now, and also we touched on the new circuit in Sri Racha.”

The good news for Pattaya race fans is that Bira Circuit – which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year – is back on the Thailand Super Series calendar for its traditional and very popular September date. In fact the season will wrap up two months after that on the streets of Bangsaen, a short trip north for Pattaya fans who always turn out ‘en masse’ for the ‘Speed Festival’, which will also celebrate its tenth anniversary this year.

Probably the biggest attention-grabbing highlight of the Press Conference this year was the official presentation of the newest racing category to come here, TCR Thailand, which is seeing rapidly growing interest. The first TCR cars to arrive in Thailand, a pair of butch-looking Honda Civics, were on show and they looked striking and caught the imagination of passers by. Then there were the SEATs. Two to be precise. The first arrivals had barely touched down in Thailand when it was straight to Asiatique and these Spanish factory built machines are equally as visually stunning. They lined up next to the Civics in a four strong ‘TCR’ display that was a non-stop focal point all afternoon and evening on the riverbank.

Presented to the media for the first time, TCR announced its arrival in no uncertain fashion. “Interest [in TCR] is growing,” said Preeda. “Our goal is to first have an exciting new series, one that is for a new generation of car, and at a good price.” The new world-class circuit in Sri Racha, which is already being eagerly anticipated by the motorsport community in Pattaya, is going to play a big part in the mix in the future.

He reckons that Thailand Super Series, as well as the track project, is getting plenty of resonance around the world already and that’s got to be good news. “We didn’t focus on [the new track] too much as it’s not part of this year’s plans, but we hope that the new track as well as the FIA Grade 3 for Bangsaen will help the good momentum that is growing in Thai motorsport,” Preeda said. “We are getting a lot more recognition from international level drivers, not only are people becoming more aware of Thai motorsport, but with everything we’re doing they are becoming aware that we have a level playing field, especially with TCR adding to that mix, they see how we are balancing everything.”

 He also pointed out that the international series have joined up with the Thailand Super Series programme. “Porsche Carrera Cup Asia is coming for the second year, that’s a boost and it shows we are on the right track and can deliver a good partnership while the Caterham series will join us for the first time at the Bira round,” Preeda noted. “With the new track and FIA Grade 3 for Bangsaen we can really push our international goals and these will both provide a very good foundation.”

Thailand's headline racing category, Super Car GTM, is going from strength to strength and the cutting edge machines that fill out the grid resonate with everybody and that was the same story at the Press Conference. The video presentation put in context its strength and also gave a nod towards this year when GTM is set to get bigger, better, brighter and even stronger. There is a real narrative to tell about GTM for 2016 with so many stars and stunning cars. Young hotshot Kantasak Kusiri delivered on his promise last year and won the Drivers' title so he has to start as the favorite as Singha Motorsport Team Thailand seek out an unprecedented three crowns on the trot.

Looking to wrest away the youngster’s title will be an array of top drivers such as Holden driver Craig Corliss, he is the 2015 Vice Champion, while don't count out Voravud Bhirombhakdi, the 2014 champion, who made an impressive late run last year. There are plenty of dark horses too, Sarun Sereethoranakul has got his hands on a potent Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo and quite where that car will fit in is anyone's guess, B-Quik Racing will double its Audi R8 LMS Cup lineup with entries for Henk J. Kiks and Daniel Bilski, they're sure to be right in the mix, and look out for the factory Toyota team, they will field their top class drivers in improved cars. Meanwhile there will be even more of the new Porsche 991s arriving this year.

There will also be a split to create PRO-AM and AM classes and that's certainly going to help the new rookies coming into the series. That the premier class is set to be bigger, more exciting and more spectacular this year was one of the clear messages coming out of Tuesday's Press Conference. It’s really game on now for the fourth season of Thailand Super Series.