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Talking Wheels - February 2013

Super Car Thailand signs off in style on streets of Bangsaen

The Thai racing season wrapped up on the streets of Bangsaen right on the stroke of Christmas, with the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival. In just half a decade, Bangsaen has grown into one of South East Asia’s headline racing festivals, and this season’s fixture was better, brighter and even more glamorous than ever, with every race featuring hard-fought, bumper-to-bumper racing.

Bangsaen is a 30-minute drive north of Pattaya, and we count this festival almost as a 'home' event. Every year, there is an influx of race fans who make the hop, while Pattaya's top drivers and race teams are always at the heart of the action. In fact, the influx of overseas competitors and fans heading to Bangsaen tend to stay in Pattaya, as it is the nearest location with ample hotel vacancies, and allows them to combine their trip with the lure of the beach.

This year was the sixth edition of Bangsaen and it came with a twist – it was the final race of Super Car Thailand. In 2013, it will be reborn as Thailand Super Series, opening a new chapter in Thai racing.

So there was an extra 'end of season' feel. But, at the business end of the track action and at the top of the billing – Super Car – the story was all about the Lamborghini Gallardo GT3. On its first stab at this tight and tricky street course, the Italian racing machine won an historic victory on Sunday afternoon in the hands of Vattana Motorsport's experienced Chonsawat Asavahame, while at the same time, Panusak Techaterasiri wrapped up the Super Car N/A title, thanks to battling drives up the order from the back of the grid and onto the podium on both Saturday and Sunday. His path to the title was eased after the points leader coming into this race, Dutchman Henk J Kiks in the B-Quik Racing Porsche 997, suffered bad luck in both races and left without a point to his name.

The age of the Lamborghini had arrived with a bang, and there were in fact three of the striking GT3 category machines on the grid over the weekend, as Bobby Buncharoen made a last-minute entry into the race with his new car, while there was also a fourth example lurking in the paddock patiently waiting for this season. The V10-engined sports car’s numbers are likely to swell even further in the near future, with more drivers planning imports.

But Bangsaen wasn't just about Super Car: the bumper programme included Super 2000, where the action was interspersed with umpteen yellow flag periods, Safety Car deployments and even fluttering red flags. It was as hard-fought as ever from green to chequered flag in the popular truck races, and the 4-hour ‘Endurance’ race saw its usual high attrition rate and a winner that emerged from the lower grid order.

The festival was bigger this year thanks to the arrival of the Touring Car in Asia Series (TCSA), as well as the new Lotus Cup Thailand. A large and diverse support programme included touring cars, historics, amateur and retro pickup trucks, and as ever the tiny machines of the Hong Kong Mini Club.


Arise the Thailand Super Series
It will be all change for Super Car Thailand next year following the conclusion of the 10th anniversary edition, which closed off in Bangsaen last month. A new promoter, Sontaya Khunplume, the owner of the glamorous Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival, Minister of Culture and regular Super Car racer, will take over – and he has big plans going forward.

Building on the robust platform he will inherit, heading upwards and outwards in every direction will be the key to his tenure with an emphasis on raising the series to international standards.

In this he has a good track record already – in just six editions, he has built the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival into the biggest motorsports extravaganza in Thailand – and one of the main ones across South East Asia, attracting drivers and teams from countries such as Hong Kong, Macau, China and Japan.

The first step will be a name change: ‘Thailand Super Series’, carefully reflecting an ambition to follow the successful model of similar ‘Super Series’ multi-programme motorsports formats in Malaysia, China and Japan.

The focus will be on developing the rules to an international standard, rather than the rules that Super Car Thailand has evolved that maximize inclusivity. This will tie into the current growth of the championship, which has this season seen an influx of cars developed to the global FIA GT3 class standard, such as the Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 and Ferrari F430 GT3.

With the rules heading towards international standards, Sontaya believes this will allow international competitors – both drivers and teams – to join in. Driving the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival onto the world stage has been one of his many ambitions, and with a more focused rules package the event is all set to continue its rapid growth.

Along with the headlining ‘Super Car’ class, which is likely to evolve towards FIA GT3 international standards after a transitioning year, the ‘touring car’ Super 2000 and Super Pickup Truck rules will also evolve towards recognized global benchmarks.

Sontaya also promised the Thailand Super Series will provide a broad platform for racing drivers to grow, develop and hone their talents, providing inclusivity from basic beginner level to full professional.

Thailand stars at Race Of Champions
The Race Of Champions came to Bangkok for the first time at the end of last month bringing some of the world's top two and four wheel pilots, including Michael Schumacher, Jorge Lorenzo and Sebastien Vettel. Thailand's best went head to head with these global stars – and they didn't disappoint. Nattavude Charoensukhawatana and Tin Sritai emerged victorious from the curtain-raising Thai knockout phase to carry forward the hopes of the host nation – as well as the fiercely partisan crowd.

Digging deep and driven on by the roar from the stadium every time, the two Thai drivers emerged from Rajamangala's bowels and into the glare of the spotlights, the experienced hand of Nattavude and the raw young talent of Tin, both rose to the occasion, turning in a string of fighting runs throughout the ROC Nations Cup on the Saturday evening and then all over again during headlining Race Of Champions just twenty four hours later. “This event is very big, so I have to join this event so I have to improve in my racing style. I have a lot of experience after this event,” Tin said in the handover zone after completing one his many runs.

In cars they were unfamiliar with, and on a track that many of the leading motorsports stars names knew well from previous editions of this physically almost-unchanging format, Nattavude and Tim acquitted themselves impressively and made the ‘home’ nation proud. Standing out was Mad Cow's victory over triple FIA World Touring Car Champion Andy Priaulx in Sunday's Race Of Champions. The odds were extra stacked against Nattavude as the experienced British driver, now running as a BMW pilot in DTM, was much more suited to the mount in question: Audi's R8 LMS as he has driven for the German carmaker's GT programme. In each race the Thai pair fought for supremacy over every inch of the 697 metre cloverleaf-sheaped track. Tin, going up against eight times F1 World Champion Michael Schumacher in the KTM X-Bow, never lost sight of the German's familiar red helmet – side-by-side on the grid the youngster was living the racing drivers dream. The Race Of Champions will return to Thailand this coming December.