The TCR International Series and the TCR Asia Series made its first visit to the Buriram International Circuit in Thailand on what was the penultimate weekend of racing for both series in 2015.
Heres how things panned out…
TCR brings international car racing to Thailand
The TCR International Series will set a new record as it will be the first international car racing championship to visit Thailand, at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit.
The racetrack was inaugurated in 2014 and hosted a round of the World SuperBike Championship in March this year. It is located on the Southern outskirts of Buriram, the capital city of the homonymous province, and some 400 kilometres East of Bangkok.
Designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, the circuit features twelve corners for a length of 4.5 kilometres, with modern facilities.
The TCR field increases further to 25 entries
After featuring a record field of 22 entries in the previous event at Singapore, the TCR International Series increases further to 25 for the Thai event.
Two new outfits will make their first appearance in the series: Asia Racing Team from China and Niza Racing from Malaysia; they both will compete also in the TCR Asia series running two and one SEAT León cars respectively.
The drivers represent 15 different nationalities. The contingent of newcomers is led by a couple of well known international touring car aces: Alain Menu in the Top Run Subaru STi and Hugo Valente at the wheel of one of the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC.
Taiwan’s Johnson Huang replaces his fellow countryman George Chou in one of the three SEAT cars run by Roadstar Racing, Robb Holland from USA will be driving the Focus TCR of FRD Ford HK Racing Team, Douglas Khoo from Malaysia will compete for Niza Racing, local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul or Turbo, steps in for Frank Yu in the Craft-Bamboo SEAT León, a second Thai, Tin Sritrai, is entered by Asia Racing Team alongside Kevin Pu from China.
Five drivers are still in contention for the title fight
With two events and four races left, the fight for the first Drivers’ title in the TCR International Series is wide open, with five drivers still in contention.
Target Competition’s Stefano Comini regained the lead of the standings after Singapore; the Swiss has built a gap of 11 points ahead of Pepe Oriola of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil. Oriola’s teammate and countryman Jordy Gené is classified third, 30 points behind the leader. All of the top-three are racing SEAT León cars.
Two WestCoast Racing drivers in Honda Civic cars – Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason – are lying in fourth and fifth. Morbidelli has a 47-point gap from Comini, while Gleason is a further 16 points adrift. However, with 110 points still to be awarded, they retain hopes to bounce back.
In the Teams’ classification, Craft-Bamboo Lukoil and Target Competition are split by only two points, while WestCoast Racing ranks in third position with a gap of 71 points.
The current leader of TCR Asia after four events is Michael Choi of Prince Racing Hong Kong.
Maximum success ballast for Stefano Comini
Target Competition’s Stefano Comini’s SEAT León will carry the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos in the next event at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit.
The current championship leader was the best scorer in the previous race meeting at Singapore, collecting 41 points thanks to a couple of second places in the races plus pole position.
Kevin Gleason of WestCoast Racing and Jordi Gené of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil, who won one race apiece at Singapore, will be laden by 20 and 10 kilograms of success ballast respectively.
As for the competitors in the TCR Asia Series, the 30 kilos of ballast will be allocated to Michael Choi (Prince Racing Hong Kong).
Civic TCR ‘Step 2’ is ready for debut in Thailand
The JAS Motorsport-built Honda Civic TCR has undergone significant technical developments in recent weeks. The ‘Step 2’ version of the Japanese car will make its racing debut in Thailand.
“The most significant update concerns the engine,” explained the JAS co-owner Maurizio Ambrogetti. “The first version of the Civic TCR was powered by a normally-aspirated engine with the addition of a turbocharger. The ‘Step 2’ car is powered by the production turbocharged unit from the new Civic Type-R. We are confident that this will give our TCR customers a solid base for the 2016 season.”
The engine might represent the peak of the technical update, but a number of other small changes have also been made.
“We have adjusted something here and there on the basis of the experience we had gained during the season so far. Indeed, the Civic TCR has been tested in racing conditions during all the previous events. Now the two final rounds in Thailand and Macau will help us to test the changes that will be implemented in the cars that will be available to customers in 2016,”Ambrogetti said.
Meanwhile, production of the Civic TCR is quickly moving forward.
“We have just completed the fourteenth chassis and our goal is to build and sell twenty-five cars before the beginning of the 2016 season. We wish to have at least two cars running in each TCR series.”
Two Thai drivers join the TCR field for home race meeting
Thai fans will be delighted to cheer for two of their local drivers during the TCR International Series at Buriram: Tin Sritrai and Munkong Sathienthirakul.
In one of the Asia Racing Team SEAT León cars, Sritrai is facing his first appearance in an international series, but he can claim perfect knowledge of the Buriram circuit, as he lives nearby. On top of this, he is an experienced touring car driver in spite of his young age (25), having grabbed four titles in the Touring Car Series Asia and two in the Super 2000 class of the Thai Super Series in the last four years. “This will be a new challenge for me. The SEAT is a front-wheel drive turbo car; very different from what I am used to driving. I’m not going to know what to expect until I get out there on Friday and get a proper feeling of it. It’s going to be a great experience though and I’m going out to do a good job in front of my home fans,” Sritrai stated.
Sathienthirakul will drive a SEAT too, for Craft-Bamboo. The 30-year old from Bangkok switched to touring cars five years ago after claiming three national karting championships; he is a regular front-runner in the Thai Super Series. “I know that for me TCR is a very competitive series, but that is the beauty of racing, it has driven me to work harder,” he said.
Robb Holland at Buriram in the FRD Ford Focus
FRD Ford Racing Hong Kong has signed Robb Holland to drive its Ford Focus in the TCR International Series event at Buriram, Thailand.
The Afro-American driver tackled touring car competitions in the SCCA World Challenge, before becoming a regular competitor in the British Touring Car Championship and the VLN endurance series in Germany. He also took part in the American round of the FIA WTCC in 2012.
“I have worked with the FRD Team for a few years and I know that Kenneth Ma runs a very good programme. The Ford Focus has struggled this year, but now that FRD has taken over the car I am sure that it can be developed very quickly into one that can challenge for wins. I have no expectations for this weekend other than to help the team develop the Focus into a competitive package. If we can get some good results on the weekend it would be a great bonus,” Holland said.
Team principal Kenneth Ma, who drove the Focus in Singapore, added: “Robb has good experience of the Ford Focus car and helped us in itstechnical development. I hope he can p rove the performance of the FocusTCR in Thailand.”
Morbidelli wins pole as Oriola closes the gap
On his first outing at the wheel of the JAS Motorsport-built Honda Civic TCR Step 2, Gianni Morbidelli managed to claim pole position at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit. Three hours of track time – between yesterday’s test and today’s free practices – were enough for him and WestCoast Racing to make the most out of the new car. Which enabled him to top both qualifying legs.
Pepe Oriola had to settle with second on the grid for the first race, but this result meant that he closed the gap from Stefano Comini in the Drivers’ standings from 11 to 7 points.
As for Comini, who is still struggling at the wheel after the surgical operation to his left knee, he qualified ninth, winning a front row position on the top-ten reverse grid for Race 2 alongside Hugo Valente’s Opel Astra.
Local drivers Munkong Sathienthirakul impressed on his first appearance in the series, making it to Q2 and eventually getting close to squeeze among the top-ten.
QUALIFYING 1: WestCoast duo tops the timesheet
It took only one lap to Gianni Morbidelli for emerging as the fastest in the first part of the session. The Italian clocked a time of 1:43.855 that nobody was able to beat. His teammate Kevin Gleason qualified second fastest on his last lap (1:44.015), demoting Sergey Afanasyev (1:44.015) to third.
All title contenders managed to advance to Q2: Pepe Oriola fourth, Stefano Comini seventh and Jordi Gené eighth.
Mikhail Grachev placed the best of the Volkswagen Golf in ninth, ahead of Hugo Valente’s Opel Astra. Local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul ranked twelfth, the first TCR Asia competitor to win a place for Q2.
Robb Holland and Alain Menu were still struggling with the issues plaguing their cars. The American was placed in an encouraging 15th place in the early stages, but had to pit for repairs and this prevented him to improve; eventually he was demoted to 21st. Menu, instead, sat in the pit for most of the session while the team was working on the car; finally he was able to join in time to clock only one flying lap that placed him in 15th.
The session was disrupted once by the red flag, but only for a few minutes, to recover Filipe de Souza’s SEAT beached onto the gravel trap at Turn 3.
The following drivers advanced to Q2: Morbidelli, Gleason, Afanasyev, Oriola, Münnich, Hezemans, Comini, Gené, Grachev, Valente, Veglia and Sathienthirakul.
QUALIFYING 2: Morbidelli beats Oriola for the pole
Just like in Q1, Morbidelli did not waste time, nor tyres and claimed pole position with a single flying lap of 1:43.423.
Gleason clocked a 1:43.792 that provisionally placed him in second position, but the American was demoted to third by Oriola who completed a lap of 1:43.601 just before the ten-minute leg expired.
Valente qualified in tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for Race 2 and will have Comini alongside him.
What the drivers had to say
Gianni Morbidelli, pole position: “I am very happy with this pole in the first outing of the ‘step 2’ car. We did a couple of tests in Italy and then came here, so evidently, the team did a good job. This is of course an evolution of the car we used so far, so we are not starting from zero, and there is still a lot of room for improvement, as proved by the excellent time of Kevin (Gleason) in the previous car, despite a 20kg success ballast. We did a long run in the free practice and everything went well, so we are confident for tomorrow. The only worry may be the high temperature.”
Pepe Oriola, second: “I made an almost perfect lap and the car was performing very well. We have a good set-up and I hope I can have a good start tomorrow and avoid high temperatures. Championship-wise, it is essential to preserve the car for Race 2. For the time being, I am happy to have reduced the gap from Comini by 4 points.”
Kevin Gleason, third: “First of all, congratulations to the team and Gianni for the very good debut of the step 2 car. I had quite a good session, considering also the success ballast I am carrying, but one is never entirely happy when he is not first of the group… We’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think it will be a clean and good fight with Gianni, with no strategy prepared before-hand.”
Munnkong Sathienthirakul, pole position in TCR Asia: “It’s very nice to be here, it wasn’t really expected. I have a lot to learn this weekend, as this is my first time with the car and in the TCR. Frankly, I had expected a little bit faster lap time, but at this stage to try to improve may be very tricky, as you have to be much harder with the car.”
De Souza’s qualifying times disallowed by the Stewards
Filipe de Souza was penalised by Stewards of the Meeting at the end of today’s Qualifying session.
After going off at Turn 3 in the opening minutes of Q1 and beaching his Roadstar Racing SEAT León onto the gravel trap, the Macanese driver was towed back on track and rejoined; he eventually posted the 19th fastest lap.
However, because he was not entitled to rejoin after receiving external aid, he had all his qualifying times disallowed and will be demoted to the back of the grids for both tomorrow’s races.
When TCR meets GT Asia, it’s a crowded picture!
The state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit in Buriram is making history this weekend, as this is the first time that Thailand hosts a round of a major international motor racing series.
Fans at Buriram are enjoying a great race programme this weekend, with the TCR International Series partnering with the highly-rated GT Asia series. To celebrate the landmark moment, the 24 drivers taking part in the TCR event and the 44 drivers (competing as 22 pairs) entered in the GT Asia race gathered for a crowded family photo on the start-finish line under the emblematic bridge of the new track.
With them posed Marcello Lotti, promoter of the TCR International Series, David Sonenscher, promoter of the GT Asia and the TCR Asia, and Tanaisiri Chanvitayarom, managing director of the track.
Comini vs Oriola, the title fight goes to the wire in Macau
The two races at Chang International Circuit in Buriram that inaugurated the era of international car racing in Thailand were a success, and delivered results that leave the battle for the first TCR International Series title as open and excited as possible.
Macau will see a grand finale, with Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola separated by only two points, and Jordi Gené still in contention a further 32 points adrift.
In Buriram, Oriola and Comini took a win apiece, in a weekend that saw the SEAT cars dominate their rivals, with the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team posting a 1-2-3 in Race 1 (Oriola, Gené and Afanasyev), and Target Competition signing a 1-2 in Race 2 with Comini and Hezemans. The young Dutchman shone and brilliantly took his first TCR podium, after an epic duel with Oriola.
The two SEAT teams will fight in Macau for the Teams’ title as well, as Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has only 13 points of advantage on Target Competion.
It was a weekend to forget for the Honda, Volkswagen, Opel and Subaru cars, all victims of technical issues or race incidents; notably Gianni Morbidelli was inflicted a drive-through for jump-start in Race 1 and was stopped by an engine failure in Race 2, his hopes to stay in contention for the title washed away.
Two young Thai drivers drew attention in front of their home crowd, as Munkong Sathienthirakul (Craft-Bamboo) and Tin Sritrai (Asia Racing Team) shared victories in TCR Asia. And on the podium they proudly sported the King’s portrait.
The TCR International Series will resume on 19 to 22 November at Macau, for its maiden season’s final.
Race One: Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT boys make it 1-2-3
It was a perfect race for the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team in Race 1 at Buriram, as Pepe Oriola, Jordi Gené and Sergey Afanasyev took a resounding 1-2-3, the second of the season, after the one in Race 1 at Valencia.
It was a linear race, defined after poleman Gianni Morbidelli, who led during the opening laps, had to serve a drive-through penalty for a jump-start. The WestCoast Racing Honda driver managed to finish inside the points in 10th place despite the setback.
Oriola’s second win of the season comes at a key moment and allows him to retake the lead in the Drivers’ Championship by 8 points ahead of Stefano Comini, who finished 5th right behind the Honda of Kevin Gleason and ahead of teammate Loris Hezemans.
Lorenzo Veglia took 7th position after winning the nicest battle of the race ahead of Tomas Engström and René Münnich, while local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul confirmed himself as the best of the Asian contingent, winning in the TCR Asia and crossing the finishing line in P11.
RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS
Start: Morbidelli takes the best start, ahead of Oriola and Gené, while Grachev and Valente stall, prompting a contact that results in Holland spinning
Lap 1: Morbidelli leads from Oriola, Gené, Afanasyev, Gleason, Comini, Hezemans, and Veglia, with Engström and Münnich fighting right behind.
Lap 2: Sathienthirakul and Galiana overtake Menu for 11th whilst Grachev pits with transmission problems
Lap 4: Sritrai and Menu swap positions while fighting for 13th position
Lap 5: Morbidelli serves the drive-through and rejoins in 16th place as Oriola takes the lead ahead of Gené and Afanasyev.
Lap 6: Veglia and Engström have a close fight for 8th place with a light contact whilst Münnich and Sathienthirakul are very close behind; Holland pits for bodywork repairs
Lap 7: Morbidelli moves up to 13th position
Lap 9: Engström is chased by Münnich.
Lap 11: Galiana stops at the end of the pit lane with a flat tyre
Lap 12: There is smoke coming out Menu’s car
Lap 13: Valente pits with overheating problems, while Menu eventually stops along the track; Morbidelli climbs to 10th passing Sathienthirakul.
Lap 14: The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil cars finish 1-2-3.
Race 2: Comini and Hezemans on… Target
Target Competition drivers dominated a lively Race 2 in Buriram, with the Italian team signing a brilliant double win. Stefano Comini took a lights-to-flag victory, his fifth of the season, claiming back the leadership in the standings, by only two points.
Loris Hezemans finished second after a great performance, which saw the young Dutchman defending fiercely his first TCR podium from the attacks of Pepe Oriola and Jordi Gené.
The excellent performance of the SEAT cars was completed by the fifth position taken by Lorenzo Veglia, again after a close battle with Tomas Engström and Sergey Afanasyev.
Machines of other brands had a much bitter Race 2: the Honda cars of both Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason were put out of contention (the Italian was fighting for the podium); the pole-sitting Opel of Hugo Valente was pushed off the grid with the engine stalled after the warm up lap while Robb Holland’s Ford was excluded because the driver did not serve a drive-through for unsporting behaviour and later ignored the back flag.
There was a great battle among the TCR Asia drivers; eventually Tin Sritrai managed to win from his fellow countryman Munkong Sathienthirakul giving Thai fans a brilliant 1-2 finish. Sritrai’s teammate Kevin Pu finished third.
RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS
Grid: The Subaru of Menu (differential) and the Volkswagen of Grachev (gearbox) don’t make the grid
Start: Valente’s Opel stalls at the end of the warm-up lap and is pushed into the pits; Comini takes the lead from Hezemans, Oriola, Gené, Afanasyev and Veglia.
Lap 1: Morbidelli takes fourth from Afanasyev
Lap 2: Comini, Hezemans and Oriola are very close, with Morbidelli and Gené not far behind.
Lap 3: Gleason stops in the pits following a contact, with a broken wheel
Lap 4: The first five are within two seconds, with some rubbing between Oriola and Morbidelli who manages to pass and takes third
Lap 5: Münnich passes Sathienthirakul for 9th place.
Lap 6: Morbidelli gets closer to Hezemans; in the TCR Asia there is a great fight for 3rd between de Souza, Holland and Pu
Lap 8: Oriola retakes third from Morbidelli with a great move on the straight.
Lap 9: Veglia, Afanasyev and Engström have a close fight for 6th position.
Lap 10: Morbidelli stops on the track with engine problems; Hezemans and Oriola fight for 2nd place
Lap 11: Sritrai overtakes Sathienthirakul to lead in TCR Asia
Lap 12: Comini has pulled away a bit, as Hezemans and Oriola carry on fighting
Lap 13: Oriola tries everything to pass Hezemans and they make contact a couple of times
Lap 14: Hezemans resists, finishing second behind Comini and ahead of Oriola and Gené
Races 1 & 2 – What the drivers had to say
Pepe Oriola, winner of Race 1, 3rd in Race 2: “Not a bad weekend, although I would have liked to go to Macau as the leader in the standings. Race 1 was just perfect. I couldn’t follow the pace of Morbidelli, but the drive-through he got changed everything. To be fair, it was not difficult to jump the start, as the procedure was much longer than usual. After Gianni dropped it was just a matter of controlling things. Race 2 was ok too, to start in P9 and finish third is always a good result. I couldn’t pass Hezemans, despite being faster than him; we had a couple of contacts, but he defended extremely well. Now, the title will be decided in Macau, and knowing well the track will be an advantage for me, although I will carry maximum ballast.”
Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2: “It was a difficult weekend that ended better than it started. The car did not perform well in practice and qualifying, and we still don’t understand why. We changed everything we could change before the races: gearbox, intercooler, turbo… and things went better. In Race 2, I used the advantage of the front row. Still, I have to give a big thank to Loris (Hezemans), because he protected me very well. A two-point advantage before Macau is obviously very slim, but we will see. I have never raced there and this is a clear disadvantage. I’m training at the simulator, but it’s different when walls are real…”
Jordi Gené, 2nd in Race 1: “The SEAT cars were very good this weekend and I had a good pace. I’ve been doing good races and taking good points, but not shaving enough the gap in points, so I don’t think I have real chances for the title in Macau, unless Stefano and Pepe do very crazy things.”
Loris Hezemans, 2nd in Race 2: “I am super-happy with this second place, it’s a first TCR podium that I value as a victory. I really wanted to keep the second, so I tried to stay focused and get out everything I could in the fight with Oriola.”
Sergey Afanasyev, 3rd in Race 1: “It’s the best result for the team since Valencia, we can be very happy and proud. I was involved in fights in both races, especially in the second one when I was bumped from behind a couple of times. For the rest, I really want to praise Buriram for this great venue and the great welcome, it has been a real pleasure to be here.”
Sathienthirakul and Sritrai make Thai fans happy
The main grandstand of the Chang International Circuit was crowded of cheering fans during the TCR races. And local drivers gave them good reasons to cheer.
On their first appearance in the International Series, Munkong ‘Turbo’ Sathienthirakul (Craft-Bamboo Racing) and Tin Sritrai (Asia Racing Team) performed brilliantly and topped the TCR Asia competitors sharing the first and second positions in both races. They also managed to score points in the International Series, finishing 8th (Sritrai) and 9th (Sathienthirakul) in Race 2.
They celebrated the event proudly sporting the King’s portrait and national flags on the podium.
Munkong Sathienthirakul: “I felt more confident with the car day after day, it was nice to win in the TCR Asia in Race 1 and finish second in Race 2. I tried my best and it was really good to be driving with international drivers, it has been very competitive and exciting.”
Tin Sritrai: “It was the first time for me with a front-wheel driven, turbocharged car. I am very happy of this experience and the nice progression throughout the weekend. Of course, taking the win in Race 2 was a perfect end, although I benefitted from the engine problems encountered by Sathienthirakul.”
Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!