From opening practice the 2018 TCR Asia Series promised a big year ahead.. The first official practice session saw the top four cars separated by just 18 one hundredths of a second (remember this is a 2:16-lap at best), whilst the second session saw the front two split by just three one hundredths, and they were teenagers!
By qualifying things got more interesting again, with 2017 race-winner Diego Moran on top for opening qualifying, before his team-mates - TCR Middle East champion Luca Engstler and rising Malaysian star Mitchell Cheah - smashed the two year old qualifying lap record to claim the front row of the grid, split by a staggering 15 one thousandths of a second!
Friday’s two practice sessions saw a great battle emerge between the three Liqui Moly Team Engstler drivers and new TCR Asia recruit Lo Sze Ho who set a stunning pace in the Maximum Racing Honda Civic to leap-frog all three Volkswagen’s to set the quickest time in P1, his 2:17.022 catching everyone by surprise, so too the margin back to Luca Engstler - six one thousandths of a second.
The second practice session saw a similar result with the three Liqui Moly cars again battling Lo who emerged third ahead of Diego Moran, but again the split between the leaders - Luca Engstler and Mitchell Cheah was just 32 one thousandths, paving the way for a tight qualifying session.
The first 20-minute qualifying leg saw the three Liqui Moly cars battling for the top spot, whilst Lo was struggling further back in the field, allowing Vattana Motorsport’s Pattarapol Vongprai to set the fourth fastest time ahead of the R Engineering pairing of Akash Nandy and reigning TCR Asia Cup champion Abdul Kaathir.
Diego Moran ultimately claimed the fastest lap, creating much online celebration in Ecuador, the Volkswagen driver stopping the clocks with a 2:16.919, a tenth of a second faster than team-mate Cheah with Engstler third on 2:17.203.
Reigning Thailand champion Chariya Nuya qualified the BBR Honda in position seven and second in TCR Thailand ahead of Lo, rookie Jakraphan Davee and the impressive Leewattanavaragul.
Clearly Middle-East champion Engstler had something in reserve for the second leg of qualifying, as did team-mate Mitchell Cheah, the pair firing out the gate to quickly displace Moran who didn’t quite nail his best lap, dropping to third but still finding eight tenths of a second on his Q1 time.
Ultimately it was Engstler who would claim pole with a 2:15.882 - in the process displacing Tin Sritrai’s 2016 lap record - with Cheah a staggering 15 one thousandths slower.. Moran made it a Liqui Moly Team Engstler 1-2-3 with Lo recovering for fourth, having found more than two seconds in the five minutes between the two sessions.
Nandy and Kaathir were again fifth and sixth, with Nuya seventh once again and the top qualifier for TCR Thailand ahead of Vongprai. Davee was next ahead of Leewattanavaragul then Elegant Racing’s Alex Liu and Viper Niza Racing’s Douglas Khoo.
With every one of the four official sessions to date seeing the top drivers separated by mere hundredths of a second, Sunday’s two races have set the scene for some fantastic do-not-miss action, and it will all play out LIVE online, with Round#1 scheduled for 10:05am (MYT) and Round#2 at 4:00pm.
Keep up to date with the TCR Asia Series through the Series website - www.asia.tcr-series.com - through Facebook; www.facebook.com/TCRAsiaSeries and get involved in the conversation on www.twitter.com/TCRAsiaSeries
What the driver’s had to say;
Luca Engstler - #8 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“It was a perfect lap. The team did a perfect job and the car was just perfect. It was my first time here and I need to say thank you to Mitchell - on Thursday, he taught me the track and we did it. I am happy. The strategy is to make a good start and try to get first at the first turn, just watch the tyres because it’s difficult in these temperatures, so in the end we will see.”
Mitchell Cheah - #29 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I feel good but my expectation was to smash the qualifying record and be on pole but P2 is fine. I’m very close to with my team mate so it was a good qualifying session. The team can go into tomorrow’s race with a really good feeling with P1-P3, so we can all be on the podium.”
Diego Moran - #32 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I’m happy with my time. It was a little bit unfortunate because I lost some time in the third sector of my second fast lap, but that’s racing. It’s part of it and I am confident that I can improve and I’ll be in the battle tomorrow. It’s difficult in the heat. I know I have the pace and the speed, and we have a very good car. We will need to respect each other and have a fair race, no bumping. I will try to get a clean start and try to get the lead at the start.”
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
Round#1/2 - 2018 TCR Asia Series (30 March-1 April, 2018)
Qualifying#1 (31 March, 2018)
1. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:16.919
2. 29. Mitchell Cheah - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.029
3. 3. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.203
4. 59. Pattarapol Vongprai - Vattana Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.515#
5. 2. Akash Nandy - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.562
6. 23. Abdul Kaathir - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.699@
7. 15. Chariya Nuya - Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2:18.328#
8. 28. Lo Sze Ho - Maximum Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2:18.706
9. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alphafactory by Pulzar Seat Leon TCR - 2:18.979#
10. 96. Leewattanavaragul - Morin Racing Team by Sunoco Seat Leon TCR - 2:19.317#
11. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.540@
12. 3. Alex Liu* - Elegant Racing Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.612@
13. 22. Ivan SzeTo* - Maximum Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2:19.685@
14. 30. Kelvin Wong* - Elegant Racing Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.797@
15. 66. Nattachak Hanjitkasem - TBN MK ihear Racing Team Honda Civic TCR - 2:21.254#
*TCR Cup / #TCR Thailand / @Pro-Am
Qualifying#2 (31 March, 2018)
1. 3. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:15.882
2. 29. Mitchell Cheah - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:15.897
3. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:16.192
4. 28. Lo Sze Ho - Maximum Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2:16.578
5. 2. Akash Nandy - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:16.784
6. 23. Abdul Kaathir - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.291@
7. 15. Chariya Nuya - Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.669#
8. 59. Pattarapol Vongprai - Vattana Motorsport Honda Civic TCR - 2:17.706#
9. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alphafactory by Pulzar Seat Leon TCR - 2:18.427#
10. 96. Leewattanavaragul - Morin Racing Team by Sunoco Seat Leon TCR - 2:18669#
11. 3. Alex Liu* - Elegant Racing Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.123@
12. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.587@
*TCR Cup / #TCR Thailand / @Pro-Am