The second event of the 2017 TCR Asia Series delivered a whole lot more than rookie teams, changeable weather and some fantastic racing, it also delivered a world first, thanks to Phoenix Racing Asia’s Jasper Thong, the 17-year old from Hong Kong claiming the very first win for the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR in round three to back up his historic top qualifying effort.
Just five hours later teams were presented with a very different prospect for round four of the championship when the heavens opened immediately after Thong’s victory, making race two a full wet race. That didn’t deter Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai, the Honda driver charging from the second row of the grid to lead into turn one, and despite an immense effort by 2016 podium finisher Filipe de Souza who hauled his way from eighth at turn one to battle Sritrai for the lead over the closing laps, the Thai driver held on to claim his first win of the season.
After toughing it out through changeable conditions during pre-event testing, teams were greeted with fine weather for qualifying allowing Thong to claim pole by the narrowest of margins over Malaysian Honda driver WS Lai, the tight top half of the field promised some close racing and both races certainly played out that way with battles right through the field.
Despite setting pole position there was some question about whether Thong would be able to convert the position to a win after a torrid time getting the #5 Audi off the line in Malaysia, but you wouldn’t have known it as the teenager smiled and joked with the team and fans on the grid prior to the race.
As the lights went out to signal the start, Thong achieved an almost perfect launch, just a whisper of tyre smoke signalling the slightest of wheelspin as he got off the line, but it was almost flawless allowing him to jump the experienced Lai alongside and lead into turn one.
Kantadhee Kusiri was the big mover, third by turn two, he was second by turn three with Sritrai locked in under his rear wing. Whilst Lai had been hoping to jump the pole-sitter on the run into turn one, he instead found himself swamped by the two Thai drivers and back with R Engineering team-mate Abdul Kaathir. From fourth he fell off the circuit at turn four dropping back to eighth place and buried in a fight with points leader Diego Moran and the two new Tianshi Racing Audis allowing the top three to break free from the pack.
Despite mounting pressure from behind, Thong kept a cool head, even under fire into turn one on lap two where Sritrai made a big dive down the inside of Kusiri for second, but couldn’t pull the Team Thailand Honda up, spinning into the gravel on the exit.
SK Tong was the next victim, a strong start saw him battling with the two Elegant Racing Team Seats, Douglas Khoo and Filipe de Souza who’d had a tough start, Tong and Alex Liu making contact in turn two which spun the Phoenix Racing Asia Audi around in front of the closely following pack, sending cars in every direction. Sadly just a few corners later Tong was out, the damage to the right rear of the car spinning him into the gravel and ultimately retirement.
That made it two Phoenix Racing Asia Audis out after rookie Alex Fong suffered a similar fate in the gravel trap outside the final turn, the popular Hong Kong entertainer suffering from a lack of grip and carried too much speed into the right-hander, prematurely ending his run, but whilst two cars were out, the third Phoenix car continued to hold the field at bay up front.
With Sritrai gone and Kusiri seemingly unable to make any impact on the lead, it was down to local driver and TCR rookie David Chen to apply pressure to the front-runners, the #88 Audi punching out some impressive lap times after moving his way back into third, taking advantage of Kusiri’s attack on Thong on lap four to move alongside the leaders under brakes into turn one the following lap.
He made it to the lead - albeit briefly - but was well off the apex for the corner, both Thong and Kusiri taking the position back on the cross-over as Chen drove deep into the turn one gravel, and ultimately retirement. To make matters worse, the recovery crew post-race set off the firebomb inside the car to leave the crew with a hefty amount of work ahead of the second race.
From there Thong continued to lead, countering any move by Kusiri who eased off the pressure ahead of the final lap where he mounted one more assault at the hairpin, the two making slight contact on the exit as the Liqui Moly Volkswagen looked to force his way past, but Thong was having none of it. The Audi driver used his superior drive off the corner to lead down to the final turn, but braked very, very late to just miss the apex of the corner allowing Kusiri to pull alongside as they hit the line. Thong had done enough though, crossing the line just 15 one hundredths of a second in front with the hard-charging Terry Huang a deserving third for Tianshi Racing.
Diego Moran overcame the disappointment of qualifying to finish a distant fourth and retain his championship points lead, whilst the fastest driver on the circuit - Tin Sritrai - made a brilliant recovery from his lap two off to charge from the rear of the field back to fifth.
Kaathir held on to sixth place and second overall in the TCR Cup behind Thong, with TCR Asia returnee de Souza sixth ahead of Lai who was ruing his opening lap off. Alex Liu was next for the Elegant Racing Team, leading home a trio of Seats from team-mate Eric K. and Viper Niza Racing’s Douglas Khoo.
Sadly for the teams race two started wet. The heavens had opened not long after Jasper Thong’s opening race victory celebrations with consistent rain falling for a couple of hours just ahead of the round four start, so all cars were fitted with the control Michelin wet weather tyres.
With the reverse grid top eight, Thong and Kusiri would start from row four, with Kaathir on pole from de Souza, but the threat would come from Sritrai off the second row, and some strategic thinking from his team saw him storm to the front immediately and lead the field into the first turn.
Kaathir held on to second early from Terry Huang, Kusiri and Lai. For de Souza the start was a disaster, the Macanese driver very quickly finding himself at the tail end of the top ten, and chastising himself for not taking the opportunity to try a test start as instructed by the team before the race.
As they had done through final practice and opening qualifying, the two Tianshi Racing Audis were quickly through the pack, David Chen up to third behind Sritrai and Huang, but another off - this time at the exit of turn four - dropped him back down the order. That elevated WS Lai up to third, but he too was soon under fire from the recovering de Souza who was on fire in the Macau David Racing Volkswagen and comfortably the fastest car in the field.
By the start of lap six he’d moved past the R Engineering Honda to third but was almost ten seconds down on race leader Sritrai.. Two laps later he was locked onto the tail of Terry Huang for second, making the move at turn five, Lai also moving through on the local driver three laps later to move back into a podium position.
With two laps remaining de Souza had made up an incredible ten seconds over Sritrai who was struggling with grip, something de Souza suddenly became aware of as he closed in at turn four looking to make his move on the exit only to find that for him too, his grip levels were all but gone, spearing off wide and into the gravel.
Fortunately he found enough grip to keep the car moving, rejoining the track on the exit of the corner, immediately ahead of the battle for third between Lai and Huang, the Macanese driver fortunately able to retain his position, but no longer in a fight for the win.
Ultimately Sritrai crossed the line seven seconds clear for his first win of the season, with de Souza second and Lai third. Kusiri was the big winner of de Souza’s off track excursion, catching the battle for third on the final lap to move past Huang ahead of the chequered flag for fourth, pole-sitter Kaathir sixth behind the Tianshi Racing Audi. David Chen recovered for seventh ahead of Diego Moran, whilst Eric K. and Douglas Khoo crossed the line for second and third respectively in the TCR Cup battle.
Round three winner Jasper Thong had a torrid time in the testing conditions, a number of off track experiences dropping the TCR Cup points leader back to eleventh, the Hong Kong teenager crossing the line not too far clear of rookie team-mate Alex Fong in the second of the Audi Hong Kong cars.
Sadly for SK Tong, he also suffered a number of off-track excursions ultimately ended his race early, whilst Alex Liu was also unable to complete the race after pitting early with a technical issue in the #99 Elegant Racing Seat.
There is now just a three week break until the third event on the 2017 TCR Asia Series calendar, with a return to Zhuhai for the teams on 12-14 May.
What the driver’s had to say;
1. Jasper Thong - #5 Phoenix Racing Asia Audi RS3 LMS TCR [Race 1]
“I’m really happy to be able to represent Audi Hong Kong and take the stunning new Audi RS3 LMS TCR to it’s first ever victory in TCR. I can’t thank Marchy [Lee], Rene [Koneberg], my parents, the team and all my supporters enough for giving me this incredible opportunity. Marchy was incredible, he’s such a great mentor and he was able to give me very wise counsel on what I should do which allowed me to just focus on the job at hand.”
2. Kantadhee Kusiri - #2 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR [Race 1]
“I tried everything I could to get past Jasper, but I just didn’t have enough drive where he was strong so second was the best I could do. Whilst I always want to win, the championship is what’s important and those points will be very valuable towards the end of the year.”
1. Tin Sritrai - #79 Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR [Race 2]
“My engineer from JAS Motorsport suggested that I start the car manually without using launch control or any of the aids and it worked perfectly, I could get the jump in the wet conditions and lead into turn one. The team had set my tyre pressures up so I could be quick straight away so I opened up a gap and then started to relax, but then I could see Filipe coming in my mirrors but he had a problem and dropped off. The Honda was perfect and it was very quick and it made me confident to be able to push.”
2. Filipe de Souza - #26 Macau David Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR [Race 2]
“I failed the start maybe because I didn’t try a practice start in the wet this year. This car is a bit different to the car I ran last year, so I didn’t start very well at all. I was upset with myself off the start, then I decided to just focus and concentrate on moving forward, and I just picked off one after the other - the car setup was perfect. I could see that Tin was starting to struggle so I began to push more and more and caught him at turn four, but when I started to brake I realised my grip levels were gone as well. Luckily I didn’t put all four wheels in the gravel so I was able to rejoin. Lai had every right to take the position away, but he was very generous and gave me room and I could then drive away from him to keep second.”
3. WS Lai - #39 R Engineering Honda Civic TCR [Race 2]
“I’m very happy with the result on my first time here, but I still have a lot to learn.. If I drive on the racing line I can be very fast, but off the racing line it’s difficult to know the fastest way to get through some of the corners, where the experienced drivers are able to place the car in the right place to make a difference. I knew we had a good wet setup, so I pushed harder, whereas in race one I was a little too conservative in the traffic.”
Round#3 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Zhuhai International Circuit, China
23 April, 2017
1. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 14-laps
2. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +0.145
3. 66. Terry Huang - Tianshi Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR +2.595
4. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +9.187
5. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR +15.589
6. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +15.973
7. 26. Filipe de Souza - Macau David Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +25.341
8. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +37.725
9. 99. Alex Liu* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +45.353
10. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +54.409
11. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 13-laps
DNF. 88. David Chen - Tianshi Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 5-laps
DNF. 8. SK Tong* - Phoenix Racing Asia Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2-laps
DNF. 6. Alex Fong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 0-laps
Round#4 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Zhuhai International Circuit, China
1. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR - 14-laps
2. 26. Filipe de Souza - Macau David Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +10.059
3. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +11.025
4. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +14.646
5. 66. Terry Huang - Tianshi Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR +18.134
6. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +25.392
7. 88. David Chen - Tianshi Racing Team Audi RS3 LMS TCR +29.262
8. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +32.528
9. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +38.644
10. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR +39.988
11. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR +1:22.551
12. 6. Alex Fong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR +1:42.357
DNF. 8. SK Tong* - Phoenix Racing Asia Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 10-laps
DNF. 99. Alex Liu* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 3-laps
* TCR CUP
2017 Driver’s Championship points
1. Diego Moran (72-points), 2. Kantadhee Kusiri (68), 3. Tin Sritrai (67), 4. WS Lai (60), 5. Jasper Thong (58), 6. Abdul Kaathir (46), 7. Alex Liu (18), 8. Douglas Khoo (14), 9. Eric K. (13), 10. SK Tong (12)
2017 TCR Cup Driver’s Championship points
1. Abdul Kaathir (90), 1. Jasper Thong (90), 3. Alex Liu (45), 3. Douglas Khoo (45), 5. Eric K. (34), 6. SK Tong (30), 7. Alex Fong (10)
2017 Team’s Championship points
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (140), 2. R Engineering (106), 3. Team Thailand (67), 4. Audi Hong Kong (60), 5. Elegant Racing Team (31), 6. Viper Niza Racing (14), 7. Phoenix Racing Asia (12)
2017 Car Model of the Year points
1. Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR (150), 2. Honda Civic TCR (129), 3. Audi RS3 LMS TCR (82), 4. Seat Leon TCR (57)