Kusiri and Engstler share TCR Asia victory in Korea
The fourth stop on the 2018 TCR Asia Series calendar saw a return to Korea International Circuit on the extreme southern tip of the Korean Peninsula, a world-class circuit that would pit the TCR Asia regulars against Korea’s best as they contested the very first event of the new TCR Korea national championship.
The event had originally attracted a number of additional entries to the field, but despite the best laid plans of the organisers, mother-mature had other ideas, typhoon season leaving a handful of cars circling the East China sea on a cargo ship that was unable to dock ahead of the storm that hit the region in the leadup to the weekend. In the end, one additional car made it for China Touring Car star Alex Hui, but that didn’t arrive until Sunday morning..
Ultimately the weather did affect the on track action, but not before Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Luca Engstler had broken Tin Sritrai’s 2016 qualifying lap record by more than a second in testing, the German teenager - hot off victory in TCR Germany the week prior - lowering the mark to a 2:20.723 before the rain returned ahead of qualifying.
Most of the teams turned laps during the pre-event test day which allowed for almost three hours of track time, but few could match Engstler’s pace which was an ominous sign for the weekend ahead.
Ultimately reigning champion Kantadhee Kusiri - on his return to TCR Asia - claimed the top spot in both legs of qualifying, up by a staggering three seconds in Q1, the Thai star using his exceptional car control to claim pole for the opening race, whilst Engstler was a measured second, understanding that in the championship race, the former title holder was not eligible for TCR Asia points, giving the young German the top points towards the championship.
Third overall was points leader Mitchell Cheah, the Malaysian driver enjoying the support of home-town hero and experienced KIC campaigner Alex Yoong, the former F1 star helping to fast-track Cheah’s experience on the new circuit.
Reigning TCR Thailand driver, Chariya Nuya qualified fourth as one of a number of ‘invitational’ drivers who would not score Series points, including compatriots Kusiri and Nattachak Hanjitkasem.
Byung Hui (Charlie) Kang was the first of the TCR Korea entrants, the part-time racer using his extensive KIC experience to put the new Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR on the third row alongside Elegant Racing’s Kelvin Wong, the Macanese driver the first of the TCR Asia Cup entries.
Experienced GT driver Andrew Kim was second for TCR Korea, the Brand New Racing Volkswagen driver using his great experience of his home circuit to good effect as he worked to get on top of the dynamics of the front-wheel-drive two-litre turbo powered machine, which is vastly different to the big powerful rear-wheel-drive GT cars he is used to, Kim seventh overall alongside the second of the Elegant Racing Cupra TCRs of Alex Liu.
Sadly for Hong Kong’s Lo Sze Ho, he missed Friday’s unofficial sessions, but was quickly up to speed by Saturday morning’s two official practice sessions, but found himself with plenty to do when the rain came, the Honda driver qualifying on the fifth row, although conversely, that would put him off the front row for the second reverse-top-ten grid - unfortunately, a DNF in race one, meant he would not get that chance..
With the tail end of Typhoon Soulik still playing havoc with the weather, the teams were faced with light drizzle as they prepared for the opening race, conditions which saw many an engineer looking nervously between the sky and their laptops as they battled with the right choice of tyres in the ever changing conditions.
Ultimately the race would start dry, but that didn’t help pole-sitter Kantadhee Kusiri who was swamped at the first turn by Engstler and the fast starting Chariya Nuya and Charlie Kang who disputed the left-hander all the way down to the apex of the corner and into the side of Engstler, forcing the German wide which had the knock-on effect of pushing Kusiri off the circuit into the run off area which dropped him back to third on the run into turn two.
By turn three Mitchell Cheah had joined in the lead battle as had title rival Lo, as Nuya and Kang struck trouble in the tight right-hander, Kang ejected out of the lead pack and into a half spin on the exit whilst Nuya dropped back to eighth where he came under attack from Alex Hui who was turning his first laps of the weekend after starting from the rear of the field.
Cheah charged to be second by the final sector of the lap, banging doors with Engstler as he pulled alongside on the run into turn ten, but with the Malaysian on the outside of the right-hander, Engstler knew he had him covered.
From there the field settled down as the laps counted down, Kusiri the big mover, working his way past Lo, then Cheah, and finally Engstler to lead by half race distance, although again, Engstler knew that despite comfortably holding second, he would in fact claim top TCR Asia points for the round, however he had to battle braking with just three wheels after the contact in the opening corner damaged the disc on the left rear.
Whilst Kusiri would ultimately cross the line ten seconds clear of Engstler, the young German would claim his second win of the year, and with it return to the championship points lead after the demise of both his team-mate Mitchell Cheah who dropped back late in the race with a turbo issue, whilst for title rival Lo Sze Ho, his maiden race in Korea ended with terminal engine failure.
That gave local hero Andrew Kim a podium finish and the maiden win for TCR Korea, with his team-mate - former TCR Asia regular - Alex Hui, fourth. Kelvin Wong and Alex Liu - who recovered from a rear-of-field run after stalling off the start - fifth and sixth, but second and third in TCR Asia, with Byoung Huyn Kim seventh and second overall for TCR Korea in his DreamRacer FK7 Honda.
Eighth was Thailand’s Hanjitkasem in the second of the Hondas, ahead of the two Indigo Racing Hyundai’s with Hoon Hyun Cho leading home team-mate Charlie Kang.
Do Hyeon Lee was fifth for TCR Korea in the E-Rain Motorsport Hyundai, ahead of Chariya Nuya who suffered his own technical issues with a wheel after dramas at turn three on the opening lap, dropping the Thai driver back down the order to finish just ahead of Viper Niza Racing’s Douglas Khoo who again saw his team claim victory in Korea.
Unfortunately for the TCR teams, rain had intensified during the three hour gap between races, making conditions fairly treacherous as they set out for the second race of the day.
With Lo Sze Ho out after his race one DNF and Dongwoo Kang opting to start from pit lane, that saw both front row starters out for the wet standing start elevating Alex Liu and Andrew Kim to the front of the field.
Off the effective pole, Alex Liu got a great start to lead down to turn one, with Chariya Nuya again making a blinding start to be second as the field tipped in to the left hander, the reigning TCR Thailand champion with a fast starting Mitchell Cheah alongside.
The action started at turn three, with Kusiri pushed off at the exit to the inside of the 180 degree corner, whilst the third of the Liqui Moly Volkswagens of Diego Moran was forced to run very wide to avoid the melee in front of him, the round four winner moving onto the tail of the leaders by the time they hit turn four.
Sadly for Alex Liu, an attack from Cheah unsettled him on the exit of the corner, the Cupra TCR driver carrying too much speed into the corner, to exit completely sideways, although fortunately he was able to collect it before looping completely to lose just a place to Nuya.
By the close of the lap, Engstler had crept through the field to be in second position but three seconds down on his team mate who was revelling in the conditions, the #29 Volkswagen often in a full four-wheel drift as he circulated the Korea International circuit.
Unfortunately though he was unable to do anything about Engstler, the TCR experience of the young German - who is doing double-duty this season between TCR Asia and TCR Germany - moving into the lead at the exit of turn three on the fourth lap, but no sooner had he completed the move than the Safety Car board was displayed for Alex Liu who had come into contact with one of the Indigo Racing Hyundai’s mid pack and come off the circuit.
That regrouped the field with Cheah back in front of Engstler, whilst behind them, the Safety Car intervention had allowed Kantadhee Kusiri to close in once more, the reigning champion joined by his 2017 Team Engstler team-mate, Diego Moran.
Cheah knew though it was only a matter of time before Engstler would make a move, and no sooner had the Safety Car returned to pit lane than the #8 Volkswagen was through to lead, Cheah then turning his focus to Kusiri behind and Moran who too was closing in.
In the end, it was Engstler who would prevail in the tough conditions to take the win from Kusiri by just three tenths of a second, the reigning champion pushing the new points leader right through the closing stanza of the race, the pair of them in the end 20 seconds clear of Cheah who swapped the final position on the podium lap after lap across the dying stages with team-mate Diego Moran, the young Malaysian prevailing in the end by less than two tenths of a second.
Charlie Kang was an exceptional fifth in the Indigo Racing Hyundai, claiming the top spot for TCR Korea having used his local experience to close down Chariya Nuya in the closing stages of the race. Seventh was Nattachak Hanjitkasem who himself had driven brilliantly in the slippery conditions to be inside the top six for much of the race, the Thai driver finishing well clear of DongWoo Kang who had started the race from pit lane.
Ninth was Kim in the DreamRacer Honda FK7 ahead of Andrew Kim who would claim top points for the maiden event of TCR Korea by virtue of his win in race one, whilst for Douglas Khoo, he would claim the TCR Asia Cup victory after a great run in the conditions, the Viper Niza Racing team boss all smiles with the team’s great haul of trophies across the weekend.
For the TCR Asia Series, focus now turns to China for the final two rounds of the season at Shanghai International Circuit on October 5-6, where Luca Engstler holds an 11-point lead over team-mate Mitchell Cheah after his third win of the season.
Keep up to date with the 2018 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
TCR Asia Series Driver’s Championship points (after eight rounds of ten)
1. Luca Engstler (143-points), 21. Mitchell Cheah (132), 3. Lo Sze Ho (98), 4. Diego Moran (94), 5. Kelvin Wong (92), 6. Alex Liu (69), 7. Douglas Khoo (61), 8. Abdul Kaathir (22), 9. Clement Him (16), 10. Akash Nandy (13), 11. Ivan Szeto (6)
TCR Asia Series Cup Driver’s Championship points (after eight rounds of ten)
1. Kelvin Wong (173-points), 2. Douglas Khoo (126), 3. Alex Liu (123), 4. Clement Him (29), 5. Ivan Szeto (18)
TCR Asia Series Team’s Championship points (after eight rounds of ten)
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (330-points), 2. Elegant Racing Team (169), 3. Maximum Racing (123), 4. Viper Niza Racing (67), 5. R Engineering (37)
TCR Asia Series Car Model of the Year Championship points (after eight rounds of ten)