Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s rapid new recruit Kantadhee Kusiri has continued to dominate the timesheets during his TCR Asia Series debut at Sepang International Circuit, the young Thai star ultimately sealing pole position in both legs of qualifying, to take the top spot from new team-mate Diego Moran.
The day had started with the final practice session in cooler conditions just after 11:00am where Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai and Moran went head-to-head for the top spot before Kusiri put in a blinding lap as the clock wound down to zero, his 2:16.516 the fastest of the weekend, although still half a second shy of Sritrai’s 2016 qualifying best of 2:16.006.
From the opening lap of qualifying it was clear that no records would fall in the 34 degree humid conditions - the circuit touching 55 degrees as the cars rolled out, times in the opening qualifier more than two seconds slower than the cooler morning session.
Local hero WS Lai proved the value of infinite laps of Sepang to top the charts early, taking his new R Engineering Honda Civic TCR to the top spot with a 2:19.953, but Kusiri hit back almost immediately to better the mark to a 2:18.629.
Tin Sritrai started to improve, but was clearly suffering an issue, the #9 Volkswagen spending time in the pits with the team investigating a gearshift issues that kept him from successfully down-changing under heavy braking.
In the end Kusiri improved to a best of 2:18.629, whilst Lai’s Honda team-mate Abdul Kaathir - the leading Cup driver - set an impressive 2:19.186 to take second, Kusiri’s team-mate third with Audi Hong Kong’s Jasper Thong an impressive fourth.
Sadly both Alex Liu (Empress Sports Team Seat Léon) and Douglas Khoo (Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon) both failed to make it into Q2, Khoo frustrated at being unable to capitalise on his impressive form from final practice which saw him classified fourth.
Kusiri wasn’t hanging around in Q2, the new Liqui Moly Team Engstler recruit charging to a 2:17.359 on his first lap to put pole position out of question, the Thai driver ultimately nine tenths of a second quicker than WS Lai, with team-mate Diego Moran third. Kaathir made it two Liqui Moly Volkswagen’s and two R Engineering Hondas on the front two rows, with Sritrai battling around to a frustrated fifth.
Audi Hong Kong rookie Jasper Thong claimed sixth, frustrated by a lack of pace in the testing third sector, whilst Eric K was seventh in the leading Seat. Sadly for SK Tong, the Phoenix Racing Asia driver ended his second qualifier in the turn one gravel trap after running in too deep under brakes on his first hot lap.
Frustratingly though prior to the official release of the results, both R Engineering Hondas were excluded from the session after a parc-ferme infringement, elevating Moran to a front row start alongside his team-mate, with Sritrai now classified third and Jasper Thong - the leading Cup driver - fourth.
What the driver’s had to say;
1. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I’m feeling very good, I qualified on P1 and the car was very quick and easy to drive. I want to say thanks to Liqui Moly Team Engstler, they did a great job in qualifying - now let’s see what we can do in race one. After Q1 we put new tyres on the front of the car which made it much better. The track conditions had changed, the heat made it very slippery and there was a lot of understeer to deal with.”
2. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“It was a good qualifying for me, I did very good sector times but unfortunately I didn’t do the perfect lap I was looking for, anyway third position is very good for my first time here in TCR at this track and in this car. Everything is new for me, so I’m quite happy with it.”
3. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“It’s very tough for me this weekend with the new car. Unfortunately I suffered a gearbox problem and I wasn’t able to down-shift under heavy braking, so I couldn’t push, but I think we’ll be able to fix everything by race one tomorrow and it will be okay.”
Rnd#1/2 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
1. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.359
2. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:18.382
3. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:18.620
4. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:19.014
5. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.426
6. SK Tong* - Phoenix Racing Asia Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:20.452
7. Alex Liu* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.623
8. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.810
EXC. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:18.267
EXC. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:18.430
Both Sepang races will be live-streamed through the TCR Asia Series website and through Facebook. Details of the streams and the broadcast times will be available on the TCR Asia Series website - www.asia.tcr-series.com - and through social media; www.facebook.com/TCRAsiaSeries will also post news, video clips, images and updates, and you can also get involved in the conversation on www.twitter.com/TCRAsiaSeries
SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Sepang International Circuit, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
Track length: 5.453-kilometres
Designer/Circuit first opened: Hermann Tilke, 7 March 1999
TCR Asia Series Lap record:
2:18.332 - Race (Tin Sritrai, Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR, September 2016)
2:16.006 - Qualifying (Tin Sritrai, Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR, September 2016)
Number of times TCR Asia Series has competed at Sepang previously: 2
TCR ASIA SERIES AND SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Malaysia’s Formula One home played host to the TCR Asia Series in both 2015 and 2016, providing the very first laps for the first TCR regional championship back in March 2015. That event was a stand-alone for TCR Asia, whilst the Series’ return in September 2016, was alongside the TCR International Series where Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai was the standout local performer in qualifying and fastest during the race, with TCR Asia wins going to Volkswagen drivers Kevin Tse and Andy Yan.
Rnd#1/#2 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Schedule (MYT - GMT +8)
Sunday, 12 March, 2017
10:05am - Race#1 (11-laps)
2:30pm - Race#2 (11-laps)