As it did 12-months ago, the fourth season of the TCR Asia Series will begin at Sepang in Malaysia this weekend, with the opening two rounds of a ten round season, taking in Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea and China.
The event also signals the opening round of the new South-East Asia Cup, contested between teams entered in the TCR Asia and TCR Thailand Series, with Malaysia one of three events the two Series will contest together, alongside Buriram in June before a return to the popular Bangsaen Grand Prix in mid-July.
For season 2018, the outright Driver’s Championship is looking for a new contender, with Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s reigning champion Kantadhee Kusiri moving on to GT cars, although his 2017 title rival and team-mate Diego Moran will be back behind the wheel of one of three iconic white, red and blue (and in Moran’s case - yellow) Volkswagen Golf GTi TCRs for a full season campaign.
The popular Ecuadorian will start amongst the Series favourites, and is a former winner at Sepang, however his greatest challenge is likely to come from new team-mate and Middle-East TCR champion, Luca Engstler.
Engstler - son of team principal Franz Engstler - was a standout on his full season debut in Germany in 2017, concluding the Series as the ADAC TCR Rookie of the Year before dominating the Middle East championship with three wins from five starts.
Whilst the two Volkswagen drivers are expected to battle at the front of the field, 2017 TCR Asia Series sensations R Engineering will do their best to gate-crash the party with their 2017 Honda Civic TCRs.
Despite the depth and strength of talent in the Liqui Moly Volkswagen team last season, it was actually the rookie Malaysian Honda team who were the standouts by mid-season, with team-leader WS Lai on top of the Driver’s Championship points, whilst team-mate Abdul Kaathir led the TCR Asia Cup points, the pair taking R Engineering to the top of the Team’s points in the process, although a tough close to the season allowed the German-based team to take home the bulk of the silverware.
Lai and his team have taken a lot from their 2017 experience, and whilst the team boss sits out his home event this weekend due to the delay in the arrival of their all-new Honda Civic Type R TCRs, he has appointed a super-sub to step into the seat for him in the guise of 21-year old former GT regular Akash Nandy.
An open-wheel graduate, Nandy won the Formula Masters China Series Macau Grand Prix invitational in 2013 as a 16 year old and the Malaysian driver has been a contender in everything he’s driven ever since, but Sepang will mark the local driver’s debut in a TCR car, and based on the performance of the R Engineering team in 2017, he will certainly start amongst the Series favourites.
With team-mate Abdul Kaathir alongside to defend his TCR Asia Cup title, the R Engineering team will be a real force again in season 2018, and with extensive experience in the Malaysian Super Series - specifically at Sepang - they could well spring a surprise on the reigning champions in the red, white and blue..
Nandy and Kaathir might be outright contenders at home, but the addition of another local driver has attracted much interest, not the least because of his addition to a team who has been a major power in the TCR Asia Series since the second season - Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
Mitchell Cheah earned the support of not just the most successful team in TCR Asia Series history, but also the backing of Sepang International Circuit (SIC) after winning an entry into the 2018 season as part of SIC’s talent development program, part of their vision to aid a Malaysian driver to ultimately progress through to the ranks of the FIA WTCR.
Against four other rivals across a variety of disciplines which ultimately saw a single-day test in a TCR car at SIC, Cheah - the reigning Malaysian Super Series Touring Production champion (defeating the likes of WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir) - was declared the winner and given full support for his maiden season in the TCR Asia Series with the Liqui Moly Team Engstler operation.
Whilst the TCR Asia Series regulars will be right in the mix at the front of the field, don’t discount the TCR Thailand teams - many of whom will be making their debuts on the Sepang circuit as party of a combined challenge with TCR Asia that will see one driver crowned the TCR South East Asia Cup champion at the conclusion of the Bangsaen round in July.
Billionaire Boys Racing’s Chariya Nuya comes into the opening round of the season as the reigning TCR Thailand champion after claiming five wins from ten starts in his Honda Civic TCR.
Nattanid Leewattanavaragul was one of the crowd favourites last year, her podium result in the second TCR Asia Series race at the Bangsaen Grand Prix a highlight for fans, and for her ongoing efforts in TCR Thailand which ultimately led to the runner-up position behind Nuya making her a serious title contender this year in the Morin Racing Team by Sunoco Seat Leon.
Nattachak Hanjitkasem also returns for another season in the TBN MK ihear Racing Honda looking for some solid results in his third year in TCR Thailand.
The three experienced TCR Thailand campaigners though will have some new challengers in season 2018, with reigning Thailand Super Series Super 2000 champion Pattarapol Vongprai making his debut for Vattana Motorsport in another 2017 Honda Civic, whilst Jakrapan Davee - one of the TSS Super Production front-runners - will debut in an Alphafactory by Pulzar Seat Leon TCR.
Hong Kong’s Maximum Racing will also make their TCR Asia Series debut at Sepang, with experienced Production car and part-time GT driver Lo Sze Ho joining endurance driver Ivan Szeto in a pair of Honda Civics.
With TCR Asia Cup front runner Douglas Khoo back from his maiden European sportscar event just a week ago, the Viper Niza Racing team return to their home circuit looking to apply their newfound experience to challenge for the top points in the Cup title race in 2018 with their menacing black and red #65 Seat Leon V3 SEQ.
The 2018 event begins with pre-season testing at Sepang Circuit ahead of official practice on Friday 30 March, then qualifying on Saturday 31 March and the opening two rounds of the season on Sunday April 1st.
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 news, video clips, images and updates will also be posted, and you can also get involved in the conversation on www.twitter.com/TCRAsiaSeries
WHO’S COMPETING IN SEPANG?
2. Akash Nandy (R Engineering 2017 Honda Civic TCR)
3. Alex Liu (Elegant Racing Team Seat Leon TCR SEQ V2)*
8. Luca Engstler (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
15. Chariya Nuya (BBR 2017 Honda Civic TCR)#
22. Ivan Szeto (Maximum Racing 2016 Honda Civic TCR)
23. Abdul Kaathir (R Engineering 2017 Honda Civic TCR)*
28. Lo Ho (Maximum Racing 2016 Honda Civic TCR)
29. Mitchell Cheah (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
32. Diego Moran (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
33. Kelvin Wong (Elegant Racing Team Seat Leon TCR SEQ V2)*
59. Pattarapol Vongprai (Vattana Motorsport 2017 Honda Civic TCR)#
65. Douglas Khoo (Viper Niza Racing Seat Leon TCR SEQ V3)*
66. Nattachak Hanjitkasem (TBN ihear Racing 2017 Honda Civic TCR)#
96. Nattanid Leewattanavaragul (Morin Racing Team by Sunoco Seat Leon TCR DSG V3)#
133. Jakraphan Davee (Alphafactory Racing by Pulzar Seat Leon TCR DSG V3)#
*TCR Asia Cup driver #Am driver
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:
2:16.853 - Race (Kantadhee Kusiri, Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen TCR, March 2017)
2:16.006 - Qualifying (Tin Sritrai, Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR, September 2016)
Number of years TCR Asia Series has competed at Sepang previously: 3 (7x rounds)
TCR ASIA SERIES AND SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Malaysia’s leading international circuit has played host to the TCR Asia Series every season since 2015, 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. It was the host of the opening round in 2017, again as a stand-alone event for TCR Asia, with Liqui Moly Team Ensgtler drivers Kantadhee Kusiri and Diego Moran taking a win apiece.
2015 - Rnd#1 (10-laps)
Pole position: Rodolfo Avila (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR) - 2:19.363
1. Rodolfo Avila (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR)
2. Philippe Descombes (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR)
3. Michael Choi (Prince Racing Honda Civic TCR)
2015 - Rnd#2 (10-laps)
Pole position: Philippe Descombes (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR) - 2:19.335
1. Philippe Descombes (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR)
2. Michael Choi (Prince Racing Honda Civic TCR)
3. Eric K. (Craft Bamboo Racing Seat Leon TCR)
2015 - Rnd#3 (10-laps)
1. Philippe Descombes (Asia Racing Team Seat Leon TCR)
2. Eric K. (Craft Bamboo Racing Seat Leon TCR)
3. Masahiko Ida (Roadstar Racing Team Seat Leon TCR)
2016 - Rnd#7 (11-laps)
Pole position: Tin Sritrai (Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR) - 2:16.006
1. Kevin Tse (TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2. Andy Yan (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
3. Filipe de Souza (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2016 - Rnd#8 (10-laps)
1. Andy Yan (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2. Kevin Tse (TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
3. Tin Sritrai (Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR)
2017 - Rnd#1 (11-laps)
Pole position: Kantadhee Kusiri (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf TCR) - 2:17.359
1. Kantadhee Kusiri (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2. Diego Moran (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
3. Tin Sritrai (Team Thailand Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2017 - Rnd#2 (11-laps)
1. Diego Moran (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR)
2. WS Lai (R Engineering Honda Civic TCR)
3. Abdul Kaathir (R Engineering Honda Civic TCR)
Rnd#1/#2 - 2018 TCR Asia Series
Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Schedule (MYT - GMT +8)
Friday, 30 March, 2018
10:45am - Practice#1 (30-minutes)
3:30pm - Practice#2 (30-minutes)
Saturday, 31 March, 2018
10:00am - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
10:25am - Qualifying#2 (20-minutes)
Sunday, 1 April, 2018
10:05am - Race#1 (11-laps)
4:00pm - Race#2 (11-laps)