After the drama of the opening race at the Bangsaen Grand Prix, the start of round eight of the 2017 TCR Asia Series saw much drawn breath around the circuit, as the 15 remaining cars from Saturday’s aborted first start, drove off the line and through to turn one - fortunately - without any contact.
Sadly though, the inevitable contact did continue, with first a stoppage to recover three stricken cars mid-race, before the final red flag for TCR Asia came within sight of the finish after points leader WS Lai collected race leader Jasper Thong under brakes down at turn 18, putting both into the barriers.
That allowed the closely following Tin Sritrai to move into the lead, and after the Safety Car was deployed, the race was ultimately declared, handing the Thai driver back-to-back wins at home, with Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Diego Moran and local favourite Nattanid Leewattanavaragul completing the podium.
Emotions were running high post-race, and continue to smolder on social media, but despite the tensions, the underlying result of TCR’s first visit to the beachside circuit was success, with drivers, teams, sponsors and the Thai fans themselves declaring the event a huge success with plans already underway for a return in season 2018.
The reverse grid top ten was always expected to present a challenge off the start, especially after the immense drama of the opening race which saw the two front row qualifiers make contact just 100-metres past the start, forcing a sequence of events which would eventually bring the race to a stop with more than half the field involved in contact.
Fortunately only one car was unable to join the field for race two thanks to the damage caused as a result, with many teams working well into the night to ensure their cars were prepared. Ultimately the incident would be placed squarely on the shoulders of top qualifier and pre-race favourite Kantadhee Kusiri, the former Bangsaen winner handed a drive through penalty to be taken in the first two laps of round eight, and a written warning about driver conduct.
The Thai driver was quick to admit his error and apologise to his rivals, but the damage was done to both his, and many other title contender’s haul of points, so all were keen to make amends in Sunday’s second race.
Local star Nattanid Leewattanavaragul held pole position for the start with round three winner Jasper Thong alongside in the Audi Hong Kong RS3 LMS TCR, whilst Abdul Kaathir and Alex Liu would start from row two.
Leewattanavaragul had a fantastic start to lead down to turn one, whilst Jasper Thong too started strong despite immense wheelspin. Perhaps the best start though was made by multiple Malaysian Drag Racing champion WS Lai who charged from sixth position on the grid to be second on the exit of turn two, right under the rear wing of Jasper Thong who had taken Leewattanavaragul under brakes into the left-hander.
Behind them Shaun Thong’s tough weekend continued with another slow start, the GT3 star battling with the launch control system, and for the third time, he became bogged down on the line as much of the field drove around him.
Kusiri too made a strong start from the fifth row, and elected to serve his drive-through penalty on the opening lap, but very quickly all the ground he lost was recovered after a Safety Car intervention on lap three for big contact at the back of the circuit between Douglas Khoo, Eric Kwong and Chariya Nuya, the Thai driver looking to make a passing move on a tricky part of the circuit - sadly it ended badly for all three.
After the restart Sritrai was the big mover, taking both Alex Liu and Diego Moran in quick succession to close onto the tail of the battle for the lead between Jasper Thong and Lai, a battle which had continued on from turn two on the opening lap.
Lai could see Sritrai closing in fast, the Malaysian also looking to claim what would be his first win of the year, but sadly the decision he took to finally make a move for the front, ended in tears for both leaders, ultimately handing Sritrai back-to-back wins..
He’d set the move up a lap before, closing in under Thong’s rear wing as they braked for the double left-hander at turn 18. On lap ten he decided to do the same again, looking to pull out of the slipstream off the fast back straight to dive up the inside under brakes, but sadly the opportunity never came as Lai was caught out by Thong’s braking point, the two making heavy contact forcing them hard into the safety barriers on the exit of the corner.
The emotion was running high in both teams shortly after, with the expected reasons as to who did what and why, but the bottom line was that both were eliminated from the race. The Safety Car was immediately called, circulating one more lap before officials declared that the contact with the barriers would force lengthy repairs for safety reasons, ultimately ending the race with a red flag.
That handed Sritrai back-to-back wins at his home event, in the process elevating him to second place as a result of only half points being given for the shortened race, with Diego Moran a strong second, just ahead of pole-sitter and TCR Thailand winner Leewattanavaragul.
Alex Liu claimed a solid fourth for the Elegant Racing Team, the Macanese driver taking advantage of his experience on Asia’s other iconic street race - Macau, his result also handing him the TCR Asia Cup win, with Pasarit Promosmbat adding to Saturday’s podium finish to make it two RMI Racing Team Seat’s in the top five, and first and second in TCR Thailand.
Shaun Thong was a frustrated sixth as a result of his tough start, the Audi Hong Kong driver though one of the fastest on the circuit, again overtaking a number of cars, but disappointed he couldn’t show his true pace in the incident plagued event.
Kantadhee Kusiri recovered from the disappointment of race one to be seventh, ahead of Abdul Kaakthir and Nattachak Hanjitkasen, the only drivers to finish the shortened 11-lap race.
For now the TCR Asia Series regulars enjoy a summer sabbatical, before returning to China for the final two events of the season, the first of which will see them join the TCR China field at Shanghai International Circuit on August 25-27.
What the driver’s had to say;
1. Tin Sritrai - #79 Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR
“It has been a very good weekend for me, best time of my life. Double race wins at Bangsaen - my home circuit - where I had a lot of pressure across the weekend because a lot was expected of me. I knew I was fast from practice, but I wasn’t sure what the weekend would bring, but two wins is fantastic, I’m very very happy. There were a lot of accidents going on, but I just had to focus on my driving and what was going on in front of me, I feel very lucky this weekend.”
2. Diego Moran - #32 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I was always pushing to be on the podium, but it was a little unexpected. Yesterday I was unlucky with the contact and then the damage I suffered, but today I drove a smart race and tried to stay away from trouble. My team did a fantastic job to recover from yesterday. I was fast at the end, but the track doesn’t allow for mistakes, so my strategy was to avoid risk and to try and improve with every session. I love this Bangsaen circuit, the atmosphere and the circuit is fantastic.”
3. Nattanid Leewattanavaragul - #96 RMI Racing Team Seat Leon TCR
“The weekend was very good for me in my first time with TCR Asia. My team did a fantastic job and I was very comfortable in the car.”
DNF. WS Lai - #39 R Engineering Honda Civic TCR
“Not my lucky day.. I think I could have won today, because I was faster than Jasper [Thong] and I thought if I could take him, I could have won, but I’m so sorry, that I touched the rear of his car instead and put us both out. I’m still leading the championship sure, but I want to be able to win a race and today I felt I had that chance.”
DNF. Jasper Thong - #5 Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR
“I had a good start and led the race from the first corner from the Honda. He [Lai] was slightly quicker, but on a street circuit overtaking is difficult so I knew I had the advantage being in front. He tried a number of different moves, but in the end, I think he missed his braking point and hit me. I braked where I had been braking, and I got a big hit from behind which put me into the barriers. This is my rookie year, so I’m still learning, but I don't think his behavior was acceptable - he’s the championship points leader so there was no need for him to do that.”
Bangsaen Grand Prix, Chonburi, Thailand
Round#8 - 2017 TCR Asia Series (2 July, 2017)
1. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR - 11-laps
2. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +1.507
3. 96. N. Leewattanavaragul## - RMI Racing Team Seat Leon TCR +1.659
4. 99. Alex Liu* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +4.111
5. 14. Pasarit Promsombat# - RMI Racing Team Seat Leon TCR +4.906
6. 3. Shaun Thong - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR +5.407
7. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +6.214
8. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +6.834
9. 66. Nattachak Hanjitkasen## - TBN MK ihear Racing Team Honda Civic TCR +7.965
DNF. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 9-laps
DNF. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 9-laps
DNF. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 3-laps
DNF. 15. Chariya Nuya## - Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic TCR - 2-laps
DNF. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2-laps
DNF. Rattanin Leenutaphong## - Yontrakit Racing Team Seat Leon TCR - 2-laps
DNS. 89. Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya# - Singha Motorsport Seat Leon TCR
2017 Driver’s Championship points
1. WS Lai (113-points), 2. Tin Sritrai (108.5), 3. Diego Moran (99), 4. Kantadhee Kusiri (95), 5. Abdul Kaathir (85), 6. Jasper Thong (70), 7. Eric K. (60), 8. Alex Liu (51.5), 9. Shaun Thong (40), 10. Douglas Khoo (30), 11. Byron Tong (12), 12. Alex Fong (2)
2017 TCR Cup Driver’s Championship points
1. Abdul Kaathir (145-points), 2. Jasper Thong (115), 3. Eric K. (99), 4. Alex Liu (92.5), 5. Douglas Khoo (73), 6. SK Tong (30), 7. Alex Fong (10)
2017 Team’s Championship points
1. R Engineering (198-points), 2. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (194), 3. Audi Hong Kong (112), 4. Elegant Racing Team (111.5), 5. Team Thailand (108.5), 6. Viper Niza Racing (30), 7. Phoenix Racing Asia (12)
2017 Car Model of the Year points
1. Honda Civic TCR (264.5-points), 2. Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR (208), 3. Seat Leon TCR (137.5), 4. Audi RS3 LMS TCR (134)