The 2017 season of the TCR Asia Series will begin at Sepang in Malaysia this week, the third consecutive season the popular touring car championship has competed on the famed Malaysian Formula One circuit.
A host of new cars and new drivers will join the field in Malaysia, an event which will also see the Asian debut of the exciting new Audi RS3 LMS TCR, a car introduced in late 2016 to much acclaim. It also heralded a new era for both TCR and Audi, with the German manufacturer throwing their immense support behind the programme, which is set to mirror the rewards the marque has enjoyed in GT3 competition with the successful R8 LMS GT3.
Whilst Audi will undoubtedly make their presence felt, two young Thai drivers are expected to lead the charge in season 2017, one of which will take over the reigns with reigning champions Liqui Moly Team Engstler - Kantadhee Kusiri. The German-based outfit were the star performers last year, with multiple China Touring Car Champion Andy Yan dominating the championship with five wins from ten starts.
Kusiri has enjoyed past experience in the TCR International Series, having impressed on his debut at Buriram last August, finishing sixth and ninth against the experienced international field. Since then he has gone on to win four rounds of the TCR Thailand Series from four starts, remaining undefeated on home soil - an ominous sign with four races in Thailand during 2017.
Whilst Andy Yan was the star performer in 2016, his greatest threat throughout the year was always Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai, the young Thai showing impressive speed across the season. Sadly he suffered from a wretched string of luck mechanically, failing to finish on four occasions, leaving Yan free to decimate the field at leisure. In an identical car to Kusiri for 2017, Sritrai starts the season as one of the favourites.
Joining Kusiri in the second of the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen’s will be Ecuador’s Diego Moran, the Chinese-based driver is a former race winner in the Colombian Road Racing Championships in Super 2000, and a solid addition to the driver lineup for the reigning champions.
Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s domination of the 2016 season included taking both the driver’s title and the team’s championships, a nod perhaps to the experienced long-time touring car campaigners, and whilst that experience will force their rivals to be on their ‘A’ game for 2017, there is another team with European foundations that could provide a serious challenge.
Phoenix Racing Asia was established to compete in Asian GT3 competition in 2016 with almost instant success. Formed as a partnership between German powerhouse Phoenix Racing and successful team owner Ernst Moser, and Hong Kong’s Marchy Lee, the new team claimed both the Audi R8 LMS Cup title on debut for former Malaysian F1 driver Alex Yoong, whilst also handing Hong Kong’s Shaun Thong the Pro-Am title in the hotly contested GT Asia Series.
For season 2017, Phoenix Racing Asia - with support from Audi Hong Kong - have expanded into touring car competition with the all-new Audi RS3 LMS TCR, giving the car it’s Asian debut at Sepang. Driving duties will fall on the shoulders of another rising young Hong Kong star in Jasper Thong, the 17-year old will be on a steep learning curve after spending a season in open-wheelers in 2016, with a cameo appearance in a Phoenix-run Audi R8 LMS in the Cup.
Thong will be joined in Sepang by SK Tong the Hong Kong driver is likely to contest a reduced campaign this season, with another ‘star’ driver expected to take up the seat alongside Thong for the bulk of the season.. Watch this space!
Honda too will be well represented by local team R Engineering, the Malaysian operation has proven successful across various Malaysian championships, and will campaign WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir in a pair of JAS Motorsport prepared Honda Civic TCRs.
Lai will compete in a brand new Civic, whilst Kaathir will be behind the wheel of an updated Honda, which had been a test car in Asia for JAS since 2015 - it was also the car which took Italian driver Roberto Colciago to pole position and victory in the opening TCR International race at Sepang last year, so a pretty handy piece of gear!
Seat will again be well represented, with Douglas Khoo returning in a 2017 Seat Léon TCR V2 SEQ, the Viper Niza Racing team leader looking to impress in his second season in the Amateur Cup, although he will have plenty of competition.
Hong Kong based Elegant Sports Team will field a pair of Seat Léon V2 DSGs for experienced touring car campaigners Eric K. and Alex Liu, both have past experience in a TCR car during cameo appearances at Sepang in 2015, and they will be looking to put that experience to good use during the two 60-kilometre races scheduled for Sunday.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
You’d be hard pressed to look past the reigning champion’s hot new recruit, Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Kantadhee Kusiri as the likely pace-setter, the young Thai has some serious open-wheel credentials from Europe, and recently dominated the TCR Thailand event on the streets of Bangsaen, out-running recognized stars like Carlo Van Dam and Jack Lemvard.
His greatest threat though is likely to come in the face of compatriot Tin Sritrai, a driver who suffered horrendous misfortune at almost every round last year, in many cases, whilst in a position for victory. Ultimately the bulk of his misfortune was car related, but mounted behind the wheel of an identical Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR to Kusiri, you could expect huge fireworks at the front of the field from the two young Thais..
Malaysia’s R Engineering team too will present a challenge for the podium, with experienced local campaigners WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir expected to feature strongly in their Honda Civic TCRs, the two have significant experience at Sepang and have shown strong pace in pre-event testing.
As for the remainder of the field, give them time.. Coming into a new series relatively fresh is a challenge, so too learning the art of extracting the maximum performance from their 2-litre turbo front-wheel drive powerhouses.
You could also expect the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR to quickly establish itself as a contender, and with rising young star Jasper Thong behind the wheel of the Pheonix Racing Asia car, with support from arguably Hong Kong’s greatest motorsport export - Marchy Lee - the 17-year old will likely become a big threat as the season unfolds.
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.
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)
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)
Rnd#1/#2 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Schedule (MYT - GMT +8)
Friday, 10 March, 2017
10:00am - Practice#1 (30-minutes)
3:45pm - Practice#2 (30-minutes)
Saturday, 11 March, 2017
11:25am - Practice#3 (30-minutes)
4:15pm - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
4:40pm - Qualifying#2 (20-minutes)
Sunday, 12 March, 2017
10:05am - Race#1 (11-laps)
2:30pm - Race#2 (11-laps)
2016 Driver’s Championship points
1. Andy Yan (220-points), 2. Kevin Tse (138), 3. Tin Sritrai (111), 4. Filipe de Souza (93), 5. Henry Ho (70), 6. Roelof Bruins (41), 7. Douglas Khoo (34), 8. Bill O’Brien (33), 9. Jack Lemvard (31), 10. Terrence Tse (28)
2016 Amateur Championship points
1. Kevin Tse (218), 2. Douglas Khoo (98), 3. Bill O’Brien (93), 4. Terrence Tse (88), 5. Michael Ho (52)
2016 Team’s Championship points
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (313), 2. TeamWork Motorsport (171), 3. Team Thailand (11), 4. Champ Motorsport (88), 5. Viper Niza Racing (75)