Published on July 28th, 2014 | by Daniel Sherman Fernandez0
Thai Super Series 2014 @ Bira Circuit
Thai motorsport stopped in its tracks early last Saturday morning to honour the 100th anniversary of the birth of Prince Bira, a towering figure who went out into the world to fly the Thai flag high, enjoying much on track success and becoming the only Thai to ever drive in Formula 1. He drove forward the development of motorsport here right from scratch and was a perfect role model who created a legacy that every Thai racer follows today.
So it was a real honour that Thailand Super Series (TSS), represented by TSS President Sontaya Kunplome and TSS Race Director Preeda Tantemsapya, was able to join the other key stakeholders in motorsport here, including drivers from past to present, in celebrating the life of this iconic figure during a ceremony at Bira Circuit hosted by the Royal Automobile Association of Thailand.
Meanwhile, when TSS pitched up at Bira Circuit earlier this month for the second round of the year, there was real strength in depth on show across the many support categories – several of which were in fact kicking off their 2014 seasons having not made the trip to Sepang back in May.
Super Pickup, Super 1500, Super Production and Super Eco all delivered thrilling races and non-stop action to keep the spectators on the edges of their seats. In Super Pickup reigning champion Khun Pete Thongchua resumed where he left off in Bangsaen last December by taking two clear wins from the three races (he was only let down by mechanical problems in the final race) to kick-start his title defence in some style.
In Super 1500 there was close competition all the way from green lights to checkered flag but in the end Khun Weerasak Homsuwan added two more wins to the pair he bagged in Sepang and that has now put him well on the way to the title.
In Super Production there was the usual feverish action associated with this category and a new name on the winners trophy, Khun Piyalert Boonyakiat, while the other winner of the double-header was a regular on the top step of the podium, Khun Pasarit Phromsombat. Finally, Super Eco ushered in an exciting new name to look out for in the future, Khun Poomee Phromatham, he impressively won all three races to but himself into the championship lead but he certainly had to work hard for those wins.
Drivers racing in TSS this season present during the celebration included Khun Chonsawat Asavahame, Khun Boonlit Wongwisutthirat, Khun Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, Khun Manat Kulapalanont, Khun Michael Freeman, Khun Paul Kenny and Khun Jakthong Navasoopanich. Other guests included Khun Udomsak Meechai, drivers Khun Tor Graves and Dr Iain Corness, Toyota Team Thailand Team Manager Khun Suttipong Smittachartch and Vattana Motorsport Team Manager Khun Santi Sukcharoenkijkul.
The event itself was a great success as many people came to fondly remember Prince Bira and pay their respects. “It was held in a traditional Thai way, with the ceremony and praying for him,” says Khun Preeda. “One short day, but in our hearts he’s always there, every day. It was nice weather, a nice atmosphere and nice that all the people, racers from past and present, came to participate.”
As well as the showpiece scale model built to commemorate the 100th Anniversary, there was another racecar on show, this time a full scale pukka track winner – and that really joined up the long line of dots in the timeline of Thai motorsport. That car was the #28 Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3 that Khun Chonsawat Asavahame used to win both races at the most recent round of Thailand Super Series, held at Bira Circuit only earlier this month.
This highly sophisticated machine, built to exacting FIA GT3 standards by Reiter Engineering in Germany, was brand new and flown into Thailand just in time to excel on the racetrack – and its presence really demonstrated that Thai racing stands on the threshold of a new golden era. The huge advances made over the last couple of seasons, TSS hopes, will be a small tribute to Prince Bira’s dazzling legacy; but for Khun Sontaya and Khun Preeda there was also a huge awareness that there is now a long, long way for TSS to travel.
Super Pickup (Race 1, 2 & 3)
There is really only one name in top-level truck racing these days – Khun Pete Thongchua – the actor-turned-racer is dominating the discipline in a Michael Schumacher-esque manner and he simply doesn’t look like he’s ready to give anyone else a go at the front yet. With two back-to-back titles already he’s persuaded Parker-Innovation Motorsport, which is now closely focused on its growing Super Production participation, to prepare the #17 Mazda BT-50 again, and so Khun Pete is looking for a hat trick of championships.
In fact while there have been triple title winners before in Super Pickup, no one has won three on the trot, so if Khun Pete achieves that feat it would put him firmly in the history books. Anyway he started out with plenty intent by cruising to pole position and then in the first of the three races held at Bira Circuit that kicked off the Super Pickup season he cruised to a 23.843-second win. And that performance from the ‘champ’ was well within his comfort zone.
That also made it six consecutive Super Pickup wins for the #17 BT-50, which has retained for the new season the eye catching yellow colours it first showed off in Bangsaen last December. In fact the team has slimmed down from three trucks last year to two for 2014 as Khun Michael Freeman is now focusing entirely on the Super Production category. Khun Phisit Netdetchathanasit took over the black-and-yellow #55 truck vacated by the Australian during free practice at Bira but he elected to switch back to his more familiar #78 machine in time for the race action.
Second overall went to Khun Awirotn Sirinworachai, who also won Class B. Third place went to Khun Nipon Khtsee who made it a 2-3 finish for The Pizza Company MyPay Petronas team, and he also won Class C to give the green and white trucks a double class victory in the first race of the year. Khun Waris Onyarab, who had started his Isuzu from the front row, rounded out the top four overall.
Khun Pete then made it seven consecutive wins in Race 2 as he again cruised to an almost identical margin over Khun Awirotn, this time the gap was 23.918-seconds, while Khun Nipon was next past the flag to make it an unchanged top-three.
However there wasn’t to be an eighth consecutive overall win for Khun Pete in the third and final race of the weekend. The Mazda star made a slow getaway at the green lights but he had the line into the first left-hander and was away into P1. It looked to be all exactly going to plan – as usual.
However with just a handful of laps of the race remaining Khun Pete suffered locking brakes which pitched him into a big spin and that dropped him from the lead and down to P2 once he had recovered and got back on track. With a deficit of almost five seconds and just a couple of laps remaining, Khun Pete suddenly was pushing very hard and the fans were on the edge of their seats. Unfortunately the brake problems proved to be terminal and just a few turns later the canary yellow #17 Mazda was stuck firmly in a gravel bed and going nowhere.
It was an incident filled race and there were many spins, including for the #16 machine of Eakalak Nakkied who capitalised on that rare DNF by Khun Pete to take the overall win – as well as Class B victory, while Khun Nippon in P2 made it a trio of top-three finishes overall for the weekend. This pair in fact finished not just 1-2 overall but also 1-2 in Class C and that race really proved there is still plenty of life left in the ‘truck racing’ concept.
Third overall went to Khun Nuthaporn Namjuck in the #46 Donut Racing-entered Toyota Hilux Vigo and as well as winning Class B, he also bagged the maximum points overall as Class C drivers are not eligible to score points at the top table. However all wasn’t lost for Parker-Innovation Motorsport after Khun Pete’s permanent trip into the gravel trap as Khun Phisit in the #78 Mazda BT-50 claimed a fighting fourth overall and second in Class B.
Although he suffered a rare DNF in Race 3, two maximum scores from winning Race 1 and Race 2 were good enough to put Khun Pete into the overall championship lead after the first round; he has 40 points with five races remaining this season.
Best of the rest is Khun Chumnan Onsiri who has 32 points thanks to three strong scoring finishes, he picked up 10, 10 and 12 points respectively from the three races, while Khun Phisit makes it both Parker-Innovation Motorsport drivers in the top three overall positions as he now has 30 points thanks to collecting a very solid haul of 8, 8 and 15 points respectively from the three races.
Meanwhile Khun Awirotn leads out Super Pickup’s Class B with 40 points after he won the class in Race 1 and Race 2 while Khun Nipon tops the Class C standings after he scored two wins and a runners up spot in the class from the three races.
Super 1500 (Race 3 & 4)
Khun Weerasak Homsuwan arrived at Bira as the clear Super 1500 championship leader having bagged a maximum score in Sepang during the season opener after winning both races. This driver and the lurid-green #77 TTS Racing Honda are now the in-form package to beat and although the entry list swelled up for the Bira rounds, Khun Weerasak was able to extend his cushion at the top of the standings with another perfect score.
After two very competitive races where the front of the Super 1500 pack was closely fought, Khun Weerasak claimed the top spot in the first race and similarly followed that up after emerging on top of a titanic three-way scrap in the second race to extend his advantage in the points standings just as TSS heads into the long mid-season break. Khun Weerasak has thus now made it four wins from four races.
Pole position for Race 1 went to Khun Anon Rodprasert (Singha TT Motorsport), another fast driver who was making his first appearance of the season at Bira; he was 1.598 seconds ahead of Khun Sorasak Saeng-xuto (Singha XO Team Eakie).
However, when the dust had settled on the first race of the weekend victory had gone to Khun Weerasak. He also wrapped up Class B honours. In a twist to the traditional timetable scheduling – the opening race was actually held on Friday afternoon along with races for some of the other support categories.
Second overall and first in Class C went to Khun Phuwarit Makmu (Race Factory Skunk 2 Racing Team) while in third was Khun Theerasak Sakphaet, who also claimed the runner up spot in Class B. Significantly for Khun Theerasak, he was also P5 on the road (as two drivers were later excluded from the results) and that would give him pole position for the second race as the top-five finishers were reversed on the grid. Of the other big names, Khun Sorasak dropped out on lap 16 while Khun Anon was also missing from the final results.
The second race was a real thriller at the front as Khun Theerasak capitalised on his pole position from the reversed top five finishers of the first race to storm into the lead. Khun Anon and Khun Weerasak locked onto the back of the black-and-green #11 car and this trio ran nose-to-tail for the first half of the race, their overall pace pulling them well away from the rest of the chasing pack. Khun Anon departed the fray on lap 13 and that left two cars in the battle for P1.
In the end though it was the championship leader Khun Weerasak who emerged on top of the battle; he was first past the checkered flag, but was just 2.124-seconds ahead of Khun Theerasak who also won Class C. Khun Sorasak had a better time of it though and he picked up third place overall and second in Class C although he was twenty seconds down the road from the front running duo at the end of the 20 laps.
Of the major retirements, Khun Anon dropped out of the reckoning after 12 laps while early DNFs went to Khun Phuwarit and Khun Komkrit, both were out on lap 3.
That means, at the half distance mark in the season, Khun Weerasak is the runaway leader in the Super 1500 championship overall; he now has 120 points – the maximum possible score he could have got. Second equal in the championship standings is Khun Sorasak, who was boosted by P3 in the second race. He also leads out the Class B classification, but there’s a going to be a real ding-dong battle in store for the runners up spot as the Singha XO Team Eakie driver now has 67 points and that’s exactly the same as Khun Tony Percy who had a tough weekend.
Khun Tony was running with a new team at Bira Circuit and his Toyota Vios certainly has a decent power disadvantage to the leading Hondas. However he still scored more championship points in both races, 4 points in the first and 8 points in the second, to keep well in the hunt while he is also standing in second place in Class B. Fourth overall is Khun Ray McDonald; he has 58 points and is second in the Class C standings, 13 points adrift of Khun Sorasak.
Super Production (Race 3 & 4)
In the first Super Production race Khun Piyalert Boonyakiat converted pole position into victory in the 18-lap race driving the #93 Honda Jazz. The OMP Vattana Motorsport pilot in fact took the checkered flag with a comfortable 10.267-seconds in hand over Khun Michael Freeman in the first of the Parker-Innovation Motorsport Mazda2 entries.
The Australian had started from the outside of the front row in the #55 car and that meant the top two drivers in qualifying had converted that dominance into race results. For both drivers it was their best result in Super Production to date.
Third place went to Khun Passakron Yamgathom (Honda City) and he also won Class B. Fourth went to reigning Super Production champion Khun Kajornsak Na Songkhla (Ford Fiesta) while Khun Pete Thongchua wrapped up the top five to put both of the factory-supported Mazda2s on the overall podium. Sixth and seventh overall went to Khun Sirisak Manthugumphol and Khun Thanapol Pruttipong, while they also bagged second and third in Class B respectively.
Next up in eighth overall came the Class C winner and for Khun Raris Yoovidhya (Honda Jazz) it was a superb result as the RMI Racing by Sunoco driver was forced to bounce back after he suffered a big impact with the concrete wall between S1 and S1 during free practice. That crash completely stove the front end of his Jazz in and left his mechanics with a huge amount of work to do to repair the car in time for the first race. That also left him without a qualifying time and meant he was forced to start from the back of the grid. None of this held back the driver though. Already in his rookie season in TSS, Khun Raris is marking himself out as a driver to look out for in the future.
After a difficult opening race when he had finished lapped and with just three points to his name, the overall championship points runner up coming into this weekend, Khun Pasarit Phromsombat, claimed victory in the second race with a final 2.550-second advantage over Khun Piyalert who backed up his first race win with P2 in the second, capping an excellent weekend for a driver who only returned to racing last year after a sabbatical. Khun Pasarit also won Class B.
Third overall went to Khun Kajornsak while fourth went to Khun Michael who beat Khun Thanasit Bhunyatharanonth to the finishline by just a tenth of a second, the #39 Kuroki ATP Tein Racing Honda Jazz enjoying a much more fruitful second race after ending up with a DNF in the first. In fact Khun Thanasit also claimed the runner up spot in Class B.
In Class C there was a brand new name on the top step of the podium, Khun Andrey Snetkov of TW Pro Racing. He’s in just his second season in TSS, which is also only his second in motor racing, and it was a victory that has been threatening to happen for sometime. He’s also become the first Russian driver to win a race in Thailand.
In the overall championship it simply couldn’t be any closer. Khun Kajornsak and Khun Pasarit arrived separated by just 3 points and after scoring 22- and 23-points, respectively, over the weekend they leave split now by only 2 points. The Super Production title battle certainly looks like it’s going to run all the way to Bangsaen in December.
The battle for third overall looks to be equally engaging as Khun Thanapol has 75 points and he’s just ahead of Khun Michael (73 points), Khun Passakron (71) and Khun Pete (64). It also means that if either of the top two in the championship slip up this battle could soon become one for the topmost spots.
In Class B it’s Khun Pasarit (105) who leads the standings from Khun Thanapol (99) and Khun Passakorn (94) while in Class C a brace second places in class at Bira for Singha XO Team Eakie driver Khun Witawin Sondthiraksa (105) has allowed the Honda City driver to open the gap up to Khun Raris (92) by a further 2 points. Two third places at Bira allow Khun Paul Kenny (87) of the Pizza Company team to be next up, while thanks to his win in the second race, Khun Andrey consolidates fourth place in the Class C standings.
Super Eco (Race 1, 2 & 3)
What a difference a year makes. At this track and this round a year ago the concept of ‘Eco Racing’ was born. The first ever ‘Eco’ car race ever to be held attracted just three cars – but anyone trackside very early on the Saturday morning for Race 1 knew that a ‘hit’ had been born. And so it went on to prove.
Fast-forward one year and there was a full grid – 26 cars – at Bira Circuit for the first ‘Super Eco’ races of the 2014 season. As the little Eco cars didn’t make the long trip to Sepang there would be three races reserved for this category over the weekend – one each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
When it all shook out there was a new name to be grappled with, Khun Poomee Phromatham. He posted the fastest time in the qualifying session and then proceeded to fend off all opposition to win all three races and make it a superb clean sweep for the weekend. Super Eco now has a new benchmark for everyone else to aim at – the light blue #18 Honda Brio.
In the first race Khun Poomee pulled away to register an 8.4 second win over another exciting new name to look out for in the future – youngster Khun Kmik Karnasuta. Third place meanwhile went to a much better known face in the TSS paddock, Khun Bhisanu Busitarnuntakul, although he was half a minute down the road at the end of the 10-lap race in his Brio Amaze. In fact Honda’s Brio is proving the Eco car to have as it locked out the top spots overall.
Race 2 kicked off very early at 0830 on Saturday morning and Khun Bhisanu took full advantage of the reversed top five on the grid to get a decent start and stretch out a lead. The early big battle was for P3 with Khun Kmik working very hard to fend off the day before’s winner, Khun Poomee, who had started on row three. There was a real scrap which was eventually ended in the latter’s favour when a slower car added a ‘mobile chicane’ element to the tussle.
From thereon Khun Poomee clinically picked off the front two to take his second win of the weekend. Khun Bhisanu drove well to finish second, keeping the gap to the winner down to 3.7 seconds at the flag. Once again the Brio proved to be the Eco car winner as it locked out the top three spots.
The third and final race saw Khun Poomee making yet another excellent start although he was crowded hard on the run down to the first left-hander. However it was all done and dusted by the time the big pack pulled up the hill towards the hairpin.
The main battle of the race was for P3 and it involved one of the larger-than-life characters of the paddock, Khun Naruchit Kiatmaneesri, who has this year joined one of the larger-than-life teams of the paddock, Donut Racing, and Khun Noppon Chedcsuzat. Both drivers though wouldn’t see the final classification.
In a superb second place came Khun Kmik. Adding that to the similar runner-up spot he bagged in Race 1 (as well as a P7 in Race 2) this youngster, the son of a former Thai national racing champion, had announced himself to the paddock in some style. He’s already done his time in karts where he’s looked smooth and quick. Just 14-years-old, and in fact needing special dispensation to receive an RAAT race licence, unquestionably he’s destined to follow in the family ‘tradition’ and become one of the top Thai stars of the future.
However the real star of the Super Eco weekend was Khun Poomee. With a hat trick of wins so far and with five races left to go, he was cautiously satisfied with his performance. “Overall the races went well as expected,” he said. “I am very happy indeed with the results [and] this proves that good preparation matters most.”
So can he now carry his momentum forward and mount a successful title run? The driver is very circumspect about making any rash predictions and points out that the next stop on the calendar – Buriram – will be new to everyone so it’s hard to judge form. “For the title, it is too early to speculate,” reckons Khun Poomee. “Like I have mentioned before, it will be difficult as this year we have strong opponents racing together and [the] next program will be at Buriram which is relatively new to all of us. It will be a tight challenge to look forward to.”
With a clean sweep of the available points, Khun Poomee now leads the championship after the first three races of the season; he has 60 points. Khun Bhisanu (39) is second with the hugely impressive youngster Khun Kmik (38) next up. In fact after three races no less than 24 drivers have scored points and it looks like it’s going to be a very competitive season ahead.