Published on May 19th, 2016 | by Amirul Mukminin0
2016 TCR Asia Series: Sritrai and Super-Sub Bruins Take Top Points in Korea
The opening round of the 2016 TCR Asia Series saw some impressive names added to the entry list, including some of the region’s best touring car drivers, so it was perhaps no surprise that the racing was tight at the front, although much of that had to do with a surprise last minute recruit who wasn’t added to the official entry list until Friday!
In the end the round was won by Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai. The 2015 event winner at his home circuit in Buriram was almost untouchable in practice, but the late addition of local hero Roelof (Ricardo) Bruins saw some serious competition for the young Thai, so much so that Bruins won the opening race – at Sritrai’s expense – whilst the Thai driver worked his way through for a comfortable win in round two.
Ahead of the opening round teams were given an opportunity to turn unofficial practice laps at Korea International Circuit on the Thursday, with Bruins throwing down the gauntlet early as the man the field would be chasing, his 2:23.720 lap-time in session one [in Douglas Khoo’s car] the benchmark heading into the official leg of the weekend.
As expected Sritrai began qualifying the same way he’d finished official practice – at the top of the timesheets, his 2:21.915 the new benchmark the rest would be forced to follow. By the close of the opening qualifier he’d been unable to better the time, but he still sat at the top of the timesheets, with the experienced Michael Ho finding some impressive pace to finish P2, displacing Roelof Bruins and Andy Yan who admitted he hadn’t quite made the most of the session.
With the top ten graduating to the second qualifier, teams enjoyed a second opportunity to gain track position for both races, something which was not lost on Sritrai who put pole completely out of the equation with a jaw-dropping 2:21.137.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the driver who would share the front row, TeamWork Motorsport’s Kevin Tse putting his Volkswagen Polo GTi TCR on P2 with a late push, his 2:22.295 displacing both Yan and Bruins who was unable to find the perfect balance amidst traffic, being forced to settle for P5, but with a reverse top eight grid for the second race, the move could well have been labelled strategically clever.
The start for the opening race was a fairly torrid affair on the fast run to the very tight left-hand opening turn – at one stage the field was five wide with pole-sitter Tin Sritrai holding the lead as Henry Ho and Roelof Bruins went to the extreme outside of Kevin Tse as they hit the braking point, Bruins with two wheels on the grass trying to avoid contact.
That forced him back to fifth, with Henry Ho the early aggressor. By turn four Kevin Tse’s promising start came unstuck on cold tyres after he’d taken the lead on the run to turn three. He was forced to watch the bulk of the field drive past him before he could rejoin with a big task ahead. That allowed Andy Yan through to the front with Sritrai in close pursuit, whilst Bruins held Henry Ho at bay for third.
By lap two Sritrai was menacing the rear of Yan, but the experienced Hong Kong-based driver was up to the challenge, whilst behind them, Bruins and Henry Ho closed in to make it a four-way battle for the lead.
On lap six the almost inevitable happened, with Bruins making contact with the side of Sritrai as he went for a passing move at turn ten. Unsighted, Sritrai moved across to take the apex, unaware that Bruins was there. The local driver tried his best to pull out of the contact but ultimately had nowhere to go.
That allowed Bruins and Henry Ho to close on Yan, who delivered another masterclass in defensive driving before Bruins made the move stick at turn 12 on the final lap, having trailed Yan for almost half the race searching for any weaknesses he could exploit.
Bruins held on through the completion of the lap to take the win, with stewards judging there was no malice intended with the contact with Sritrai. Yan was a close second, with Henry Ho a happy third, whilst Sritrai crossed the line fourth having made up some serious ground in the closing laps as the fastest man on the circuit.
Roadstar Racing’s Terrence Tse held pole for race two, by virtue of the inversion of the top eight qualifying positions from Q2. Alongside him off the start Filipe de Souza bogged down on the inside which allowed the hungry pack behind him to swamp the Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver on the run to turn one.
From the second row, Roelof Bruins charged up the inside with Michael Ho – who started the Champ Motorsport Honda alongside Bruins – joining him in a drag race to turn one. Roelof grabbed the lead on the exit with the two Champ Motorsport cars line astern behind, with Terrence Tse and Sritrai not far adrift. Bill O’Brien had made a great start to pull alongside TeamWork Motorsport team-mate Kevin Tse, but he got caught out on cold tyres on the exit of turn three and spun, dropping him to rear of field.
Sadly for Michael Ho, his strong start was thwarted by a spin mid lap, the tight pack for the lead contributing to his inversion.
By lap three Sritrai was all over the back of Bruins, the Korean driver giving him room to take the lead on the run into turn one, before tucking under the rear wing of the Team Thailand Honda on the exit with a view to returning the favour at turn three.
Sadly for Bruins the opportunity never presented itself, and he was soon forced to go defensive again as Yan closed in, in the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen, the multiple China Touring Car champion making the move on the run to turn three two laps later.
Despite a strong third placed finish in race one, Henry Ho was struggling with a technical issue in the car during race two, but despite that and a slow getaway, he started to work his way back through the field, passing team-mate Michael Ho with just three laps remaining.
By this stage Bruins was back up to speed, having conserved some Michelin tyre life for one last assault on the leaders. He locked onto the back of Yan, but the Volkswagen driver too had found something a little extra, and despite immense pressure from behind, the Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver prevailed for his second podium of the weekend.
Up front though there was no denying Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai who overcame the disappointment of race one to claim his first victory of the season, and the championship points lead.
For now the focus of the TCR Asia Series team will turn to the Chang International Circuit in Buriram in Thailand where points leader Tin Sritrai will take advantage from home track knowledge, and the fact that he was a winner in TCR when the series debuted there in 2015.