Published on June 29th, 2017 | by Amirul Mukminin0
TCR Asia Series heading beachside for the Bangsaen Grand Prix
After a fantastic season that has so far delivered six different winners from the first six rounds of the season, the 2017 TCR Asia Series will contest arguably the most demanding event on the calendar this weekend, with the first-ever running of the much anticipated Bangsaen Grand Prix on the streets of Chonburi in Thailand.
An iconic annual event in Thailand, the 2017 Bangsaen Grand Prix will host the TCR Asia Series for the first time, joining TCR Thailand in an event that will provide one of the biggest TCR fields ever assembled in Asia on one of the most demanding circuits in the region. Whilst for many of the TCR Asia regulars it will be their maiden visit to the beachside venue, for TCR Thailand it will be their second stop at Bangsaen this year.
A pre-season favourite for the 2017 TCR Asia Series title, Thailand’s Kantadhee Kusiri has been winless since an outstanding lights-to-flag victory in the opening round of the season in Malaysia, the Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver enduring a testing run ever since, with just two more podiums coming in China during April. Despite that, he is arguably the driver to watch coming into Bangsaen, having claimed two dominant wins during the TCR Thailand event held earlier in the year, against some seriously tough opposition.
This time around he will face more strong local competition, with fellow Thai star Tin Sritrai expected to take the fight to his compatriot, whilst the returning Shaun Thong too is likely to be right in the mix in the Audi Hong Kong RS3 LMS TCR.
For the TCR Thailand competitors too, many of them will bring a wealth of track knowledge despite relatively limited experience with the TCR category. One of those drivers – Pasarit Phromsombat – has claimed an impressive three Thailand Super Series crowns in three different categories over recent years, and he’s looking to achieve the same in TCR Thailand on debut this year. The Seat driver currently shares the TCR Thailand Pro-Am points lead with Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya, with their greatest strengths being their track experience at Bangsaen, so they will be ones to watch closely alongside compatriots Kurisi and Sritrai, as all of them have won on the popular street circuit.
For points leader WS Lai, his debut on the demanding 3.7-kilometre Bangsaen circuit will require plenty of patience, with the threat of early retirement a real possibility through the narrow concrete and steel canyon, but the one thing the Malaysian has shown in season 2017, is that his years of touring and production car experience have made him a very calculating driver. Likewise R Engineering team-mate Abdul Kaathir, the two Honda drivers have proven both fast and consistent this season to lead the outright, TCR Cup and Team’s championships at the mid-point of the season, but whilst keen to press home that advantage in Thailand, they will well understand the value of consistency, so could be expected to play second fiddle to the Thai drivers this weekend.
As for the rest.. Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Diego Moran has been a picture of consistency in his debut season of TCR Asia, the Volkswagen driver one of six different winners this season, yet despite a relatively testing run through the two Zhuhai events, he is still right within reach of the outright points lead, just four points behind Lai and only four in front of his Thai team-mate.
Hong Kong teenager Jasper Thong too is a winner in season 2017, the 17-year old taking an historic first worldwide victory for the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR in China, and the Phoenix Racing Asia driver will be looking to add to his points tally, although he will need to tread carefully on the treacherous Bangsaen circuit. With older brother Shaun and team-boss Marchy Lee in his corner though, he will have access to some wise heads!
As for the remainder of the 16-car field, almost anything could happen..
Many of the TCR Thailand regulars have past experience of the Bangsaen circuit to draw on, whilst for some of the TCR Asia Series regulars, this will be their first real experience of a street circuit.
Last time out we saw a dramatic victory for the two-car Elegant Racing Team with Eric K. and Alex Liu scoring an emphatic 1-2 in testing conditions, thanks in part to a brilliant race strategy that saw them fit wet weather tyres in the rapidly changing conditions. Both drivers have street racing credentials from the Macau Grand Prix, and both will use that experience to progress further up the grid and work their way forward in the championship as the street racing rookies look to find their feet.
Throw in TCR Asia Series regular Douglas Khoo who was also on the grid at Bangsaen in February as part of his 2017 TCR ‘double-duty’ and you have the potential to see a number of drivers battling towards the front of the field, and a likely unpredictable outcome from what will be an exciting first visit to the popular beachside destination.