Explosive action as Super Car returns to Buriram

Thailand Super Series (TSS) kicked off the second half of the season in real style in Buriram last weekend and – at the pinnacle of the bumper programme – all eyes were on Super Car GTM Plus/GTM, which delivered its usual mix of eye catching and explosive racing action over two days.

In Super Car GTM Plus Voravud Bhirombhakdi came into the weekend as the Drivers’ championship leader thanks to a rewarding run in Bangsaen while Narasak Ittritpong, the double winner when TSS visited here last time, was looking to bounce back after slipping off the top of the standings. In the end these two drivers cancelled each other out and emerged from the second trip to the North East with a win apiece, the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand driver maintains his slender classification lead, and the title fight is going to go right down to the wire next month.

Meanwhile in Super Car GTM as soon as Toyota Team Thailand hit the track no one could match their pace and it remained that way right until the dust settled at the end of the weekend. Nattavude Charoensukhawatana and Nattapong Horthongkum shared the wins out between themselves. In championship terms Kantasak Kusiri endured a tough weekend by his own sky high standards and he saw his commanding classification advantage whittled down a little and his remaining rivals emerged from Buriram with a glimmer of hope. But it’s just a glimmer.

Finally, the build-up to the ‘Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand’ kicked off with the first car into the series, resplendent in the car’s official colours, taking to the track for prospective customer test runs on both days. This is an exciting new initiative, which will be supported by Porsche, that will compete on track within the Super Car GTC races and interest is already looking robust. The Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR itself is a highly dynamic and capable track machine and the ingredients are clearly all in place for a strong addition to the TSS programme.

Buriram: Super Car GTM Plus

A very good run in Bangsaen for Voravud Bhirombhakdi had seen the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand driver overhaul the points Narasak Ittritpong, who suffered two DNFs from the three races held on the tricky street circuit, at the top of the Super Car GTM Plus Drivers’ championship standings. However, the Vattana driver was returning to a happier hunting ground here as he clinched victory in both races held in Buriram during April’s season opener. The gap between the two going into last weekend was 14 points while a further seven points back was the defending champion Sarun Sereethoranakul who really needed to pull himself up into the title fight before he gave away any more ground.

During Paid Practice last Thursday and Free Practice on Friday morning Voravud clearly had an advantage as he sat at the top of the timesheets and his efforts were rewarded when the official qualifying session was washed out and the grid was instead determined by the morning’s Free Practice sessions. The Ferrari driver’s best lap of 1:36.307 in the morning session put him nine tenths ahead of Sarun with Daniel Bilski, in the fastest of the two B-Quik Audis, third and Narasak fourth.

Come Race 1 and Voravud continued his mood of determination, he converted pole into the race lead and then withstood the pressure to relentlessly hold it for 15 laps, firstly creating a cushion of a couple of seconds as the drivers behind turned their guns on each other and then after a mid-race Safety Car period closed everything back up and wiped out his track position advantage, the Ferrari driver tenaciously fending off the Lamborghinis of Narasak and Sarun snapping at his heels over the closing laps.

At the end of the 15 lap race the top three were covered by just 1.7 seconds which really showed just how tight the fight had been but Voravud had never looked like he would relinquish the race lead, the 2014 Super Car GTM champion managing the double menace immediately behind him superbly, making no mistakes and sticking to the racing line. Clearly he really wants another Super Car title.

Narasak, in Vattana Motorsport’s Gallardo GT3 FL2, perhaps mindful of his unfortunate DNFs in Bangsaen, never got quite close enough to put a meaningful move together although he was just three tenths adrift at the line. He posted the fastest lap of the race though in 1:36.879.

On his tail came the Huracán Super Trofeo of Sarun in a result that left the order of the top three in the championship unchanged overnight. For Sarun though it was really a case of what if as a strong start saw the reigning Super Car GTM champion heading down the hill to the hairpin for the first time in second place but he was clipped on his rear diffuser by the Camaro through Turn 3 and spun round into the path of the big American sportscar, taking a second, much bigger, thump to the door. However, he was able to continue, Sarun reporting no ill effects to the car, although not before slipping to P6. Then he had to close up the lost ground and squeeze past Daniel’s Audi, which he did very smoothly into Turn 3 on the next lap. After the Safety Car period he hustled Narasak in front hard but after running wide through Turn 12 on the penultimate lap that was the end of the PSC Motorsport driver’s designs on second place.

Fourth place went to the faster of the B-Quik Audis, the team dropping down to run two cars this weekend after having run three during the first half of the season. Without the outright pace to quite match either the Ferraris and Lamborghinis Daniel was left digging deep to just hang onto the back of the top running trio and 6.5 seconds adrift of the winner was a good performance by the Australian and he was rewarded for an afternoon of hard work with a trip to the podium.

It wasn’t an easy race for Daniel either, not only did he have to spend time fighting off the superior power of Saravut Sereethoranakul’s black-and-bronze Huracán behind him while at the same time he was bottled up behind the struggling Camaro in front. Swarming all over the by now battered American car mid race he pushed his way up the inside through the last corner and the two made contact, both running wide which let the lurking Saravut through for a second time, although Daniel would almost get the place back when the Lamborghini in turn ran very wide through Turn 12 with three laps to go but would then finally get the job done just before the end of the race.

Half a second behind the B-Quik Audi at the chequered flag, Saravut enjoyed his best drive to date in what is just his second year in Super Car. His rookie season in 2016 was spent in Super Car GTM Am so it’s been another very big step up for his second campaign but finally he was starting to unlock pace from the Italian racecar.

Saravut drove a strong race, passing Daniel’s bottled up Audi to move into fourth place and then hustling the ailing Camaro in third, but in turn leaving himself exposed to the B-Quik driver who regained the place although he would take it back again as the two cars ahead made contact and ran wide out of the final turn mid race. It was good, scrapping for track position, stuff from Saravut.

The final finisher in Super Car GTM Plus was Henk J. Kiks in the other B-Quik Audi, the Dutchman, who had been getting to grips with a new setup direction all week was left rueing the loss of track time that came with the cancellation of the qualifying session.

Finally, Chonsawat Asavahame dropped out after 8 laps, but that simply wasn’t the whole story as the Vattana motorsport team owner had an eventful race. Starting from the back of the GTM Plus grid Chonsawat unleashed the car’s huge straight-line power down the first two straights to move up to P3 and was taking a good look down the inside of Sarun for P2 through Turn 3 when they made contact and with the Lamborghini tipped into a spin and broadsiding the Camaro that left Chonsawat with plenty of very visible front end damage, further amplified as the bonnet quickly detached itself.

However, Chonsawat managed to retain third place, although his pace dropped and he struggled to keep Daniel’s Audi and Saravut’s Lamborghini behind him. At the end of the seventh lap Daniel elbowed his way up the side of the Camaro into Turn 12 and they made contact, the resulting damage seeing Chonsawat grind to a halt out of Turn 1 on the next lap which brought out the Safety Car.

And the weather? After rain had washed out Friday’s afternoon qualifying session the probability of further bad weather and storms was forecast at 90% for Saturday afternoon. But weather forecasts are notoriously unreliable and after the race was held under an ever darkening sky the first drops of rain appeared on the slowing down lap but couldn’t dampen the podium celebrations. It was perfect timing.

Then it was on to Sunday’s Race 2, the second and final race of the weekend, and this time Narasak wasn’t to be denied a victory and after Voravud had started from pole again and led the early laps of the race with Sarun and the Vattana driver sitting in line astern once a Safety Car period to clear Henk’s #26 Audi had been completed Narasak immediately pounced on Sarun through Turn 3 on the restart lap and one more tour later he was past the Ferrari into Turn 4 and into the lead.

Voravud would never let the Lamborghini in front pull away from him by more than a few car lengths but it wasn’t enough and Narasak took the win by 1.2 seconds and also bagged the fastest lap for the second consecutive day.

The top two in the Drivers’ championship thus cancelled each other out over the course of the weekend and the gap between them in the classification remains the same – 14 points – with just next month’s season closer to come. But that’s a triple header and a maximum of 60 points on offer so the race for the title is still wide open.

This time Sarun, despite running in P2 again from the start, wasn’t able to keep up with the pace of the top two as the race wore on and his deficit to the winner was just over 7 seconds when the chequered flag waved after 15 laps. Sarun in fact had his mirrors full of Daniel’s black and yellow #27 Audi as the Australian really hauled the German racecar round but it wasn’t enough to make a pass and the gap between the pair was four tenths of a second. Sarun reported that his tyre pressures were set slightly too low and he had struggled to get his tyres back up to temperature following the Safety Car period. However, 15 laps earlier the race had started a lot brighter for Sarun as he locked down P2 going into Turn 1 for the first time and then harried the race leading Ferrari throughout the opening lap.

For the second day on the trot Saravut claimed the final step of the podium although this time he came home in a somewhat distant fifth place, but again he contributed more vital Teams’ championship points to PSC Motorsport’s weekend haul.

Chonsawat, meanwhile, had another race to forget. With a problem right at the start that dropped him to the back of the pack he pitted at the end of the first lap and got out of the car, but with the team fixing the issue he re-joined. On the seventh lap however he retired the Camaro from the race, emerging from a bruising weekend without any points.

Henk had an unfortunate end to what had been a tough weekend. A rear end water hose burst on the #26 Audi R8 LMS Cup and dropped water straight onto a tyre just as it braked into Turn 3 on lap 3 and it spun round, slid at speed across the grass on the inside of the entrance to the hairpin, back across the track and then broadside into a passing GTM car. The Audi was severely damaged and out on the spot but fortunately both Henk and Kantasak Kusiri, the GTM driver in the other car involved, were able to walk away from the incident unscathed.

Buriram: Super Car GTM

What a difference a race weekend can make. In Bangsaen, less than two months ago, the factory Toyotas had been nowhere while their star driver Nattavude Charoensukhawatana suffered a driveshaft problem during qualifying that had left him without even a banker laptime and resigned to fighting his way up from the back of the grid in all three races for scant rewards.

Fast forward six weeks and Nattavude was imperious through Paid Practice and Free Practice and his best time in the latter session, a zippy lap of 1:37.722, would give him pole position for Saturday’s Race 1 when the qualifying session was washed out and the times from Free Practice were substituted, eight tenths ahead of his teammate Nattapong Horthongkum in the sister 86, to make it a front row lockout for the red and white Japanese sportscars.

However, right on their heels was the Ferrari of Kantasak Kusiri; the 2015 Super Car GTM champion missed the front row less than two hundreds of a second while Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem (Porsche 991 GT3 Cup), continuing his upswing in form this year, wrapped up the second row.

Behind them were the similar Porsches of Aekarat Discharoen and Kantadhee Kusiri, the latter having enjoyed his Super Car breakthrough victory during the last round in Bangsaen.

Come the 15 lap race and Nattavude, after seeing off a challenge from his teammate into Turn 1 for the first time, was however then passed by Kantasak. It was short-lived though, the Toyota’s superiority was never in question and despite the Ferrari driver’s valiant efforts Nattavude was back into the race lead with a couple of laps and he would never be headed again as he romped away to win by more than five seconds.

Pitsanu claimed second place after driving a superb race. Over the first couple of laps he was in the thick of a titanic Porsche battle between himself, Kantadhee, Aekarat and Tanart for third place, but when race leader Kantasak ran wide as he was passed by Nattavude and dropped right into the middle of this scrap Pitsanu was the big winner as he got on the power, hit the right line and powered his way into P2 at the end of a three car side-by-side sprint uphill and out of Turn 11. He then spent the rest of the race tenaciously defending his position.

That was his second runners up spot of the season, having already claimed a second place in Bangsaen. The driver of the gold Porsche came out on top after a real ding dong battle for second place and led a train of cars across the line.

Kantasak enjoyed a great start, pipping Nattavude for the lead before the cars came into the stadium section for the first time and hanging onto the place despite the superior traction of the Toyota for a couple of laps. However, he overcooked it through Turn 9 which allowed Nattavude as well as Pitsanu through and despite his best efforts to recover ground he would remain in third place.

The points on offer for third however were good enough to extend Kantasak’s advantage in the championship classification overnight as his closest rival, younger brother Kantadhee, who was lugging around a heavier car than his Porsche rivals, was only able to coax it to sixth place. Kantadhee, who has new suspension that he first used at Bangsaen with great results but didn’t feel they had managed yet to find the best settings for Buriram, had a tough race, unable to unlock pace from his 991, losing out in an early race scramble between himself, Pitsanu and Kantasak, and then seeing the final step of the podium wrested out of his hands by the recovering Nattapong with two laps to go. After his glory grabbing run in Bangsaen it was back down to reality in Buriram.

Fourth place went to Aekarat while the final podium spot went to Nattapong, the Toyota driver recovering very well after a spin coming out of Turn 1 on the first lap that left him beached in the middle of the track and – somehow – the entire field had managed to stream around him safely. From then on he had a long afternoon chipping his way back up the order.

Nattapong, who enjoyed a double Super Car GTM win here last year, almost had fourth place as he got up and alongside Aekarat as the pair ran down to the finishline for the final time and the gap on the results sheet was just a few hundredths of a second. Aekarat in turn had driven a superb race, pushing Kantasak in front of him right to chequered flag. With Kantadhee following them across the line it meant second to sixth places were covered by just 4 seconds.

Seventh and eight places overall went to the Porsche of Tanart Sathienthirakul and the Holden Commodore VE of Craig Corliss, the latter car sporting an unmissable new lurid orange colour scheme to replace the green it has run in recent seasons.

Then came the gaggle of Super Car GTM Am runners with Thanavud Bhirombhakdi edging out Naputt Assakul by seven tenths of a second to extend his title advantage overnight. Naputt, who was debuting in a Ferrari 458 Challenge, fought his way up from the back of the grid and into the class lead but it wasn’t to be and second place was a very good finish on his Prancing Horse debut. Third and fourth in GTM Am went to the Ferraris of Chairat Sangtong and Chinnapol Jongprasert while fifth place and the final podium step was occupied by the Porsche of reigning champion Paul Kanjanapas, the only non-Ferrari driver on the GTM Am podium.

Come Sunday’s Race 2 and Toyota made it a clean sweep in Super Car GTM for the weekend. Honours ended up even as this time the victory went to the #38 car of Nattapong while the previous day’s winner, Nattavude, after starting from pole position, had to serve a drive through penalty end of the first lap, the result of contact made with Kantasak during the previous day’s race. The veteran then turned in a superb recovery drive to claw his way back through the field and finish in fourth place, pipping Kantadhee on the final lap of the race to grab an extra two championship points.

Sandwiched in between the two Toyotas Pitsanu claimed second place again but was less than two seconds behind the winner after another very impressive drive while next up was Aekarat and just six tenths of a second separated the two Porsches.

Nattavude had the deficit to Aekarat down to less than 2 seconds at the end but it wasn’t enough to allow him to climb any higher up the order although he also set the fastest lap.

After really exploding onto the Super Car scene in Bangsaen – just his second event in the top flight – where he scored his maiden win, Kantadhee had a weekend in Buriram that didn’t come towards him and in the second race he was in the thick of the Porsche battle early on but was eventually passed by Aekarat and then the recovering Nattavude on the last lap, although he still earned a trip to the podium by claiming fifth place.

Tanart and Craig were next up but the latter was lamped with a post-race 30 second penalty for a flag infringement and tumbled down the official result sheets.

Thanavud made it a clean sweep of Am class wins from the weekend to virtually assure himself of the title in what is his rookie year while four and a half seconds further down the road Chairat notched up his best finish since his return to Super Car. Naputt was third to make it back to back podium finishes from his Ferrari debut weekend, Paul was fourth after recovering from a spin two thirds of the way through the race to give Painkiller Racing the GTM Am team’s trophy for the second consecutive race, while Chinnapol in fifth nailed down the final podium position.

The only retirement of the afternoon was the Kantasak – the championship classification leader picking up no points from Sunday afternoon’s second race which allowed his key rivals the crucial opportunity to close up the deficit a little ahead of the triple points scoring season closer next month. Running early on in P3, the Ferrari driver was negotiating Turn 3 on the third lap when a spinning GTM Plus Audi came spearing over the grass on the entrance to the corner, straight across the track and hit him side on. The #34 Ferrari was out on the spot with extensive right hand front damage and it was an early end to the race and no points for Kantasak.

Super Car GTM Plus/GTM Championship Standings

In Super Car GTM Plus Voravud and Narasak with a win and a runner up spot apiece cancelled each other out, they have 109 and 95 points respectively, the gap between the two remaining static at 14 points. There are a maximum of 60 points on offer from next month’s season closing triple header so it’s still wide open. Sarun (77 points) and Daniel (70 points) are third and fourth and realistically they are fighting each other for those positions while Henk (54 points) and Saravut (46 points) are next up.

In Super Car GTM Kantasak’s no score in the second race has given his rivals a tiny glimmer of hope, the Ferrari driver only added 12 points from the weekend in Buriram but with three wins already this season and having not finished out of the top three before arriving in Buriram he’s healthily placed and moves up to 99 points.

It still leaves a mountain to climb and his brother, Kantadhee, who was in second place also received scant rewards from the weekend, 14 points to be precise, and he’s still second, the gap edging down by just 2 points to 22 points, the Porsche driver now has 77 points. Nattavude had a good weekend and moves up to 74 points. With 60 points on offer neither Kantadhee or Nattavude are out of the title fight but realistically they are going head-to-head for second place.

Nattapong climbs up to 67 points thanks to his second win of the year while Aekarat made it five straight podium finishes, two more in Buriram, to add to the three he claimed in Bangsaen, and is on 64 points. Pitsanu’s two second places in the North East help him move up to 63 points and he has five podium finishes this year but he’s also picked up two DNFs and that’s been costly in championship terms but with just thirteen points covering second to fifth place and a maximum of 60 points on offer next month the battle for second and third place in the championship – and the coveted Prince Bira trophy that comes with it – is still wide open.

In Super Car GTM Am, a double win for Thanavud made it five wins from seven races for the Super Car rookie and he accelerates away to 112 points. Paul hangs onto second place thanks to his fourth and fifth place finishes but his hopes of retaining his title have receded away and Thanavud needs just 13 points next month to secure the title. Chairat moves up to third place on 61 points, Chinnapol is on 56 points and Naputt on 53 points.

That means second to fifth are covered by just 12 points so these positions are still wide open. Paul knows how to get the job done and grind away to get points, Chairat and Chinnapol are growing in stature with each race, while also look out for Naputt, now he has settled into driving his new Ferrari after swapping away from Porsche, to make a serious bid for one of the championship trophies so there is still everything to play for in the ‘gentleman’ class.

Build up to ‘Cayman GT4 Trophy’ kicks off

As the gradual build up to the inaugural season of the ‘Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand’ gets underway the car that will underpin the championship – Porsche’s Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR – took to Chang International Circuit during the most recent TSS race weekend and prospective competitors enjoyed their first opportunity to experience the dynamic capabilities of this accomplished racecar first hand.

“We decide to bring in the Cayman GT4 for potential buyers to test out during the event, to have them see the potential of the car and what it has to offer,” explain TSS Vice President Preeda Tantemsapya.

The Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR (the ‘MR’ being an acronym for Manthey Racing, the Nürburgring-based team, 51% owned by Porsche, that prepares these racecars) is powered by a 385 hp 3.8-litre flat-6 engine with dry sump lubrication mated to a 6-speed paddle shift operated transmission and a racing locking diff. Significantly it retains a real plethora of ‘driver aids’ – something you simply don’t get with cars such as the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup – and they include ABS with 12 level options, Traction Control and Electronic Stability Programme.

Meanwhile the chassis construction is an aluminium-steel hybrid. It also comes with air-con. Finally, the suspension is drawn from the ‘big brother’ 991 GT3 Cup and the whole package rides on 18-inch racing wheels. All in all, a potent combination for the driver to unlock.

That will be the package used for the Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand and Preeda says that the new championship will go hand in hand with strong support from Porsche and Racing Spirit. “It’s heading in a good direction with full support from Porsche’s marketing and technical sides,” he says. “We are making it more approachable and affordable with down payments and a monthly instalment plan.”

An added bonus for competitors is that the Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand will be run as part of Super Car GTC and that means dual championship points and podiums will be available as the drivers will also count their overall finishing position in GTC towards that championship.

“It has more potential due to the fact that these six Caymans, plus a further one that has been upgraded to Manthey Racing specification, will be racing together with Super Car GTC and the drivers will be eligible to receive the overall trophy from TSS while these seven cars will also be presented with an exclusive trophy from Porsche on an exclusive podium,” says Preeda. “It means drivers have the potential to be on two podiums and bring home double the silverware.”

Preeda notes that Porsche will bring their input as the relationship grows with TSS. “We will receive marketing and media support from Porsche,” he says. “We are only the second country in Asia [the other is China] to have this type of activity supported by Porsche marketing and technical and we already have a very good relationship with them, we have a held a few events now with Porsche, a couple of times they have been in Buriram and once in Bangsaen with PCCA [Porsche Carrera Cup Asia] and they will be in Bangsaen for a few more years to come.”

“The car is FIA GT4 homologated so it will prove a good investment in terms of drivability and low maintenance costs as the engine will run for 50,000 kms before needing a rebuild and the transmission for 20,000 kms,” he says. “Therefore it can provide longevity for the engine and transmission.”

That’s going to be backed up by parts availability. “70% of the car is based on road car parts and these will be provided at cost after [import] taxes. EKS who is our supplier of Manthey and Porsche Motorsport parts will have stock of the parts available therefore you won’t have to worry about spare parts. At the track there will be all the commonly used parts such as front bumpers.

Preeda says that they want to ensure everyone will have the opportunity to shoot for victory. “We will provide coaching for the drivers with a permanent coach and it will be for Bronze drivers only, we won’t accept Silver drivers as we want to keep this as a race series for gentlemen.”

The cars won’t be captive to Cayman GT4 Trophy Thailand either and that will give the drivers the chance to use them in other series – opening up further options as the FIA GT4 category is now growing fast across Asia. “When a series like Blancpain GT or other international series come to Buriram you will be able to race with this car and as it’s a very reliable car and has a long life for the engine and transmission so you can have more seat time without having to worry about wear and tear.”

Last weekend in Buriram several drivers, from categories such as Super Car and TCR Thailand, were invited to try out the car during the programme’s lunch intervals, and first one out on the track was TSS President Sontaya Kunplome. He was quick to point out afterwards that on a hot weekend in Buriram just how impressive the air conditioning system was in terms of keeping the suited up driver cool. That certainly was a reoccurring comment, as were the immediate advantages to the drivers from the car’s driver aids, including ABS and Traction Control.

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