The 11th running of the Bangsaen Grand Prix turned into something really special as the event made a huge leap forward in every area and it emerged glittering onto the international stage in so many senses of the phrase.
The biggest news of the week was the awarding of the prestigious FIA Grade 3 licence allowing the event to join global motorsport calendars and get ready to welcome further big name series in the future. Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series came to town last week to herald the arrival of international series and an exciting new dawn beckoned.
Recently, Chonburi Province was designated a ‘Hub of Sports’ by the national government and the 11th edition couldn’t have been any neater a fit into this much bigger and highly ambitious picture. These were some the important points that were emphasised during the official opening ceremony by TSS President Sontaya Kunplome, the Governor of Chonburi, Mr. Pakkaratorn Tienchai, and a very special guest, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Ms. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, as the event received the warm support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand as well as the Sport Authority of Thailand.
But when all the talking stopped and the track action got underway there was very little in the paddock that could match the brand new pinnacle of the Super Car pyramid in Thailand, Super Car GTM Plus. The biggest, loudest and most powerful beasts in the paddock wowed the crowds and provided thrills and spills over three explosive races.
When the dust had settled there were a trio of new winners to etch into the record books of Bangsaen. After valiantly leading the chase of pro driver Darryl O’Young over the last three editions of the Grand Prix, Voravud Bhirombhakdi in the Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 GT3, finally claimed the top class win here that he so craved and he ran out a very worthy winner of the first race. The second race saw Narasak Ittritpong, who had claimed all three poles in Vattana’s Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2, make up for the disappointment of his retirement while leading the first race to bag victory in the second. In the final race the defending Super Car GTM champion Sarun Sereethoranakul in the PSC Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo left everyone for dead as he romped away with the win to kick off his account on these streets.
Super Car GTM Plus is only just two events old but already it’s taken its place as the attention grabbing headline act of Thai motorsport and the three races over the long weekend at the seaside had the crowds enthralled and were wide open until the dying minutes.
‘A place of dreams’
The 11th edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix was something a little bit special – the opening up of the second decade – truly a ‘second chapter’ in every sense of the phrase – saw the glamorous event taking its place on the international stage as the track was awarded an FIA Grade 3 licence allowing it to join the global calendars and welcome further big name series in the future. Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series came to town last week to herald the arrival of international series and an exciting new dawn beckoned.
Recently Chonburi Province was designated a ‘Hub of Sports’ by the national government and the 11th edition couldn’t have been any neater a fit to this much bigger and highly ambitious picture with the Grand Prix’s influx of the racing community, both Thai and international, as well as the tourists that come to watch the event and whom are made up of a broadly similar mix.
So the Bangsaen Grand Prix was very pleased to welcome warm support and input from the Tourism Authority of Thailand as well as the Sport Authority of Thailand as we aim to play our part in the ‘Hub of Sport’ initiative. Certainly the ‘Amazing Thailand’ branding was a pleasing and proud addition to the Bangsaen Grand Prix.
These were some of the points that TSS President Sontaya Kunplome was keen to emphasise during last Saturday’s Official Opening Ceremony for the 11th Bangsaen Grand Prix. He also pointed out that it’s been a long road over the last ten years, with a lot of hard work for the event to be where it’s is today, standing on the threshold of greatness.
We were also pleased to welcome the Governor of Chonburi, Mr. Pakkaratorn Tienchai, to the stage. He stated that they had been pleased to observe the government’s wishes to make Bangsaen a destination for motorsports that adheres to international standards. Mr. Pakkaratorn pointed out that the event brings not just the motorsports world but many tourists and in turn familiarises them with the Province. He said the town comes together and join forces to create such an event in motorsports. “A diamond amongst motorsports and an example to the rest of Thailand,” he added.
Then it was over the just-appointed President of Toyota Motor Thailand Co., Ltd., Mr. Michinobu Sugata. He emphasised the company’s commitment to motorsport in Thailand, the Bangsaen Grand Prix and that – in something of a full circle – he had also been involved during the inaugural running of the event a decade ago. “It’s an honour for us to take part in this festival,” said Mr. Michinobu. “In 2007, ten years ago when I worked at Toyota Motor Thailand for the first time, I was fortunate enough to witness for the first time the Bangsaen Thailand Speed Festival started with the 6-hour endurance race together with the Toyota Motorsport event.
“I was so excited to see many racing fans rejoiced and many racing fans came over to participate, not only from Thailand but also from Japan,” he continued. “During the decade Bangsaen Grand Prix has been organised as one of the most elevated racing series in Thailand and highly acclaimed in the international arena in representing the positive development of motorsport in Asia. In line with Toyota’s endeavour to promote motorsport we are committed to the advancement of motorsport in quite an active manner we have been organising Toyota Motorsports for more than thirty years, with such a long history its not surprise to know that Toyota Motorsports is considered the role model in the Asian region.
“Motorsports is one of my favourite sports, I want to give it a space to flourish in the form of a poplar racing festival where anyone can join,” Mr. Michinobu added. “I believe this racing programme will become a platform that inspires you to challenge yourself.”
Finally, it was over to the to a most special VIP guest, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, Ms. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, with TSS delighted that she was able to attend and lend her support to the event.
“I’m glad to see all of you here,” she started off. “On behalf of the Thai government I would like to thank you all for having the faith, confidence to do the challenge to be part of this Bangsaen Grand Prix series.
Ms. Kobkarn was keen to point out that the Bangsaen Grand Prix is part of the big picture of a ‘Hub of Sport’ in Chonburi Province and is already achieved its status as a hub for motorsports. “You have made the right decision [to come here] because this is a place where they have been dreaming for the past ten years, to be the sport dream destination, to make sure that everyone who loves sport should come here, not only to excel in your skill in sport, but to make sure you live a happy life and return. This is a place where you find everything come true, why Thailand is called Amazing Thailand.”
She hopes that everyone will continue to play their part in building this event to its next level. “I do hope that you share your pictures, that you share your experiences, you share your happiness to your friends around the world,” said Ms. Kobkarn. “What you have found tell the world and help us to make sure that Bangsaen is on the map, that Chonburi is on the map, that Thailand is on the map. A sport dream destination, a sport hub of the world.
“We are only on the second stage, you will help us, to elevate us, to make sure we continue to grow together with you and all your friends around the world, that sport is for everyone and what you have experienced here will inspire the young generation in the future to do more sport activity, which is the mission of our government, so therefore enjoy Thailand and may the force be with you,” Ms. Kobkarn concluded. Then it was time to get the 11th edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix underway.
Bangsaen GP: Super Car GTM Plus Race 1 (Race 3 of the year)
On a warm and dry Friday afternoon the big beasts of Super Car GTM Plus lined up on the grid with Narasak Ittritpong assuming the head of the pack, the Vattana Motorsport driver’s fastest qualifying lap the previous lunchtime having conferred on him the record as the “fastest man to have ever lapped Bangsaen”. Next to him was the Ferrari 458 GT3 of Voravud Bhirombhakdi, the 2014 Super Car GTM champion, who always raises his game an extra here, goes very fast here and for the last three editions has led the ‘home’ chase of professional driver Darryl O’Young who had won the last eight Super Car GTM races in a row but was absent this time leaving honours wide open. Voravud’s qualifying had been compromised by damage to the rear of the car which meant he was without a diffuser for his flyers and his engineer Gianluca Soli believed he could have been on pole so there was a point for the driver to prove.
The reigning champion Sarun Sereethoranakul was next up to lead out Row 2 but the Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo driver was coming off the back of an uncharacteristically quiet qualifying session and was a little off the pace of the top two with ground to make up.
Then came the gaggle of B-Quik Audis with Daniel Bilski the fastest and they had the big muscular #28 Camaro GT3 of Chonsawat Asavahame mixed in with them, the Vattana Motorsport driver starting his first race in the car, which has been a previous winner on these streets in the hands of Tomas Enge. However, Chonsawat has only a few laps of Sepang Circuit three years ago in the cockpit of this car to his name before he stepped into it when Wednesday’s practice sessions kicked off the week so he was still taking a bit of time to get up to speed.
At the green lights there weren’t too many surprises in store as Narasak converted pole into the race lead and led the pack through Turn 2 and up the hill for the first time with Voravud and Sarun tucking in behind the Vattana Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2. Daniel capably fended off the big grunt of the Camaro as these two were next through and then it was Henk J. Kiks, resisting a dive up the inside by teammate Shaun Varney, and finally the second PSC Motorsport Huracán of Saravut Sereethoranakul wrapped up the GTM Plus runners.
Over the first lap Chonsawat was glued to the back of Daniel’s Audi in the battle for fourth while a few car lengths ahead Sarun was on Voravud’s tail in the fight for P2 and they trotted single file through the mountain section for the second time it was Narasak out front from Voravud, Sarun, Daniel, Chonsawat, Henk, Shaun and Saravut.
As they headed into the third lap the gaps started opening out at the front with Narasak pulling a good second out over Voravud and a similar gap opening up behind the Ferrari back to Sarun with fourth placed Daniel starting to drop off the top trio, the Australian was now about three seconds adrift of the Huracán in front.
The race started to settle down and at the halfway point it was Narasak at the front, Voravud always keeping the gap to around two seconds but unable to get on terms and with Sarun a similar gap behind. Daniel in fourth was steadily dropping away while the main focus was on the battle for fifth as Chonsawat in the powerful Camaro kept the #26 Audi of Henk relentlessly at bay, the Dutchman was able to follow the big American car but unable to get close enough to try putting a pass together.
Then bang on the halfway mark the race thoroughly shook up as Sarun overcooked it through Turn 17, the fearsomely fast left hand kink down the beachfront. The back end of the Lamborghini stepped out and the car went round. Usually in this very high speed and narrow section that sort of incident can end up with a team heading home to look for a new shell, but Sarun, perhaps putting all the skills he learnt during his previous career in drift racing to good use, ended up with the tail of the Lamborghini just kissing the barriers 50 metres after the turn but with no visible signs of damage. He was out of the race but had lived to fight another day – 24 hours later to be exact as he would be on the grid for Saturday’s second of three races.
Sarun hooked the car up and got away but while he was beached across the track Daniel in fourth and then Chonsawat and Henk, still locked in a battle for fifth and sixth, were slowed up and with the GTM class leaders bottled up behind them suddenly there was a plethora of heavily braking cars that then quickly scrabbled to take advantage of this gift of a situation that had broken up track positions that had remained almost unchanged since the start of the race.
Daniel, Chonsawat and Henk all passed Sarun, who immediately headed for Pit In, just a few hundred metres further on, while the gaggle of GTM Plus and GTM cars were bustling everywhere as this pack swung round the S2 Bangsaen Hotel hairpin and exploded onto the main straight and a swapping of positions saw Henk taking advantage of an unsighted Chonsawat to finally swap places, and now, with Sarun gone, this had become a battle for fourth and fifth.
The destiny of the win would be defined with eight laps to go as the race leader, Narasak, who was comfortably romping away, sensationally powered up to Turn 2 with tyre smoke appearing at the back of the car and slipping on his own oil he overshot the turn and as the chasers passed by he had to swing the car around and get away again. However, with smoke and flames billowing from the right hand rear of the Lamborghini as bodywork and oil lines started to catch fire he stopped on the approach to Turn 5 and was out.
That brought out the first red flag of the race and as the survivors formed up it was Voravud now leading the race from Daniel, Henk, Chonsawat and Saravut. It took a few laps to remove the Lamborghini and clean up the track and with just four laps to go the race went back to green for a final dash with Voravud cleanly away into the lead, Daniel in second place but split from sight of the leading Ferrari by several of the GTM class cars.
There were no place changes at the restart and as the came round again and with only three laps to go Chonsawat was getting really bottled up behind one of the lapped GTM Am cars and unable to pass and that had allowed Henk to already pull out a cushion over the Camaro over the first green flag restart lap that the Audi was able to put out of the picture any potential pressure from behind him.
Chonsawat finally jumped that Ferrari at the Laem Taen Cape left hander but as he came across another GTM Am class Ferrari on the run out of Turn 17 he clipped the back, and the Camaro sported some light bodywork damage as a result although he was able to get clear of that car into Turn 18.
With 2 laps to go there was a melee at Turn 2 as the GTM class Holden Commodore of Craig Corliss was tapped and spun round and Saravut and Shaun were both caught up and had to stop as did a GTM Am Ferrari. That brought out the safety Car and the race with less than two laps remaining trundled round to finish under red flags.
Finally, after three years of continually harrying Darryl O’Young here, Voravud had bagged his win in Super Car on these streets and the amazing eight wins in a row record set by the Chinese driver had been broken. Daniel, on just his second time here, had steered clear of any troubles to claim the runners up spot. Henk was third, and with Chonsawat handed a 60 second penalty after the race, Saravut claimed fourth and Shaun Varney, on his Bangsaen debut bagged the final podium spot, the New Zealander nursing the car to the finishline after an earlier bump, which meant all three B-Quik drivers finished the race on the winners’ podium. Sarun returned to the race after his incident and finished on the lead lap with the points he gained for sixth place vital in terms of the championship and especially with Narasak non-scoring that allowed everyone else to make up ground. Chonsawat after his penalty was applied was classified in seventh place.
Bangsaen GP: Super Car GTM Plus Race 2 (Race 4 of the year)
The front row for Saturday’s second race (of three) saw a carbon copy of Friday’s front row with Narasak’s Lamborghini on pole with Voravud’s Ferrari alongside. Then on Row 2 it was the first Audi, the #27 of Daniel, with the big Camaro of Chonsawat alongside. Henk in the #26 Audi and Sarun in the #55 Huracán occupied Row 3 with Shaun (#93 Audi) and Saravut (#77 Huracán) bringing up the rear.
The pack enjoyed a clean getaway at the rolling start and Narasak surged forward to lead the big beasts into Turn 2 and up the hill for the first time. Voravud comfortably tucked in behind him but behind the red and white Ferrari Chonsawat was on the move and the former Super Car champion was able to use all the grunt of the big Camaro as he surged uphill from the green lights to outgun Daniel into Turn 2 and grab P3. Then it was Sarun, Henk and Saravut but the Audi challenge had already gone from three to two cars as Shaun was out on the warmup lap with a broken fourth gear. The team would bring a replacement gearbox down from Bangkok and he would be ready to get back into the action in the final race.
Through the first lap the top three already started to space out and the main attention was on the battle for fourth place as Sarun swarmed all over the back of Daniel.
At the end of the first lap Narasak had already pulled out a lead of around two seconds and it was looking like he was going to be heading for the win – so long as he didn’t suffer car problems for a second consecutive day or barring any of the mishaps that can so easily happen on this circuit.
On the third lap the Camaro suddenly started to lose pace and Daniel and Sarun, still locked together, both jumped the big black and white car to move into third and fourth while Chonsawat then fell back into the clutches of Henk who was next up.
On the fourth lap two GTM class cars collided and one stopped stranded in the mountain section which meant the Safety Car was deployed for the first time. As the GTM Plus cars formed up it was Narasak at the head of the queue from Voravud, Daniel, Sarun, Chonsawat, Henk and Saravut.
The race resumed with 12 laps to go and Narasak did everything right to lead the pack into Turn 2; however, behind him it all went off as Chonsawat, Sarun and Henk all went early. Chonsawat powered his way straight up into P2 to make it a Vattana 1-2 into the mountain section while Voravud was pushed down to third place, Sarun climbed to fourth, Henk up one to fifth while Daniel, who had waited for the correct start procedure wasn’t just swallowed up by his rivals up crucially lost track position to two GTM cars and was now smack bang in the middle of the GTM lead battle which would make it very difficult for the Australian to regain lost ground and a repeat of the previous day’s P2 was looking a very remote prospect.
Over the next lap Voravud started to pressure Chonsawat for second place but he had to keep an eye on his mirrors as Sarun was on his tail. Then a GTM class Ferrari hit the barriers out of Turn 12 and the Safety Car was deployed for a second time.
The race resumed with seven laps remaining and just over one third distance to go but the GTM Plus running order stayed unchanged as they all powered away as the green flags waved.
Into the last four laps and Chonsawat in second place had a big train of cars behind him with Voravud the first and right on his rear bumper. However the Ferrari driver was unable to put a pass together as the Camaro simply grunted away on the straight sections. Out of the mountain hairpin Chonsawat had a big fishtale and Voravud took a quick look down the inside but the Vattana driver corrected it and held onto the position.
Then the race turned on its head as Chonsawat, Sarun and Henk were slapped with drive through penalties for restarting too early after the first Safety Car period. Henk and Sarun pitted with four laps to go to severe the penalty and Chonsawat, who still had a train of cars behind him, was in a lap later which released Voravud who remained stuck behind the Camaro.
Just as three of the GTM Plus front runners were serving their penalties, Daniel was tapped into a spin by a GTM car and suffered a big impact with the guardrail on the sweeping exited Turn 19, the front right corner of the Audi sustaining damage.
As Narasak came crossed the line for the eighteenth time to start his final lap it was time to take stock as Chonsawat, Sarun and Henk were all now back in the running order having served their penalties. The Vattana Lamborghini driver was clear at the front and with just a lap remaining he had more than made up for the agonies of the previous day when a tyre issue and the resulting oil fire had robbed him of a certain victory. Within a few kilometres it would also be Narasak’s third win in four races (as he won both races at the season opener in Buriram back in April) so that latest maximum score was crucially important after he had picked up no points in the race just 24 hours previously which had allowed his rivals to close the gap.
Voravud finished a comfortable second although he was unable to get on terms with the Lamborghini up the road while after penalties were dished out to a trio of top runners it meant that, following a relatively quiet race, Saravut was well placed to capitalise and he bagged third place, his best result so far in GTM Plus with his new Huracán. Sarun was fourth, which made it a 3-4 for PSC Motorsport while Henk was fifth and Chonsawat, who suffered the most in terms of track position from the drive through penalty was sixth. All the cars were quite well spaced out and the final lap was completed without any late changes in the running order.
Bangsaen GP: Super Car GTM Plus Race 3 (Race 5 of the year)
The third and final race of the weekend saw the Narasak-Voravud stranglehold on the front row broken as Sarun deposed the latter to squeeze his way onto the outside. Instead it was an all-Lamborghini Row 1 with the Gallardo GT3 of Narasak on pole, to give him a clean sweep of all three poles for the weekend and the Huracán Super Trofeo of Sarun alongside.
Voravud, the winner of Friday’s first race, was off the front row for the first time during the weekend but was still very handily placed in P3 with the fastest of the trio of B-Quik Audis, the #27 of Daniel, lining up next to him. Then came the Camaro and the #26 Audi of Henk, with the third Audi, the #93 of Shaun, and the second of the two PSC Motorsport Huracán entries, the #77 driven by Saravut.
After an incident during an earlier race had required safety guardrails to be replaced which took almost an hour, the tight programme was now running late and with Porsche Carrera Cup Asia scheduled to wrap up the day after Super Car GTM Plus/GTM, and with fading light set to become a potential issue, the race was reduced from 19 to 14 laps.
When the lights turned green for 19 laps of racing Sarun surged up alongside Narasak and they went side by side through Turn 1, however the polesitter had the racing line well covered and he led the pack through Turn 2 and single file up the hill with Sarun next up and then Chonsawat who got off to a flying start and powered the thunderous Camaro past both Voravud and Daniel. That made it three black-and-white racecars at the front as the GTM Plus runners dashed through the mountain section for the first time. Behind them were the trio of Audis with Daniel ahead of Shaun and Henk, the young New Zealander getting the jump at the start on his experienced Dutch teammate.
As the pack trundled through the first gear mountain hairpin, Turn 6, Narasak came out of the turn tardily and Sarun got straight on the gas and pounced, he had the Huracán’s nose just ahead of the Gallardo through Turn 7 and he got on the gas and powered away down the ultra-high speed back straight, pulling out a couple of lengths by the time he stood on the brakes for Turn 8. Sensing his moment after being stuck in midfield in the first two races following a compromised qualifying session, he seized the opportunity as destiny beckoned with both hands. Sarun was a man on a mission as he saw the race coming towards him and as they crossed the line for the first time he had pulled out almost a second’s advantage over the Vattana Gallardo.
Henk, after getting pipped by his teammate Shaun at the start, was bottled up behind him but it wouldn’t be long before the Dutchman got past, taking advantage of a gearshift issue for the young New Zealander that cost him time through Turn 17.
With 11 laps to go the fight for P1 burst alive once more as Narasak closed right back up on Sarun and then a lap later P3 changed hands as Voravud powered past the Camaro on the straight, it looked like Chonsawat was starting to have issues with the big car.
As the race approached half distance the balance at the front dramatically shifted as Narasak, who was still glued to Sarun’s tail, went down the inside of the Huracán into Turn 18 and then ran wide around the S2 Bangsaen Hotel and as he came back round on the dirty line he spun and clipped the guardrails on the inside of Turn 19. He righted the car and kept going but the left hand front corner had clearly sustained damage and rubber smoke was pouring off the tyre. However he kept the car at a reasonable racing speed although it didn’t appear to be handling well and didn’t pit next time round.
Voravud passed him early in the lap and then as he came into the beachfront section the #59 Lamborghini dramatically slowed and he would trundle down to the pits where the Reiter mechanics swung into action on the left front corner but the damage was too severe to continue. Narasak was out and as a result the podium positions with six laps to go stood as: Sarun, Voravud, Chonsawat, Daniel and Henk.
The one of the GTM Toyotas following the #93 Audi of Shaun took a late look down the inside into Turn 18 and as it cut in to take the corner it tipped the Audi into a spin and banged into it. However, Shaun was able to spin the car round, get going again and with the next GTM Plus car, the Huracán of Saravut, ten seconds further back down the road, the New Zealand driver was able to hang onto his sixth place.
The top order got a big jolt the next lap, with five to go, as third placed Chonsawat, oversteered into the tyre bundles at Turn 8 and with the Camaro well and truly stuck that brought out the Safety Car. That was in fact both Vattana cars out of the race and the running order as the survivors formed up was Sarun still ahead from Voravud, Daniel, Henk, Shaun and Saravut – all three B-Quik cars were now running in the podium positions for the first time in the race.
The Safety Car went it with just two laps to go so there would be a short – 7.4 km to be exact – dash to the finishline for anyone to dig deep and put in one last effort. Into the last lap Sarun simply disappeared into the distance at the front once again as he continued to show his fastest pace of the weekend, but the battle behind was really hotting up. Henk took a good look at Daniel on the run up to Turn 1 but the Australian had that covered and instead he took an audacious look at Voravud up the inside into Turn 3, but that wasn’t going to pay off.
Daniel seemed to be struggling as the cars surged out of the mountain hairpin for the final time and exploded down the back straight, Henk came straight down the inside as they braked for Turn 8 to pick off third place. Neat and tidy, the Dutchman picking up the pace as the weekend progressed and revelling in there being three races.
That was it for the race, there were to be no more surprises and Sarun pulled out more than three seconds over Voravud during the final two laps to claim his first win here, an emphatic performance that also netted him the fastest lap of the race. With a win and two second place from the three races Voravud had shown superb consistency and had amassed the biggest points haul of anyone all weekend to drag himself right back into the championship running. Henk also really came into it as the weekend came to a climax to pick up his best result of the three races, Daniel bounced back after his big crash the previous day to claim fourth while Shaun recovered well from his spin and incident to take his second trip to the podium in three races and cap off a pretty tough rookie weekend here.
In the Drivers’ championship standings (provisional) Voravud moves into a 14-point lead thanks to his strong form in Bangsaen that saw him finishing all three races in the top two and after the Ferrari driver only grabbed two third places in Buriram at the opener he bounces from third place into the championship lead. Narasak adds 20 points for his race two win to climb to 60 points, having won three of the five races held so far this year, but the other two encounters resulted in a double DNF and thus no points so were very costly in championship terms. Sarun wrapped up the weekend in Bangsaen with a maximum points haul and that’s helped him edge up to 53 points with the two very evenly matched B-Quik drivers, Daniel and Henk, next up tied on 50 points.