Thailand - The sun has set on another Bangsaen Grand Prix, the thirteenth edition in fact of the spectacular seaside street race. It provided all the thrills and spills that have come to be expected of this event and at the pinnacle of the dazzling array of categories that took to the streets – Super Car GT3 – the gladiators and their powerful screaming machines delivered up two absolute crowd thrillers.
But Bangsaen’s not just about Super Car; it ranges from the little 1.2-litre barely modified “Eco” cars up to the grunting V8-engined, spaceframe TA2 machines and the imported guest series, this year Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series, as well of course as the returning “endurance” race and jam packed track parades by Porsches, classic cars and Hilux pickup trucks, while not forgetting the activities outside the paddock such as the new ‘Carlism’ car show and the gymkhana at the Cape. In all, the whole event was bigger, better and more glamourous than ever.
Super Car GT3 though is the place everyone looks to first and the weekend turned out to be all about B-Quik Racing as they stole the show. Turning up with two new-for-2019 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo racecars for the first time they carved up the trophies between them with young hot shots Sandy Stuvik and Martin Rump bagging Race 1 before the experienced amateurs, Henk Kiks and Daniel Bilski, scored an amazing win in Race 2 without the help of power steering something that's a real must have on these tight and twisty streets.
Daniel, who brought the car to the finishline for the fairy tale win collapsed onto the pitlane asphalt after the race such was his exertion. For all four drivers it was their first win in Bangsaen, it was the first win on these streets for the Audi brand and a debut win here for the new "Evo" version while Henk and Daniel consolidated their lead in the Drivers’ championship and it was a similar story for B-Quik in the Teams’ rankings. All-in-all a very satisfying weekend for the boys in black and yellow.
But that was only one thread of the tapestry. Vattana Motorsport, Thailand’s big, brash and bold team, has had a somewhat subdued year so far by their standards, entering just one car in the opening rounds. However, the team turned on the style come Bangsaen, dusting off their fleet of Reiter-built Gallardos to plant five cars on the grid.
Team owner and former Super Car champion, Chonsawat Asavahame, this time sharing his wide body #28 Gallardo GT3 R-EX with Jono Lester, had a strong first race and finished fourth to whittle down his deficit to the top of the championship standings, but a DNF in Race 2 undid that good work at the same time as his rivals bounced back from a costly retirement in the first race to bag maximum points in the second.
Of Vattana’s quartet of customers entries, Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem and another former Super Car champion, Akihiro Asai, enjoyed the best weekend. Finishing just shy of the podium in P6 in Race 1 they were runners up in Race 2, snapping hard at the heels of the flailing B-Quik Audi but unable to get close enough to put in a pass.
The other big front runner here is Singha Motorsport Team Thailand which entered two Ferrari 488 GT3s in Super Car GT3 (as well as a Ferrari 488 Challenge in Super Car GTM). Both GT3 cars finished in the top four places in both races but the position they really wanted proved elusive.
Carlo Van Dam, after looking untouchable throughout free practice nailed down pole for Race 1 in the car he was sharing with Voravud Bhirombhakdi. But matters wouldn’t fall their way in the races and on Saturday it was their teammates Piti Bhirombhakdi and Kantasak Kusiri who led them home for a 2-3 finish. On Sunday the tables were abruptly turned as this time Carlo and Voravud were P3 ahead of Piti and Kantasak.
In a superb P5 overall and winners of the GT3 Am class in Race 1 were the Sereethoranakul brothers, Sarun and Saravut. The pair have been racking up a lot of seat time and turning in some excellent performances in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia over the last couple of seasons and that’s paying off as they looked very handy all race in the PSC Motorsport-entered Huracán GT3. That was their highpoint of the weekend as a DNF counted them out in Race 2.
It’s all about getting onto the grid in Bangsaen and that was the case in GT3 Am for Paul Kanjanapas in the Painkiller Racing Ferrari 458 GT3 who suffered terminal engine problems that forced him to sit out the qualifying sessions.
Undeterred, a replacement V8 was shipped into the country in time for the weekend although he would have to start from the back of the grid. It all ended well though and after putting in a strong drive in Race 2 and raising his driving game Paul wrapped up his weekend by the beach with a trip to the podium as the runner up in GT3 Am.
Super Car combines two classes, GT3 is for the FIA GT3 homologated machines while the second tier, GTM, is reserved primarily for one make ‘Cup’ level cars as well as the locally-assembled, factory-run Toyotas. On Saturday the Japanese machines got the better of the European cars as former F3 driver Nattapong Horthongkum and Supong Khumtonwong led out a 1-3 for the now Lexus RC F badged cars.
Team mates Nattavude Charoensukhawatana, an undisputed Thai racing legend on both 2- and 4-wheels, paired up with Naoki Kawamura, who some seasons ago graduated to the team as a prize for winning Toyota’s one make series and has held onto his place on merit ever since. All four of them in fact raced in the Nürburgring 24 Hours this year and several have also driven for the team in Super GT.
Sandwiched in between them was a Ferrari 458 Challenge shared by a pair of former national touring car champions: Tin Sritrai, who has also bagged an Asian touring car title, and Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya, whose grandad, Seni Pramoj, was Thailand’s war time resistance leader and went on to serve as Prime Minister on no less than three different occasions.
On Sunday the GTM win went to a Porsche 991 GT3 Cup shared by the Sathienthirakul brothers, Tanart and Munkong. The former, who used to race in European F3, was also competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup races in Bangsaen so he had a busy schedule – plus plenty of handy track acclimatisation time. The Ferrari of Tin and Kittipol was again the bridesmaid in Race 2 while Nattavude and Naoki made it two third places for the weekend as this time their Lexus mounted teammates were fifth.
There was a welcome return this time around for Bangsaen’s traditional “endurance” race. Originally run to 6-hours it has more recently been shortened and last year was dropped altogether as the organisers’ juggled about to fit all the categories into the event.
For its reappearance on the programme the popular long distance race was pegged at 200km. It was back at the last minute too, revealed Thailand Super Series Vice President Preeda Tantemsapya. “It was brought back at short notice, just one month ago we decided to hold it,” he said.
The big idea is to allow more drivers the opportunity to race on these streets. “If you are non TSS or not in Toyota, PCCA or TCR you won’t experience Bangsaen and there are drivers who want to try Bangsaen and experience it,” Preeda continued. “The endurance race is also good for drivers on the programme as some drivers would like to practice more and sell seats to their friends.”
The plan, he said, was to keep it as straightforward as possible so there were classes for the Toyota one make runners, Altis and Vios, as well as for TSS categories, namely Super Eco, Super Production, Super Compact and Thailand Touring Car. They all used their respective regulations save the fact everyone was running on Michelin tyres and there was a new weight balance between Production and Compact. “We aim for simplicity,” added Preeda. “The teams can’t use air jacks and if you want to fuel you must use a funnel, no machine, we don’t want fuel leaks.”
The race, now dubbed as the ‘Bangsaen 200’ and moved to a Thursday mid-morning slot, reminded everyone of what they had missed with plenty of exciting racing not just for the overall win but all the way down the classes.
For the fans there was a popular return to these streets for “boxer” power as Subaru-specialist A Motorsport entered a blue BRZ, while Toyota chucked an 86 into the mix for its factory stars, leading to the excitement of seeing the two differing variations of these Japanese sportscars slugging it out with each other for lap after lap in the podium positions. Eventually winning honours would go to the 86, but it was less than 5 seconds ahead of the BRZ after 200 km of flat out racing.
Toyota also fielded the CH-R that it entered in the Nürburgring 24 Hours this year. The car in fact only arrived in Thailand on Wednesday night and that meant it missed qualifying and had to start from the back of the grid. It also meant its gear ratios were still ‘Ring-spec’ so it laboured out of some of the turns, especially the hairpin. However, it still managed to scythe its way through the big pack.
TCR Asia Series was back at the beach again and this time both wins went to the experienced Diego Morán while a P2 finish in Race 1 for his teammate Luca Engstler was good enough to wrap up the title. Luca added a P3 in the second race while Diego’s double victory ensured the Ecuadorian driver was the series runner up.
It was the first time to race here for TCR’s current benchmark car, Hyundai’s i30 N TCR, and thanks to Diego’s sterling efforts it emerged from Bangsaen with two debut victories, the first time a Korean car has ever won a race on these streets. In fact, the i30 N locked out a 1-2-3 finish in both races, imprinting on Bangsaen its now established pattern of global dominance.
Meanwhile, another top touring car star, Pepe Oriola, returned here, having first raced in Bangsaen two years ago; the Spaniard’s best result was a P2 in Race 2 and that was good enough to give him third place in the final standings.
TA2 Thailand has got bigger and better since its inaugural season last year, its entry has rocketed into double figures and the series now has its own dedicated grid slot.
“We’ve come to Bangsaen, we’ve got 12 cars on the grid, the cars look great, they’re handling this track very well, they’re moving around a bit but that’s the type of cars they are as everyone has seen at the other tracks in Thailand and Sepang and we’re just happy that the cars are reliable, that’s the main thing,” says Craig Corliss, the promoter of TA2 Thailand.
These big V8-engined spaceframe cars seem to have quickly resonated with Thai racers. “It’s a one make class, it’s probably the only real, true one make class in Thailand where it comes down to the driver and the team to set up the car,” Craig explained. “The parts are cheap and it’s very economical racing, the guys with a smaller budget can come racing, we’ve got a 1-hour race format so you can share the drive and halve the cost, so it’s really growing in Thailand and Asia so we’re happy.”
The cars are identical under the skin but above it – so far – there have been three different body shapes, namely Ford’s Mustang, Chevrolet’s Camaro and Dodge’s Challenger. But now there is an interloper into the ‘muscle car’ ranks in the shape of a slippery Mercedes body shape which was making its TA2 Thailand. “They’re in Europe now, but as far as the U.S. and Asia are concerned I’m the first to buy one,” noted Craig. “We had to do a bit of work on it when it arrived as they run radials in Europe so it didn’t work on our wider, busier tyres.”
The silver Mercedes, boasting more visible aero features than the trio of American style cars, garnered an awful lot of attention. “There’s a lot of interest in the Mercedes, people like it, it’s got the real ‘DTM’ look about it,” added Craig. “We just want to offer something different, we don’t just want to be a muscle car class. We want a broader product range for customers so we can get a bigger field, we want to have 30 cars on the grid, that’s the target, and hopefully next year we’re going to have eighteen to twenty, so we’ve got to offer product variation to customers.”
There’s also a BMW M6 body shape on the horizon so diversity is really going to be the name of the game in TA2 Thailand.
There was another powerful and noisy ‘one make’ series in action, this time the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, which was also returning to Bangsaen. The German cars got off to a slightly bumpy start as three chassis were destroyed during the first practice session meaning the lights were burning late in their tented beachfront paddock.
“What a magnificent race weekend,” commented Porsche China President and CEO Dr Ing Jens Puttfarcken, who was attending the event for the first time. “The track is fantastic; the location is beautiful and the crowds are so full of energy and passion for motorsport. I will certainly return to Bangsaen again the next time we have an event here.”
However, following that early hiccup everything went smoothly and there were two thrilling races for the fans who also got to admire a new 911 Carrera S and a Panamera 4 E-Hybrid displayed on the beach courtesy of Thailand’s Porsche importer, AAS.
There was a glimpse at the future of this street racing event as single-seaters revved up on the track for the first time ever. Two F3 cars undertook demonstration laps during the official opening ceremony, the first, a Dallara-VW has just been acquired by Ferrari racer Piti Bhirombhakdi while the other, a Dallara-Toyota, has been kicking its heels in Thailand for a couple of seasons.
That latter car was driven by Kantadhee Kusiri in Europe in 2016 so it was quite fitting that his older brother, Kantasak, another former Super Car champion who was also sharing a cockpit with in Bangsaen, should give the car a spin – and he enjoyed the experience: “It’s very exciting because the Bangsaen Circuit has never had an F3 car,” Kantasak said afterwards. “After driving, it feels okay with the width of circuit, but the circuit is bumpy.”
The spectacle of F3 racing has certainly driven the Macau Grand Prix to worldwide recognition so it’s entirely logical that Bangsaen should seriously consider single-seaters in the future. Preeda immediately agrees. “We have looked at the track in case we have open wheelers,” he says. “We preparing for open wheelers and it’s feasible.”
While the current FIA Grade 3 licence doesn’t include open wheel cars, the continuous improvements mean that the specific upgrades required for them to come have been whittled away and the gap is now very narrow. The organisers would certainly like F3 to be part of the programme and it’s entirely possible that single seaters could be seen racing at Bangsaen for the first time as early as next year.
So, to the event itself. Last year it changed from its traditional November date to a low season slot in July. And while the event prospered, the traditional spectators were somewhat wrong footed and the crowds were sparse.
This year the event shifted back slightly to the end of August to make sure it was well clear of the general election, an unknown quantity when the calendar was being decided late last year, but with a year behind it in the new summer slot plus a lot of promotion, the crowds swelled again and the weekend was busy in the grandstands.
The event it should be mentioned is the brainchild of Sontaya Kunplome, a regional politician and long-time racer, usually behind the wheel of Porsches. He turned his dream into a reality and has further dreams to place the street race firmly on the global map. Year-by-year the Bangsaen Grand Prix is relentlessly growing backed by a strong and enthusiastic team to drive it forward.
Having already attained FIA Grade 3 status, the track upgrades are part of a continual improvement process now, rather than a rush towards a big target. Upgrades this year included significant resurfacing work that eliminated some of the bigger bumps – some 800 m of the 3.7 km circuit was a fresh, darker shade of asphalt this year.