The opening day of action for the TCR Asia Series at the Bangsaen Grand Prix saw an almost complete spectrum of conditions, from a warm dry circuit to kick off the day in practice one, to heavy rain at the start of the second - delayed - session that ultimately ended with a late rush on a drying circuit.
In the end the results were somewhat predictable with points leader Luca Engstler and fellow Hyundai driver Pepe Oriola separated at times by mere hundredths of a second - Bangsaen rookie Oriola taking top honours in P1, before Engstler fired back with an outstanding lap late in session two to claim the advantage heading into Saturday morning’s twin qualifiers..
Typically the sessions were plagued by the odd incident, Zack Gao finding the limits of adhesion at turn two on his opening lap of the Chonburi circuit, whilst in the second session David Lau came to grief at turn one in slippery conditions, the TeamWork Motorsport Audi taking a fair hit in the left front, the team working hard to repair the car overnight ahead of qualifying.
They weren’t the only ones, the points leader too coming to grief during the opening session after running off at turn two whilst finding the limit of the brakes. He grabbed the handbrake to flick the spin the car 180 degrees, but the right rear suspension failed forcing him to limp back to pit lane towards the end of the session, the reigning Teams’ Champions repairing the car though immediately afterwards.
Sadly for Adam Khalid, his opportunity to turn valuable laps in his battle for the honours of top Asian driver in the field suffered a setback with a gearshift issue in the #4 Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf, the crew replacing the unit between sessions as a precaution, but with little time to effect the change, a residual issue sidelined the Malaysian in P2, however the team confirmed that Khalid would be okay for qualifying.
Behind the battling European stars, Eurasia’s Daniel Miranda impressed again with a mature approach to his first ever street race, the Philippines driver sixth fastest in P1, and incredibly, third fastest in the slippery conditions in P2 - a session that was shortened after David Lau’s mid-session contact with the barriers.
Miranda’s impressive effort was shadowed by local star and reigning TCR Thailand Champion Jakraphan Davee, title contender Diego Moran and TCR Asia Cup front-runner Roland Hertner, all four within a second of each other paving the way for an enthralling qualifying session.
For Luca Engstler’s team-mate and title rival Diego Moran, the Ecuadorian was not too phased about his pace in the wet conditions, having been a big mover early in the second leg (after the red flag for David Lau), he was delayed late in the session by traffic but admitted he was happy with his pace, Engstler reminding everyone that it’s usually qualifying and the race that Moran excels at, not practice..
In the battle for TCR Asia Cup honours, title rivals Roland Hertner and Douglas Khoo shared the top spot in each session, Khoo happier in the dry than the wet having very nearly fallen into the same trap that caught David Lau, the Malaysian admitting it was touch and go as to whether he’d be able to avoid the barriers - by that stage he elected there wasn’t much to learn from the treacherous conditions, so he backed things off as the clock wound down.
For Bangsaen rookies Zack Gao (Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai) and Kim Jin Soo (Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai), they too put in some impressive laps to work themselves to within reach of the points leaders, Soo setting the fifth fastest time in P1 to put Daniel Miranda on notice that he might have a challenge for the Asian drivers’ title come Sunday afternoon.
What the driver’s had to say..
1. Luca Engstler [GER] - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR
“Honestly, today I took it quite easy because I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself because it’s only practice. We checked some setup changes but the car felt good, even in the rain, so I think we’re well prepared for qualifying tomorrow. I wasn’t surprised to see Pepe [Oriola] on P1 in practice one, he’s the god of street racing - look at how he was at Macau, he was the one to beat but I feel comfortable for qualifying tomorrow, I see a big improvement in our setup today. Of course I’m thinking about the championship, but I just want to focus on the first race and in the end we see what comes out - we’re in Bangsaen, so anything can happen!”
20. Daniel Miranda [PHI] - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR
“It took me quite a bit to get familiarised with the track, and in practice two it started to drizzle, then rain, so it was a bit difficult for me, but I just focussed on keeping calm and finishing the session. This is my first year in TCR and my first street race, so this weekend I came in wanting to be fit because it’s going to be a tough race, so it’s about being physically and mentally prepared. Being top five in TCR Asia isn’t easy against such a quality field of drivers, so I’m really thankful for being able to finish on the podium a couple of times in my debut year, and to be in a position to go after the title of Top Asian driver is what I’m focussed on this weekend.”
23. Diego Moran [ECU] - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR
“I was of course taking my time to get used to the car again and to get used to the track. Luckily for me I feel very comfortable in the car in the dry. We have some changes to make that worked well on Luca’s car, but I feel very happy with the outcome because I know there is still an opportunity to improve. I was certainly careful in the wet because one error here could end your weekend. So tomorrow the aim is to go as fast as I can, and qualify the car at the front.”
65. Douglas Khoo [MAL] - Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR
“It was disappointing that we didn’t have two dry sessions because I felt very comfortable in the car in the dry, and after that close call in the wet second session I wasn’t prepared to push too hard, so I’m certainly hoping qualifying and the races are dry. It’s nice to be back in the car and always nice to be at Bangsaen, despite the fact I have a mixed relationship with the event, but we’ll be pushing hard tomorrow as the TCR Asia Cup title is on the line, and whilst Roland [Hertner] has a good lead, nothing’s impossible!”
74. Pepe Oriola [SPA] - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR
“I like street circuits, so I was really looking forward to the day. I managed to do a few laps with a scooter ahead of today, and watch a few videos, but we managed to dial the car in pretty quickly. We’ve had a number of second placings in the Series, so I’m pretty keen to have a win for the team before the season ends
The Bangsaen Grand Prix maintained it’s mystique as the one TCR Asia Series venue certain of turning up an unpredictable result, the Thailand beachfront circuit delivering two more epic races, but despite some more Bangsaen drama, Luca Engstler retained the coveted #1 plate by closing out the season as the leading point scorer despite again failing to finish on the top step of the podium..
In the end Engstler’s team-mate and title rival Diego Moran was the star of the weekend, the Ecuadorian driver turning in an almost flawless return to the Chonburi circuit, collecting maximum points from the two 30-minute races, although it wasn’t quite enough to breach the gap to Engstler, the two Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai drivers wrapping up the team’s fourth consecutive Teams’ and Drivers’ titles.
Sadly, despite always providing an unpredictable result, the demanding 20-turn, 3.75-kilometre street circuit often provides its fair share of carnage, and 2019 was no different.
Again the opening moments of the first race impacted the result, with points leader Luca Engstler sideways across the exit of turn two after contact with Pepe Oriola, the German turning the corner into a car park as the bulk of the field waited for him to recover.
The mid-point of the race though is where the action was, with Kim Jin Soo making heavy contact with the barriers at turn 12 immediately in front of the recovering Daniel Miranda who was working his way forward from a tough start. Kim bounced back into the path of the unfortunate Eurasia Motorsport star, the two coming to a stop on the exit of the blind turns 10-11-12 complex, leaving reigning TCR Thailand Champion Jakraphan Davee nowhere to go. The resultant impact immediately attracted the Safety Car and the race was ultimately declared after 75% race distance.
Fortunately all three drivers were able to walk away from the incident, although a later scan of Kim’s shoulder revealed a fracture to his collarbone forcing him to withdraw from Sunday’s season finale.
Sunday’s race was less eventful, Moran the first of the contenders through to the lead where he held out the menacing Pepe Oriola and team-mate Engstler for back-to-back wins.
After a mixed run during practice with one session dry and the other damp, qualifying dawned clear despite heavy overnight rain. That suggested that Kantadhee Kusiri’s 2017 record may stay intact, but as the teams pushed into the second 10-minute leg, Luca Engstler showed that he was prepared to put everything on the line to lower the time and put pole out of the equation.
With all cars making the grid after an incredible overnight effort by the TeamWork Motorsport team to repair David Lau’s Audi RS3, it was a matter of who would make the cut for the first 20-minute session, and which one of the three Hyundai-powered contenders it would be.
Ultimately it would be Engstler who would answer the call, the reigning champion throwing down a 1:41.542 mid-session to set the mark for Pepe Oriola to chase. Oriola by contrast fired off his best later in the session to fall just six tenths short, with Daniel Miranda an impressive third on his Bangsaen debut.
Diego Moran was a little frustrated to be fourth and 1.8-seconds back from his title rival, but he also knew he had a second chance to go after a front running start in the second 10-minute leg.
David Lau was the only driver not to graduate to the second 10-minute session, caution and a big brake lockup into the scene of his wet practice contact with the barriers dropping him well off the pace of the leaders, the Audi driver tip-toeing around over the closing stages to ensure the car was set for the two coming races.
It was clear that from the outset of the final 10-minute session that Engstler wanted his second Bangsaen pole and the German put everything on the line to smash out a jaw-dropping 1:40.727, taking an incredible eight tenths of a second off his opening session time, the points leader admitting afterwards he had nothing left and that he’d brushed the armco at least twice on his best lap..
Initially Engstler’s advantage was more than a second and a half, but Oriola - desperate to close out his maiden season of TCR Asia with a win - closed the gap down to just 19 one hundredths of a second on his final flying lap to take P2.
By contrast Diego Moran put in a more conservative 1:42.228 admitting he had some in reserve and that he felt he had more to gain behind the two touring car superstars - and based on past Bangsaen experiences, it would prove to be an inspired decision..
Local hero Jakraphan Davee - the only driver in the field alongside Douglas Khoo who had started all six previous TCR races at Bangsaen - was fourth fastest having displaced Daniel Miranda who had stunned in the first leg with the third fastest time, the Eurasia team lamenting that he hadn’t got the best of traffic in the final ten minutes despite improving his lap time by half a second.
Kim Jin Soo too was impressive during both sessions to set the sixth fastest time in leg one, but the second of the Solite Indigo cars was forced to settle for seventh in leg two after a storming run from Zack Gao in the #30 Eurasia entry, the two Bangsaen rookies turning in an impressive run on the unforgiving beachside street circuit.
After initially falling behind his TCR Asia Cup title rival Roland Hertner in the opening leg of qualifying, Viper Niza Racing Bangsaen veteran Douglas Khoo found almost two seconds in his second run to record the eighth fastest time and vitally - gain pole for the second reverse grid (top eight) race, whilst Hertner would be forced to contend with a fifth row start for both rounds nine and ten.
After the dramas of practice which saw him suffer a litany of technical setbacks and very few laps, Adam Khalid was able to turn his first serious laps of the circuit in anger, but clearly the team were facing additional issues which saw the young Malaysian record just the tenth fastest time, although only a second and a half back from Volkswagen Team Oettinger team-mate Roland Hertner.
Within moments of qualifying concluding, the posturing started.. Oriola reminding fans that with a title on the line Engstler wouldn’t want to be too protective of his position if he led into turn one, admitting that if he was even a metre back from the #1 Hyundai, he’d be taking a dive into the first corner. Engstler for his part reminded everyone who had set pole and a new Bangsaen lap record, and that he wouldn’t be deterred by mind-games.. It was shaping up to be another epic Bangsaen race.
Not surprisingly the action unfolded off the line, although ultimately in began before the lights even went out after Oriola stopped too far forward in his grid box on the line, incurring a drive through penalty as a result a couple of laps into the race.
Unaware of that, he charged off the line but was not as fast to get away as Engstler who led into the turn one right-hander and then the 90-degree left hander, although that’s as far as he would get after minor contact from Oriola spun him sideways on the exit of the corner, blocking the track behind him.
Whilst all this was happening Diego Moran was right in the box seat, the Ecuadorian moving to second behind Oriola, but no sooner did he start applying pressure than the team advised him to hold station, knowing that the Spaniard would soon be down pit lane.
Despite Oriola, Moran, Kim and Gao making it through, the rest of the field became caught up behind Davee who tagged the side of Engstler, whilst Douglas Khoo and David Lau had nowhere to go.
Sadly for Daniel Miranda he was forced to watch all this from well behind the field after being caught in neutral on the line as the lights changed, by the time he had re-engaged first gear, the field had already gone.
With four cars stopped at turn two, the race director had no other choice than to call the Safety Car - although fortunately within seconds of that decision Engstler had righted himself and the car park had cleared itself, the field held in place for just a lap before the action returned.
From seventh Engstler charged through the first full lap of racing to be all over Gao on the run down the beachfront, moving into fourth at turn 18. From there it took him a couple of laps to get around Oriola’s team-mate, Kim Jin Soo who was showing impressive pace on his Bangsaen debut, but ultimately he could do little about the charging #1 entry, with Engstler quickly closing down the three-second deficit to Moran in front.
That battle soon became the fight for the front of the field after Oriola’s penalty, Moran though not conceding an inch to his team-mate, the two Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai’s locked nose to tail as the laps clicked down, but then suddenly on lap six the race came to a sudden stop after a big moment down at the turn ten roundabout.
Locked in battle, Kim, Gao and recovering Eurasia team-mate Daniel Miranda were battling over position three with little separating them. At one point contact was made to the rear of Kim’s Hyundai, something which broke a component in the rear of the car and forced him well off line as he came into the turn 10-11-12 complex on lap six. He made the first right-hander, but heavy understeer forced him well off line in the left-hander and with nowhere to go as he tried desperately to make the right-hander he hit the barriers and bounced back into the path of Miranda.
Miranda had initially backed off having seen Kim in trouble but with nowhere to escape, contact was inevitable. Unfortunately for Davee - who had moved through on Gao after the second Eurasia driver dropped back after contact with Kim - he arrived on the scene blind to what was happening at the exit of the roundabout and like Miranda - with nowhere to go - he made heavy contact with Kim’s #97 Hyundai and then the tail of Miranda’s car.
Initially a small oil fire broke out in the front of Miranda’s car, which was almost immediately extinguished, with all three drivers quickly out of their cars.
The Safety Car was called immediately as recovery crews removed the three cars and worked on barrier repairs, in the end the race was declared at 75% race distance with Moran the winner from Engstler and Gao.
Fortunately Miranda and Davee were unhurt in the incident, whilst Kim was diagnosed with a small fracture to his collarbone, forcing his retirement from the event. Davee too was also forced out, whilst Miranda’s Eurasia Motorsport team were able to source parts to repair the #20 entry including getting a replacement engine from rivals Engstler Motorsport.
Roland Hertner was classified fourth and top point-scorer in the TCR Asia Cup, finishing just ahead of Douglas Khoo and by virtue of beating the Malaysian to the line, he sealed the title for 2019. Pepe Oriola was sixth, having recovered in part from his drive-through penalty, whilst David Lau brought up the rear of the field with the TeamWork Motorsport Audi.
After an epic overnight effort by the Eurasia Motorsport team, Daniel Miranda was able to return to the grid for the final event of the season, intent on taking out the title of leading Asian driver for the 2019 season.
It had been an all-nighter for much of the Eurasia team, but they had the #20 Hyundai on the grid complete with new nosecone and a replacement engine, although within moments of the start of the race it was clear not everything was back to normal, Miranda unable to turn a lap below two-minutes.
With the TCR Asia Cup title out of reach, Douglas Khoo had nothing to lose by jumping away ahead of the start, avoiding potential drama down at turn one, the Malaysian driver admitting afterwards that he was keen to avoid the title fight that was brewing behind him.
Once the lights went out though, the initial battle was between Zack Gao and Diego Moran down to turn two, Gao taking the advantage by virtue of starting off the front of the grid.
Behind them Engstler was all over the back of Oriola as the two ran into turn two fourth and fifth, with David Lau sixth ahead of newly crowned TCR Asia Cup champion Roland Hertner.
By the time Khoo made the notorious turn 10-11-12 complex he had four Hyundais locked under his rear wing and they were pushing hard to get through, Gao still holding out Moran, whilst behind them as they went into the fast turn 13 right-hander along the beachfront, Oriola made his intentions felt giving Moran a love tap as they banked up behind the Viper Niza Racing Cupra.
By turn 15 all four charged through on the [temporary] race leader, with Gao continuing to hold out Moran until the start of lap three, whilst behind the leading duo, Luca Engstler was paying close attention to the #74 Solite Indigo Hyundai of Pepe Oriola, weaving all over the back of the Spaniard’s car.
Gao was impressive in one of his best drives of the year to hold out Oriola - who tapped him into turn 18 in a failed attempt at an inside move - the Chinese driver weathering the storm from two of the best TCR drivers in the world until turn two the following lap with both Oriola and Engstler past and off in pursuit of race leader Moran who was now more than five seconds down the road.
Six laps in Moran had extended his lead to almost six seconds, but within three laps the lead was down to just a few car lengths with Moran still holding point over Oriola, whilst his team-mate was again locked under the Spaniard’s rear wing.
All three were extracting the absolute maximum from their cars, but despite being clearly faster, neither Oriola nor Engstler could make an impression, Moran admitting afterwards that there was “no way they were getting past!”.
A couple of times Oriola got alongside the #23 Liqui Moly team Engstler machine but he just didn’t have the drive to pull it off, Moran able to hold out any final challenge to cross the line as the first back-to-back winner at Bangsaen since Tin Sritrai in 2017 and close to within 15 points of team-mate Luca Engstler in the title fight. He’d done everything he could.
Oriola was second across the line ahead of Engstler who sealed the result with his ninth podium finish of the year (from 10 starts), whilst Zack Gao crossed the line fourth after a sensational Bangsaen debut that netted him his best result of the year.
Douglas Khoo grabbed top honours in TCR Asia Cup for the third time this year despite his drive-through penalty for jumping the start, taking fifth at the flag ahead of the ailing Daniel Miranda, the #20 car struggling with a clutch issue, but despite the setback the Filipino was rewarded with the honour of Top Asian Driver for the 2019 season.
Sadly for Roland Hertner and David Lau, their weekend came to an end early with contact at turn two, forcing both into retirement with just one lap in the books.
Ultimately though the weekend belonged to Diego Moran and Liqui Moly Team Engstler, the German-based operation sealing their fourth Teams’ and Drivers’ titles, whilst taking Hyundai to the ‘Car Model of the Year’ award in their maiden season.
For Luca Engstler the win sealed back-to-back titles for the teenager, making him a four-time champion in TCR, the young German having capped of a solid season in Asia where he was faced with challenges from Oriola, former World Touring Car Champion Rob Huff and rising English star Daniel Lloyd, whilst he was also pushed to the line in TCR Asia by his emerging team-mate Diego Moran.
The final shout out though must go to the Ecuadorian driver who was able to challenge Engstler for the title despite no laps outside of TCR Asia this season and a car change between the Sepang and Zhuhai rounds. Despite the challenge he was typically pragmatic about his chances, but at Bangsaen he did everything right claiming his third and fourth wins of the year to close down Engstler’s renowned advantage and fall just 15 points short of the title..
There’s always next year!!
Bangsaen Grand Prix, Thailand
2019 TCR Asia Series Round 9/10
Round#10 (1 September, 2019)
1. 23. Diego Moran [ECU] Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR - 15-laps
2. 74. Pepe Oriola [SPA] Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30N TCR +0.425
3. 1. Luca Engstler [GER] Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR +3.321
4. 30. Hua Yang Gao [CHN] Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30N TCR +25.426
5. 65. Douglas Khoo [MAS] Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR* - 14-laps
6. 20. Daniel Miranda [PHI] Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30N TCR - 13-laps
DNF. 36. David Lau [HKG] TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR* - 2-laps
DNF. 3. Roland Hertner [GER] Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR* - 1-lap
DNS. 97. Kim Jin Soo [KOR] Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30N TCR
DNS. 33. Jakraphan Davee [THA] Alpha Factory Racing Team by Pulzar Cupra TCR
DNS. 4. Adam Khalid [MAS] Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR
*TCR Asia Cup
Round#9 (31 August, 2019)
1. 23. Diego Moran [ECU] Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR - 10-laps
2. 1. Luca Engstler [GER] Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR
3. 30. Hua Yang Gao [CHN] Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30N TCR
4. 3. Roland Hertner [GER] Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR*
5. 65. Douglas Khoo [MAS] Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR*
6. 74. Pepe Oriola [SPA] Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30N TCR
7. 36. David Lau [HKG] TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR*
DNF. 97. Kim Jin Soo [KOR] Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30N TCR - 6-laps
DNF. 20. Daniel Miranda [PHI] Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30N TCR - 6-laps
DNF. 33. Jakraphan Davee [THA] Alpha Factory Racing Team by Pulzar Cupra TCR - 6-laps
DNF. 4. Adam Khalid [MAS] Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR - 4-laps
*TCR Asia Cup