The 2017 TCR Asia Series will make its Chinese return this weekend for the second round of the season, turning to Zhuhai in Guandong Provence for the maiden TCR event on the 4.319-kilometre circuit located just across the Pearl River from Hong Kong.
For the Zhuhai event there will be a string of new teams and new drivers entering the series, many of whom have good experience at the Zhuhai circuit, but most of whom will be new to the TCR concept, although last time out in Malaysia, some of those new teams also featured very strongly in the results.
Coming into the Zhuhai event Liqui Moly Team Engstler continue to set the pace. 12-months ago it was multiple China Touring Car Champion Andy Yan who put the Volkswagen team on top, and in 2017, new Engstler recruits Diego Moran and Kantadhee Kusiri have maintained the team’s momentum, dominating the opening round at Sepang.
Ecuador’s Diego Moran completed the opening round as the points leader after two podium finishes, the second of which saw victory and the championship points lead, but the TCR rookie is under no illusions that the season will be easy, especially against two of Thailand’s strongest touring car exports - his team-mate Kusiri, and the exciting Tin Sritrai.
Kusiri is no stranger to TCR having been one of the most dominant exponents of the category over the closing stages of the 2016 season in both the TCR International and TCR Thailand series - all within his home country - and he showed from opening practice in Malaysia he’d be a serious title contender, but the Malaysian event also highlighted another issue, one which could affect the overall championship result..
Kusiri and Sritrai have crossed paths many times in their careers with Sritrai holding the upper hand early, but in TCR, despite Sritrai’s renowned pace, it was Kusiri who proved to be faster through practice and qualifying as Sritrai’s Team Thailand struggled with a technical issue with their ‘new’ Volkswagen.
In the opening race Sritrai continued to battle with technical issues allowing Kusiri to get away from the field and record a dominant win, but in race two, things were very different, the two Thai’s fighting over the same real estate which ultimately led to contact and a two-lap pit stop for Kusiri to assess damage.
Whilst there appeared to be little malice in the incident, what it did highlight was the pair will need to consider patience at some point during their battle for the championship, otherwise they will open the door for drivers like Moran and R-Engineering Honda drivers WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir to take advantage and earn more valuable championship points.
Volkswagen, Honda and Seat have been the mainstay of TCR competition over the last two seasons, but in Malaysia we saw a new challenger in the shape of the stunning Audi RS3 LMS TCR, a car debuted by Hong Kong’s Phoenix Racing Asia.
17-year old Jasper Thong made his TCR debut for Audi Hong Kong, whilst compatriot SK Tong drove the second car, Thong claiming the TCR Asia Cup points lead on debut with a pair of top five finishes. For Zhuhai though the two Audi drivers will be joined by three more RS3 TCRs, one of which will be the second Audi Hong Kong entry for a very exciting addition to the field - one which is sure to attract plenty of attention..!
A sportsman with a terrific pedigree in Olympic level swimming, Hong Kong’s Alex Fong is almost a household name at home, perhaps more now for his acting and singing abilities than for his record breaking runs at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, but for Zhuhai, he will face a completely new level of intensity with his TCR and Audi debut.. He won’t be the first actor to have undertaken a career in motorsport, and with Audi Hong Kong and Phoenix Racing Asia support, he will have some of the best in the business in his corner, but regardless of how he performs on his debut, he will be a very popular addition for the fans who will no doubt keep track of his every move.
Joining the three Phoenix Racing Asia team entries, will be two new Audi RS3s for the Chinese Tianshi Racing Team, a team with a strong background in GT racing as well as good experience at the Zhuhai Circuit. Chinese Drivers Yuang Chu Han and Chen Wei An know the circuit well and are expected to battle hard at the front of the field once they get on top of the new Audi and the intricacies of the front-wheel drive turbo 2-litre formula.
Zhuhai will also see the return of an ‘old’ face, with former Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver Filipe de Souza back in a Volkswagen, although this time for ‘Macau David Racing Team’, the Macanese driver - who finished fourth in the 2016 TCR Asia Series - will come into the series with a wealth of touring car experience under his belt, and could provide an immediate challenge to the series front-runners.
At Sepang we saw the debut of the Malaysian-based R Engineering operation of WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir in a pair of JAS Motorsport-prepared Honda Civic TCRs the two drivers completing round two on the podium, thanks in part to their knowledge of the Sepang layout. Zhuhai will present a different challenge to the successful touring car campaigners, but you could expect them to again challenge the leaders for a place on the podium especially as the Hondas continue to prove more than competitive against the might of the Volkswagens.
Throw in a trio of Seat Leon TCRs for Elegant Racing duo Eric K. and Alex Liu and Viper Niza Racing’s Douglas Khoo and you have a solid field of contenders that is bound to keep the fans entertained across the two 14-lap races scheduled this Sunday.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
You could expect the big fight for the top step of the podium will be between the Thai pairing of Tin Sritrai and Kantadhee Kusiri. Sritrai was super fast last season, but inconsistent due to a string of technical challenges with his Team Thailand Honda, and sadly his season started much the same way in Sepang despite the team’s move to Volkswagen.
Sritrai was considered the pre-season favourite, especially with his move to the German manufacturer, but his authority over the 2017 field was immediately challenged by compatriot Kusiri who was the standout in Malaysia - if not for contact with Sritrai in a failed overtaking move in malaysia[that earned Sritrai a drive-through penalty], Kurisi could have a commanding lead in the championship points.
As it was, the Liqui Moly Team Engstler operation proved the wealth of their experience by taking Diego Moran to victory after the two Thais were eliminated from the outright running, in the process handing the Ecuadorian the championship points lead after a second and first placed finish
The wildcards for Zhuhai could well be former Engstler driver de Souza and the two R Engineering Honda drivers who showed impressive pace at home in Malaysia. Add in a local team with good circuit knowledge and two new Audi RS3s and you have a fight on your hands, not to mention emerging star Jasper Thong who enjoys the support of heavyweights Phoenix Racing Asia on his side and you surely have an event to remember.
Both Zhuhai races will be live-streamed through the TCR Asia Series website and through Facebook. Details of the streams and the broadcast times will be available on the TCR Asia Series website - www.asia.tcr-series.com - and through social media; www.facebook.com/TCRAsiaSeries will also post news, video clips, images and updates, and you can also get involved in the conversation on www.twitter.com/TCRAsiaSeries
ZHUHAI INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Zhuhai International Circuit, Zhuhai (China)
Track length: 4.319-kilometres
Designer/Circuit first opened: Kinhill Engineers, November 1996
Number of times TCR Asia Series has competed at Zhuhai previously: 0
TCR ASIA SERIES AND ZHUHAI INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT
Zhuhai Circuit in southern China is effectively the ‘home’ circuit for the many Hong Kong race teams who often base themselves at the mainland Chinese venue. Constructed in the mid 90’s, Zhuhai was the first permanent circuit built in China and it has hosted events like the FIA GT Championship, A1 Grand Prix and the Le Mans Intercontinental Cup. It holds a regular place on the annual calendar for the many national Chinese championships and will feature strongly for TCR in 2017 as a venue for TCR China and the TCR Asia Series.
Rnd#3/#4 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Zhuhai International Circuit, China
Schedule (CST - GMT +8)
Friday, 21 April, 2017
10:20am - Test Session#1 (30-minutes)
1:40pm - Test Session #2 (30-minutes)
3:50pm - Test Session #3 (30-minutes)
Saturday, 22 April, 2017
10:20am - Practice#1 (30-minutes)
12:30pm - Practice#2 (30-minutes)
3:10pm - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
3:35pm - Qualifying#2 (20-minutes)
Sunday, 23 April, 2017
10:55am - Race#1 (14-laps)
4:40pm - Race#2 (14-laps)