With all four titles on the line, there is perhaps no better way for the third season of the TCR Asia Series to conclude than at a circuit at which few drivers have previous experience, especially with such a tight outright battle that sees five drivers still in with an outright chance of championship victory.
Last time out at Shanghai, Liqui Moly team Engstler’s Kantadhee Kusiri dominated the round taking back-to-back wins in a reflection of the Volkswagen team’s success at the Chinese Formula 1 Grand Prix venue 12-months prior with 2016 champion Andy Yan. It was a timely recovery for the popular Thai star who made amends for a disastrous home event on the Bangsaen beach where his misfortune opened the door for long-time rival Tin Sritrai to claim immortality at home and close on the championship points lead.
Also suffering a setback at Bangsaen whilst angling for his first ever TCR victory was R Engineering’s WS Lai, the Malaysian driver making contact with race-leader Jasper Thong ending their weekend early, in the process costing them both valuable championship points.
A less than ideal weekend at Shanghai saw the Honda driver off the podium for the first time all season, allowing both Thai drivers to close in on the points lead he’d held since mid-season, Kusiri’s race two win at Shanghai also giving him back the points lead for the first time since round one in Sepang.
Kusiri currently enjoys a 10.5-point lead over compatriot Sritrai, with Diego Moran holding the Team Thailand Honda driver in a Liqui Moly Team Engstler stranglehold with just half a point separating Sritrai from the Ecuadorian driver. Lai’s tough Shanghai round dropped him back to fourth, and 21-points adrift of Kusiri, but a similar distance clear of team-mate Abdul Kaathir - who is also the TCR Asia Cup points leader.
The Zhejiang weekend sees 55-points on offer for all four categories, and with 42-points separating Kusiri from fifth-placed Kaathir, the championship is still far from over, and if there’s one thing you can count on heading into the final two races of the season, it’s that anything is still possible, and few would be surprised to see Kaathir claim both crowns on the series’ maiden visit to Zhejiang.
Speaking of the driver of the #23 R Engineering Honda, he is also embroiled in a battle for the TCR Asia Cup with round three winner Jasper Thong, the 17-year old Audi driver is currently 42-points back from Kaathir after a tough run in Shanghai and Bangsaen, but like his pioneering team-boss Marchy Lee, Thong is a tough competitor and he’d like nothing better than a maiden TCR title under his wing to carry into the 2018 season.
Using their immense experience at Shanghai, Liqui Moly Team Engstler claimed not just two dominant victories for Kurisi (in the process also claiming a 1-2 in both races with Kusiri and Moran), but in the process they claimed back the Team’s championship lead, and carry a 52-point advantage over title rivals R Engineering into Zhejiang’s finale.
R Engineering though still have their hands around one trophy, with Honda leading the ‘Car Model of the Year’ points thanks to their success and that of Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai, although Volkswagen are well within striking distance, just 16.5-points in arrears.
Whilst the championship is tight and that in itself will create plenty of speculation, the very fact that none of the top teams have competed at Zhejiang previously will throw another curve ball into the equation.
Clearly experience will count, and that should provide Liqui Moly Team Engstler with an advantage, but a similar situation existed too in Bangsaen where points-leader Kantadhee Kusiri also enjoyed significant circuit experience, and that weekend turned out to be one of the low-points of the Thai driver’s season, handing Tin Sritrai an opportunity the Honda driver would not soon relinquish.
The weather too could play a part in proceedings, adding another element to the championship equation, something we saw contribute to the result at Zhuhai earlier in the year and with autumn closing in on China, anything is possible.
Whatever comes, the racing is sure to be intense, and with the field once more buoyed by the addition of the TCR China teams, there is an added element the TCR Asia Series teams will need to consider in their push for championship glory.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR;
If you ask Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai, his compatriot Kantadhee Kusiri is the driver they’ll all be chasing in Zhejiang, the Honda driver admitting that the Volkswagen’s still retain a performance edge over their rivals, and that for him could be the key.
For R Engineering’s WS Lai though, he hasn’t given up and is expecting to take the fight all the way in to Saturday afternoon’s final race.
Keep an eye on Kusiri’s team-mate Diego Moran too, the Ecuadorian has been a revelation in season 2017, and whilst not enjoying the outright pace of three-time winner Kusiri, the round two winner is right in the title fight and looking forward to starting Zhejiang on a level footing with his younger team-mate.
Don’t discount Abdul Kaathir either, he and team-mate Lai have been outstanding in their maiden season of TCR, a year they admitted pre-season was more about learning than victory, but pretty quickly the tight-knit Malaysian crew showed they were contenders, leading all four title races after round eight, and they’re right in the title fight again. ‘AK’ has one round win to his name at Zhuhai, and despite being classified in the TCR Asia Cup - in which he holds a significant lead - he has shown great outright pace and is regularly tucked under the rear wing of team leader Lai.
Lai is desperate for that first round win, having missed out in both Zhuhai and Bangsaen where he was involved with the Thong brothers in two incidents during the closing stages of each round whilst battling for the lead. He has the pace and wants to complete season 2017 as a race winner.
Likewise Jasper Thong, the 17-year old from Hong Kong holds the title of the first winner anywhere in the world for the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR, a title he gained after a fantastic win at Zhuhai in round three. Since then his season has been a mixed bag, notably his forced retirement at Bangsaen whilst leading race two. That contact still burns deep with the rising young star and he’s keen to impress upon his supporters that he has a big future with the German marque, and everyone loves a winner!
Whatever happens, you won’t want to miss how the season plays out on what will be a challenging day for the TCR Asia Series regulars which will feature two qualifying session and both races on Saturday, 7 October.
HOW TO FOLLOW THE ZHEJIANG EVENT;
Both TCR Asia Series Zhejiang 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
Media images from across the event will be available via the TCR Asia website; http://asia.tcr-series.com/index.php/multimedia/photogallery
ZHEJIANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT;
Zhejiang International Circuit, Shaoxing (China)
Track length: 3.200-kilometres
Designer/Circuit first opened: Apex Circuit Design (UK), 2017
Number of times TCR Asia Series has competed at Zhuhai previously: 0
TCR ASIA SERIES AND ZHEJIANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT;
Originally scheduled to host their first major event in late 2016 with TCR Asia, delays in completing the circuit meant that the new FIA Grade-2 regional Chinese circuit would have to wait until the final round of the 2017 season for the world’s most successful touring car championship to make it’s debut. And what an event it will be - this weekend will see a TCR ‘triple-header’ with TCR International, TCR Asia and TCR China on the same program, TCR Asia and TCR China once more combining for another fantastic display of Asian competition at its very best.
HOW THINGS PLAYED OUT LAST TIME AT SHANGHAI..
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Round#10 - 2017 TCR Asia Series (27 August, 2017)
Pole position: Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen - 2:18.050
1. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 10-laps
2. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +5.422
3. 62. Sunny Wong - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +13.816
4. 31. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +25.567
5. 82. Andy Yan - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# +27.432
Round#9 - 2017 TCR Asia Series (26 August, 2017)
Pole position: Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen - 2:17.209
1. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 10-laps
2. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +12.658
3. 81. Terry Huang - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# +16.005
4. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR +24.209
5. 82. Andy Yan - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# +25.111
# TCR China
Rnd#11/#12 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Zhejiang International Circuit, China
Schedule (CST - GMT +8)
Friday, 6 October, 2017
9:30am - TCR Asia/TCR China - Free practice#1 (30-minutes)
3:00pm - TCR Asia/TCR China - Free practice#2 (30-minutes)
Saturday, 7 October, 2017
9:00am - TCR Asia/TCR China - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
10:50am - TCR Asia/TCR China - Qualifying#2 (20-minutes)
2:25pm - TCR Asia/TCR China - Race#1 (20-mins)
4:30pm - TCR Asia/TCR China - Race#2 (20-mins) - SEASON FINAL
2017 Driver’s Championship points (after round 10 of 12)
1. Kantadhee Kusiri (150-points), 2. Tin Sritrai (139.5), 3. Diego Moran (139), 4. WS Lai (129), 5. Abdul Kaathir (108), 6. Jasper Thong (86), 7. Eric K. (62), 8. Alex Liu (51.5), 9. Douglas Khoo (42), 10. Shaun Thong (34), 11. KK Wong (18), 12. SK Tong (12), 13. Alex Fong (2)
2017 TCR Cup Driver’s Championship points (after round 10 of 12)
1. Abdul Kaathir (193-points), 2. Jasper Thong (151), 3. Eric K. (111), 4. Douglas Khoo (101), 5. Alex Liu (92.5), 6. KK Wong (41), 7. SK Tong (30), 7. Alex Fong (10)
2017 Team’s Championship points (after round 10 of 12)
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (289-points), 2. R Engineering (237), 3. Team Thailand (139.5), 4. Elegant Racing Team (131.5), 5. Audi Hong Kong (128), 6. Viper Niza Racing (42), 7. Phoenix Racing Asia (12)
2017 Car Model of the Year points (after round 10 of 12)
1. Honda Civic TCR (320.5-points), 2. Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR (303), 3. Seat Leon TCR (171.5), 4. Audi RS3 LMS TCR (152)