After a fantastic season that has so far delivered six different winners from the first six rounds of the season, the 2017 TCR Asia Series will contest arguably the most demanding event on the calendar this weekend, with the first-ever running of the much anticipated Bangsaen Grand Prix on the streets of Chonburi in Thailand.
An iconic annual event in Thailand, the 2017 Bangsaen Grand Prix will host the TCR Asia Series for the first time, joining TCR Thailand in an event that will provide one of the biggest TCR fields ever assembled in Asia on one of the most demanding circuits in the region. Whilst for many of the TCR Asia regulars it will be their maiden visit to the beachside venue, for TCR Thailand it will be their second stop at Bangsaen this year.
A pre-season favourite for the 2017 TCR Asia Series title, Thailand’s Kantadhee Kusiri has been winless since an outstanding lights-to-flag victory in the opening round of the season in Malaysia, the Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver enduring a testing run ever since, with just two more podiums coming in China during April. Despite that, he is arguably the driver to watch coming into Bangsaen, having claimed two dominant wins during the TCR Thailand event held earlier in the year, against some seriously tough opposition.
This time around he will face more strong local competition, with fellow Thai star Tin Sritrai expected to take the fight to his compatriot, whilst the returning Shaun Thong too is likely to be right in the mix in the Audi Hong Kong RS3 LMS TCR.
For the TCR Thailand competitors too, many of them will bring a wealth of track knowledge despite relatively limited experience with the TCR category. One of those drivers - Pasarit Phromsombat - has claimed an impressive three Thailand Super Series crowns in three different categories over recent years, and he’s looking to achieve the same in TCR Thailand on debut this year. The Seat driver currently shares the TCR Thailand Pro-Am points lead with Kittipol Pramoj Na Ayudhya, with their greatest strengths being their track experience at Bangsaen, so they will be ones to watch closely alongside compatriots Kurisi and Sritrai, as all of them have won on the popular street circuit.
For points leader WS Lai, his debut on the demanding 3.7-kilometre Bangsaen circuit will require plenty of patience, with the threat of early retirement a real possibility through the narrow concrete and steel canyon, but the one thing the Malaysian has shown in season 2017, is that his years of touring and production car experience have made him a very calculating driver. Likewise R Engineering team-mate Abdul Kaathir, the two Honda drivers have proven both fast and consistent this season to lead the outright, TCR Cup and Team’s championships at the mid-point of the season, but whilst keen to press home that advantage in Thailand, they will well understand the value of consistency, so could be expected to play second fiddle to the Thai drivers this weekend.
As for the rest.. Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Diego Moran has been a picture of consistency in his debut season of TCR Asia, the Volkswagen driver one of six different winners this season, yet despite a relatively testing run through the two Zhuhai events, he is still right within reach of the outright points lead, just four points behind Lai and only four in front of his Thai team-mate.
Hong Kong teenager Jasper Thong too is a winner in season 2017, the 17-year old taking an historic first worldwide victory for the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR in China, and the Phoenix Racing Asia driver will be looking to add to his points tally, although he will need to tread carefully on the treacherous Bangsaen circuit. With older brother Shaun and team-boss Marchy Lee in his corner though, he will have access to some wise heads!
As for the remainder of the 16-car field, almost anything could happen..
Many of the TCR Thailand regulars have past experience of the Bangsaen circuit to draw on, whilst for some of the TCR Asia Series regulars, this will be their first real experience of a street circuit.
Last time out we saw a dramatic victory for the two-car Elegant Racing Team with Eric K. and Alex Liu scoring an emphatic 1-2 in testing conditions, thanks in part to a brilliant race strategy that saw them fit wet weather tyres in the rapidly changing conditions. Both drivers have street racing credentials from the Macau Grand Prix, and both will use that experience to progress further up the grid and work their way forward in the championship as the street racing rookies look to find their feet.
Throw in TCR Asia Series regular Douglas Khoo who was also on the grid at Bangsaen in February as part of his 2017 TCR ‘double-duty’ and you have the potential to see a number of drivers battling towards the front of the field, and a likely unpredictable outcome from what will be an exciting first visit to the popular beachside destination.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
Look to the Thai drivers to lead the charge early, notably Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Kantadhee Kusiri - a two-time winner on the Bangsaen circuit in TCR already - and compatriot Tin Sritrai, another driver who is both fast, and experienced on the 3.7-kilometre layout.
Don’t discount Phoenix Racing Asia’s Shaun Thong either, whilst he has no experience on the Chonburi layout, he is no stranger to street circuits having competed in the past at Macau whilst also winning a round of the hotly contested Audi TT Cup in 2015 on the demanding Norisring circuit in Germany. He will make a second start in TCR at Bangsaen and will be looking to build on his Zhuhai experience where he was in contention for victory in both races. He will also have the opportunity to draw on his extensive GT3 experience which saw him claim a victory in his Audi Hong Kong R8 LMS GT3 just last week in Japan.
As for the TCR Thailand drivers? With the value of track knowledge, they could conceivably qualify well and put themselves right in the mix on a circuit on which overtaking is notoriously difficult, but expect the more seasoned TCR Asia Series regulars to be the ones contending for the podium as they enter the vital second half of the season looking for valuable championship points.
The wildcards for Bangsaen could well be the R Engineering duo of WS Lai and Abdul Kaathir, the two Malaysians have proven a real TCR Asia revelation this season and both lead their respective categories. Like may of their rivals, this will be their first visit to Bangsaen, but both have proven up to the challenges already thrown at them in their first season of TCR Asia, and could well surprise a few people this weekend!
Both Bangsaen 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
BANGSAEN GRAND PRIX
Bangsaen Street Circuit, Chonburi (Thailand)
Track length: 3.700-kilometres
Circuit first opened: 2007
Number of times TCR Asia Series has competed at Bangsaen previously: 0
Number of times TCR Thailand Series has competed at Bangsaen previously: 1 
TCR Thailand lap record: Kantadhee Kusiri (Honda Civic TCR): 1:44.049
TCR ASIA SERIES AND THE BANGSAEN GRAND PRIX
This will be TCR Asia’s first visit to the popular street circuit for the 11th running of the Bangsaen Grand Prix, but whilst the regional series is making it’s debut on the Chonburi beach layout, for TCR Thailand, this will be their second visit this year.
In February, the delayed tenth anniversary Bangsaen Grand Prix saw a good field of TCR Thailand cars conclude their 2016 championship, with Dutchman Carlo Van Dam narrowly edging out title rival Jack Lemvard to become the inaugural series champion. Neither driver however claimed a win on the demanding street circuit, that honour went to Kantadhee Kusiri who was making his second appearance in the championship, the local star winning both races comfortably in a Billionaire Boy Racing Honda Civic TCR.
Rnd#7/#8 - 2017 TCR Asia Series
Bangsaen Street Circuit, Thailand
Schedule (ICT - GMT +7)
Friday, 30 June, 2017
9:00am - Practice#1 (30-minutes)
12:40pm - Practice#2 (30-minutes)
4:50pm - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
5:15pm - Qualifying#2 (10-minutes)
Saturday, 1 July, 2017
1:30pm - Race#1 (15-laps)
Sunday, 2 July, 2017
1:05pm - Race#2 (15-laps)
2017 Driver’s Championship points (after six rounds of 12)
1. WS Lai (93-points), 2. Diego Moran (89), 3. Kantadhee Kusiri (85), 4. Abdul Kaathir (81), 5. Jasper Thong (70), 6. Tin Sritrai (67), 7. Eric K. (48), 8. Alex Liu (44), 9. Douglas Khoo (30), 10. Shaun Thong (16), 11. SK Tong (12), 12. Alex Fong (2)
2017 TCR Cup Driver’s Championship points (after six rounds of 12)
1. Abdul Kaathir (132-points), 2. Jasper Thong (112), 3. Alex Liu (75), 4. Eric K. (74), 5. Douglas Khoo (73), 6. SK Tong (30), 7. Alex Fong (10)
2017 Team’s Championship points (after six rounds of 12)
1. R Engineering (174-points), 2. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (174), 3. Elegant Racing Team (92), 4. Audi Hong Kong (88), 5. Team Thailand (67), 6. Viper Niza Racing (30), 7. Phoenix Racing Asia (12)
2017 Car Model of the Year points (after six rounds of 12)
1. Honda Civic TCR (199-points), 2. Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR (188), 3. Seat Leon TCR (118), 4. Audi RS3 LMS TCR (110)