TCR Asia returns this weekend to the beaches of Chonburi, the scene of one of the most dramatic rounds of the 2017 season, a round which very nearly cost champion-elect Kantadhee Kusiri the 2018 crown despite dominating every session up until the opening race.
In the end, the round was won by Kusiri’s long-time rival and fellow local, Tin Sritrai - an event which catapulted the Thai driver into title contention, a scenario which wasn’t resolved until the final race of the season. Both Thai drivers have moved onto other categories for 2018, so a new chapter will be written in the TCR Asia history books, although the winner is no more certain than Thailand’s notorious weather..
Coming into the mid-point of the season, experience has proven to be the key - two-time and reigning TCR Asia Series champions Liqui Moly Team Engstler lead the championship charge with rising Malaysian star Mitchell Cheah ahead of Germany’s Luca Engstler in the standings by a 15-point margin, with Ecuador’s Diego Moran moving to third after a thrilling round four victory in Buriram.
The TCR Asia Series regulars though will have their work cut out for them in Chonburi, especially as for much of the field this will be their Bangsaen street circuit debut, and they will be facing a TCR Thailand field that is well versed with the twisty undulating street circuit, some of them with four prior starts under their belts.
Leading the charge will be Billionaire Boy Racing’s Chariya Nuya, the reigning TCR Thailand champion who is again right in the championship mix, but despite carrying past experience back into the Bangsaen round, his luck on the streets of Chonburi - much like Kantadhee Kusiri last year - hasn’t really contributed to his title aspirations, however he’ll be hoping to rectify that this season in his title battle against Vattana Motorsport’s Pattarapol Vongprai.
12-months ago the circuit proved to be an immense challenge to the TCR regulars, something which caught local hero Kantadhee Kusiri by complete surprise despite coming into the event as a past winner in a TCR car. From the opening minute of the first race, it was clear the iconic beachside street race was going to prove a difficult beast to tame, and it proved just that, with contact claiming the outright contenders in both races due to the demanding nature of the circuit.
Teams will carry that 2017 experience into this weekend, but as any race fan knows, once a driver is in the zone, the ‘red mist’ often overtakes logic and common sense, and all caution is thrown into the wind - you could expect a similar scenario come Saturday afternoon’s opening race..
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR
Keep a close eye on the #32 Volkswagen of Diego Moran, the Liqui Moly Team Engstler pilot comes into the Bangsaen round hot off his first win of the season, and with past experience at Bangsaen on his side - including second in race two last year - the Ecuadorian could prove to be the early favourite, although with two teenager’s in the Engstler stable proving so far to be every bit as capable, he may have a bigger fight on his hands internally..
Mitchell Cheah has been the real revelation of the season so far, particularly against the might and experience of reigning Middle-East TCR Champion and German TCR ‘Rookie-of-the-Year’ Luca Engstler, Cheah so far claiming two wins to Engstler’s sole victory in Malaysia, although you could expect that the young German will be looking to Bangsaen as the turnaround point in the season.
The locals too will use their extra experience to challenge the TCR Asia regulars, Leewattanavaragul in particular one who has shown she is more than capable on the Bangsaen street circuit, her two prior starts and outright podium in 2017, a great catalyst from which to challenge the podium again this year.
Throw in the impressive Maximum Motorsport Honda duo Lo Sze Ho - who enjoys past experience at Bangsaen - and Ivan Szeto, and journeyman Seat campaigner Douglas Khoo, and you have an impressive array of drivers capable of mixing it at the top of the timesheets.
The teams will get their first laps of the Bangsaen circuit at speed during opening practice on Friday morning at 9:00, ahead of a second 30-minute acclimatisation session, and then qualifying Friday afternoon. Both Saturday and Sunday will feature a 15-lap race of the 3.8-kilometre circuit, both of which will be featured LIVE on the TCR Asia Series Facebook page.
Details of the streams and broadcast times will be available through social media; www.facebook.com/TCRAsiaSeries where there will also be news, video clips, images and updates. 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
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: 1 
Number of times TCR Thailand Series has competed at Bangsaen previously: 2 [2017 x2]
TCR Thailand lap record (qualifying): Kantadhee Kusiri (Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR): 1:42.124
TCR ASIA SERIES AND THE BANGSAEN GRAND PRIX
The TCR Asia Series joined TCR Thailand mid-year in 2017 for their maiden event on the beaches of Chonburi for the 11th annual Bangsaen Grand Prix, an event which saw the second visit by TCR Thailand and one of the most dramatic results of the season.
Local hero Kantadhee Kusiri dominated practice and qualifying in the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen, but it all went sideways for him off the start of the opening race after a slow getaway. With a narrow run down to the opening left-hander, Kusiri unfortunately created bedlam midfield after contact with title rival Tin Sritrai at the front, the result seeing more than half the field affected and an immediate red flag.
Ultimately Sritrai was able to recover and go back-to-back and put his championship on track, whilst for Kusiri, his home event delivered little to celebrate and very nearly upended his championship aspirations - fortunately a late season recovery gave him and his team the title victory, but Bangsaen was very nearly the determining factor in last year’s championship.
HOW THINGS PLAYED OUT LAST TIME AT BANGSAEN..
2017 TCR Asia Series - Rnd#7 (7-laps) - 1 July
Pole position: Kantadhee Kusiri (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswgen Golf GTi TCR) - 1:42.124
1. Tin Sritrai (Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR)
2. WS Lai (R Engineering Honda Civic TCR) +7.417
3. Pasarit Promosmbat (RMI Racing Team Seat Leon TCR) + 8.424
2017 TCR Asia Series - Rnd#8 (11-laps) - 2 July
1. Tin Sritrai (Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR)
2. Diego Moran (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswgen Golf GTi TCR) +1.507
3. Nattanid Leewattanavaragul (RMI Racing Team Seat Leon TCR) +1.659
Rnd#5/6 - 2018 TCR Asia Series
Bangsaen Street Circuit, Thailand
Schedule (ICT - GMT +7)
Friday, 13 July, 2018
9:00am - Practice#1 (30-minutes)
12:20pm - Practice#2 (30-minutes)
4:30pm - Qualifying#1 (20-minutes)
4:55pm - Qualifying#2 (10-minutes)
Saturday, 14 July, 2018
12:40pm - Race#1 (15-laps)
Sunday, 15 July, 2018
11:35am - Race#2 (15-laps)
2018 Driver’s Championship points (after four rounds of ten)
1. Mitchell Cheah (83-points), 2. Luca Engstler (68), 3. Diego Moran (58) 4. Lo Sze Ho (56), 5. Kelvin Wong (41), 6. Douglas Khoo (27), 7. Alex Liu (26), 8. Abdul Kaathir (22), 9. Clement Him (16), 10. Akash Nandy (13), 11. Ivan Szeto (6)
2018 Cup Driver’s Championship points (after four rounds of ten)
1. Kelvin Wong (96-points), 2. Alex Liu (71), 3. Douglas Khoo (68), 4. Clement Him (29), 5. Ivan Szet (15)
2018 TCR Asia Series Team’s Championship points (after four rounds of ten)
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (187-points), 2. Maximum Racing (81), 3. Elegant Racing Team (73), 4. R Engineering (37), 5. Viper Niza Racing (30)
2018 TCR Asia Series Car Model of the Year points (after four rounds of ten)
1. Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR (187-points), 2. Honda Civic TCR (104), 3. Seat Leon TCR (91)
2018 South East Asia Cup Driver’s Championship points (after four rounds of ten)
1. Mitchell Cheah (87-points), 2. Lo Sze Ho (56), 3. Chariya Nuya (52), 4. Pattarapol Vongprai (49), 5. Kelvin Wong (34), 6. Jakraphan Davee (31), 7. Abdul Kaathir (29), 8. Alex Liu (26), 9. Akash Nandy (18), 9. Nattanid Leewattanavaragul (18), 11. Douglas Khoo (11), 12. Nattachak Hanjitkasem (10), 13. Ivan Szeto (8), 14. Clement Him (5)