The penultimate event of the 2017 TCR Asia Series saw a return to the home of the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix with a 20-car field of entries from both TCR Asia and the newly formed TCR China national series, and whilst the event was always expected to deliver some tough racing, no-one could have quite predicted the level of domination dished out by reigning champions Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
Aided by a recent change to the Balance of Performance baseline for TCR cars globally, the points leading Hondas suffered a big increase in weight coupled with a change in ride height, a performance modification which three-time 2017 winner Tin Sritrai admitted was costing him more than a second a lap on compatriot Kantadhee Kusiri around the 5.453-kilometre circuit.
Ultimately it was Kusiri’s weekend, the winner of the opening round smashing Sritrai’s 2016 lap record on his way to two pole positions and two dominant victories, his only blemish on the way back to the championship points lead - a slow start in race one which allowed reigning TCR Asia Series champion Andy Yan to run at the front, but the Thai driver very quickly corrected that wrong within a handful of corners.
Completing a dream weekend for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler operation was back-to-back second placed finishes for round two winner Diego Moran, the result of which gave the team back the top spot in the Teams championship.
In the TCR Asia Cup, dramas in qualifying for points leader Abdul Kaathir saw the Malaysian starting rear of field in race one, but the Honda driver recovered to claim a podium finish and a win to extend his Cup points lead, whilst ‘super’ sub KK Wong made his debut in the Elegant Racing Team Seat replacing Alex Liu who had to return to Macau unexpectedly, Wong claiming victory in race one.
Qualifying (Saturday, 26 August)
Some teams arrived in Shanghai early enough to complete laps of unofficial practice on Thursday and Friday morning ahead of opening official practice on Friday afternoon. The weather had been expected to play a big part across the weekend, with nearby typhoons affecting the region in the leadup to the event, but despite some minor showers on Friday, the weather remained clear all weekend, leading to a record pace at the front of the field.
Ultimately reigning TCR Asia Series champions Liqui Moly Team Engstler topped practice, using Andy Yan’s 2016 race-winning data to great effect with Kantadhee Kusiri at times almost two seconds faster than anyone else in the field - including Yan who had won two races for his new Audi team just two weeks prior at Shanghai, the Hong Kong driver unable to get close to the man campaigning his 2016 championship winning mount.
Qualifying saw Kusiri very quickly lower his practice benchmark of 2:17.924 [Sritrai’s 2016 pole time was 2:19.210] to a staggering 2:17.209 in the opening laps of the first qualifying session, breaking the back of all challengers including Yan who could only eke out a 2:18.649 to take a position on the front row alongside Kusiri.
An epic battle for the third placed starting position took place over the opening 20-minute session with Diego Moran embroiled in a fantastic battle with former WTCC race winner Ma Qinghua in the #31 TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen, the Chinese driver just pipping the Ecuadorian in the dying stages by two tenths of a second after they’d changed positions lap-after-lap for almost half the session.
Fifth was Sritrai who could only manage a best of 2:19.073, more than 1.8-seconds back from Kusiri, whilst Alex Fung put the second TeamWork Volkswagen into P6.
The #66 TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi was seventh alongside the third TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen of former TCR Asia Series competitor Filipe de Souza, with the #21 NewFaster Volkswagen ninth ahead of round three winner Jasper Thong in the #5 Audi Hong Kong RS3 LMS TCR - positions six through ten covered by a mere 12 one hundredths of a second. It was close!
Viper Niza Racing’s Douglas Khoo was pinching himself after Q1 having out-qualified points leader WS Lai, but better was to come for the Malaysian Seat driver, whilst for Eric K and new Elegant Racing Team recruit KK Wong, they were right in the thick of the battle for positions mid-pack with their TCR Asia Series Cup rivals.
Sadly for Abdul Kaathir though, the TCR Asia Cup points leader was nowhere to be seen in Q1, turning just four laps at a very much reduced pace after an overnight engine change.
The car had developed a problem during practice, so the team elected to make the change overnight, stopping long enough for breakfast and a shower ahead of qualifying, but a broken engine cover was spraying a mist of oil onto the windscreen, whilst an electrical issue had forced a miss in the engine. The experienced R Engineering crew though very quickly dealt with both problems, and had AK out for Q2 firing on all four cylinders!
In Q2 very few seemed to be able to find the same pace as session one, with the TCR China NewFaster and TeamWork Motorsport teams dominating the top of the timesheets for much of the session before Kusiri and Moran came out late to claim an emphatic 1-2 for the second race, the Ecuadorian this time getting to within 35 one hundredths of a second of his team-mate.
TeamWork’s Sunny Wong was third, and first for TCR China, the experienced Hong Kong driver just 33 one thousandths slower than Moran and just a tenth faster than Terry Huang in the second of the NewFaster Audis, two spots ahead of team-mate and TCR China points leader Andy Yan, with Samuel Hsieh splitting the two Audis in the second TeamWork Volkswagen.
Alex Hui had the third TeamWork VW in position seven, just clear of TCR Asia Series regulars Abdul Kaathir, Douglas Khoo, Tin Sritrai and WS Lai, Khoo an impressive ninth, out-qualifying a three-time 2017 race winner and the championship points leader!
Jasper Thong was battling to find a comfortable setup in the Audi Hong Kong machine, the 17-year old - who took the first ever victory for the new RS3 LMS TCR anywhere in the world back in round three - lamenting a lack of laps at Shanghai, despite having previously competed at the Chinese circuit in an open-wheeler.
Thong qualified 13th for the second race, alongside round six winner Eric K, whilst KK Wong was unable to improve on his opening session time to record the 19th fastest time.
Round#9 (10-laps, 26 August)
After a stunning run in the leadup to the opening race at Shanghai, Kantadhee Kusiri suffered his only setback of the weekend off the start, allowing Andy Yan’s Audi to lead down to turn one. Behind them things got busy as the field flowed into the tight and technical turn 1-2-3 sequence of corners, with WS Lai and Jasper Thong making contact on the run into turn one as the mid-field went through three wide.
That immediately had an impact on the championship, with Lai suffering damage to the left front of his R Engineering Honda, forcing the Malaysian to limp back to pit lane, the tyre carcass parting company with the rim at turn nine.
Thong rejoined after recovering from his spin - fortunately without heavy contact from anyone in the field - whilst behind their melee, Eric K’s race came to a premature end after a locked wheel trying to avoid being squeezed into turn one, sent him into the pack, breaking the front suspension on the #98 Elegant Racing Seat.
Up front, Kusiri took back the lead with an inside move at the ‘Parabolica’ (turn 12), and set off into the wide blue beyond as behind Yan, Sritrai was battling hard with Ma Qinghua and Terry Huang in the second NewFaster Audi as Diego Moran was looking to find a way onto the tail of Yan to try and breach the gap to his team-mate.
Behind the top five a terrific battle was brewing between the TCR China regulars, with the TeamWork Motorsport and NewFaster teams battling with the #66 TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi, six cars going door-to-door in some corners, in the process stalling the forward progress of KK Wong, Douglas Khoo and Abdul Kaathir, all of whom were keen to avoid any contact with valuable championship points on offer.
Sadly the battle for a position in the top five saw the #31 TeamWork Volkswagen of Ma Qinghua out as a result of contact, joining the #98 Seat, the #9 Audi and the #66 Audi as retirements from the opening race.
With Kusiri continuing to extend his lead with a sequence of laps in the mid 2:17s, Moran was able to work his way onto the tail of Andy Yan, ultimately making a move on the reigning champion on the exit of the ‘Parabolica’ to move into second place on lap seven, as Yan’s team-mate Terry Huang too began to close in.
Ultimately Kusiri was untroubled on his way to a 12.6-second win over his team-mate, with Terry Huang third (his second TCR Asia podium of the year after a third-placed finish in round three in Zhuhai) and Tin Sritrai an impressive fourth on the line after taking the position away from 2016 rival Andy Yan within sight of the flag. Yan was fifth ahead of TeamWork Motorsport’s Alex Fung with team-mate and former TCR Asia Series regular and Zhuhai podium finisher Filipe de Souza seventh.
KK Wong was an impressive eighth on debut for the Elegant Seat team, in the process claiming the TCR Asia Cup victory ahead of the recovering Abdul Kaathir who had charged from the rear of the field to finish ninth.
Sadly Douglas Khoo’s dream run at Shanghai came to a shuddering stop in the closing stages after contact with Jasper Thong in turn nine, the Viper Niza Racing boss forced back down the order as a result, elevating Thong onto the Cup podium, with a post-race penalty seeing Thong penalised five starting positions for Sunday’s second race.
For WS Lai - the points leader coming into Shanghai - he finished three laps down, but was classified eighth of the TCR Asia Series drivers, giving the Malaysian driver four valuable championship points to keep himself in the title fight, but eight points back from new points leader Kusiri.
Tin Sritrai’s third placed finish (for TCR Asia), saw him move to within half a point of his compatriot, with Diego Moran just three and a half points behind, eight points covering the top four in the title battle..!
Round#10 (10-laps, 27 August)
Kusiri wasn’t about to have another poor start for Sunday’s second race, lamenting the damage his poor start did to his championship at home in Thailand, so he rocketed off the line, reverting back to just modulating throttle at the start and electing not to use the handbrake system fitted to all TCR cars to hold them on the line.
It worked a treat and he led the two charging TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagens of Sunny Wong and Samuel Hsieh into turn one as his team-mate Diego Moran struggled to get away, Terry Huang too battling to get off the line from his second row starting position behind the Ecuadorian driver.
This time around the full field managed to get through the opening sequence of corners without problems, as Kusiri charged away at the front of the field and Moran mounted a recovery, taking Wong on the exit of turn six to move back into second place.
Andy Yan too was on a charge, moving into third after a tough start, ahead of the two TeamWork Volkswagens, team-mate Terry Huang and Tin Sritrai who at one stage had been fifth at the start after charging down the inside into turn one from tenth on the grid.
Again the TCR China title contenders were putting on a terrific battle for position three, sadly Terry Huang forced out whilst within reach of a second podium on lap five, whilst Samuel Hsieh’s great run came to an end after a spin one the exit of the final corner on lap seven, the team retiring the car shortly after with damage to the front of the #26 Volkswagen.
Ultimately Kusiri would again be untouchable on his way to a 5.4-second win over team-mate Moran, with Sunny Wong working his way onto the podium as the first TCR China finisher, the Hong Kong driver taking the first win in the national series for Volkswagen, in the process giving the German manufacturer a podium lock-out.
Alex Hui was fourth overall for the TeamWork team and second in TCR China, whilst Andy Yan brought his points leading Volkswagen across the line for fifth, and third in TCR China.
Tin Sritrai achieved his goal of again making the podium in the Team Thailand Honda, lamenting the damage the revised BoP had had on the Hondas at Shanghai, leading home the #21 NewFaster Volkswagen and the recovering WS Lai who claimed fourth for TCR Asia, just ahead of Eric K and team-mate Abdul Kaathir. A post-race penalty though saw the Elegant Seat driver penalised post-race for contact with AK late in the race, handing the Malaysian the Cup victory ahead of title rival Jasper Thong who claimed 11th in the Audi Hong Kong entry.
KK Wong was third in the Cup and 12th overall, with Douglas Khoo 13th as the final TCR Asia Series finisher.
Kusiri’s third win of the year handed the Thai driver a valuable haul of points and he now sits ten and a half points clear of Tin Sritrai at the top of the championship standings, with Diego Moran just half a point further back. WS Lai’s recovery to fourth - in the first event the Honda driver has not recorded a podium finish - sees him on 129 points, ten points back from Moran, but with 55 points still on offer in Zhejiang, well within striking distance of the title!
The third year of the TCR Asia Series will conclude at the new Zhejiang Circuit in southern China on 6-8 October, where a showdown of epic proportions will take place on a circuit at which very few teams and drivers have prior experience, a fitting way to close out the 2017 season!
What the driver’s had to say;
Kantadhee Kusiri - #2 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I have to say a big thanks to the team. During practice I wasn’t 100% comfortable, but before qualifying they changed the setup and it made a big difference. I think the Volkswagen was well suited to the Shanghai circuit, the high speed and low speed corners and fast changes of direction suited us well and with our data from 2016, we were able to keep improving the car every session. I’m still not 100% happy with my starts, for me there’s quite a lot to think about with the throttle and hand-brake, so in race two I didn’t use the start system and it seemed to work better for me.”
Diego Moran - #32 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I didn’t have such a great start in both races, but luckily I was able to recover those lost positions in the first lap, but Boom [Kusiri] is so fast it’s impossible to catch him at the moment. The base setup we started with in practice was very good for this circuit, then we made a couple of changes and just continued to improve the car, it was very good. For Zhejiang I need to win - I’ve proved already I can do that, but I think the final will be a very close battle as none of us have been there before.”
Tin Sritrai - #79 Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR
“I did my best this weekend, but I think it was an unfair weekend for Honda because of the [new] BoP, and we were also affected by the fact that for this round we didn’t have a reverse grid race two like we had in the past, because in race two I would have started closer to the front. We have more work to do before Zhejiang, I have to talk with my team and my engineer so that we can improve the setup in the rear of the car to counter the heavy understeer we suffered here in Shanghai.”
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Round#10 - 2017 TCR Asia Series (27 August, 2017)
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
6. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR +27.829
7. 21. Lin Li Feng - NewFaster Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +31.060
8. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +31.727
9. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +37.996
10. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR +43.734
11. 991. KK Wong* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +44.258
12. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR +45.132
13. 791. Hao Zhou - AVM Racing Seat Léon TCR# +45.497
14. 58. Chuan Lu - HE Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +46.128
15. 9. Lin Li - LEO109 Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# +49.882
16. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +1:02.913
17. 77. Hao Hu - LEO109 Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +1:40.831
DNF. 26. Filipe de Souza - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 7-laps
DNF. 81. Terry Huang - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 7-laps
DNF. 66. Hong Yu Cai - TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 5-laps
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Round#9 - 2017 TCR Asia Series (26 August, 2017)
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
6. 62. Alex Fung - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +28.399
7. 26. Samuel Hsieh - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +30.329
8. 991. KK Wong* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR +37.063
9. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR +43.590
10. 21. Hao Wang - NewFaster Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +44.831
11. 791. Pei Wen Qi - AVM Racing Seat Léon TCR# +48.725
12. 58. He Xiao Le - HE Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +56.880
13. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR +61.050
14. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR +74.473
15. 77. Hao Hu - LEO109 Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# +104.545
16. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 8-laps
DNF. 66. Ya Xin Bai - TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2-laps
DNF. 31. Ma Qinghua - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2-laps
DNF. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 0-laps
DNF. 9. David Wei - LEO109 Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 0-laps
Qualifying#1 (26 August, 2017)
1. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.209
2. 82. Andy Yan - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:18.649
3. 31. Ma Qinghua - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.650
4. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:18.896
5. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR - 2:19.073
6. 62. Alex Fung - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:20.148
7. 66. Ya Xin Bai - TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:20.162
8. 26. Samuel Hsieh - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:20.213
9. 21. Hao Wang - NewFaster Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:20.223
10. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:20.268
11. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.407
12. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.483
13. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:20.519
14. 991. KK Wong* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:21.089
15. 81. Terry Huang - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:21.482
16. 58. He Xiao Le - HE Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:21.895
17. 791. Pei Wen Qi - AVM Racing Seat Léon TCR# - 2:22.576
18. 9. David Wei - LEO109 Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:22.958
19. 77. Hao Hu - LEO109 Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:24.776
20. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:33.760
Qualifying#2 (26 August, 2017)
1. 2. Kantadhee Kusiri - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:18.050
2. 32. Diego Moran - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR - 2:18.400
3. 62. Sunny Wong - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.433
4. 81. Terry Huang - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:18.558
5. 26. Filipe de Souza - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.590
6. 82. Andy Yan - NewFaster Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:18.725
7. 31. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.956
8. 23. Abdul Kaathir* - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:19.217
9. 65. Douglas Khoo* - Viper Niza Racing Seat Léon TCR - 2:19.355
10. 79. Tin Sritrai - Team Thailand Honda Civic TCR - 2:19.454
11. 39. WS Lai - R Engineering Honda Civic TCR - 2:19.767
12. 791. Hao Wen Zhou - AVM Racing Seat Léon TCR# - 2:20.067
13. 5. Jasper Thong* - Audi Hong Kong Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:20.256
14. 98. Eric K*. - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:20.499
15. 21. Li Feng Lin - NewFaster Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:21.002
16. 66. Hong Yu Cai - TrackFun-Linky Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:21.083
17. 58. Chuan Lu - HE Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:21.426
18. 9. Lin Li - LEO109 Racing Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:21.528
19. 991. KK Wong* - Elegant Sports Team Seat Léon TCR - 2:21.711
20. 77. Hao Hu - LEO109 Racing Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR# - 2:25.554
* TCR CUP # TCR China