The arrival of Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) ushered in a new chapter for the Bangsaen Grand Prix and the high profile Asian ‘one make’ championship reserved for Porsche’s 991 GT3 Cup brought some real style and panache with it. As well as the frenetic track action the series planted its expansive hospitality tents right on the beach opposite the dummy grid and lined the racecars up in a long open plan garage on Beach Road.
PCCA certainly put on a good show and took to the streets of Bangsaen like a duck to water. One name out of many stars stood out though – Bamber. Younger brother Will planted his car on pole for both races after proving untouchable during qualifying and then backed that pace up by leading both races from lights-to-flag to make it two wins out of two. A clean sweep and his name in the record books.
Meanwhile, older brother Earl, fresh from his second win at the Le Mans 24 Hours, was a VIP guest at the weekend and found time to rip up the track in the new Porsche 991 GT3 Cup update that will become the mainstay of this series next year.
Also this issue, the ‘internationalisation’ of Bangsaen went really well, that was the view of Motorsport Asia’s Managing Director David Sonenscher while from a race engineering standpoint, Sven Schnabl gives is view of the Bangsaen Street Circuit. Australian ‘V8 Supercar’ racer Steve Owen was at Bangsaen to pilot the Ford Mustang and he got the job done while enjoying the circuit.
Finally, there were plenty of lady racers in action during the Bangsaen Grand Prix – but there was no pace better to find them in a big cluster than in Toyota Motorsport’s Vios Lady Cup, a highly popular ‘one make’ race reserved exclusively for lady drivers. Two that stood out where Thai celebrity and racer Natalie Davies and rapidly emerging Japanese pilot Rina Ito.
Porsche Carrera Cup Asia hits the mark
Most of the teams and drivers in Porsche Carrera Cup Asia were seeing Bangsaen for the first time and it certainly showed, there were seven red flags periods during the practice and qualifying sessions as they set about learning this narrow and tricky 3.7-km circuit from scratch.
One driver though that knows this track very well is Will Bamber – and it would turn out to be something of a ‘Bamber’ weekend with ‘big brother’ Earl in town as a guest of honour. That local knowledge paid off handsomely as Will steered clear of the barriers’ claustrophobic embrace and planted the FAW T2 Motorsport Porsche on pole for both races.
In Race 1 he routinely converted pole into the race lead and over the opening laps fended off the close attentions of 2015 PCCA champion Chris Van Der Drift who has returned to the series this year and swarmed all over the back of Will’s car. The two New Zealanders were untouchable at the front but as the race progressed Will took command to deliver a perfect lights-to-flag victory, albeit with just half a second in it.
Such was the ferocious pace set by the top two that third placed Philip Hamprecht was eight seconds down the road. The 20-year-old German, who is also competing in European GT4 this year, was racing pretty much by himself as a further seven seconds down the road came Porsche factory driver Martin Ragginger – a well-known face the TSS paddock as he coached ‘Kiki’ Sak Nana when he drove a Porsche 997 GT3-R in Super Car GT3 a few seasons ago – and he just about fended off the top Thai driver, Tanart Sathienthirakul, who is now well into his first season in PCCA.
Then came ‘Porsche China Junior’ academy youngster Andrew Tang who bounced back strongly following a huge crash during the previous round that had seen his car being stripped down and rebuilt into a brand new shell by the Porsche technical staff in the Bangsaen paddock earlier on in the week.
In the Pro-Am class Yuey Tan, putting his local knowledge to good use as he had raced here in the RAAT Toyota 6 Hour Endurance Race during last February’s delayed 10th Bangsaen Grand Prix, took the win while fifth and eighth place in class for Bobby Buncharoen and Sontaya Kunplome, was an excellent result for these two ‘local’ drivers.
Race 2 saw a carbon copy of the top five for the second consecutive day, although that didn’t mean the race was without dramas. Will started from pole once again and capably resisted an immediate lunge by 31-year-old Chris, a New Zealander of Dutch descent, to keep the lead. Once again the two New Zealanders would fight it out all the way to the chequered flag, once again the gap separating the pair at the end would be just half a second, this time though there would be a mid-race red flag to interrupt everyone after Bao Jinlong whacked the unforgiving barriers.
Philip took third place for the second consecutive day after having to fend off Martin during the closing stages of the race. In turn the latter had to resist strong pressure from Tanart – the highest place Thai driver again – and third to fifth were covered by just half a second at the flag. For Tanart his pair of fifth places from the two races saw him comfortably emerging as the top Thai driver from the weekend.
In the Pro-Am class the win went to Yuan Bo with Bobby, taking fifth for the second consecutive day, and Sontaya, a further four spots behind, both well placed to uphold Thai honour superbly.
Double Le Mans winner tries Bangsaen for size
Earl Bamber has had a stellar career so far. The 27-year-old New Zealander spent his early racing years in single seaters, contesting a plethora of series – including Australian Formula Ford, Superleague Formula, Toyota Racing Series, GP2 Asia, Formula BMW Asia, A1GP and F3000 – but it was only in 2013 when he really put his career on a path to the top after winning PCCA. He went on to comfortably repeat that feat a year later as well as winning the prestigious Porsche Supercup.
A year later Earl achieved the biggest sportscar triumph of them all, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours outright in the factory-run Porsche 919 Hybrid and he repeated that amazing feat this year – that second win coming just a fortnight before Bangsaen took place. In fact, the striking Le Mans winners’ trophy was displayed in PCCA’s beachfront hospitality tent. That in itself summed up perfectly just how far the event has progressed.
Earl – who can also count a victory at Macau in PCCA to his name – took new Porsche 991 GT3 Cup out for ‘hot laps’ on both the Saturday and Sunday at Bangsaen so there really isn’t any driver better placed to offer his opinion of our street circuit.
And his first impressions are very positive. “It’s a great track, it reminds me a lot of Macau which is a circuit I really, really love,” he says. “It’s definitely a special event as well to come here on the beach where we’re standing now and have a racetrack it definitely gets the blood pumping.
Earl says that as soon as he got out onto the track, the racing driver in him took over and he was immediately learning, pushing and probing the street course. “I was trying to find the limit in the limited laps I had to do but the adrenaline is going and it’s a nice feeling that you don’t get on some of the tracks anymore,” he says. I’m quite jealous that I wasn’t out there racing.”
It wasn’t just about the taking the Porsche for a spin, he added that he had enjoyed the whole extravaganza as a VIP ‘guest’. “It’s cool, it’s a special show, I heard a lot before coming here and actually I had planned to come privately to the previous one but ended up not making it,” he says. “It’s a real privilege to come here now and just to be on the beach with the atmosphere and people can get so close to it as well and also all the Thai fans are so friendly and so enthusiastic about motorsport and the motorsport culture here is growing and growing so it’s great to have these sorts of events.”
Bamber lockout in PCCA
There was something of a Bamber takeover at the 11th Bangsaen Grand Prix. While Earl, fresh from his Le Mans 24 Hours victory and with the iconic winners’ trophy in tow, was a ‘guest of honour’, younger brother Will, who is steadily following in Earl’s footsteps, didn’t let himself get squeezed out of the limelight as he won both PCCA races, the triumphs coming after he had led both races from pole to chequered flag (see separate story).
While it was Earl’s first time to ever take to this track, for Will it’s more like a ‘second home’. He raced here back in February in the RAAT Toyota 6 Hour Endurance Race, so that’s given him a lot of cockpit time pounding around the 3.7 km street circuit, while he’s also the long-time driver coach of Super Car GTM team Painkiller Racing, testing and setting up their roster of racecars which handily includes a Porsche 991 GT3 Cup.
Will was delighted with how the weekend had shaken out, his double win put him in the history books and hauled him up to the front of the championship classification. “It’s been great to be here for the inaugural PCCA race on the Bangsaen streets,” he said on Sunday afternoon as PCCA started packing up. “Obviously I’m super stoked to finally be here and race my Cup car on these streets. It’s been super challenging and produced some fantastic racing for Carrera Cup. It’s been mega close and I’m ecstatic to have taken out the first victory here. It’s going to be sad to leave this place after such a great weekend and I can’t wait to be back next year.”
Earl meanwhile was pleased to see his brother make his way to the top of the podium. “I was really happy to see clean [races] in Carrera Cup and the racing was quite fierce and also some nice spots to overtake as well and also the atmosphere and crowd,” he said. “It’s been great [for Will], he’s got a lot of support from Thailand so I think it’s great he managed to win both races at almost his local race and to see his supporters here.”
New Porsche 991 rips up Bangsaen
Pride of place in the extensive PCCA garage in Bangsaen went to the new ‘second generation’ version of Porsche’s ubiquitous 991 GT3 Cup which will replace the currently in use first-generation version in this series for 2018 season.
The new MY2017 version, which has just been introduced into some of the twenty ‘Carrera Cup’ series being held worldwide this year, features the same 4-litre, flat-6-cylinder engine but with power up by 15 hp to 485 hp. According to Porsche the engine has been thoroughly reworked and boasts a plethora of detailed upgrades.
Visually the new car can’t be mistaken as the front and rear spoilers have been redesigned to improve downforce while it rides on the same chunky 18-inch wheels shod with 270mm tyres. The whole car weighs in at 1,200 kg.
Safety has also been improved with the bucket seat now more heavily moulded around the driver’s head and shoulders for better support while the rescue hatch in the roof has been enlarged to meet the latest FIA standards. There will also be a new tyre pressure monitor system which should greatly help the drivers and add a new dynamic.
That all adds up to an improved package. “When we say increased performance, we really stand by that statement,” says Alex Gibot, Head of Porsche Motorsport Asia Pacific. “On average during tests, the second-generation car is 1.5 seconds faster than the first generation, which will translate directly on the track next season.”
Notably the new racing machine comes down the same road car production line as the 911 before being whipped off and tuned at the Weissach Motorsport Center. This is the second generation of the 991, which has already underpinned PCCA for the last four years, and is the fourth different model to form the series’ backbone since 1998. More than three thousand in total have been built for worldwide use making it the best-selling GT car in history.
In Bangsaen the prospective car was given a run out on the street circuit over the weekend by non other than Earl Bamber. His VIP guest for the ‘hot laps’ was the Governor of Chonburi, Mr. Pakkaratorn Tienchai.
Earl got straight down to business in the new car, ripping up the track in style. “100% [this car] suits the track,” he said, “It’s got a little bit more power and things like that, so I think it’s going to be quite spectacular when come back next year.”
David Sonenscher: “I’m really excited by the future of the event”
TSS and Motorsport Asia have developed a close working relationship and the evolving synergies between the two promoters smoothed the way for Porsche Carrera Cup Asia and TCR Asia Series to join the programme at the Bangsaen Grand Prix.
And with the fusion of these two series and the Thai street racing extravaganza unfolding very smoothly Motorsport Asia’s Managing Director David Sonenscher was in upbeat mood during the weekend and in particular able to reflect that this was the conclusion of a decade long journey – and one that he’s overlapped with all the way.
“It’s amazing to be here,” he said. “I was here at the beginning, before the circuit even existed, for the original survey, so it’s great to be here and to be involved in what is an historic event, bringing two international series here for the first time to Bangsaen.”
David reckoned that the perception of Bangsaen across Asia is now sky-high and the participants of both series were thoroughly enjoying the week. “The circuit has moved on so much and it’s really incredible now, everyone is talking about in a fantastic way, they’ve got nothing but good things to say about it,” he said.
“You couldn’t get a better location than this,” he continued. “We’re sitting here in the Porsche hospitality right next to the beach, it’s just fantastic, I’m so happy to be here, not just the teams and the drivers are really enjoying the event.”
So much so that he believes that the addition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix has really added value to the two series’ respective seasons. “It’s certainly a highlight for both the calendars, for TCR and also Carrera Cup, and we are planning now to make it a continuing highlight every year,” he said. “We are already in discussion about next year and how to do it bigger and better. So I think we have got a great future to look forward to with Bangsaen and this event.”
David was quick to pay tribute to all the hard work by the stakeholders that has gone into the event, not just to tenaciously upgrade the safety standards of the track to reach FIA Grade 3 homologation, but also the surrounding ‘show’, in particular the hospitality units, including for Porsche, that are – quite literally – on the beach.
“Racing Spirit has done an amazing job and I know all the hard work that’s gone into making this into an FIA Grade 3 circuit,” he said. “From that point of view hats off to them as I know all the days and night they’ve spent getting the circuit up to these standards and all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. They’ve done a fantastic job and are continuing to really invest into it and I think Bangsaen is going to really grow and grow and I’m really excited by the future of the event.”
Motorsport Asia promotes TCR Asia Series and for the pan-Asian championship’s first ever visit to Bangsaen its grid was merged with TCR Thailand – and that allowed our domestic drivers to test themselves against the top ‘touring car’ racing stars of this continent. Tight, narrow, tough and for the bravest – streets circuits and touring cars go hand-in-hand. When it comes to Asia one only has to think of the Guia Circuit in Macau, so it’s good to ask David how the series was settling in? “All the TCR guys are really happy, this kind of a circuit is great for touring cars,” he replies. “Unfortunately, we had a bit of an incident at the start [on Saturday] but everyone is enjoying themselves and it’s been brilliant for them, and they’re doing great times around here. I’m really happy and the teams are really happy especially that all the facilities and hospitality are just great.”
Run into the Bangsaen record books for Yuey Tan
When the chequered flag fell on Saturday afternoon at the end of Race 1 for PCCA, it wasn’t just outright winner Will Bamber who had etched his name into the Bangsaen history books as there were two P1s in the race, the other being Pro-Am (Class B) the preserve of ‘amateur’ level drivers.
Ascending the top step of the Pro-Am podium after an incredibly hard fought race to make his own little piece of history was Yuey Tan. However, the Singapore driver wasn’t quite a ‘Bangsaen rookie’ as this was in fact his second time here, albeit on the first occasion, the 10th Anniversary edition back in February, it was a much humbler affair as he drove a little B-segment production car in the ‘Endurance’ race. And yes – he really noticed the difference once he was strapped into his Porsche!
“Last time I was here, we were here in the [Toyota] Vios doing the 6 Hour Endurance so driving the Porsche 991 GT3 Cup is a totally different kettle of fish,” says Yuey. “The corners come really nice and fast at you and with the lack of ABS and Traction Control in the Cup car it’s pretty hairy, the car is always moving, we get airborne going up the hill so yeah it’s absolutely mental.”
The race long battle for P1 in Pro-Am was a pretty hectic affair, and Yuey agrees with that assessment. “My race was awesome,” he says. “I managed to jump a position at the start and I was leading my class and I got hit in the rear and the second placed [car] tried to pass me but we managed to hold him off and then after that I pulled a gap over quite a few laps.
“After that the Safety Car came out which was unfortunate as my teammate was in the wall, that was a bit of a shame,” Yuey continues. “After the Safety Car we just battled all the way to the end, the top three in the class, and I just think I beat the guy behind me by four tenths [of a second] across the line so it was really, really close and the pressure was on. I think it was one of those races where we really pushed until the last straight of the race, it was crazy.”
So he’s a perennial front runner in Pro-Am, the class champion in fact two years ago, and he also has some track knowledge to call upon, albeit knowledge garnered at a more leisurely pace – so had victory been his expectation? “Expected? Not sure I would have expected it,” Yuey says. “That was the target obviously, we qualified second in class and we always knew it would be possible. How does it feel? Feels bloody excellent and the first thing I did was go to some guys and say […] I’m the first guy to win here in the category I’m super stoked.”
The arrival of PCCA opened up a new chapter for the Bangsaen Grand Prix, time to ask Yuey – who is now into his tenth season in the Porsche’s Asia-wide ‘one make’ series – for his opinion of how the series had enjoyed being here. “I just like the whole warm feeling that Sontaya [Kunplome] has created for when we come here and we feel really welcome so it’s just nice to get a result,” he says. “We’ve really enjoyed it, not just myself but I think for the whole series we just can’t wait to come back again and we can’t believe that we haven’t been here before in the Carrera Cup.”
Bangsaen: The engineer’s viewpoint
The ‘internationalisation’ of TSS has seen many leading race engineers passing through over the first four seasons and so when PCCA rocked into town there were a few that already knew the idiosyncrasies of this unique street circuit. One of those was Sven Schnabl, who was previously Piti Bhirombhakdi race engineer when he competed in Super Car Class 1-GT3. “I’ve been here twice with Thailand Super Series with the [Porsche 997] GT3-R,” says the German, who is one of the top team managers in his native land. “But it’s my first time here with Carrera Cup Asia.”
So what does he think of the circuit – and how does he approach setting up a car to win around here? “Basically it’s a challenging track, it’s great, but the only problem is it’s difficult to overtake as the cars in Carrera Cup all have the same power and the same torque.
“So the factors here you have to consider are the high speed sections because the main straight is quite long and even after the hairpin in the past there has been a chicane, which isn’t there anymore, so you have to be careful there,” he continues. “On the other side you need good traction out of the corners as we have the high speed parts and the brakes have to be good so it’s a bit tricky to find the right setup especially for us with the Porsches and it was tricky to find a clear lap to have a good qualifying.”
Sven is pleased to be back in Bangsaen after a couple of seasons away. “It’s a great event,” he says. “It great to be next to the beach with all the people that prepare food here that’s a big highlight.”
A tale of two ladies
There were plenty of lady racers in action during the Bangsaen Grand Prix – but there was no pace better to find them in a big cluster than in Toyota Motorsport’s Vios Lady Cup, a highly popular ‘one make’ race reserved exclusively for lady drivers.
First to the Thai driver. Natalie Davies is a household name here, a well-known actress – as well as an experienced racing driver – and she’s been coming to Bangsaen ever since the event started life. A decade on she’s still enjoying every minute of it. “I raced here about ten times,” she says. “Bangsaen is my favourite track and most of the podiums I have got are from Bangsaen. I prefer street circuits, they’re very narrow and high speed, I think it’s very challenging and my style.”
So how did her weekend go? “It was really good, I did the qualifying and got sixth on the grid and in the race I got fifth and got on the podium,” she says. “It was fun and I hope I can continue doing it.”
Natalie was also impressed at the continuous circuit upgrades that have culminated in the awarding of an FIA Grade 3 licence for this last edition as well as the growth of the overall ‘show’ aspect. “Every year there are better improvements [to the track] and with all the international races and the bigger programme it’s so good,” she says
She notes that the presence in the paddock of the major series are a big spur to everyone else to really raise their game. “Even though we are the support race we have a chance to see the upper classes of the cars, the Porsches, the Super Cars, and it gives us the energy and the feeling to think ‘okay I’m going to do it in my race’. Because even if these cars are really fast, my car is fast also so I’ve got to go for it.”
Having been around since the start of the Bangsaen Grand Prix Natalie has been lucky to emerge with a clean record on these tight and tricky streets. “I’ve never had a big accident here, just small ones, but anything can happen in street races,” she says.
Then to the Japanese driver. Rina Ito was also racing in the Vios Lady Cup, although she has a lot less experience of Bangsaen to call upon than Natalie as she has only raced here once before and it was her debut in the race reserved for lady drivers.
She also has had a very different career. Rewinding the clock – Rina’s arrival in motorsport was via an unusual route. “I started as an umbrella girl for a racing team [in Japan] and thought ‘I would like to have a go at it myself’,” she says adding that her rapidly blossoming ‘motorsport CV’ is already quite diversified. “I started out in karting, then started racing in touring cars and even doing some rallying.
“It’s my second time at Bangsaen,” Rina continues. “Last time I competed in the Endurance race [in] an early model Vios with manual transmission and this time in the new model with CVT transmission.”
The Japanese lady notes that entering the 6-hour race was all about racking up laps to help her prepare for this edition’s Toyota Lady race. “I didn’t have a particularly good result in the Endurance race, but the purpose of entering was to get some experience before driving here in the Lady race,” she says. It certainly set her up well for the Vios Lady Cup as – unlike some of her rivals – she steered clear of the barriers that brought out several red flags to scorch her way to a superb second place.
Rina reveals that she is already amassing street circuit experience aside from Bangsaen. “I competed in the Phuket round of the Vios Lady [Cup] championship and I have also taken in a street race in Korea,” she notes. That runners up spot in Bangsaen built on another trip to the podium that she made on her debut in Phuket, so she seems to have already mastered the Vios Lady Cup – and with some ease.
So what does she think of the Bangsaen Street Circuit? “It reminds me of competing in tarmac rallies so I’m familiar with this type of layout so I like Bangsaen very much,” she says. “Deep down I like the street courses better [and] I would like to come here every year.”
Race against time
Motorsport is always about heroic stories of huge efforts and racing against the clock just to make it to the race weekend. Fitting that eternal storyline perfectly at the 11th edition of the Bangsaen Grand Prix was the Fast Performance team’s tale.
Most race teams arrived on the Monday and Tuesday in Bangsaen, setting up their garages and preparing for a long day of Free Practice on the Wednesday. Fast Performance’s garage remained stubbornly empty that day, it continued to do so on the Thursday when official qualifying took place and it continued to do so on the Friday which was a downtime day for the GTC teams that allowed them to tinker with the cars, make final preparations and tweak their race setups. It continued to remain resolutely empty on Saturday morning as the clock ticked relentlessly down to Race 1 of the weekend. Even at lunchtime there was still no sign of the Evo, driver Prateep Tunprasert or the crew.
Soon after lunchtime though a slide appeared in the paddock and the familiar yellow and blue colours of the #10 Evo were soon being deposited in the garage and a final rush was immediately underway to get the car ready for the grid.
So why the late arrival? Team Engineer Peter Hungerbuehler explains that it all goes back to the opening round of the series in Buriram back in April when the Evo suffered a spin through Turn 1 and stricken on the grass it was hit hard by another car that in a separate incident had gone into the barriers and bounced back into the stationary Mitsubishi.
The damage was extensive. “We had to cut off the whole front and everything,” Peter explains. “The front was gone, the engine, the dry sump, all gone, so what we did was reassemble the car.”
That major rebuild took up all the calendar space before Bangsaen and was only finished at the team’s Bangkok workshops just as the rest of the cars were hitting the track in Bangsaen for the first time. “On the Wednesday we went on the dyno and then we found we had a problem with the header as well and over the last three days the mechanics didn’t sleep many hours,” Peter explained on Saturday evening in Bangsaen. “We made the new header and last night [Friday] we were tuning again and we just arrived [Saturday], it was a really last minute job, we arrived after 1pm.”
The race start was at 14.40, and, apart from having no track time whatsoever to setup the car, the first time it would in fact turn a wheel on the circuit would be when the car rolled out of the paddock and round the circuit to complete the formation lap – they would also have to satisfy the scrutineers that they were ready to race. Scrutineering had in fact taken place on the Tuesday, four days previously.
“The scrutineers came to us in the pit, they helped us a lot really,” he says. “First they went through the car, gave us some advice and then when we were ready two guys came back and a couple more stickers we added to the car and we were good to go,” he says.
Last year the team had really struggled in Super Car GTC, this season though at the opener in Buriram back in April they were suddenly right in the game, driver and car unlocking plenty of pace. Their late start to the week in Bangsaen and without any setup work or track acclimatisation meant that the run of form was going to be put on hold, it wasn’t going to be replicated – and with mechanical issues that they didn’t have time to iron out rearing their heads the Fast Performance team was delighted to get its Evo safely and unscathed to the chequered flag, still on the lead lap, in eighth place in GTC and in the championship points. “We had some issues [in the race], one and two gears didn’t work, sixth gear also didn’t work,” Peter said afterwards. “But just reaching the finishline was really, really good.”
Source. Edd Ellison