Buriram: Super Car GTM review

Buriram: Super Car GTM review

23.08.2017: What a difference a race weekend can make. In Bangsaen, less than two months ago, the factory Toyotas had been nowhere while their

What a difference a race weekend can make. In Bangsaen, less than two months ago, the factory Toyotas had been nowhere while their star driver Nattavude Charoensukhawatana suffered a driveshaft problem during qualifying that had left him without even a banker laptime and resigned to fighting his way up from the back of the grid in all three races for scant rewards.

Fast forward six weeks and Nattavude was imperious through Paid Practice and Free Practice and his best time in the latter session, a zippy lap of 1:37.722, would give him pole position for Saturday’s Race 1 when the qualifying session was washed out and the times from Free Practice were substituted, eight tenths ahead of his teammate Nattapong Horthongkum in the sister 86, to make it a front row lockout for the red and white Japanese sportscars.

However, right on their heels was the Ferrari of Kantasak Kusiri; the 2015 Super Car GTM champion missed the front row less than two hundreds of a second while Pitsanu Sirimongkolkasem (Porsche 991 GT3 Cup), continuing his upswing in form this year, wrapped up the second row.

Behind them were the similar Porsches of Aekarat Discharoen and Kantadhee Kusiri, the latter having enjoyed his Super Car breakthrough victory during the last round in Bangsaen.

Come the 15 lap race and Nattavude, after seeing off a challenge from his teammate into Turn 1 for the first time, was however then passed by Kantasak. It was short-lived though, the Toyota’s superiority was never in question and despite the Ferrari driver’s valiant efforts Nattavude was back into the race lead with a couple of laps and he would never be headed again as he romped away to win by more than five seconds.

Pitsanu claimed second place after driving a superb race. Over the first couple of laps he was in the thick of a titanic Porsche battle between himself, Kantadhee, Aekarat and Tanart for third place, but when race leader Kantasak ran wide as he was passed by Nattavude and dropped right into the middle of this scrap Pitsanu was the big winner as he got on the power, hit the right line and powered his way into P2 at the end of a three car side-by-side sprint uphill and out of Turn 11. He then spent the rest of the race tenaciously defending his position.

That was his second runners up spot of the season, having already claimed a second place in Bangsaen. The driver of the gold Porsche came out on top after a real ding dong battle for second place and led a train of cars across the line.

Kantasak enjoyed a great start, pipping Nattavude for the lead before the cars came into the stadium section for the first time and hanging onto the place despite the superior traction of the Toyota for a couple of laps. However, he overcooked it through Turn 9 which allowed Nattavude as well as Pitsanu through and despite his best efforts to recover ground he would remain in third place.

The points on offer for third however were good enough to extend Kantasak's advantage in the championship classification overnight as his closest rival, younger brother Kantadhee, who was lugging around a heavier car than his Porsche rivals, was only able to coax it to sixth place.

Kantadhee, who has new suspension that he first used at Bangsaen with great results but didn’t feel they had managed yet to find the best settings for Buriram, had a tough race, unable to unlock pace from his 991, losing out in an early race scramble between himself, Pitsanu and Kantasak, and then seeing the final step of the podium wrested out of his hands by the recovering Nattapong with two laps to go. After his glory grabbing run in Bangsaen it was back down to reality in Buriram.

Fourth place went to Aekarat while the final podium spot went to Nattapong, the Toyota driver recovering very well after a spin coming out of Turn 1 on the first lap that left him beached in the middle of the track and – somehow – the entire field had managed to stream around him safely. From then on he had a long afternoon chipping his way back up the order.

Nattapong, who enjoyed a double Super Car GTM win here last year, almost had fourth place as he got up and alongside Aekarat as the pair ran down to the finishline for the final time and the gap on the results sheet was just a few hundredths of a second. Aekarat in turn had driven a superb race, pushing Kantasak in front of him right to chequered flag. With Kantadhee following them across the line it meant second to sixth places were covered by just 4 seconds.

Seventh and eight places overall went to the Porsche of Tanart Sathienthirakul and the Holden Commodore VE of Craig Corliss, the latter car sporting an unmissable new lurid orange colour scheme to replace the green it has run in recent seasons.

Then came the gaggle of Super Car GTM Am runners with Thanavud Bhirombhakdi edging out Naputt Assakul by seven tenths of a second to extend his title advantage overnight. Naputt, who was debuting in a Ferrari 458 Challenge, fought his way up from the back of the grid and into the class lead but it wasn't to be and second place was a very good finish on his Prancing Horse debut.

Third and fourth in GTM Am went to the Ferraris of Chairat Sangtong and Chinnapol Jongprasert while fifth place and the final podium step was occupied by the Porsche of reigning champion Paul Kanjanapas, the only non-Ferrari driver on the GTM Am podium.

Come Sunday's Race 2 and Toyota made it a clean sweep in Super Car GTM for the weekend. Honours ended up even as this time the victory went to the #38 car of Nattapong while the previous day's winner, Nattavude, after starting from pole position, had to serve a drive through penalty end of the first lap, the result of contact made with Kantasak during the previous day’s race.

The veteran then turned in a superb recovery drive to claw his way back through the field and finish in fourth place, pipping Kantadhee on the final lap of the race to grab an extra two championship points.

Sandwiched in between the two Toyotas Pitsanu claimed second place again but was less than two seconds behind the winner after another very impressive drive while next up was Aekarat and just six tenths of a second separated the two Porsches.

Nattavude had the deficit to Aekarat down to less than 2 seconds at the end but it wasn't enough to allow him to climb any higher up the order although he also set the fastest lap.

After really exploding onto the Super Car scene in Bangsaen – just his second event in the top flight – where he scored his maiden win, Kantadhee had a weekend in Buriram that didn't come towards him and in the second race he was in the thick of the Porsche battle early on but was eventually passed by Aekarat and then the recovering Nattavude on the last lap, although he still earned a trip to the podium by claiming fifth place.

Tanart and Craig were next up but the latter was lamped with a post-race 30 second penalty for a flag infringement and tumbled down the official result sheets.

Thanavud made it a clean sweep of Am class wins from the weekend to virtually assure himself of the title in what is his rookie year while four and a half seconds further down the road Chairat notched up his best finish since his return to Super Car.

Naputt was third to make it back to back podium finishes from his Ferrari debut weekend, Paul was fourth after recovering from a spin two thirds of the way through the race to give Painkiller Racing the GTM Am team's trophy for the second consecutive race, while Chinnapol in fifth nailed down the final podium position.

The only retirement of the afternoon was the Kantasak – the championship classification leader picking up no points from Sunday afternoon’s second race which allowed his key rivals the crucial opportunity to close up the deficit a little ahead of the triple points scoring season closer next month.

Running early on in P3, the Ferrari driver was negotiating Turn 3 on the third lap when a spinning GTM Plus Audi came spearing over the grass on the entrance to the corner, straight across the track and hit him side on. The #34 Ferrari was out on the spot with extensive right hand front damage and it was an early end to the race and no points for Kantasak.


 - Edd Ellison,  also photo

Permanent-URL: http://www.automobilsport.com/tss-buriram-super-car-gtm-thailand---167235.html

23.08.2017 / MaP

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