2017 TCR ASIA SERIES RETURNS TO SHANGHAI FOR DOUBLE-HEADER
22 August 2017
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
Shanghai International Circuit, China
Rnd#9/10, 2017 TCR Asia Series
25-27 August, 2017
After an almost two month break, the 2017 TCR Asia Series fires back into action at Shanghai in China for another ‘double-header’ event, this time with the recently introduced TCR China series.
12-months ago Shanghai laid the foundations from which Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Andy Yan went on to claim the 2016 driver’s championship after dominating both races at his ‘home’ circuit and the Hong Kong-based driver will be back this weekend driving an Audi RS3 LMS TCR for New Team Faster, but whilst he will be a favourite for the outright win, don’t discount the resurgent Tin Sritrai!
Sritrai claimed back-to-back wins during TCR Asia’s maiden visit to the streets of Bangsaen in Thailand, in the process the local hero moved to within four and a half points of championship leader WS Lai, whilst new Liqui Moly Team Engstler recruits Diego Moran and Kantadhee Kusiri also put themselves back in the title hunt, with just 18 points separating the top four ahead of the penultimate event of the season.
With almost a dozen entries in each championship, the field will present a huge challenge to both categories, especially as many of the drivers have competed wheel-to-wheel in the past, but in both cases they need to remain mindful of the fact that they’re battling for two different championships – the winners of each series awarded full points.
Having debuted with his new team at Shanghai just three weeks ago, Yan’s winning streak in a TCR car continued, the Audi driver claiming two wins from three starts (TCR China contests two short sprint races together with a longer 60-minute compulsory pit stop final race) to start arguably the favourite at a circuit on which he is considered a formidable opponent.
That said, Team Thailand’s Tin Sritrai has vaulted back into TCR Asia title contention after his two Bangsaen wins – making his tally three wins for the season – the Honda driver is campaigning arguably the quickest marque in the field and his form is also at its peak, he could well return a favour to Yan for the defeat the Hong Kong driver dished out to him in season 2016.
Likewise Kantadhee Kusiri. The young Thai star stepped into Yan’s shoes this season to take up where the reigning TCR Asia Series champion left off – with victory – but it has been a tough haul for the Volkswagen driver since then, his high profile start-line incident during Bangsaen’s opening race a good indication of just how challenging the year has been since that season-opening victory.
Leading the charge coming into Shanghai is Malaysia’s WS Lai, the R Engineering Honda driver is yet to record a round win this season, despite amassing podium results in every event so far, and he is desperate to right that wrong, something which perhaps cost him during Bangsaen’s second race where a split second decision to make a move around race leader Jasper Thong saw them both in the barriers.
That created quite a deal of discussion up and down pit lane afterwards, with the Honda driver carrying a penalty as a result into the Shanghai round but whilst he may approach the incident differently if he had his time again, the result of the event saw both he and Thong fail to score vital championship points.
Whilst there are just 18 points separating the top four drivers ahead of the Shanghai round, TCR Cup title rivals Abdul Kaathir (R Engineering Honda) and Jasper Thong (Audi Hong Kong Audi) are not far behind, AK just 10 points behind Kusiri with Thong another 15 points further back, but with 100 points still on offer over the final four rounds of the year, it’s a long way from over.
During the first six rounds of the 2017 TCR Asia Series season, it was a tight affair between the top teams, with six different winners across the first six rounds, but Bangsaen changed all that with Tin Sritrai going on to become the first multiple winner of the season.
Bangsaen ultimately was the event that has shaken up the 2017 season, the drama of the opening race which saw contact between pre-race favourites and front row qualifiers Kantadhee Kusiri and Sritrai causing chaos which had an affect on much of the field, whilst the late race contact between WS Lai and Jasper Thong over the lead in race two saw the two title contenders in the barriers recording zero points as a result.
Traditionally Shanghai has been kinder, the wide open Formula One layout allowing more room for drivers to move and effect a pass, but it can also mean more contact as slip-streaming can also play a part in performance.
As for what the TCR China competitors will bring, certainly they will bring a challenge to the TCR Asia regulars who will do well to remember they’re not fighting their Chinese rivals for points. For drivers like Terry Huang and Filipe de Souza they will make a return to competition against the TCR Asia regulars after cameos in Zhuhai, and both drivers made the podium on their TCR China debuts so will be right in the mix.