SHAUN THONG NARROWLY MISSES VICTORY ON TCR ASIA SERIES DEBUT
22 May 2017
Text/Photos: Motorsport Media
Rnd#5/6 2017 TCR Asia Series
Zhuhai International Circuit, China
12-14 May, 2017
Just days out from the third event on the 2017 TCR Asia Series calendar, Shaun Thong was invited to join the Audi Hong Kong team behind the wheel of the #3 Audi RS3 LMS TCR to support the title aspirations of younger brother Jasper.
Having never competed in the 2-litre turbo, front-wheel-drive TCR touring car previously, Thong was on a steep learning curve, but despite that, and the constantly changing conditions, the 21-year old claimed his third podium for the season in his third championship start to lay solid foundations for a strong season ahead.
“I came into this weekend with high hopes and I think we showed plenty of promise during two days of open practice in the dry which allowed me to run consistently at the top of the timesheets,” Thong explained. “Once the rain started though as qualifying arrived, we weren’t quite as competitive due to the characteristics of the gearbox mapping.
“In the opening dry race – my first standing start in the RS3 – I didn’t get away as cleanly as I would have liked and dropped back a little before mounting a recovery to latch onto the tail of the top two, which became the leader after Jasper was unfortunately given a drive-through penalty.
“I waited then to attack for the lead and allowed my brakes to cool and I got the timing almost perfect to take the lead into turn nine, but I was on the outside which lined me up for the next corner for which I was on the inside. Sadly I never got that far as the other driver took us both out into the gravel and I was unable to complete the race.
“It was devastating result for me as I was so close to a debut win! I later reviewed the manoeuvre and still believe that it was possible to take the lead around the outside, although the other driver was not given a penalty as a result.”
Mother nature was the big winner in race two, with light rain falling as the cars went out onto the circuit, yet despite a 5-minute extension to the start of the race to let the weather settle in, all but one team remained on slick tyres, but as the field rolled around to prepare for the start, the heavens opened again, and Thong quickly dived into pit lane to change, whilst others started on their slick Michelins.
Ultimately the wet tyres were the only choice and eventually every remaining car on track pulled in to pit lane, but by that stage the one team who had made the change was more than half a lap ahead.
Shaun Thong was consistently the fastest driver on the circuit, hauling in the leaders to cross the line third just 13-seconds down but only seven seconds from second, but there just weren’t enough laps left to make it to the top step of the podium.
“I did the best I could for race two, but ultimately the team that won, won before the start with that decision to change to wet weather tyres – from there we were all only running for third place. For me it was a great experience to put into my pocket – driving a car so different to the Audi R8 LMS GT3 – despite the disappointment in the first race I think I provided some good overtaking action and some drama to entertain the spectators, and I hope to be returning to TCR Asia Series soon.”
For Thong, his focus now returns to GT3 competition, with the second event of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series Asia at Chang International Circuit in Thailand this weekend, the scene of his Audi Hong Kong victory in the 2016 GT Asia Series alongside Marchy Lee, the two starting amongst the favourites for victory.
“It feels fantastic to be back racing in Buriram again with Blancpain GT Series Asia – I have good experiences and memories from this circuit as I won round three of GT Asia there in 2016, and also claimed a podium finish in the Asian Le Mans LMP3 category.
“I am well prepared for what our competition will throw at us, but I think everyone will be more prepared than ever as well. I started the season with a positive result with that podium finish in Malaysia, and I am really looking forward to converting that performance into my first win of 2017 this weekend!”