2015 FIA World Touring Car Championship Rounds 21 And 22 Of 24 Chang International Circuit (Buriram, Thailand), 31 October-1 November
A very warm welcome to the FIA World Touring Car Championship for what is a very significant moment in the history of the WTCC and motorsport in Thailand.
For more than a decade, the WTCC has been thrilling fans at race circuits around the world and now it’s Thailand’s turn with the state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit hosting the high-speed, bumper-to-bumper WTCC action for the first time.
Thailand will mark the penultimate stop on the WTCC’s global tour of 2015 and the teams and drivers arrive in Buriram during a very exciting period for the championship.
At the start of October, WTCC promoter Eurosport Events announced the creation of the new-for-2016 MAC3 initiative, essentially a rapid-fire Tour de France-style team trial for manufacturers at each round of the WTCC.
Then, two weeks later, Volvo, through its performance brand Polestar’s motorsport partner Cyan Racing, confirmed its long-term commitment to the championship with a factory team from next season when five manufacturers will be represented on the WTCC grid.
And turning to this weekend’s inaugural WTCC Race of Thailand, Eurosport Events is pleased to welcome young Thai touring car driver Tin Sritrai to the championship for what we hope will be the start of a long-term WTCC adventure for the 26-year-old. Tin impressed us all with two support-race wins at Twin Ring Motegi in September and we look forward to watching his progress in a Campos Racing-run Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1.
It will be a case of unchartered territory in Thailand with the WTCC drivers possessing little or no knowledge of the Chang International Circuit and that will only lead to more on-track action and excitement. It will also be the first WTCC twilight race, the results of which could decide the destination of this year’s title with José María López poised to make it back-to-back championships, a fine achievement and a fitting reward for the Argentine.
Of course WTCC Race of Thailand would not have been possible without the valuable support of the Sports Authority of Thailand, the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Thai motorsport federation RAAT, Chang International Circuit and DHL, the WTCC’s Official Logistics Partner, which oversaw the transportation of all the WTCC cars and equipment from the previous round in Shanghai, a distance of some 4000 kilometres.
The WTCC is real cars and real racing and we hope you enjoy the show in Buriram.
François Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events
RACE PREVIEW: Twilight highlight as López closes on WTCC title two
*Citroën’s Argentine ace closes in on second world crown
*Honda hope Norbert Michelisz can clinch Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy
*LADA trio keen to impress as Thailand hosts inaugural FIA world championship race
*Local hero Tin Sritrai to make WTCC history as first Thai driver
José María López will celebrate back-to-back FIA World Touring Car Championship titles* in twilight when Thailand stages the all-action WTCC for the first time from 31 October-1 November. The second of two 14-lap races at the state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit in Buriram will take place at dusk under floodlights from 17h30 local time on 1 November with Citroën driver López on the cusp of joining an elite group to have successfully defended their WTCC crown.
However, if the 32-year-old Argentine is to follow Andy Priaulx (WTCC champion from 2005-2007) and Yvan Muller (2010-2011) and leave Thailand as champion for a second time then he must add to his season tally of 396 points, which has handed him a 75-point margin over team-mate Muller with four races left. While there are myriad points permutations to consider, if López wins race one from pole then he’s champion regardless of Muller’s result. And should Muller triumph in the Thai opener having started from top spot with López finishing second from P2 or P3 on the grid, then López needs to finish race two third or higher to be champion, even if Muller wins the second race. But with eight wins, five poles and nine fastest laps, López is the driver in the ascendancy and has triumphed at all of the new-for-2015 venues used so far this season.
And López isn’t the only driver eying WTCC title gold in Thailand, which has never hosted an FIA world championship event before. Norbert Michelisz holds a 25-point advantage in the race for the Yokohama Drivers’ Trophy and the Zengő Motorsport Honda pilot could secure the accolade if results go his way in Buriram. However, the championship within a championship for independent racers isn’t the limit of the Hungarian’s ambitions with fourth overall in the final standings and the prize of finishing ahead of fellow Honda drivers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini more than realistic targets.
In the battle for the outright runner-up spot, Muller is 39 points clear of fellow Citroën driver Sébastien Loeb, who has excelled during his second season in the WTCC since switching from the World Rally Championship. The legendary Frenchman, who recently announced his participation on January’s Dakar cross-country rally in South America, has claimed three wins in 2015 – just two less than four-time WTCC champion Muller.
Ma Qing Hua, who completes the Citroën Total WTCC line-up, is also a winner this year and is fourth in the points, while Hugo Valente (Campos Racing), Rob Huff (LADA Sport Rosneft) and Tom Chilton (ROAL Motorsport) complete the current top 10 having all claimed podium finishes. Mehdi Bennani (Sébastien Loeb Racing) is P11 in the standings heading to Thailand with Dutch duo Tom Coronel and Nicky Catsburg next up. Stefano D’Aste (ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport), LADA’s Le Mans 24 Hours class-winning Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre and privateer Grégoire Demoustier (Craft-Bamboo Racing) will also be in action in Buririam with Thai WTCC rookie Tin Sritrai partnering Valente and John Filippi at Campos Racing.
Q&A: TIN SRITRAI
WTCC Race of Thailand will be significant for Tin Sritrai in more ways than one. Not only will the 26-year-old be making his debut in the FIA World Touring Car Championship, he’ll also be competing on home soil as the first Thai driver to race in the WTCC when he drives a Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1.
What does it mean to you to be making your WTCC debut in your home race? “I have to say it is the most suitable place since my team, sponsors and, most importantly, my fans are here. Taking such a big step with this strong support next to me makes it more solid.”
How much pressure do you feel? “I try to hide it by not expecting to set good times but there is still pressure. Doing well in the new car, new team and new championship won’t be easy even though there will be an expectation from some people to get the best result in front of my home crowd. But I will try to leave those guys out of my head and focus on doing the best I can.”
What preparation will you do for the event? “During the past few years in Touring Car Series in Asia by IMSP and Thailand Super Series I drove the rear-wheel-drive Super 2000. Switching to a front-wheel-drive TC1 WTCC car is such a big change. So what I and the team decided to do was to put me in a front-wheel-drive turbo car as much as possible. I got the chance to test our own turbo car recently and I will do a race in Buriram in a SEAT the week before the WTCC race.”
What’s your target for the weekend? “Since it will be the first time in the WTCC what I expect is to see where I am on the time sheets. Beside benchmarking myself with the world-class drivers, it is also the first time for me working with Campos Racing, so it is an opportunity to see how things work in the pit and what I can take back to improve my skill and the process in the team.”
You got the chance to watch the WTCC when you were racing at Motegi earlier this season. What did you think of the action and the competition? “When I was there next to their pits, watching the screens and sneaking through the pit lane, from the spectator perspective, it was super exciting and entertaining. When you look deeper you will see a very precise operation and accurate decision making which results in very close competition even if you reverse 10 grid spaces in the second race. Most of the drivers have a chance to win and that is what it takes to make the real competition.”
How much do you know about your Chevrolet Cruze and your Campos Racing team? “For the last couple of years I have been racing against Super 2000-specification Chevrolet Cruze in Touring Car Series in Asia by IMSP. Even if I only saw them in the rear mirror and not being inside the cockpit, I can see how fast they are. Winning the world championship for four years on a roll was the best evidence that it is one of the best touring cars. For Campos Racing, I have heard about their reputation both in touring and formula car for years, especially as a breeding nest where the young drivers are incubated.”
What’s the Chang International Circuit like to drive – how good will it be for WTCC racing? “I have driven there a few times both in race weekends and in pre-season tests. What I found is it is a very high-speed track and you will get faster and faster later in the sessions. This is the track where the small changes in driving and set-up matters. I am sure it fits the competition where all the cars are close in performance but driver and strategy decide the winner.”
Where do you hope to be in five years from now? “After a few years in touring car, stepping up from national then continental, surely the next move is the WTCC. Together with my team, we are always looking for the higher bar. So the aim for the next five years cannot be anything else but a full season in the WTCC.”
How would you describe yourself and your driving style? “I always find myself in comfortable and supporting positions in the team which makes me think it comes from an easy-going personality. This also reflects on the track. What I always keep in mind is sufficiency, not too slow nor too aggressive, not too soft nor too fast. You cannot gain the better time for every section if you keep pressing the gas. The perfect lap time is somewhere between pushing and releasing it.”
What’s the best thing about Thailand? “Beside the rich culture and natural resources of our country, what you will find for the answer from all Thai people is our king. He is the real role model of every perspective not only the leader. He works as hard as a man could possibly do for only one purpose which is making Thai people live well and happy.”
Name: Chang International Circuit
Location: 444/5 m.15, Buriram-prakhonchai road, Muang Buriram, Buriram, Thailand 31000
Length: 4.554 kilometres
Race distance: 2 x 14 laps
Lap record (qualifying and race): To be established
WTCC appearances: None (Thailand is hosting the WTCC for the first time)
Time zone: GMT +7 hours
Sunrise/sunset: 05h40/18h42 (Saturday 31 October)
Average temperature: 24°C-31°C (for October)
The venue: The modern, floodlit Chang International Circuit is one of five new venues on the WTCC calendar for 2015 and has been built to FIA and FIM standards. Construction began in 2013 and the circuit complex also houses a retail park and football stadium, the home of Buriram United FC. The circuit’s name comes from a sponsorship agreement with a Thai brewery.
The host city: Buriram (City of Happiness in Thai) is 410 kilometres northeast of Bangkok.
The timetable: All the track action will be contained within a two-day period with Testing and Free Practice 1 and 2 scheduled for Saturday 31 October and Qualifying and two 11-lap races set for Sunday 1 November.