TCR Asia 2015: Sepang

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TCR ASIA SERIES LAUNCHES INTO 2015 SEASON

The Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia will play host to the birth of an exciting new era in Asian motorsport this weekend, with the debut of the new TCR Asia Series.

Asia has played an integral role in the development of the successful new Touring Car concept, as the host of the opening rounds of the 2015 International Series which began six months ago at the very same venue.

The TCR Asia Series will also contribute to the closing rounds of the 2015 International Series, with the final three events of the TCR Asia Series – Singapore, Thailand and Macau – also playing host to the final three rounds of the International Series.

For David Sonenscher, the TCR Asia Series promoter and the Asian region’s representative of WSC Ltd, the Sepang event is the culmination of almost 12-months worth of hard work.

“We’re finally here,” Sonenscher acknowledged with a broad smile. “We don’t just have a great field to start the season, but we continue to field enquiries every day about how teams and drivers can get involved in TCR.”

“I have to thank those teams that have made the commitment to be here this weekend. There have been a few logistical challenges in getting cars ready ahead of Sepang – in fact there are parts still coming to complete a couple of the cars, that’s how tight it has been, but the feeling in the pits is fantastic, everyone’s upbeat about what’s coming, not the least me!”

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The successful Seat León TCR cars have been the pace-setters through much of the TCR International Series, with the Craft-Bamboo LUKOIL team currently leading the championship. They too will have a presence in Sepang, but not with the team’s popular local star Frank Yu who campaigned the car back in March, but Eric K. a rising young star from Hong Kong who has been handed the keys of the #99 ‘Hulk’..

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Hong Kong’s Prince Racing were one of the first to signal their interest in the TCR Asia Series project, and armed with two brand new JAS Motorsport-built Honda Civic TCR’s, and support from JAS themselves, both Kenneth Lau and Michael Choi are expected to be right in the mix with the leaders.

But like any new project, it will take time for teams to gel with their new machines, and for drivers to understand the machinations of their new cars, something which already has drivers talking.

“It’s certainly different to what I’ve experienced with all my years of GT cars and open-wheelers,” Roadstar Racing Team driver Samson Chan admitted.

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For others though, the Touring Car philosophy was nothing particularly new, something which Hong Kong’s Andy Yan displayed only too well in official practice #2, shadowing the Asia Racing Team’s Philippe Descombes early in the session, taking the all-new FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus to within two tenths of Descombes’ best.

That result was perhaps no surprise to fans of the China Touring Car Championship, a category in which Yan is the reigning champion and current points leader in his Ford Focus, whilst team-leader Kenneth Ma has been responsible for the development of the CTCC Ford’s, taking his Changan Ford Racing Team to six of the last eight CTCC titles.

Ma is scheduled to join Yan this weekend, however a delay with customs has slowed the delivery of the team’s second Mountune-built engine, which was going to power the first FRD-built Focus, the Yan car having been originally delivered by Onyx in the UK.

“It’s funny how things go,” Ma admitted. “We were so keen to have the first of our FRD-built cars on track, but there’s not much we can do without an engine, so we’ll make sure Andy has the chance to show what the car can do, and we’ll ensure that if we are unable to make the grid for qualifying, that the second car will be more than ready for Singapore in two weeks.”

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By the close of the two official practice sessions it was Descombes who set the pace with a blistering time in practice #1, the Frenchman ultimately keeping himself on top of the timesheets with the #14 Seat León in session two, with Yan second overall.

Third was local Malaysian driver Kenny Lee who missed unofficial practice in the local Seat León, the Sepang regular – a winner of the Sepang 1000km back in 2010 – showed the value of his immense local knowledge, to topple the leading Honda Civic of Kenneth Lau.

Lau is another driver with a strong Touring car background, the 2010 Hong Kong Touring Car champion enjoying the chance to gain valuable extra miles in the Prince Racing Honda Civic, sharing the experience with Michael Choi, who himself enjoys a long history in Asian competition, the Hong Kong-based driver recently finishing on the podium in a Lamborghini Super Trofeo on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Like the Prince Racing Team, Hong Kong’s Roadstar Racing Team were taking their time to get acclimatised with their trio of Seat Leóns, with Masahiko Ida setting the early pace for the team, the Japanese driver though ultimately dropped back behind team-mate Filipe Souza in the second session.

There were two non-starters in official practice, ART’s Rodolfo Avila who took a leave of absence for a minor health issue, but is expected to return to push team-mate Descombes in qualifying, whilst Kenneth Ma was unable to make a start whilst waiting for his engine to clear customs.

The three 10-lap TCR Asia Series races were streamed live via the TCR Asia Series website http://www.asia.tcr-series.com with internationally renowned commentator Jonathon Green calling the shots!

Round #1 – 2015 TCR Asia Series

Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Combined times official practice (4 September, 2015)

1. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:20.659 [P1]

2. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing team Ford Focus TCR) – 2:22.271 [P2]

3. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Seat León) – 2:22.531 [P2]

4. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Honda Civic TCR) – 2:22.940 [P2]

5. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:23.522 [P2]

6. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León) – 2:23.544 [P2]

7. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Honda Civic TCR) – 2:23.936 [P2]

8. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:25.771 [P1]

9. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:26.062 [P2]

10. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – NTR

11. Kenneth Ma [HKG] (FRD HK Racing team Ford Focus TCR) – NTR

RODOLFO AVILA TAKES VICTORY FOR ART IN FIRST EVER TCR ASIA SERIES RACE AT SEPANG

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Asia Racing Team’s Rodolfo Avila and Philippe Descombes scored an emphatic 1-2 during the historic opening event for the new TCR Asia Series at Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia after qualifying their cars on the front row of the grid.

The two SEAT León cars of the Macau-based team had dominated qualifying earlier in the morning, with Avila turning his first real laps in qualifying after missing Friday practice due to illness, the Macanese driver setting a pole time of 2:19.363 in the opening session just 17 one hundredths ahead of team-mates Descombes. Descombes returned the favour in Q2 though, switching the tables on his team-mate, in the process lowering the new benchmark to 2:19.335.

Highlighting perfectly just how competitive the new TCR Asia Series cars are, both laps were actually three tenths of a second faster than Kevin Gleason’s pole time in the Honda back when the TCR International Series qualified at Sepang for their opening round back in March.

Sadly though for Avila, he struggled to get off the line from pole during the first standing start dropping back as far as sixth on the run down to the first turn.

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That was all the incentive that FRD HK Racing team’s Andy Yan needed, the reigning China Touring Car Champion forging his way through to the lead before once again fate intervened with the team’s intermittent electrical issue returning, forcing him to a stop out on the circuit.

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Kenneth Lau too was in the mix early, forcing his way through to the tail of Descombes who had taken over the lead, but both he and Descombes were taken by Avila in one move as they battled for position, before Lau ultimately ran wide in an effort to take back his position, dropping back into the clutches of Eric K, Michael Choi and the fast starting Samson Chan.

Behind the leading trio local star Kenny Lee was taking advantage of his strong qualifying position to move onto the tail of the leaders before he too became unstuck in a battle with Samson Chan and Eric K. into turn two, the local Wing Hin Motorsports driver diving inside Chan into two, but he was unable to make the move stick, turning Chan around as the Roadstar driver turned into the apex of the corner.

Chan recovered, but it was game over for Kenny Lee, the impact robbing local fans of another great run through the field on Sunday after the team was unable to source parts to repair the car after the contact.

Chan though wasn’t the only Roadstar Racing Team member enduring a tough start to his TCR Asia Series career, Ida too was strong early, running just off the tail of the leaders before coming off into the gravel, which dropped him right back down the order.

As the laps wound down Kenneth Lau moved back into contention, taking Eric K. for fourth position, but up front it was all ART, Rodolfo Avila punching out an impressive 2:10.140 late in the session before slowing to join Descombes in a formation finish for the Macau-based operation.

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Michael Choi and Kenneth Lau made it a Honda 3-4 finish, with former Hong Kong Touring Car champion Eric K. claiming an impressive fifth on his return to motorsport after a three year sabbatical.

Rnd#1 – 2015 TCR Asia Series

Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Qualifying#1 (5 September, 2015)

1. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.363

2. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.553

3. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 2:20.797

4. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Motorsports Seat León) – 2:21.064

5. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 2:21.638

6. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 2:21.653 

7. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:22.009

8. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:22.281

9. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León) – 2:22.585

10. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:23.780

Qualifying#2 (5 September, 2015)

1. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.335

2. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:20.698

3. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 2:21.060

4. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 2:21.095

5. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Motorsports Seat León) – 2:21.775

6. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:21.823

7. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León) – 2:21.984

8. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:22.366

9. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 2:22.479

10. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 2:28.893

Race#1 (5 September, 2015)

1. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 10-laps

2. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León)

3. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) 

4. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR)

5. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León)

6. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León)

7. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) 

8. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 9-laps

DNF. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 5-laps

DNF. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Seat León) – 4-laps

DESCOMBES COMPLETES TRIFECTA FOR ART AT SEPANG

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After dominating qualifying and the opening race of the history making first event on the TCR Asia Series calendar, Asia Racing Team’s Philippe Descombes completed the trifecta for the team, with two dominant wins on the final day of competition at Sepang to give the Macau-based Seat León operation a strong lead in the points heading to Singapore.

Due to his Porsche Carrera Cup Asia commitments, race one winner Rodolfo Ávila was replaced by Macau’s Liu Lic Ka, a former World Touring Car entrant who happened to be in Sepang and tempted to sample the new TCR Seat after watching Avila’s strong victory.

Ultimately it was the Seat León that would dominate the event, with the two Prince Racing Hong Kong Hondas putting in cameos at the front of the field, whilst the FRD Ford HK Racing Team showed that once sorted, they will have a race winning contender on their hands with Chinese Touring Car star Andy Yan really spicing up the action in the early laps of all three races.

Race#2 

After crossing the line second to team-mate Avila in race one, Philippe Descombes was determined to make a success of his return to competition after a three year break, and the Frenchman didn’t disappoint, charging off the line to lead into turn one.

Michael Choi got the jump on team-mate Kenneth Lau off the line and followed Descombes through the turn one-two complex, whilst behind them, Samson Chan’s tough weekend continued after being turned around on the exit of turn two.

Off rear of field, Andy Yan was on a charge, closing in on the battle for third between Choi and Eric K. on the opening lap before the intermittent issue that had stopped him in every prior session once again intervened, and he was forced to return to the pits and retirement.

He wasn’t the only one forced to return to the pits, although Kenneth Lau only did so after failing to see the drive-through penalty he was being given for a start infringement, ultimately though he saw the black flag, hitting the pit lane to be disqualified from the result.

Ten seconds up by mid-race, Descombes cruised to the line to win by more than 16-seconds from a delighted Michael Choi, with Eric K. taking a well deserved third for Craft-Bamboo Racing. Filipe Souza was a solid fourth for the Roadstar Racing team, leading home team-mates Masahiko Ida and Samson Chan.

Race#3

Descombes once again led the field into turn one with Michael Choi, Eric K., Samson Chan and Andy Yan following him through to turn two. 

Yan once again was quickly through the pack and up to second, but once more the car suffered from electrical gremlins, allowing Choi back into second, from Samson Chan, the Craft-Bamboo Seat of Eric K. and Souza.

Eric K. made it through on Chan, as the two team-mates made contact into turn two which started a great battle between the pair before Chan made heavy contact with Souza off the exit of turn four, Souza slowing suddenly leaving Chan with nowhere to go, the contact ultimately turning his team-mate around.

Souza was unable to continue with damage to the right rear bodywork which started rubbing on the wheel, whilst Chan was handed – perhaps harshly – a drive-through penalty, but like Yau in race one, he’d missed the instruction and was later disqualified as a result of not returning to pits, completing what had been a frustrating debut for the Hong Kong veteran.

Sadly Michael Choi was also forced to retire early with a niggling mechanical issue, handing Eric K. second, whilst up front Descombes continued to punch out laps in the mid-2:21s to open up a gap of over 30-seconds by the time the chequered flag was displayed, with the consistent Craft-Bamboo Seat second, whilst the third Roadstar Seat of Masahiko Ida claimed third place overall.

Liu Lic Ka claimed fourth in the second of the ART Seats, but ultimately the weekend belonged to ART.

“We’re very happy with the way the weekend went,” Descombes admitted. “The car was fantastic. This weekend was effectively a glorified test session for us, as the cars arrived just last week, so we decided to push them ourselves to see what they were capable of, and I have to say, they do everything they’re supposed to do perfectly. I think this new TCR concept is exactly what the Asian region needs, it will be a great category.”

Rnd#1 – 2015 TCR Asia Series

Sepang International Circuit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Qualifying#1 (5 September, 2015)

1. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.363

2. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.553

3. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 2:20.797

Qualifying#2 (5 September, 2015)

1. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:19.335

2. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 2:20.698

3. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 2:21.060

Race#1 (5 September, 2015)

1. 15. Rodolfo Avila [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 10-laps

2. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León)

3. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) 

Race#2 (6 September, 2015)

1. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 10-laps

2. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) 

3. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León)

4. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León)

5. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) 

6. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León)

7. 30. Liu Lic Ka [MAC] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) 

DNF. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 4-laps

DNS. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Seat León) 

DSQ. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR)

Race#3 (6 September, 2015)

1. 14. Philippe Descombes [FRA] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) – 10-laps

2. 99. Eric K. [HKG] (Craft-Bamboo Racing Seat León)

3. 78. Masahiko Ida [JPN] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) 

4. 30. Liu Lic Ka [MAC] (Asia Racing Team Seat León) 

DNF. 66. Filipe Souza [MAC] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León) – 4-laps

DNF. 68. Michael Choi [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 4-laps

DNF. 63. Andy Yan [HKG] (FRD HK Racing Team Ford Focus TCR) – 2-laps

DNF. 38. Kenneth Lau [HKG] (Prince Racing Hong Kong Honda Civic TCR) – 0-laps

DNS. 83. Kenny Lee [MAS] (Wing Hin Seat León) 

DSQ. 56. Samson Chan [HKG] (Roadstar Racing Team Seat León)

The 2015 TCR Asia Series – Calendar

4-6 September, Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia.

The TCR Asia Series will now go on to join the The TCR International Series for the final three events at:

Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore on 18-20 September.

Buriram International Circuit, Thailand on 23-25 October.

Guia Circuit, Macau on 20-22 November.

Keep an eye out for further updates regarding The TCR International Series, The TCR Asia Series and the TCR Domestic series due to start in 2016.

Also, if you wish to discuss any topics regarding all things TCR please feel free to join the Facebook Group I have setup for Fans, Drivers and Team members alike. The link is TCR International Talk

Until next time!

All the best!

Phil!!

(All images supplied by TCR Asia Series)

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