Other than the main event, the new South-East Asia Cup marks the start of an opening round. The season-opener at Sepang is one of three events, alongside Buriram in June before a return to the popular Bangsaen Grand Prix in mid-July.
For season 2018, the outright Driver’s Championship is looking for a new contender, with Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s reigning champion Kantadhee Kusiri moving on to GT cars, although his 2017 title rival and team-mate Diego Moran will be back behind the wheel of one of three iconic white, red and blue (and in Moran’s case – yellow) Volkswagen Golf GTi TCRs for a full season campaign.
The popular Ecuadorian will start amongst the Series favorites, and is a former winner at Sepang, however his greatest challenge is likely to come from new team-mate and Middle-East TCR champion, Luca Engstler. Luca is the son of team principal Franz Engstler and a standout on his full season debut in Germany last year. The kid concluded the Series as the ADAC TCR Rookie of the Year before dominating the Middle East championship with three wins from five starts.
Whilst the two Volkswagen drivers are expected to battle at the front of the field, 2017 TCR Asia Series sensations R Engineering will do their best to gate-crash the party with their 2017 Honda Civic TCRs.
Despite the depth and strength of talent in the Liqui Moly Volkswagen team last season, it was actually the rookie Malaysian Honda team who were the standouts by mid-season, with team-leader WS Lai on top of the Driver’s standings, whilst team-mate Abdul Kaathir led the TCR Asia Cup points, the pair taking R Engineering to the top of the Team’s points in the process, although a tough close to the season allowed the German-based team to take home the bulk of the silverware.
Lai and his team have taken a lot from their 2017 experience, and whilst the team boss sits out his home event this weekend due to the delay in the arrival of their new Honda Civic Type R TCRs, he has appointed a super-sub to step into the seat for him in the guise of 21-year old former GT regular Akash Nandy. Nandy won the Formula Masters China Series Macau Grand Prix invitational in 2013 as a 16 year old and the Malaysian driver has been a contender in everything he’s driven ever since, but Sepang will mark the local driver’s debut in a TCR car. With team-mate Abdul Kaathir alongside to defend his TCR Asia Cup title, the R Engineering team will be a real force again in season 2018. Nandy and Kaathir might be outright contenders at home, but the addition of another local driver has attracted much interest, not the least because of his addition to a team who has been a major power in the TCR Asia Series since the second season, Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
Another challenger Mitchell Cheah earned the support of not just the most successful team in TCR Asia Series history, but also the backing of Sepang track after winning an entry into the 2018 season as part of SIC’s talent development program. Cheah, the reigning Malaysian Super Series Touring Production champ, has full support from Engstler for his maiden season in the TCR Asia.
Other contenders to look out for are the Team Thailand entourage with three experienced TCR campaigners. The drivers include reigning Thailand Super Series Super 2000 champion Pattarapol and Vongprai, Jakrapan Davee, who’d debut in an Alphafactory by Pulzar Seat Leon TCR.
Hong Kong’s Maximum Racing is participating in the TCR Asia for the first time, with drivers Lo Sze Ho and Ivan Szeto in their Civics.
One of the TCR Asia Cup front runners Douglas Khoo is back from his maiden European sportscar event just a week ago. He is running the black and red no.65 Seat Leon V3 SEQ this season.
After practice and qualifying, the two races are at full swing this evening…