December 19 saw the TBX Retro Escort at Buriram, to compete at the new Chang International circuit. This race circuit was the result of ex-politician Nevin Chidchob’s promotion, as part of his goal of making Buriram a center for sports. He already has the Buriram United football team and the i-Mobile stadium.
The circuit has already been given the certificate of approval by the FIA and has had the Japanese F3000 cars for one event and the Thailand Supercar Series for another. Next year the FIA has already granted one round of the World Touring Car Championships to Buriram in November 2015. Make no mistake, it is certified by the powers that be.
Tight squeeze turn 1!
The first impression is just how huge the complex really is. Literally acres of concrete everywhere.
The second impression was that the officials were just as much in the dark as we were, and we’d never been there before!
The Escort had been taken up there on a car transporter which we shared with seven others. It had a pit space which had been organized by the CEA Race team, so everything looked as if it were in order – that was until we needed to have the car checked over for safety features. There was no fixed scrutineering bay (as per Bira or Kaeng Krachan circuits), and the examination of the car was cursory at best, and definitely not of ‘international’ standard.
Since we had never been to the circuit before, we needed to get as many laps in as possible on the Friday afternoon. We were allocated three sessions which cost us an extra 3,000 THB, definitely ‘international’ pricing at least!
My competition number is 9, but when I went to go out on the circuit I was stopped and told I was now 144. Reason? They had another car running as number 9 already. So I was stopped there, while they went off and got me another door number patch. When all that palaver was over, I had only time to do two laps. I pride myself on being quick at learning circuits, but two laps of a 14 corner circuit is not enough!
Later in the afternoon we were allowed out again, and I managed to get another 10 laps under the belt. I also had a great 360 degree spin on one corner, but as we always say, you don’t know how quick you can take a corner until you go too quick.
The Saturday was mainly to get a grid position, and you are given a transponder which automatically clocks your time for each lap. Except no official seemed to know just where we would could go to get the transponder. By inspired guesswork we found the transponder station beside the non-existent scrutineering station.
Move over, I’m coming through!
First Qualifying session for the race grid and I was held up again because I had 144 on the car, when it should have been back to number 9 (even though we had seen the organizers and were told that we would be 144 for the rest of the meeting). By this stage it was farcical, and eventually I was allowed onto the track, with only time to do two laps again.
Second Qualifying session and the clutch went to lunch so my starting position for the Sunday was number 18. Fortune was not smiling upon us.
Following day (Sunday), we double checked what number we were going to be, and lined up in number 18. When the lights went out, I had the best start I have ever had, going from 18th to 7th by the first corner. Just an amazing leap up the order. However, this time the fuel pump decided it wasn’t at half distance and we did not finish. Not my weekend!
The track itself is very fast, with a 1 km straight. Long enough for us to run out of revs in 5th gear, and for the vibrations in the car enough to loosen fillings. A couple of corners are off-camber, making them difficult, while another couple tighten up on themselves, making the exit a big problem.
So, back to the facility itself – it is certainly world class, complete with conference rooms, with adjoining break-out areas, race pits off the main pit lanes, professional gantries showing the number of laps, electric warning lights as well as the flag marshal’s posts, catch fences, the works, so it does not surprise me that the circuit received the blessing from the FIA.
But the organization of the event was appalling, and whilst it can be pointed out that the event was more akin to ‘club racing’ and not F1, there is not enough trained marshals for even the lower category meetings.
If Thailand wants an F1 round in Buriram, like Malaysia and Singapore, there’s a long way to go yet. There is also the scenario of another F1 standard track being built in Rayong, to be opened 2016.
There is certainly plenty of interest in motor sport, but like many things in Thailand, the infrastructure is lacking.