Heading into the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, BBR is enjoying its most successful 24H SERIES season to-date, and currently heads the TCR Teams’ championship standings. Could the lessons learnt during the course of 2022 help the all-Thai team secure another 24-hour race win in Portugal? CREVENTIC finds out with Kantadhee and Kantasak Kusiri.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
Heading into CREVENTIC’s second 24-hour event of the season, BBR has fast-established itself as the TCR benchmark so far in 2022.
At the first European round of the season in Mugello for example, the Thai team completed a successful – and issue-free – maiden outing with its brand-new CUPRA León Competición, romping home to TCR victory three laps clear of nearest rival NOKER racing team (admittedly a detached front splitter for Holmgaard Motorsport and time lost in the gravel for early podium contender Wolf-Power Racing exaggerated that winning margin a touch). BBR repeated this accomplishment last time out in Hockenheim, this time with a four-lap cushion over Holmgaard after another flawless run.
Brake failure at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps has been the only blemish thus far for the #159 Competición, Munkong Sathienthirakul hitting the barriers hard at The Bus Stop after just over 90 minutes of running. Amazingly, the CUPRA, which sustained comparatively little damage – the extended gravel bed slowed Sathienthirakul’s trip into the barriers considerably – was back out on-track after only 45 minutes, a clean run thereafter salvaging the Thai team an impressive 5th in-class. It’s consistency like this that has extended BBR’s lead in the European standings to six points heading into the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO.
Granted, while BBR’s European momentum began with the Competición’s first race win in Tuscany, the first true sign of the success that would follow happened three months earlier at the season-opening Hankook 24H DUBAI, as ‘Billionaire Boys Racing’ secured its maiden triumph in the 24H SERIES.
“We were so happy with that result!” Kantasak Kusiri explains to CREVENTIC. “We’d tried for three years, and for the first time, we didn’t have any problems with the car.”
“We didn’t have any BIG problems with the car,” corrects brother Kantadhee, a point we’ll come back to.
“No BIG problems, right” – Kantasak again. – “But to finally win a 24-hour race was amazing, and to do it in Dubai at the biggest race was really special for the whole team. None of us could believe it!”
Though still relatively new to the 24H SERIES, victory in 2022 had been a long-time coming for the Kusiri brothers and BBR. Kantadhee after all made his series debut at Mugello back in 2019 as part of an all-Thai driver line-up, only for gearbox gremlins to his race to an early close. Nine months later, Kantadhee was back, now with Kantasak in-tow, for the pair’s first stab at a full 24-hour race. A challenge in and of itself given their relative lack of endurance racing experience at that point.
Kantadhee for example made his first competitive start at Thailand’s Honda Civic Racing Festival in 2009, and bar a brief stint in single seaters in the Euro Formula Open and a year in the Porsche Mobil1 Supercup in 2019, has been dedicated mostly to touring cars ever since. Tellingly, while wins were dutifully collected in TCR Thailand and the nation’s formative Touring Car Series before that, and titles were secured in TCR Asia and the Thailand Super Series (both in 2017), his endurance racing experience was limited.
Kantasak meanwhile has concentrated primarily on GT racing, picking up wins and class podiums in GT Asia, the Thailand Super Series and even Blancpain’s Asian GT Series aboard machines as disparate as the Ferrari 458 Italia and the Audi R8 LMS. But again, a one-off run at the Nürburgring 24 Hours aboard a modified Toyota Corolla Altis in 2015 marked Kantasak’s most recent outing in a ‘touring car’ prior to his Dubai 2020 debut, and was also the sum total of the brothers’ 24-hour racing experience before their 24H SERIES debut.
To say the 2020 Hankook 24H DUBAI featured a steep learning curve then would be an understatement.
“I’d raced TCR cars before [Dubai],” – Kantadhee – “so I had some knowledge to could share with him [gestures to Kantasak]. Some knowledge anyway: in a sprint race, you can push like crazy.”
“But in a 24-hour race, you really need good teamwork and good race pace.” – Kantasak – “I mean, I probably [prefer] sprint racing, but they are both very challenging. With sprint racing, you just go! With endurance, you have to preserve the tyres, the engine, the gearbox, etc. That was a lesson we had to learn quickly.”
Coming into the 2022 edition of the event, the Hankook 24H DUBAI had not been kind to Billionaire Boys Racing. Unprecedented levels of rain meant the 2020 edition was red-flagged and not restarted on safety grounds after just seven hours. In 2021, BBR retired from a solid 6th place when the CUPRA’s gearbox, brutally, let-go with barely an hour of running left.
Still, despite the heartbreak, the CUPRA’s competitive pace was already in evidence. BBR outqualified eventual TCE winner TOPCAR Sport and reigning Overall TCE Teams’ champion Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing, and had Kantadhee’s qualifying lap been just 0.035s quicker, that would have put BBR on the second row of a 12-strong TCR grid.
The engineering body behind BBR – the Monlau Repsol Technical School – was another ace up the sleeve. The powerhouse behind Team Estrella Galicia in FIM Moto3 and Spanish Formula 4 among many other racing ventures secured the 24H SERIES’ TCR title under the ‘MONLAU COMPETICION’ banner back in 2017. But for a luckless season finale that year – also at Spa-Francorchamps, strangely… – the Spanish team might even have taken the Overall TCE Series’ title that year as well. Simply put, when it comes to TCR endurance racing, the Barcelona-based technical college truly knows what it’s doing.
Indeed, third time proved the charm at the 2022 running of the Hankook 24H DUBAI as the Kusiri brothers, Anusorn Asiralertsiri, Pasarit Promsombat and Tanart Sathienthirakul came through to take a hard-earned – and popular – first win for the Thai team, eight laps clear. Admittedly, it was a win aided by early leader AC Motorsport dropping back at two-thirds distance with a broken shock absorber, but then, the #159 CUPRA TCR had its own gremlins to contend with during those 24 hours as well…
Kantadhee – “Actually we had some problems with the car, with the differential and the gearbox. After about six… six?”
Kantasak – “12.”
Kantadhee – “… 12 hours, we had no differential. When you lose the differential, the inside wheel spins a lot more. So we couldn’t push. We just had to drive carefully, smoothly, and protect the tyres. But then, after 22 hours, the differential came back!”
Kantasak – “[Clicks fingers] We don’t know how!”
Seven months on from its Dubai triumph, and the first-generation León has now been retired in favour of its ‘Competición’ successor, a TCR model equipped with a faster six-speed sequential gearbox, a more aerodynamic bodykit, new suspension and improved weight distribution to reduce bodyroll, and a wider track for better traction. Two wins from three outings certainly suggests SEAT Group’s new TCR car is more than up to the championship-winning task, as indeed is the experience of the Monlau crew behind it.
Don’t be too quick though to downplay the work its driver line-up must commit to. Pre-race preparation, learned first-hand heading into Dubai, will prove crucial for the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, a circuit, lest we forget, that none of BBR’s driver line-up has previously driven.
Kantadhee – “It helps that we have a TCR car in Thailand, so we use that a lot for practice. We also have a simulator so we can learn the tracks. That extra practice helps a lot!”
For Portimão, Kantadhee and Kantasak are set to be reunited with Asiralertsiri, Promsombat and Sathienthirakul, the former two in their first race since Dubai, the latter for his first event since Mugello. Ironically, while the Kusiri brothers lead both the TCR Drivers’ standings in both the European title chase and the Championship of the Continents, Sathienthirakul is just one point behind the pair, his 18 points for the Mugello win one shy of the Kusiris’ 19 from Hockenheim.
As BBR has proven three times already this year, a consistent driver line-up, and the chemistry that comes with it, can be the ace in the hole when it comes to endurance racing success…
Kantasak – “That helps a lot, actually. We all know each other, and that helps us plan our strategy for the race.”
Kantadhee – “And if we have a new teammate, we try to make sure they understand how we work as quickly as we can. But also we make them feel comfortable too. If our team changes, we know we need to adapt, but we try to keep things the same.”
One thing BBR will need to be mindful of however is competition throughout the night. Unlike their 12-hour events in Mugello, Spa and Hockenheim, where racing stops altogether during the overnight ‘intervention,’ the Hankook 24H PORTIMAO will run uninterrupted for 24 straight hours. An enormous challenge for those unaccustomed 24-hour competition, and of particular importance with points being awarded both at half and full distance in the 24H SERIES this season. Protecting the car has arguably never been more important…
Kantadhee – “We didn’t really focus on the other teams during a race.”
Kantasak – “No, mainly, we’re focused on the car, on our driving, and are just trying to [keep out of trouble]. You have to keep the car running for the whole race. You HAVE to! You can’t stop. So, for us, qualifying doesn’t really matter too much. Of course, I like to be on pole! So we’re always pushing…”
Kantasak – “… but we just try to do everything perfectly. During practice and during the race.”
With just two European rounds of the season left to run then, the traditionally grueling Hankook 24H PORTIMAO could potentially be make-or-break for Thailand’s BBR, one of 2022’s most inquisitive stories thus far. That Kantadhee and Kantasak Kusiri will be keen to continue their winning momentum and repeat their 24-hour triumph is also beyond question.
“I feel very confident with this team.” – Kantadhee – “They know the track, they know the setup we need, and our team has a lot of experience, including the drivers. I’m very confident we can be on the podium once again.”