Motor Sports has had, if you pardon the pun, a
chequered history in Thailand. From Prince Bira, the man who thrice
won the BRDC Gold Star (the equivalent of today’s World F1
Championship), pre WWII with his Team White Mouse ERA’s, to the AIM
Motor Sports Grand Champion Cars of this year, many tyres have been
shredded in the unending quest for speed.
Thailand, unlike many of her neighbouring
countries, has always had a strong following for Motor Sport, be that
circuit racing, rallies or just “doing it in the dirt.” In line
with the “Asian Tiger” economy, motor sport blossomed, with
corporate support being evident for the many private enterprise backed
teams as they filled the grids of the mid 1990’s. 2 Litre ex-British
Touring Car Championship cars were in abundance, with names like Opel,
Mercedes Benz, Nissan and Toyota and even “Vauxhall” present in
Thailand’s motor racing when no Vauxhalls were available for sale in
Thailand. International rivalry produced the Asian Zone Touring Car
Series, modelled on the British Under 2 litre series. The only way
forward was Up! That was until the bubble burst with the economic
crash of 1997, which in turn produced a wholesale crash in the motor
racing world in Thailand. The fall of the financial boom-gate wiped
out complete grids, formulae, teams and drivers overnight.
Fortunately there were those who were not prepared
to see motor sport finished in this country. Amongst them were the
president of Grand Prix International, Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow and the
managing director of AIM Motor Sports, Prutirat Seriroengrith.
Dr. Prachin was a man who had been a competitor,
and was a man with a well developed sense of history. He had in the
past arranged for Prince Bira’s historic racing collection to be
displayed in this country, and was involved with the group controlling
the Bira Circuit. He also was aware that the Bira Circuit would need
to be maintained even though the sport was at such a low ebb, and took
some international ex-racers as advisors for the circuit in
preparation for the better days to come.
Prutirat Seriroengrith is also a racer, who has won
not only national championships, but has also raced in Europe to great
effect. He is also president of AIM Motor Sports, a team that had been
the front runners in the Asian series as well as in the AF2000
formula. Here was a man who could see that for Thailand motor sport to
regain its position it would need a direction and a plan. He had it.
The plan was called the “Concept” Cars.
It was two seasons ago when AIM Motor Sports
released the AIM Concept car version I to the racing fraternity in
Thailand. It is history now that the AIM Concept Car series was an
unqualified success. New drivers were introduced into the sport, and
even some overseas hopefuls were attracted by the overall concept and
made the trip to Thailand. Motor racing in this country received a
huge stimulus through it and everyone felt it was a job well done. All
Prutirat, the enthusiast, knew that unless there
was another rung on the ladder, there was no real opportunity for
ascendancy for the drivers. From there, the AIM Concept car version II
was born, now called Sport Grand Champion. Bigger, brighter and faster
than before. This was to be a pukka race car, but still had to be one
that the young enthusiast could afford and work on. Working within
these parameters, Prutirat and his team of designers and fabricators
went to work and have come up with one of the slickest racing cars
around - and yet eminently affordable at around 750,000 baht.
I put it to Prutirat, the businessman, that this
seemed too cheap but it was Prutirat the enthusiast who replied, “I
am not doing this to make money. Perhaps in two to three years we may
see a return, but it is more important that we do something for motor
sport in this country.”
Every developed country in the world is aware that
for motor sport to continue to flourish, it is necessary for there to
be a system in place to foster individual progression; however, most
countries have bogged down in masses of legislation and a plethora of
Thailand has managed to avoid the current crisis
with an extremely well thought out concept, and some equally well
thought out concept cars. There is no doubt that Thailand Motor Sport
is on the right track - and heading in the right direction.
Manufacturer interest is again on the increase and do not be surprised
to see manufacturer backing for “Production Car” racing again in
Thailand in the not too distant future.
It was also very interesting to see Sonthaya
Khunpluem, the new minister for sport and tourism, at the final round
of the Thailand Grand Touring Car championships at the Bira circuit
last month. His advisor, Chanyut Hengtrakul was even talking about F1
in the future - so you never know. After all, Malaysia built an F1
track. Are we next in line after China?