ATCC: Bira: Rounds nine and ten preview

Peugeot'S Ruokonen and Auger Ready to pounce on the competition in Pattaya. Clearly unchallenged so far this season with seven wins from the last eight rounds, Finnish driver Toni Ruokonen will start as the hot favourite when rounds 9 and 10 of...

Peugeot'S Ruokonen and Auger Ready to pounce on the competition in Pattaya.

Clearly unchallenged so far this season with seven wins from the last eight rounds, Finnish driver Toni Ruokonen will start as the hot favourite when rounds 9 and 10 of the Asian Touring Car Series returns to Pattaya's Bira International Circuit this weekend.

With his winning record only broken once by Hong Kong driver Lo Ka Fai and with no clear challengers in the series, the WK Longman Racing driver is in a very strong position to clinch his ninth race victory.

"Lesson number one is to never count out the local competition," said a modest Ruokonen who in the last two rounds faced strong opposition not only from the series regulars but an unfamiliar threat from local driver N. Jakthong.

"I have no doubt that it's going to be another tough weekend, particularly if the weather is again unpredictable like last month's event. I am looking forward to the local competition and I expect them to be quick because they have the advantage of knowing the track better."

Powering his striking yellow Peugeot 306 to two race victories last month, Ruokonen described the circuit as extremely technical despite its 2.4km length with the combination of fast sweeping corners made more tricky on uneven surfaces.

"When it rains, like it did the last two rounds, it is extremely difficult to find grip. Obviously, the weather will again be an important factor."

Ruokonen's single biggest threat will likely come from his WK Longman Racing team mate David Auger who will be going all out to make amends for last month's disastrous and frustrating race weekend.

Having matched Ruokonen lap for lap in qualifying, and placed second on the grid for last month's race, Auger's race came to an abrupt end resulting from a blown engine in round 7 and further mechanical problems in round 8.

"The team has made the necessary preparation for this weekend and we're hoping for a little more luck on our side this time," said Auger. "Finishing the race would be great and winning a bonus."

Competition is also likely to come from the lighter, quicker and more advantageous divisions 2 and 3 cars around Bira's tight and short circuit.

The number one contender who is out to spoil Ruokonen's weekend will be Hong Kong's Lo Ka Chun who was a close second and third in the last two rounds, closing the gap between him and the dominating Peugeots and showing promising signs of claiming his first victory.

Said Lo: "I'll be trying hard, that's for sure. We'll have to wait for the race."

In Division 3, the battle is expected to be between Japanese Kouji Matsuda and Taiwanese driver Shih Shih Wei who had cruised to a second and third place last month. Consistentency over the last two rounds and aiming at a podium finish in Bira will also be veteran touring car driver Danny Stacy Chau in the Honda Civic who finished fourth in Bira last month.

-pl/atcs-

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Series General
Drivers David Auger , Toni Ruokonen