Four wheels racing in Malaysia got off to an exhilarating restart after a year’s sabbatical due to the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 2 million online viewers tuning in to two days of close-racing action at the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Festival held at the Sepang International Circuit.
Held for the very first time in the absence of on-ground fans for safety reasons, the festival’s live stream brought online fans and spectators uninterrupted action both on and off the track, with four categories of racing represented by professional racers, amateurs, young drivers and celebrities, as well extensive entertainment programming for non-race fans.
“On track especially, the suspense and quality of racing in the Vios Challenge has not diminished, in fact amplified even more, despite a one-year break. Brand affinity for GAZOO Racing has grown tremendously over three seasons of organizing what is today recognized as Malaysia’s premier motor-racing series, and I would like to thank all our GAZOO Racing fans and online viewers for their continued support even in the absence of an on-ground festival. Looking ahead to the following rounds, we hope to bring spectators back to the festival and enhance our live broadcast reach in line with our mission to bring motorsports to the masses,” said UMW Toyota Motor President, Ravindran K.
“One of the biggest challenges has been to organize the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Festival while doing our utmost best to retain the same level of energy and excitement it has been known for over the past three seasons. Yes, there are many limitations considering we are now in the recovery stages of a post COVID-19 pandemic era, but we are nevertheless grateful that motorsports activities can continue despite stricter standard operating procedures.”
SUPER SPORTING CLASS
The drama and outcome in the Super Sporting Class was again a repeat of race 1’s victory for Tengku Djan Ley Tengku Mahaleel who ended the race weekend with a double race win.
Starting from sixth position on the grid, Tengku Djan again played a waiting game before mounting an 11th hour assault for the race win, finishing ahead of Season 2’s Super Sporting Class champion Boy Wong who returns to the podium after a long absence, and Laser Motor Racing’s Mark Darwin who rounded up the top three positions.
The lead in the 20-lap race exchanged hands several times with Mark Darwin emerging the top contender in the opening laps of the race. His lead of almost 3 seconds however, evaporated when the safety car came out and at the restart, faced the onslaught of challenge from Boy and M7 Japan Project Team’s Syafiq Ali.
Tengku Djan’s assault came in the 15th lap and he gradually extended his lead to 3.5 seconds by the time he took the chequered flag.
“In dry weather conditions everyone was quick and I basically capitalized on the situation out on the track and made full use of it,” said Tengku Djan.
“Racing is very much weather dependent, and there are so many variables at play such as the tyres. It’s a long 20-lap race and you have to be able to manage your tyres and car, knowing when to push and when to hold back. Maybe I just managed to do a better job of this.”
Naquib Azlan too made it a double race win, clinching victory in race 2 ahead of Jwan Hii and Amer Harris who makes his second appearance on the podium. The fight for the lead again exchanged hands several times into the 20-lap race with all three drivers, including Mika Hakimi in contention for victory.
“At one moment I was down to last position and I had to climb my way back up with a damaged car so I really didn’t know what to expect. I just kept my head down, kept my cool,” said 20-year-old Naquib.
“Yesterday was really unpredictable (wet race) and it boiled down to instinctive driving. What I never expected was the high degree of race craft demonstrated by the Super Sporting Class drivers who were very aggressive but it gave us a lot of knowledge going into further races in the season.
“Sim racing helps me prepare before coming to a race track and with experienced trainers and a data engineer helping us out in the GAZOO Racing Young Drivers Development Program, I have learnt more about my driving…I want to learn more and proceed further.”
For Jwan, race 2’s dry conditions were well-suited to his driving preference.
“I’m more comfortable in the dry,” said the 18-year-old. “It’s been quite a journey for me coming from karts to saloon car racing. Personally I feel that the simulator sessions have had a huge impact in terms of race craft and consistency.”
Racing to only his second race win in the Sporting Class since joining last season was Haji Sutan Mustaffa Salihin who made a flawless start to lead his 20-lap race from start to finish with a comfortable 4.4 seconds ahead of Eric Yong and Adam Khalid who finished second and third respectively.
“I’m actually speechless because we struggled since the practice session on Friday to get the most ideal set-up for the car. And when we finally found a set-up we were comfortable with, race 1 was unfortunately run in the rain forcing me to make a strategic decision to play it safe and get the car to the finish to try for a better result for race 2 with the reverse grid format that would see starting at the front of the starting grid,” said Haji Sutan.
“My strength has always been with my start and the ability to get a strong launch as we head into the first corner. I managed to do this as planned and from then onwards it was a matter of being precise and consistent throughout the race.”
Preparing for season 4, Sutan made a conscious effort to enhance on fitness stamina and strength. “With the Movement Control Order (MCO), I weighed in at 80kg and that can be a big disadvantage for me especially competing in a class with a lot of younger drivers. I told myself I needed to do something and I began exercising and controlling my diet. I managed to reduce my weight by 15kg and that has been a huge motivational push for me,” said the 49-year-old veteran racer.
The battle of celebrities in the Promotional Class meanwhile, saw actor-comedian Zizan Razak becoming the unexpected hero with two race wins in two races.
“I have to thank Toyota and all my colleagues in the championship. I’ve made new friends and experienced new things, and the race weekend has been phenomenal with the chance of racing in both dry and wet conditions,” said Zizan who finished the 18-lap race with an unassailable eight second gap over second place winner singer Khai Bahar and fellow Vios Challenge newcomer TV presenter Ahirene Ahirudin.
“I expected stiff competition from the very beginning, especially from the likes of Shukri Yahaya and Nabil Ahmad. I knew they were going to be fast because they have the experience of competing in previous seasons but what I can say is my experience so far has been exciting.”
Meanwhile, commenting on his third season competing in the Vios Challenge, Nabil said his journey so far has indeed been a fulfilling one.
“I’ve learnt a lot from my very first race when I tried to beat actress Diana Danielle. Back then I had a hard time controlling my ego which was to not lose to a lady driver. But racing has taught me that it is not all about winning but more importantly the skill and commitment which helps you to evolve into a better racer. In the process, I believe we have all also learnt to become more patient drivers on the road,” said Nabil who despite leading race 2, dropped all the way back to 10th position after a racing incident involving Shukri on the very first lap.
RACE 2 RESULTS
SUPER SPORTING CLASS
1. Tengku Djan Ley – Prima Pearl Auto
2. Boy Wong
3. Mark Darwin – Laser Motor Racing
1. Naquib Azlan
2. Jwan Hii
3. Amer Harris
1. Haji Sutan Mustaffa Salihin
2. Eric Yong
3.Adam Khalid – Crestmax Motorsport
1. Zizan Razak
2. Khai Bahar
3. Ahirene Ahirudin