It was another exciting weekend for race fans and car fans alike at the third and penultimate round of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival held on a temporary street circuit in Medini City, Johor Bahru.
As usual there was the Toyota Gazoo Festival with road shows of automotive products and entertainment, including public sessions and autograph cum photo sessions with the Malaysian Celebrities who were participating in the Promotional Category races. There were food trucks selling great food and drinks, plenty of give-aways to visitors to the festival, including door gifts for those who test drove the array of Toyota models.
I went down principally to cover the Toyota Gazoo Racing Vios Challenge, and this was the third round of the four round championship. Again, I was not disappointed, as there was plenty of action.
The Medini City track is a cordoned off section of the roads around Medini City, very near to Puteri Harbour. This time the track is 2.0 kilometres long, with only six turns, made up of four 90-degree turns, one U-Turn, and one chicane. This is so far the fastest track ever for the Vios Challenge Series, and the drivers were all very pleased that they could go much faster now, compared to the previous two circuits. However, higher speeds mean more damage in the event of a crash, as many of the drivers would find out during the course of the weekend.
The weekend also posed challenges for the past race winners, as they have to carry ‘ballast’ or weights in the car – technically, these weights make the car slower and harder to drive, and the ballast is cumulative throughout the series. This means the more times you win, the more weight you have to carry – a sort of handicap system to make it as level a playing field as possible.
Lessons Learnt from Previous Rounds – Duct Tape & More Screws
Doing my rounds in the pits prior to the race, I noted that some of the drivers have just discovered the most well-kept secret amongst rally drivers – the use of duct tape. In the previous two rounds, races have been lost and won over bumpers that were hanging loose, but dragging along behind the car as a result of contact with other cars. The saddest case was that of Tengku Djan, leading the race, but as a result of a Turn 1 incident at MAEPS, he had a rear bumper dragging along the road, and the race marshals had to call him in to get it removed – that cost him his first place.
Come this round, there must have been some input by the rally veterans, and not only did I see plenty of duct tape, but additional self-tapping screws added on. The screws would have helped to keep the bumpers attached in the event of a hit, but they probably wouldn’t be able to hold so well as the plastic would just rip where the screws are holding the parts down – duct tape, on the other hand, would keep the bumpers glued onto the main body even if all the screws broke.
Day 1 Races – More Surprise Winners
In the Sporting Category (for drivers who have raced before somewhere, but have not won any major race), a new winner emerged. Starting from third on the grid, Wong Chin Eng inherited the lead after a first lap crash at turn one resulted in a red flag and a restart. Wong drove a steady race, pacing himself to just stay ahead of the ongoing battle for second spot happening right behind him. In fact a partial loss of concentration towards the end nearly saw him being overtaken in a three car race to the flag. Fortunately luck was on his side, and Wong was the first to cross the flag. Speaking at the press conference after the race, Wong revealed that he was actually the service manager at a Toyota outlet in Johore Bahru, and said, very happily, that he never expected to win.
In Second place was Brendan Paul Anthony who was on pole at the start. Unfortunately Brendan was involved in the first lap crash – Brendan was halfway through Turn 1 when he was hit from behind. After the restart, Brendan had to work his way up from down the field to finish a very credible second.
The happiest driver for the day would be Kenneth Koh, who started from eighth on the grid and after the Turn 1 fracas, found himself in second position and held it for most of the race, until Brendan overtook him in the last 500 metres before the finish.
The sad story of the day belongs to Clement Yeo – starting from second on the grid, Clement got caught out in the Turn 1 accident, and ended up last on the track at the restart. Working his way up the field, Clement put on a valiant drive to finish eighth.
Day 1, Promotional Category: Intermittent Rain Fails to Dampen Shawn Lee
In the Promotional (Celebrity) Category Race for today, Shawn Lee drove a superb race to finish first yet again. Just before the race, he told me that the mistake at the MAEPS round cost him dearly, and said that he had made a promise to himself not to make the same mistake of being too excited. A passing thunderstorm had part of the track wet during the race but that did not dampen his spirit. A spin by Diana Danielle on lap 4 saw the Safety Car come out, and the race resumed a lap later.
With the gaps closed up again once the Safety Car left the track, Shawn managed to stave off a strong challenge from Shukri Yahaya. At one point, the two cars touched at the hairpin just before the start straight, but Shawn was cool enough to shake it off and maintain his lead until the end of the race.
Day 1, Super Sporting Category – Turn 1 Incident Again Turns Fates Around
In the Super Sporting Category, another Turn 1 incident Tengku Djan, running a heavily weighted down car being pushed by another car behind him going through Turn 1 – this caused a spin for Djan’s Car No 12. Mark Darwin, in Car 25, following close behind was unfortunate to end up hitting Djan head-on. Safety Car was deployed, and after the race resumed, Djan managed to limp home in 5th place, but Mark Darwin’s race was ended. The damage was severe enough to make Mark a non-starter for the next day.
Akina Teo also suffered a retirement after sustaining severe damage – trying to stay clean and clear of the carnage in front, he kept to the left side of the track, but suffered collateral damage when he got pushed against the wall and had to retire after one lap.
With Safety car on track, the rules do not allow any overtaking, and to make things worse, torrential rain started to pour down on the track. With ponding occurring at many places, and visibility down to a few metres, the Safety Car stayed on for more than 8 laps.
Safety Car went in after the rain slowed down to a drizzle, and the racers managed a few laps, but again the wet track saw some casualties, and Mother Nature again decided that Medini need more rain, with worsening conditions, – Safety Car came out again and the race ended with the Safety Car out in front.
Whatever it is, a win is a win, and a jubilant William Ho took the chequered flag. Boy Wong had a good start, and after the Turn 1 incident, found himself in second place, which he held to the end.
The race ended pretty much in the same order as how the cars ended up after lap 1. Syafiq Ali took the last podium position, while Kenny Lee was in fourth. Tengku Djan’s fifth position would give him some valuable points. Keifli Othman managed to be placed sixth, with Ser Ming Hui trailing home in seventh.
Day 2, Toyota Gazoo Racing Vios Challenge
All the excitement that happened on Day 1 was at Turn 1, with two red flags to stop two races due to incidents here – so of course on Day 2 I was there bright and early – I had been told there was no vantage point at Turn 1, and unlike the circuit at MAEPS, there was no ‘photographer’s ‘tower’. There was one such tower for the official video team, but none for us media – I certainly hope the organizers will not forget us the next time – a tower with some shelter would be great – it will be hot, and if it rains, we will be running for cover, not so much for ourselves, but the camera equipment. Anyway, for Day 2, I went live on FB, and many of our fans enjoyed that part, including some footage of some crashes and mishaps. (If you are interested in the footage, please go to my FB page: YS Khong).
Sporting Category Race 2
In the Sporting Category for Race 2 on Day 2, Brendan Paul Anthony took sweet revenge when he passed Wong Chin Eng to take the lead early in the race and held it until the end of the race. Kenneth Koh drove a steady race to finish third, with Brendan Lin of Team Tedco hounding him for most of the race.
There were battles all throughout the order, and after the four leaders, there was a three car battle for fifth position, but the most exciting battle was for eighth position – Clement Yeo, very unhappy from a first corner shunt on Day 1 which resulted in him being relegated to the end of the field, started eighth on the grid, and was fighting with three other cars to retain his position. On lap 12, Clement attempted to out-brake Shanmuganathan Arumugam who had worked his way up the order, locked his front wheels and went straight into the barriers, taking out Shanmuganathan at the same time. Patrick Tam also suffered a retirement after making contact with another car.
Promotional Category (Celebrity Race) Race 2
In the promotional category, Shawn Lee started from pole position, lost the lead briefly to Shukri Yahya, but managed to regain it to win again. Shawn is an extremely talented driver, and considering that this is his first season, he is doing very well, and clocking lap times that are only a second off the fastest times in the Sporting and Super Sporting categories.
Shukri Yahya took a very well-deserved second place, while Fattah Amin took third place honours. A very happy Geraldine Gan took fourth place followed by Akio Takeyama in fifth while Diana Danielle ended up sixth.
The highlight of the race was when Janna Nick failed to make turn 1, and under-steered straight into the barriers. Miraculously, she managed to stay mobile, and limped through to finish the race in seventh position. The crowds around where I stood in Turn 1 were clearly moved by her gutsy spirit and cheered her on loudly every time she went by.
Super Sporting Category Race 2
In the Super Sporting Category, I was given piece of paper that stated the starting grid positions for Race 2 of the Super Sporting Category would be according to the order in which Race 1 was finished. This was the same as what was practiced for the Promotional and sporting Categories. However, the order was switched, with 6th place finisher of Race 1 (Keifli Othman) taking pole position, and Tengku Djan inheriting second place on the grid.
Out there in Turn 1, I was not notified on the change, and it was only after seeing Keifli’s FB posting that I realized he was on pole for the race.
Anyway, Keifli Othman kept all the others at bay to finish in first position. Tengku Djan was carrying a lot of ballast (weights put into the car to increase the weight as a result of previous race placings), and struggled to stay in second place. Strategically, he would be in a strong position on points going into the final round, so it made good sense not to try any heroics, and just romp home in second behind Keifli who was far down the order insofar as points were concerned.
The problem for Djan really was Syafiq Ali, who was hot on Djan’s tail for most of the race. Djan also suffered brake overheating from the 10th lap onwards, and had to slow down to give his brakes a chance to cool down. As a result, Syafiq Ali got closer, and tried a last lap out-braking move at Turn 1, actually getting past Djan going into the turn, but with massive under-steer going into the turn, it gave Djan an opportunity to take back his position immediately. Further on, there was contact again, but this time Syafiq Ali got the worst of it, allowing Ho William who was trailing some 10 seconds behind to slot into third place. Syafiq managed to nurse his car to take fourth, but had to park on the track after the finish line.
It was a Super Weekend At Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival
It was a super weekend at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival event. The Medini City track is possibly the best track so far – the drivers enjoyed the higher average speeds and the wider roads. Here’s looking forward to the next and final event in Selangor – I understand that the track would be again at MAEPS, but it is not confirmed.