It was another weekend of thrills and spills at the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival for the Toyota Vios Challenge fans as competitors in the Promotional, Sports and Super Sports categories battled each other for top honours on the short and tight 1.99 kilometre circuit carved out of the MAEPS complex roads and car parks.
Each of the categories had two races for the weekend, the first being on Saturday followed by another on Sunday.
Race 1 on Saturday
In the Promotional Class, Television host and presenter Nabil Ahmad took command of the race in Race 1 to win his first race of the season, starting on pole and driving intelligently, pacing actress Diana Danielle perfectly to preserve his Vios and stay away from the threatening concrete barriers to finish a little under two seconds ahead.
“The plan from the start was to not allow Diana to overtake, and she was fiercely competitive. It was pure luck if you ask me because my rims broke but it did not puncture the tyre and I was able to pace myself to the chequered flag,” said the Astro Gegar Vaganza host.
Diana meanwhile, was in top form all throughout the practice session on Friday and qualified second fastest.
“The condition of the track is so much better now compared to when we raced here during the first season and that raised my confidence level a lot. I know Nabil is very passionate about racing, he loves speed and racing, and the opportunity to go head on with him in the race is a real challenge for me,” said Diana.
“I had a very strong intuition that Aiman would somehow be up there at front and true enough, this ‘Speedy Gonzales’ climbed into third despite starting from seventh position on the grid and that just piled on the pressure even more. At the end of the day, my female spirit came out because Nabil was ahead of me and Aiman was behind – I basically didn’t want to be bullied this time.”
Aiman was however, the biggest surprise of the day when he muscled his way to overtake four cars at the start to climb from seventh on the grid to third place by the time he reached the first corner.
“I did my best to chase Diana and Nabil at the front but midway through the race I began experiencing severe under steer and from then on it was more of conserving the tyres and focusing on finishing the race,” said the 20-year-old.
Completing the top five were Akim Ahmad and UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd Deputy Chairman Akio Takeyama, while Khai Bahar, Janna Nick and Nabila Razali crossed the line in sixth, seventh and eighth position respectively.
Singer and recently-crowned Anugerah Bintang Popular winner Wany Hasrita retired from the race in lap 7 after being pushed into the wall.
In the Sporting Class, Kenneth Koh too made a brilliant start from second place on the grid to win race 1 ahead of pole position man Brendon Lim and Dato’ Ken Foo who clinched third position.
Koh took advantage of Lim’s poor start to lead the race from start to finish in what was essentially a “three-car train” to the finish and enroute to his first race win of the season.
“We got a new set-up for the car this weekend and it performed very well,” said Koh. “At the end of the day it was all about a balance of driving sensibly, not being foolish that would force me into an error, and saving the tyres.”
Brendon Lim, on pole in the Sports category made the careless mistake of forgetting to switch off his air-conditioner before the start of the race – this was to cost him dearly, as Kenneth Koh from second grid easily got past to enter turn one first, and thereafter led all the way to win the category.
“I had a good start but somehow it was not good enough…I believe the air-conditioning was on during the start and that caused the loss of a bit of horsepower. MAEPS however, is a very interesting track and throughout the race, the conditions keep changing and you have to find ways to adapt to go even faster. Although I managed to stay close to Koh, I had to look after my front left tyre, making sure that it cooled down enough before I pushed but unfortunately, by the time I did this, Koh was also increasing his pace at the front. Towards the end of the race it was more about running away from Foo who was behind me,” said Lim.
Foo who came in third, just a second behind, ran a generally trouble-free race despite having to recover from a nudge he received from behind on the second lap.
“At the beginning of the race I was concentrating too much on the driver behind me than on the two frontrunners. Eventually, I told myself, just forget about the back and just concentrate on the front. It was a good race that I really enjoyed,” said Foo who also drove to his first podium finish of the season.
That nudge, came from 14-year-old Hayden Haikal who started from fourth place on the grid and had driven a remarkable race in hot pursuit of the top three drivers while at the same time, having to fend off celebrity Mohd Shukri Yahaya who was practically “glued” to the rear bumper of his Toyota Vios. Mohd Shukri eventually succeeded in passing Hayden for fourth place one lap before the end of the race.
“With a new team of mechanics, we initially took a bit of time to find the best set-up for the car this weekend and we were fortunate to have been able to qualify fifth. I made a good start and tried to stay with the leading pack of drivers but they were extremely competitive drivers,” said Mohd Shukri.
“The goal for tomorrow’s race 2 will be to keep my cool and hopefully finish the race with valuable points.”
Pole position man Boy Wong kept his cool to drive a composed race from start to finish and fight off stiff competition from series leader William Ho in the Super Sporting class, completing his race with a time of 26 minutes: 14.296 seconds. The gap was just over half a second when both drivers crossed the finish line, with Brendan Paul Anthony claiming third position a further six seconds adrift.
“The car was very good this first race and I would like to thank my team for the support in helping to find a good set-up to tackle this extremely challenging track,” said Wong.
For second place winner Ho who has since scored three podium finishes in three races (he finished first and second in Kuala Terengganu in August), conceding victory for valuable points consolidates his position in the overall point standings.
“I consider myself lucky…returning to MAEPS for a second season, many of the drivers are already familiar with the track and the type of set-up the car requires and this is proven with Wong setting a new track record. I tried not to make any mistake during the race because my focus is now on getting as many points as possible to help my championship hopes,” said the Kegani Racing Team driver.
Brendan Paul meanwhile, is happy with third place although he could not make the most of starting from the front row of the grid in second position.
“I had too much wheel spin and that caused a very bad start. It’s something very new for me (competing in the Super Sporting class after winning last year’s Sporting class) because I am up against more experienced drivers now, said Brendan who drives for Team Dream Chaser.
Race 2 on Sunday
On Sunday, the atmosphere was tense – the drivers had been trying to stay out of trouble the previous day, wanting to preserve their cars for the day 2 onslaught. On Day 2, it was a different story – points were there for the taking, and there would be time to repair damage, if any. On such a tight circuit, touching another car during an overtaking move, or even attempting an overtaking move, is almost a given, but without another race due for a couple of months, the drivers were a little more ‘aggressive’.
In the Super Sporting category, a close encounter with Freddie Ang in turn 2 resulted in William Ho’s Vios landing on its roof. Ho waved at fans as he walked away unhurt from the incident but the race was delayed by 30 minutes as officials worked to remove the wreckage that was blocking the track and to rectify the damaged barrier.
During the restart of the race, Ang who started from second on the grid made a brilliant start to get ahead of pole position man Kenny Lee, with Brendan Paul Anthony in hot pursuit in third place. Lee however, piled on the pressure trying to find a way through and eventually forced Ang into making a costly mistake two laps later when he hit the concrete barrier, coincidentally at the very exact corner (turn 2).
The second incident brought out the safety car for three laps with Lee promoted into the lead, Brendan in second position, race 1’s winner Boy Wong in third position, Ser Meng Hui in fourth and Keifli Othman rounding up the top five positions.
“Ng had a better getaway during the restart but we actually rubbed each other side to side gently, but it was clean and he went past me in the first corner and I had to back off…he was defending hard and made a mistake collided into the wall and from then on, all over my rearview mirror was Brendan,” said Lee, who races for Kegani Racing.
The racers in the Sporting Class were not to be outdone and put on an equally nail-biting race. At the start of the race, Team Nanoplus driver Patrick Tam shot ahead of the field from pole position to lead the race from Distinctive Model’s Clement Yeo, Prodigy Racing’s 14-year-old Hayden Haikal, ST Wangan Racing Team’s Eric Yong, Kulim Top Wheels driver Dato Ken Foo and celebrity Mohd Shukri Yahaya in sixth position. Foo, race 1’s third place winner however, was handed a 10 second penalty for a false start offence and was eventually classified eighth despite finishing the race fourth.
As Tam increased his pace at the head of the pack, Yeo had his hands full trying to fend off Hayden for six laps until the teenager made an attempt to pass him for second place resulting in contact. Yeo was prepared for the eventuality of contact and had taken the appropriate counter measure but Hayden had the most to lose as he not only conceded track position to race 1’s winner Kenneth Koh but was later served a 10-second time penalty. Koh’s third place was however, short lived when he was called into the pit to repair a damaged rear bumper resulting from the earlier contact with Hayden.
An incident involving Adzeem Eqwan Adnan in the 6th lap, brought out the safety car for five laps and when the race was back underway, Tam led from Yeo, with Yong in third place, Dannies Ng of Revo Technik Malaysia in fourth, Brendon Lim in fifth and Mohd Shukri crossing the finish line in sixth position.
“It was a good race and I would like to thank my entire team for a great result,” said Tam.
For Yeo meanwhile, the result was an excellent way to end the weekend. “My earlier game plan was to get ahead into the first corner but Tam was even quicker. There was no point pushing too hard and it was best to pace myself to bring the car home safely to the end of the race,” he said.
Racing in the Promotional class also brought out the best in the celebrities who put on a thrilling race for the fans, with singer Aiman Tino clinching his first race victory and second consecutive podium finish over the weekend following yesterday’s third place finish.
Although the 20-year-old was placed third position on the grid, he again repeated his remarkable start to lead the race into the first corner, with fellow singer Akim Ahmad in close pursuit and UMW Toyota Motor Sdn Bhd Deputy Chairman Akio Takeyama in third. In chase and fourth place was race 1’s winner television host and presenter Nabil Ahmad and actress Diana Danielle in fifth.
“Like yesterday, my focus has always been on trying to get a good start,” said Aiman. “I felt a lot of pressure with Akim, Takeyama and Nabil chasing me down but I was able to keep my cool and gradually extend my lead in the race.”
The top five positions remained unchanged for three laps until Takeyama was handed a 10-second penalty for a starting offence, and later involved in an incident when Nabil’s overtaking move sent him into the concrete barrier, bringing out the safety car. Nabil crossed the finish line in third place but was subsequently served a 20-second penalty classifying him sixth. That promoted Diana into third place for her second podium finish.
“The result in race 2 was really unexpected because honestly, I wasn’t 100 per cent focused in race 2 and I even struggled to make a good start. I really wanted to relax and take it easy, but I almost panicked after seeing the incident between Nabil and Takeyama happen in front of me…I was lucky I managed to avoid hitting Takeyama’s car,” said Diana.
“I finished fourth in the race but I got to know that I’ve been classified as third. I really don’t know what’s going on right now and I am still in shock with the results.”
For Nabil, the incident with Takeyama was extremely difficult to digest, so much so he slowed down at turn 2 on the very next lap with the intent on apologizing, forgetting that there was still a race going on behind him.
“I would just like to say very sorry to Takeyama as I may have pushed myself a little too hard in the haste of trying to get past him,” said a clearly distraught Nabil.
Janna Nick finished fourth, Wany Hasrita crossed the finish line in fifth while Nabila Razali and Khai Bahar completed the 14-lap race in seventh and eighth positions respectively.