After starting in Penang and then moving to Serdang, outside Kuala Lumpur, the venue for the third running of the Toyota GAZOO Racing (TGR) Racing Festival is in the south this weekend (January 19/20) at Medini, the Smart City in Johor’s Iskandar sector.

As in the two previous events, the highlight is the Vios Challenge One-Make Race which is run on a specially-prepared closed circuit. The first two circuits were different from each other with the Penang one at Batu Kawan having many tight corners while the second one at MAEPS in Serdang was more open. At Medini City for the third round, the circuit is faster and wider with 8 turns and a total lap length of 1.91 kms.

The cars run in an anti-clockwise direction and with the extra width, up to 3 lanes are in many sections of the track, giving the drivers lots of room to build up their speed and to make passing moves.

The Vios Challenge has three different classes – Sporting, Super Sporting and Promotional. The latter class has local celebrities participating and has proven to be a big crowd-puller as fans line the track to watch their favourite celebrity racing.

The opening race of today started with the Sporting Class which saw the young Brendan Anthony of the Dream Chaser Team who took his debut win in MAEPS last January, qualify in pole position. When the lights went out for the start of the race, it was a long drag down the front straight. Brendan tried covering the inside line but Patrick Tham from Team Nanoplus made a great start from the fourth row to charge for the inside line. However, under hard braking for Turn 1, Patrick went deep, tapping Brendan and pushing him into the outside wall. In the melee, Dato’ Ken Foo who came in on the blind side sent Patrick into the inside wall, bringing out the red flag.

The cars then formed the grid for a restart without Patrick and Clement whose car suffered damage and had to call in to the pits. Brendan tried to cover the inside line on the restart but feeling that his car was not tracking straight after the incident, he hit the brakes early, allowing Wong Chin Eeg into the lead from the outside.

Kenneth Koh who started 4th made a brave dive on the inside of Dato’ Ken Foo into Turn 4 but he clipped the inside and caused his front bumper to flail. Thankfully, it remained attached and the stewards deemed his car fit to continue.

Brendan meanwhile dropped to sixth but as his confidence began returning, he began picking off the competition in the following laps until Lap 5 when the safety car came on to the circuit after Goh Eng Peng made a rare mistake and hit the Turn 1 wall.

After 3 laps of leading the field, the Camry Hybrid Safety Car departed into the pits and with the drafting and momentum built up thanks to the long front straight, Kenneth made a brilliant charge to take 2nd from Brendon Lim. A recovering Brandon then passed his namesake in brilliant style on Lap 10 and began to chase down Kenneth. By Lap 13, he was on the tail of Koh’s Panglima City race car.

Kenneth kept his cool to protect his line. This allowed Chin Eeg to run away at the front. However, on the final lap, Chin Eeg lost concentration and outbraked himself in Turn 4. As he recovered, the pair showed up and they went into the tight Turn 5 hairpin together. The trio then made a desperate drag to the finish line three abreast but it was Chin Eeg who works as a Service Manager for Toyota’s Heiwa Auto Gallery in Tebrau, Johor who took his maiden win ahead of Brendan who managed to pip Kenneth to the line.

In the Promotional Class, it appeared to be status quo with Shawn Lee, Shukri Yahaya and Danny Koo starting the race in that order but it was Diana Danielle who made a brilliant start and made it past Danny while Shukri went in pursuit of Shawn.

This being the wet season, it was not unexpected when rain began to fall on some parts of the circuit. This made negotiating the corners less predictable and as Danny tried to regain his place on the podium, he braked a bit too late at a hairpin and caused Diana to spin out. The damage was enough to make her retire from the race.

Meanwhile, Janna Nick was in great form and she passed Fattah to claim third, her highest position so far. Unbeknownst to them, Danny Koo who was ahead, was slapped with a drive-through penalty for his incident with Diana but as he missed the window to pull in for the penalty, he was excluded from the race results.

This left Janna to fight for her first podium opportunity but with the rain getting heavier in some parts of the track, she made a mistake 2 laps from the finish, touching a wall which resulted in a slow leak in one of the tyres. As she had to back off to be safe, Fattah then took a podium finish with Shukri and Shawn on the top steps.

The premier Super Sporting class promised to be explosive and it certainly lived up to its billing. Early favourites Mark Darwin and Mitchell Cheah had to skip the official drivers’ briefing and practice on Thursday as they had to attend a driver selection programme in Sepang. This meant that not only were they seeing the circuit for the first time during qualifying, they were penalized and dropped to the tail end of the field. The looming clouds meant that rainmaster William Ho who was on pole could look forward to running away with the race.

While the pack made it through Turn 1 safely, Tengku Djan who started in Row 2 in his Team Nanoplus car tangled with Kenny Lee in the fast Turn 2. Djan went sideways and speared Akina Teo’s Mudah Racing car, sending his car into the barrier, blocking off the circuit. Darwin was another victim of the crash and he once again retired from the race.

The Safety Car was immediately deployed but as the skies opened up with a torrential downpour, the field was bunched behind it for 11 laps before the Race Director deemed the conditions safe for racing to resume. On Lap 12, the field was allowed to go racing but with rain continuing to fall, the drivers took minimal risk and everyone maintained their positions to avoid any damage and fight another day. With the 30-minute race duration run, the chequered flag appeared on Lap 16 with William Ho winning the race with Boy Wong and Syafiq Ali rounding up the podium.

The racing continues tomorrow with the starting positions reversed for the top six cars. This means that the excitement continues with Keifli Othman starting from Pole position with Tengku Djan beside him. With the weather expected to be hot and sunny on Saturday, the quality of racing is expected to yield even greater excitement.

Besides the Vios Challenge, there are also many other activities and performances for all the family at the TGR Racing Festival. Media Prima’s artistes will be present and whenever you get hungry, there’s a food street with all kinds of snacks and food to keep you going throughout the day. There will also be an exciting tyre-smoking display of precision driving (below) by two top drifters from Japan – Masato Kawabata and Hideyuki Fujino. The celebrities who are racing will also have sessions to meet their fans.

This being a Toyota event, there will obviously be an opportunity to view and test-drive a wide range of models at the site. There’s even a chance for visitors to win a brand new Vios Sports Edition styled just like the racing cars used in the Vios Challenge. Visitors just need to ask for an entry form and answer a few simple questions and submit the form. The correctly answered forms will then be eligible to win the Vios Sports Edition which is worth RM85,300.

To know more about the TGR Racing Festival this weekend, click here.

[Chips Yap]

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