The inaugural Vios Challenge turned out to be a baptism of sorts for the racing drivers as heavy afternoon rain made the purpose-built circuit next to the Batu Kawan Stadium in Penang a tricky and challenging experience. Whether they were veterans like Tengku Djan and Boy Wong, or celebrities like Shawn Lee and Janna Nick who had never raced before, the 1.65-km long circuit was totally new.
The weather forced the two scheduled races for the day to be delayed by the Race Director for safety reasons. However, when they were run, the spectators which numbered around 10,800 got exciting action as the specially-prepared Vios racing cars sped around the two-lane track.
The spectators had started arriving at the site located near the second Penang Bridge early in the day as there were many activities before the races as part of the first Toyota GAZOO Racing (TGR) Racing Festival to be held in Malaysia. The activities included drift performances by two top Japanese drivers, precision driving with Toyota vehicles, exhibitions by the various event partners, celebrity meet-and-greet sessions, stage shows, and games.
Also on display for the first time in this part of Malaysia was the Toyota C-HR, an all-new compact SUV which will be launched in 2018. While the C-HR showed the future of Toyota models, there was also a fleet of the legendary Toyota AE86 Levin/Trueno models which gathered for public display (below). This model, sold in the 1980s, was made famous by the ‘InitialD’ series and is a much sought after sportscar.
Following qualifying sessions held earlier, the Sporting Category featuring 16 Vios racing cars started under the control of the Safety Car (a Toyota Camry) before the drivers were allowed to go flat out a lap later. Ken Foo from the Dream Chaser Team who began in pole position controlled the race together with Brendon Lim of Team Maxx N Go and the pair gradually pulled out a gap over third-placed Patrick Tam.
The pace began to improve as the race progressed and by lap 8, the confidence level of the drivers was clear as most of the top ten drivers were clocking similar lap times around 1:26 a lap even in damp conditions.
The close racing got the better of Teoh Khai Lin who braked too hard going into Turn 7 on Lap 11 and nudged Dream Chaser’s Eric Yong who was holding on to fourth position.
After Eric was sent into the barriers, the Safety Car had to come out for 3 laps and when they went racing again, it was a sprint to the finish line with just a lap remaining as the race had taken up the scheduled 25-minute duration.
The Promotional Category which saw the participation of 10 celebrities was run 30 minutes later. It opened in similarly wet conditions with Shawn Lee starting behind the Pace Car from the pole position he earned in qualifying earlier. Fattah Amin, who started alongside him, did not manage to capitalize on his great grid position as Shukri Yahaya who started from third on the grid, bravely stuck his car on the inside of Turn 1 and picked up the runners-up spot.
Venice Min who started in seventh also made a great start and managed to climb into sixth before the end of Lap 1. Shawn was quick to settle down in the light drizzle and he opened up a gap of over two seconds to Shukri by Lap 8. Fattah however was giving Shukri no breathing space and he kept the pressure on all the way till Lap 10 when Venice clipped a kerb at the exit of Turn 9 which slowly deflated her front right tyre.
Going into Turn 11, the deflated tyre pushed her deep into the braking zone and she nudged Jannah Nick into the barriers, causing them to retire from the race. The incident brought the Safety Car out as the marshals sorted out the cars. From the many messages of sympathy on Facebook Live, it was clear that Janna had many fans watching her racing.
At the restart, Fattah Amin made a daring attempt to dive inside Shukri but the move caused him to clip the kerb and although he bumped Shukri’s car in the process, he came out the worse from the incident and had to retire with a broken rim. This left Danny Koo with the third position although he finished 12 seconds behind leading duo.
More racing action will continue tomorrow with the two Super Sporting category races that feature many top racers including Tengku Djan who will begin from Pole ahead of Mark Darwin and Shafiq Ali who are in 2nd and 3rd positions on the grid respectively.