Close racing is a strong feature in the Toyota Vios Challenge and for the second season which started in August in Kuala Terengganu, there’s more of the same as competitors battle each other in cars which have identical performance. For the second round, the venue is the Malaysian Agro Exposition Park Serdang – referred to as MAEPS – located to the south of Kuala Lumpur.

The purpose-built circuit, complete with safety features, is 1.99 kms long and has 17 turns. There are uphill and downhill stretches which present challenges and with all the cars having similar performance, it’s sheer driving skill that can bring victory.

As before, the event has 3 classes – Promotional, Sporting and Super Sporting – with the Promotional class being a crowd-puller as the racers are local celebrities as well as the Deputy Chairman of UMW Toyota Motor, Akio Takeyama (who also competed in the first season). Although rain was expected, the whole day was dry, sunny and hot which perhaps made for less dramatic moments but the racing was still exciting nevertheless.

Television host and presenter Nabil Ahmad was in commanding form in race 1 of the Promotional class when he drove to his first race win of the season, finishing the 18-lap race almost 2 seconds ahead of actress Diana Danielle, followed by singer Aiman Tino in third place.

Nabil (in car No. 83 above) had qualified on pole position after setting a blistering time and capitalized on his front row start to lead into the first corner. “The plan from the start was to not allow Diana to overtake… she is fiercely competitive! It was pure luck if you ask me because my rims broke but did not puncture the tyre and I was able to pace myself to the chequered flag,” said Nabil.

Diana 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 take him on 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!” she added.

Aiman was however, the biggest surprise of the day when he muscled his way to overtake 4 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 understeer and from then on, it was more of conserving the tyres and focusing on finishing the race,” said the 20-year-old.

The qualifying session wasn’t so good for Akim Ahmad as he went into the wall but he managed to get his car repaired in time for the race.
Wany Hasrita was less lucky though as she was pushed into the wall during the race today.

Completing the top five were Akim Ahmad and 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 during lap 7 after being pushed into the wall.

In the Sporting Class, Kenneth Koh had 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 en route 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 (in Car No. 28 below). “At the end of the day, it was all about a balance of driving sensibly and not being foolish as that would force me into an error, and saving the tyres.”

For Lim, forgetting to switch off the air-conditioning had cost him dearly. “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 power,” he admitted.

“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 Kenneth, 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, Kenneth 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 (in Car No. 10 above), 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 I was on the two front-runners. 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 3 drivers while at the same time, having to fend off celebrity Shukri Yahaya who was practically ‘glued’ to the rear bumper of his Toyota Vios. Shukri, who races in the Promotional class last year, 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 Shukri.

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 class for experienced and veteran racers. The gap from Ho was just over half a second when he 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 (in Car No. 21 below).

For second-placed 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 Boy 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.

Brendon Paul meanwhile, is happy with third place today although he could not make the most of starting from the front row of the grid in second position. “I had too much wheelspin 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 Brendon who drives for Team Dream Chaser.

Visitors checking out the new Toyota Rush and experiencing the Pre Collision System which automatically brakes the vehicle if the driver fails to do so when a collision is imminent (below)

The Vios Challenge is the highlight of the Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR) Racing Festival which brings many facets of Toyota to the public. At this event, there’s the all-new Toyota Rush SUV which has just been launched and besides learning about its advanced safety features like the Pre Collision system, there’s also an opportunity to take it for a test-drive. Other Toyota models are available for test-drives as well.

Besides performances on stage, there was even a demonstration on how to make sushi today!
Fans of the celebrity racers have a chance to meet them in between races.
If all the excitement and fun makes you hungry and thirsty, there are lots of food trucks with a variety of food and drinks.
Two top drivers from Japan show off their drifting skills.

There are stage performances to keep visitors entertained throughout the day and special areas for little ones while the bigger ones can go racing with the simulators. Also adding to the excitement is a drift performance by two highly-skilled drivers from Japan using Toyota 86 sportscars.

The event continues tomorrow with a second round of races and every competitor will be looking to improve their positions in the 4-round championship. After this round, the next one will be held at a site next to the Batu Kawan stadium in Penang (same as the first season) and the finale will be at the Sepang International Circuit in April 2019.

Click here to find out what one lap of the MAEPS circuit is like.

[Chips Yap]

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