The finale of the inaugural Vios Challenge – highlight of the Toyota GAZOO Racing (TGR) Racing Festival which began last August – presented nail-biting dramas as all three classes gave the 20,000+ crowd lots of excitement. Due to safety considerations requiring a section of the 1.73-km purpose-built circuit at the Technology Park Malaysia to be repaired, the main races were rescheduled to the second day. This added extra pressure on drivers and teams as there would not be an overnight break to repair anything if there was damage from an incident or a technical issue.
Qualifying sessions had been held the day before in the hot and sunny conditions which were also expected to be the same for race day. The first race was for the Sporting Class which saw young Brendan Paul Anthony from the Dream Chaser team and Brendon Lim of Tedco Racing on the front row, followed by the Nanoplus team’s Patrick Tam on the second row beside Clement Yeo who was fourth on the grid.
As the starting lights turned to green, Brendan Paul made a fantastic start with the other Brendon trailing. Kenneth Koh also made a brilliant start and was locked in on Patrick. By lap 2, the frontrunners were extending their gap from the rest of the pack as Kenneth furiously tried to attack Patrick for third place.
Meanwhile, Brendon’s efforts take the lead from Brendan saw his car hit the wall at Turn 3. He was able to continue but lost his pace. However, he got a temporary reprieve from the chasing pack when the Safety Car (a Toyota Camry Hybrid) was deployed following Shanmuganathan’s crash in Turn 4. After the circuit was cleared and the Safety Car departed from the circuit, the race immediately resumed with only 5 minutes left. This meant that the Sporting Class drivers had less than 3 laps to do better or secure their positions.
As the race continued, Brendon was determined to pass the chequered flag first and despite having a partly damaged car, he relentlessly attacked Brendan and the duo provided some thrilling moments. But the younger Brendan kept his head and held on to his first place win in Race 1 for the class, with Brendon in 2nd and Patrick in 3rd. This meant that the points were reversed and now favoured Brendan who took the lead by just one point.
Resuming from Race 1 in their identical finishing positions, Brendan started from pole position with the other two drivers in the same positions as well. However, the pole sitter who was trying to balance the clutch biting point was caught off guard when the lights turned green and the alert Brendon outran him to the first corner. Kenneth appeared secure in third position and drove steadily to build up a gap of 2 seconds by Lap 2. On the same lap, Brendan saw a chance to move up when Brendon took a wider line at the bumpy last corner. He made a brave dive on the inside going into the right hander and the pair were so close that their cars ‘kissed’. However, the incident was deemed unintentional by the stewards and so no penalty was imposed. The clear road ahead allowed Brendan to pull away for a safer lead position.
The action was then left to the middle of the field Wong Chin Eeg gaining on Dato’ Ken Foo who was defending 6th place. However, Ken was not to hold on for long as Wong made a clean dive on the inside of Turn 4. Dato’ Ken quickly regained his composure to pass Wong on the following straight. Watching the race closely, the stewards subsequently deemed Dato Ken’s prior multiple blocking moves on Wong as unsporting and he was given a warning. To further add to his woes, his position continued to drop and even allowed Ricky Tan to advance and pass.
The excellent wins gave Brendan the deserved championship title in his class despite missing the opening leg in Penang. This young man has a very bright future ahead of him in the racing field.
The Promotional Class, which had well-known celebrities taking part, has been a popular race in the Vios Challenge. Many of the celebrities had fans cheering them on at each round, some coming from far away to give support. Though not professional racers, they had received training prior to the event and made full use of the skills learnt and provided some quality racing. For instance, so quick was Shukri Yahya’s pole position time that he would have been on the second row of the Sporting Class had he been racing in that category. Joining Shukri on the front row was Shawn Lee who undoubtedly had the most wins in the series.
When the race started, there was no stopping Shukri and Shawn as the duo sped away from the grid with Diana Danielle following at speed and already creating a gap with Danny Khoo. As the race entered lap 3, the gap between the leading duo and the rest extended to 5 seconds. Lap 5 saw an even greater performance by Shukri as the gap opened up to 1.4 seconds between him and Shawn. While everything looked comfortable heading to the finish of the race, Shawn found his second wind and on Lap 8, he passed a surprised Shukri going round the final corner and earned himself another win. Diana took the final place on the podium and credited the excellent finish to the support and love of her entire family who had come out to cheer her on in this final event.
For the second race, Shawn sat on pole position and intended to make a fast start to open a safe gap so he could take an easy win. But Shukri wasn’t going to let him have an easy race and made a great pass on the opening lap in Turn 2. Fattah Amin also outmanoeuvred Diana at Turn 3 to displace her from third position in the running order. In fact, Fattah was pushing really hard as he even caught up with Shawn and then passed him a lap later. It was a very hot day and perhaps the beatboxer had lost concentration but he also seemed to have a bit of trouble changing gears. His diminished pace gave Diana the opportunity to pass and dropped him to fourth place. The race thus ended with Shukri taking the chequered flag, Fattah in second and Diana in third, the fastest female driver in the Vios Challenge.
The Super Sporting Class was the race the watch as the veteran drivers competed in this category. These racers needed no prior training as they have had years of experience so the racing was expected to be exciting. Waiting for the championship winner was a brand new Vios, cash and bragging rights as the champ of the first Vios Challenge.
Championship leader Tengku Djan was able to start from his qualifying position of seventh on the grid after rebuilding his engine during the night (a missed shift during qualifying had done severe damage). But his main rival, William Ho, was to start in pole with Kenny Lee in 2nd followed by Boy Wong in 3rd and Ser Ming Hui in 4th place.
Ser got a superb start and had Boy in his sights as the pack charged through the circuit with 9 turns on the opening laps. On Lap 7, he took his chance in Turn 3 to dive inside the ST Wangan driver but didn’t manage to get past. Djan lost some pace as his gap with Mark Darwin as he had suffered power loss from the engine. The battle for Boy 3rd place continued till the final lap when at Turn 3, Ming Hui decided on a ‘make or break’ move and dived in on the inside of the right hander.
The race stewards considered the move unacceptable as there was no gap at all for him to do such a move and imposed a penalty on him for the contact with Boy’s car. He was docked the position and finished in 4th. William eventually won the race and was now leading Djan in the final standings.
However, the make things more interesting, the rules specified that the grid would be reversed for Race 2. Thus it seemed like Djan’s 6th position was a blessing in disguise since he started up front. What it meant was that Djan needed to win while William had to finish no lower than third to secure the title.
The start saw Djan and Mark make a perfect start but Ming Hui was not making going to settle for third and pushed hard… perhaps too hard as he made contact with William Ho going into Turn 1. Undaunted, William then pursued Ming Hui throughout lap 2 and as the chase progressed, a nudge by William saw Ming Hui go into a spin on the back straight.
Keifli Othman was extra passionate this time around as he gave Kenny Lee strong pressure by lap 5. Djan, despite his earlier engine issue, found his pace and opened a gap of over 5 seconds by lap 8 over Mark to comfortably lead the race. However, that was all the ‘Prince of Drift’ could do and he could only hope for troubles by William who was running out of his view.
As Djan took the chequered flag with Mark in second and William Ho in third place, it was thought to be the finishing order. However, that was not to be as the race stewards later deemed William’s continuous contact with Ming Hui unsporting and he was docked two positions in the results. This ultimately cost him the championship in the Super Sporting Class and Djan was crowned the overall winner.
And so the first season of the Vios Challenge has ended but word from UMW Toyota Motor is that there will be a second season and it will start during the third quarter of this year. The one-make, one-model format makes for exciting and close racing, which is what spectators want to see. Races where there are a few cars always up front tend to become boring after a while. In the Vios Challenge, the identical specifications and power of the cars means that success relies largely on driver skill and of course, luck also plays a part.