With the second season of the Toyota CAZOO Racing (TGR) Racing Festival and Vios Challenge, UMW Toyota Motor decided to bring the action to the East Coast where two days of action and fun for all the family would take place at Kuala Terengganu. As the ‘weekend’ for the state falls on Friday and Saturday, the event was run on those two days rather than Saturday and Sunday, as would be the case at the west coast venues.

A huge crowd turned up for the second day which was not surprising since an event such as the TGR Racing Festival has never been presented there before. The Vios Challenge race was, of course, the big draw, especially with popular local celebrities taking part. Motorsports are not unknown to people in Kuala Terengganu and there are even local events held there but with the Vios Challenge, all the cars have identical performance (and they are checked before and after the race to ensure that they have not been modified) so driver skill makes a big difference rather than power.

Furthermore, the 1.65-km track that was created in the compound of the Stadium Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin was also totally new, so no competitors would have the advantage of past experience on it. This meant that they had only a day of practice to look for the optimum lines through corners. For this first round of the season, there was also the possibility of rain which would make things more ‘interesting’. However, it did not fall on the first day but came late in the afternoon on the second day.

The first Vios Challenge race of the second day was for the Super Sporting Class which has professional and experienced racers. This group of 14 drivers has had past experience racing and even winning races so they were put together to allow those with less experience and newcomers to have a chance to win in their own class (Sporting Class).

Because the track was short, and not very wide, opportunities for passing are limited so the moment the green lights went on, there was a rush to the first corner to try to get ahead of the pack as early as possible. Jostling for position, drivers Keifli Othman and Kenny Lee, and the latter’s car slammed into the concrete barrier. Both drivers had to retire early as their cars were too severely damaged. The incident resulted in the opening 3 laps of the 22-lap race seeing the Toyota Camry Hybrid Safety Car leading the car around at a safe pace as track officials rushed to clear the debris.

Even with their cars damaged, some drivers still continued to try to complete the race.
The racing in the Vios Challenge is close… sometimes too close!

When the race was got underway again, the battle up front was between M7 Racing Team’s Syafiq Ali who had started from pole position, Mark Darwin of Dream Chaser, and Race 1’s winner William Ho who despite starting from sixth position and the fourth row of the grid, was fortunate to have not only avoided but took advantage of the incident.

With less than a second separating the top 3 drivers, William piled on the pressure in the opening stages of the race, first claiming second position from Mark before pushing hard in trying to get past Syafiq. The action between William and Syafiq had spectators at the edge of their seats for at least 10 laps but Syafiq kept his cool and focus, and gradually opened his lead as he raced for the chequered flag.

“This was a fantastic result for both the team and I. This is my first race victory. My best last season was only in second place,” said Syafiq. “Being at the front, I only needed to make sure that I kept my cool and try to build as much distance between me and the cars behind, and that was precisely what I did.”

With a win in Race 1 and a second place in Race 2, Revo Technik Malaysia’s William concluded Round 1 of the Vios Challenge with a strong early lead in the overall championship. However, anything can happen in the next 3 rounds which will also have 2 races each for the three classes.

“While I would have loved to have ended the weekend with a double victory, I’m happy with today’s second place. The season is still long and there was really no point taking too much risk at the expense of damaging the car and my chances,” said William.

At the Vios Challenge circuits, spectators can get this close to the action.

The Sporting Class was the next race and while there were no notable incidents, the race too concluded in dramatic fashion when drivers were forced to finish behind the Safety Car due to heavy rain coming day in the remaining 7 laps of the 22-lap race.

Starting from pole position, team Nanoplus driver Patrick Tam led the race from start to finish. Dannies Ng Khai of Revo Technik Malaysia finished second followed by Vincent Ng in third. “Starting from pole position, I was lucky to get a good start and just drove sensibly to save my car and finish the race unscathed,” said Patrick.

The Safety Car, a Toyota Camry Hybrid, was called out often to convoy the cars around whenever an incident required clearing of broken body parts or damaged cars. During this period, the racing cars must maintain their positions.

For Dannies, second place and finishing the race behind the Safety Car may not have been the most ideal situation, but was certainly the best decision taking into account the safety of the competitors. “I had a good start to climb from third to second position, and was then involved in a close fight with Vincent before it started to rain and eventually led to the Safety Car coming out. Safety takes precedence over competition in these conditions and it was the right decision to make in the interest of all of us racing on the track,” he said.

Meanwhile, Race 1 winner Shawn Lee, Asia’s first beatboxer, made a brilliant start to surge from eighth position on the starting grid to fifth place by the end of the first lap. The 26-year old racer (who was promoted from the Promotional Class he raced in last year) was put under tremendous pressure by the chasing pack and in the end conceded two positions to Brendon Lim and Kenneth Koh to finish the race in seventh position. Fellow celebrity Mohd Shukri Yahaya, however, had to retire after 6 laps.

The job of the race marshals is not just to wave flags but they also clean the track after each race (or even during the race) to remove objects that could damage the cars or cause accidents. After the rain, they also had to clear the water away from some spots.

Although the rain came down during the Sporting Class race, it ended in time for the final race for the Promotional Class to run. The track was still wet – in fact, water collected in some areas and had to be swept away – but the drivers were not discouraged by the conditions. Not to be outdone by the dramas in the Super Sporting and Sporting classes, the trio of newcomer celebrities Akim Ahmad, Aiman Tino and Nabil Ahmad charged to victory in an equally nail-biting 22-lap race.

Singer Wany Hasrita failed to make the most of her advantageous starting position after stalling at the start. That allowed UMW Toyota Motor’s Deputy Chairman, Akio Takeyama, to speed ahead to the first corner, with Akim Ahmad in hot pursuit. With his determination, Akim got past Takeyama-san before the end of the first lap and kept his lead until the finish.

Though he had raced in the first season, Takeyama-san felt that the younger drivers are faster and he would have to work harder this season. Unfortunately, he did not get to complete all 22 laps as his car hit the barriers during the race and he had to retire.

Aiman Tino watches Janna Nick’s moves as he prepares to pass her and go after Nabil Ahmad.

As he stretched his lead, the battle 24 seconds behind for second spot was between Nabil and Aiman who were locked in a close fight for several laps until the ninth lap when Aiman found an opening through the tight track to take second place. Aiman’s speed, consistency and his ability to contain the pressure saw the 18-year-old singer stretch his lead over Nabil as he chased down Akim, chiseling at the gap of more than 15 seconds to finish 1.7 seconds behind and in the process set the fastest lap of the race at 1 minute 19.726 seconds.

Nabil settled for third, finishing a further 20 seconds behind, followed by Nabila Razali and Wany, who redeemed herself after the earlier mistake to cross the line in fifth position.

While Diana Danielle won the Promotional Class on the first day, it was Akim Ahmad’s race from start to finish on Day 2.
Members of the Toyota Vios, Avanza and Hilux clubs were invited to attend the event and show off their vehicles.
At every round of the event, visitors have an opportunity to view and test-drive Toyota models.
Besides racing, the celebrities also have to do stage performances and sign for their fans.
Fans can meet their favourite celebrities and get autographed posters as well as take selfies with them.

From Kuala Terengganu, the TGR Racing Festival and Vios Challenge will move to the Malaysia Agro Exposition Park Serdang (MAEPS) in Serdang, Selangor in October; the Batu Kawan Stadium in Penang in February 2019; with the finale being contested at the Sepang International Circuit in April 2019. For updates on the event, visit the Toyota GAZOO Racing Malaysia page at www.toyota.com.my/tgrmalaysia.

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[Chips Yap]

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