After a successful inaugural running of the Toyota GAZOO Racing (TGR) Racing Festival in 2017, UMW Toyota Motor was greatly encouraged to continue with the event in 2018. Basically, the TGR Racing Festival has as its highlight the Vios Challenge One-Make Race but also includes many other activities for all the family, making it an entertaining two days for all the family at various venues around Peninsular Malaysia.

To start off this year’s TGR Racing Festival and Vios Challenge, the first venue chosen is a new one – the compound of the Stadium Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin in Kuala Terengganu, just next to the state capital’s airport. A 1.65-km circuit was created for the race and tents set up for other activities, including a showroom for some of the latest Toyota models which the public can test-drive.

Terengganu has its ‘weekend’ on Friday and Saturday so the TGR Racing Festival started off today. However, the drivers were already practicing on the circuit on Thursday to see how they can outdo their rivals. But no one would have any advantage in terms of experience as this circuit never existed before this week – and it will be gone next week! This helps to ‘equalise’ things, which is one of the aspects of a one-make race like the Vios Challenge where driver skill plays a major role as all the cars have identical performance. It also makes for closer racing which is what the spectators love to see.

The first round of the second season of the Vios Challenge got off to a dramatic start with an equal amount of surprises and disappointments on track for the celebrity, amateur and professional drivers competing.

The first race was for the Promotional Class, a big crowd-puller as the racers are local celebrities with lots of fans. Four of the celebrities from the first season are taking part again – Shawn Lee, Syukri Yahaya Janna Nick and Diana Danielle. However, Shawn and Syukri, having won in the first season, have been promoted to the Sporting Class, leaving Janna and Diana to challenge 6 newcomers. They are Aiman Tino, Khai Bahar, Nabila Razali, Wany Hasrita, Akim Ahmad, and Nabil Ahmad. As with the first group of celebrities, this new group was also given training at the Vios Academy so they will be better prepared for the races. Akio Takeyama, Deputy Chairman of UMW Toyota Motor, enjoyed himself so much that he is also

Diana Danielle, the 26-year old actress, led the promotional race from start to finish.

In today’s race, actress Diana Danielle started from pole position, having set the fastest time in qualifying. She stayed ahead throughout the 22-lap race to cross the finishing line first, chased by Akim Ahmad who was 24 seconds behind and Janna Nick in third place.

“My instructor once said to me that when you’re in a situation such as today (leading the race), you try to get as far away as you can from the car behind and that was precisely what I did,” said the actress. “With the safety car coming out halfway into the race, that of course put all my hard work to waste but that’s part and parcel of what to expect in racing. I just had to get myself together, stay focussed and do it all over again. To be honest, I was able to take full advantage of the many incidents that occurred behind me,” Diana explained.

Akio Takeyama, UMW Toyota Motor’s Deputy Chairman (Car No. 1) had gained experience in the previous season and put it to good use for this new season.

In what was his first ever race, newcomer singer Akim Ahmad kept his cool to take advantage of the incidents that occurred ahead of the field to move his way up to second position despite qualifying seventh.

“I’d really like to thank my driving coach for my performance today. It was something really unexpected and came as a surprise to me (the podium finish), but I just made sure I hit the racing lines where I’m supposed to and kept a consistent pace throughout the race,” he said.

A few incidents during the race brought the Safety Car out and the racing cars had to follow in convoy (below) for a while as the damaged cars were moved aside.

Meanwhile, for third place winner Janna Nick, being on the podium was extremely sweet considering she had been penalized during qualifying which forced her to start from ninth position. “To be frank, I was very sad and disappointed to have been penalized but halfway into the race, I was screaming all the way as I passed the other drivers (especially Nabil) who were involved in the various incidents ahead of me,” said Janna.

Although he qualified second on the grid and was a clear favourite judging from his pace, television host Nabil Ahmad’s race came to an end during the 17th lap when he hit the wall, ironically just after the Safety Car exited the track.

In the Sporting Class, Shawn Lee (above) drove exceptionally well to claim both pole position and race victory. Finishing in second position was last season’s runner-up Brendon Lim, followed by Kenneth Koh in third.

“I was nervous because it was my first race in the Sporting Class, but I managed to use all of last season’s experience to keep my cool and just drove consistently to the finish,” said Shawn.

Under racing conditions, the brakes would begin to lose their effectiveness after about 15 laps and inevitably, some cars couldn’t brake in time, bumping into others.

For TECO Racing’s Brendon Lim, the race was a delicate balance between pushing hard and staying away from the concrete barriers. “I was pushing all the way with a lot of close calls with the walls,” he said.

As for Kenneth Koh, the third place was a consolation and strong result especially after a very nervous start. “It was a very nervous first lap and I made a few mistakes. Over the laps, even the rear view mirror inside the car disappeared,” said the Panglima City Racing Team driver who finished 20 seconds behind the race winner.

Shukri Yahaya’s race was a very tough one as he had to work very hard after hitting the wall and losing air in one of the tyres. He rushed back to the pits to get the tyre and rim changed and charged back into the race. Although he was way behind by then, he never gave up trying to improve his position.

The final race of the day was for the Super Sporting Class, with participants having more experience and having won races before. It was an extremely close race, with William Ho, Boy Wong and Kenny Lee finished within a second of each other in a closely-contested battle.

Kenny had claimed pole position for the race but it was his team mate William who made the better start from second on the grid to lead the 22-lap race from start to finish. “I had a great start and tried to not make any mistakes along the way. I needed to be consistent because the concrete barriers are very unforgiving if you make a mistake,” said William.

As Kenny chased down William with the hope of regaining the lead, he was momentarily distracted by an issue concerning the overhead starting lights (like ‘disco lights’, said one of the drivers). Slowing down in uncertainty, ST Wangan Racing Team’s Boy Wong surged past Kenny for second position.

For the pit crews of some teams, the end of the race mans back to work for them as the cars may need to be repaired.

“The start wasn’t as good as I expected. William had a better launch and before the first corner, he was already alongside me and had the inner line into the corner. I tried to catch up but he (William) is not an easy person to catch!” said Kenny.

[Chips Yap]

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