As the motorsports world begins to recover from the pandemic, the omnipresent Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that accompanies every social event or space has meant that the rev limiter is still applied to racing as well.
UMW Toyota Motor wasn’t spared as well as it finally got Season 4 of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival underway under the premise of “better late than never.” Nonetheless, with the SOPs in place, it meant that the festival part of this extravaganza for the family took on a little more subdued tone this time around.
The familiar carnival atmosphere was put aside as spectators weren’t allowed to attend Round 1 at Sepang International Circuit. This meant that it was purely a racing event with practice, qualifying and the race proper on the agenda with the Sepang North layout in use.
While each Gazoo Racing season gets underway in the second half of the year and carries into the first half of the following year, the extra downtime courtesy of the pandemic saw Toyota expand its motorsports programme to train the next generation of racers for the country.
This saw the introduction of the Rookie class that comprised karting and sim-racers under the Gazoo Racing Young Talent Development Program. The older Vios Challenge racecars would be prepared for them to race the four rounds of Season 4 concurrently with the Super Sporting class.
If you’re wondering why Toyota would throw the Rookie class and professional Super Sporting class together, the answer is simple. With only nine entrants in Super Sporting and the elite racers that they are, it would be easier for the Super Sporting drivers to avoid the Rookies with the track not getting overcrowded as well.
Having said that, some of the Rookies ended up having to avoid the Super Sporting drivers.
Promotional – Race 1
Having a wealth of experience from the previous three seasons under his belt, Akio Takeyama; the Deputy Chairman of UMW Toyota Motor, kept it under control in the rain to finish second behind comedian and actor Zizan Razak.
Zizan benefitted from Nabil Razak’s mistake to take second before a brilliant overtake on Shukri Yahaya on the third lap put him ahead of the pack.
Fellow newcomer Ahirine Ahirudin completed the podium following a calm and composed start from sixth that belies her newcomer status.
Super Sporting – Race 1
Defending champion Tengku Djan Ley started the season just as he ended the last; with a victory that was a class demonstration of his experience and talent. A 20-minute delay due to the torrid rain led to a rolling start that paved the way for some exciting door-to-door racing with the lead exchanging hands four times.
Laser Motor’s Mark Darwin led the initial couple of laps before 16-year old Hayden Haikal took the lead. Hayden made the jump to Super Sporting this year after a couple of impressive seasons in the lower Sporting class.
Hayden appeared to not manage his tyres well and lost the lead to M7 Japan’s Syafiq Ali with Prima Pearl’s Djan hot on his heels. Djan played it cool and knew that conserving tyres was the way to go with a move for the win on the last lap.
Observing that Syafiq was losing his tyres as well, Djan made his move and took the lead to easily reign in victory.
Rookie – Race 1
Rookies just in name, some of the drivers here gave the Super Sporting class a run for their money in qualifying; less than a second off the lead pace. Sim-racer Naquib Azlan dominated practice and qualifying before translating that into an easy race win.
Karter Amer Harris came in second, sandwiched between third-placed sim-racer Mika Hakimi.
Sporting – Race 1
Crestmax Motorsport’s Adam Khalid won in rain-soaked conditions ahead of Team Distinctive Model’s Clement Yeo and privateer Eric Yong. Although it took Adam some time to adjust to the wet track, he eventually found his rhythm.
Clement’s second spot was all the more impressive given his start from seventh on the grid. He made a good start and made full use of the clear track ahead of him for most of the race.
Promotional – Race 2
Asserting his dominance in the class, Zizan took victory again with a solid 8.0-second gap over singer Khai Bahar. Once again, it was Ahirine completing the podium and setting herself up as the biggest threat to Zizan’s dominance in the class.
Super Sporting – Race 2
Sounding his intentions to retain the championship again, Djan won Race 2 in similar fashion for a double-win over the weekend. The reverse grid layout from Race 1 saw Djan line-up sixth on the grid.
Mark once again took an early lead but the Safety Car’s appearance decimated his lead and put him at the mercy of Season 2’s Super Sporting winner Boy Wong and Syafiq at the restart. Djan pounced on Lap 15 to take the lead and comfortably extended it to 3.5-seconds by the chequered flag. Djan acknowledged that tyre management was crucial in this series and proved his experience once again.
Rookie – Race 2
Making two in a row was Naquib Azlan ahead of Jwan Hii and Amer Harris but it wasn’t an easy win this time around.
Having driven thousands of laps of Sepang; on a simulator, gave Naquib almost muscle memory of the circuit. “At one moment, I was down to last position and I had to climb my way back up with a damaged car so I really didn’t know what to expect. I just kept my head down, kept my cool,” said Naquib.
“Sim racing helps me prepare before coming to a racetrack and with experienced trainers and a data engineer helping us out in the Gazoo Racing Young Talent Development Program, I have learnt more about my driving and I want to learn more and proceed further,” he added.
Sporting – Race 2
Veteran racer Haji Sutan Mustaffa credited his win to preparations in the off-season that focused on building his stamina and fitness. It pushed him a dominant race as he stayed ahead of the pack for the entire race to finish 4.4-seconds ahead of Eric Yong and Adam Khalid.
Sutan played it safe in Race 1 to bring the car home safely and maximise advantage of the reverse grid format to start first in Race 2.
“With the Movement Control Order, I weighed in at 80kg and that can be a big disadvantage for me, especially competing in a class with a lot of younger drivers. I told myself I needed to do something and I began exercising and controlling my diet. I managed to reduce my weight by 15kg, and that has been a huge motivational push for me,” he said.
Round 2 will be held from July 16-18 at Sepang as well.