Boosted by the massive experience and awesome skills of Super GT driver Morio Nitta, Proton R3 Racing will be gunning for top honours at Sepang International Circuit (SIC) at the fourth edition of Sepang 1000 Kilometer (S1K) race, which got underway today with its official free practice.
Competing against the likes of the Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Celica, Mazda and the defending champion 1.6 Toyota Altis in a long battle of 181 laps around the 5.543km Formula 1 track, team manager Shaharuddin Hamid Mustapha, however, acknowledged the mountainous task that await his team.
“As I see it, competition is going to be very tough this year. There are many strong teams this year,” he said in reference to the 31 entries which included two other factory works teams – Honda Malaysia Racing Team and Fawster Motorsports, which is supported by Mazda Malaysia.
Proton R3 is fielding two cars; Nitta and newly-crowned Malaysian Super Series (MSS) champion Syafiq Ali in the Satria Neo; and James Veerapan, who won the MSS Malaysian Touring Car Challenge with Syafiq, partnering Masedenial Ali Maskamal Khan, in a Proton Preve.
“Syafiq took fourth overall last year in the Neo; partnering Syahrizal Jamaluddin … we are hopeful to better that result this year especially with the experience of our guest driver, Morio Nitta, who is a world class driver with his wide experience competing in the Super GT. We are actually working with a special Project Mu with Nitta and his team from Japan on brake pads development … hence, the reason of getting the Super GT driver involved with us in the S1K,” said Shaharuddin, who expressed full confidence in the Satria Neo in performing well at the race.
“You know the Neo has always been the featured product of R3 … They would be best bet for the race. The Preve would be entering the S1K for the first time … it would be more for further development and for future campaign. Having said that the Preve performed quite well when Syafiq and James drove it at the last round of the MSS in November. They won the title driving the Preve … so, we are hopeful of a good result as well from James and Masedenial,” he added.
Like the Preve, the Mazda 3, which is being entered by Fawster Motorsports, is also making its debut in the event with the trio from Brothers in Racing – Mohamed Nazir Nor Mohd, Mohamed Ridzuan Nor Mohamed and Khairul Anwar Nor Mohamed, behind the steering wheel.
It would also be a first entry for the Honda Jazz from the Honda Malaysia Racing Team, which has entered two cars for the race; featuring top Malaysian drivers – Eddie Lew and Aaron Lim as one partnership while Mohd Farriz Fauzy and Tengku Ezan Ley Tengku Mahaleel in the other machine.
Apart from the Malaysian outfit, the 2012 race would also feature an all-Indonesian Honda Surabaya OWS Asco in another Honda Jazz machine; featuring Roy Haryanto, Hari Darma Manoppo and Renaldo Koesoemo.
Divided in two classes, Class 1, which groups cars between 1601cc and 1900cc, would be an exclusive battle of the Toyota Celicas; with the partnership of Kenny Lee and Jim Hunter of Kegani Racing as the hot favourites for the class.
Class 2 groups all the other cars below 1600cc and traditionally had been stronger class as the upstaged the Class 1 cars despite their inferiority in engine capacity.
Topping the list would be 1600cc Toyota Altis of Type R Racing Team – featuring Boy Wong, Soh Kee Koon and Lai Wee Sing, which will be looking for the third crown; having won the overall title twice in 2009 and 2011. The team finished second overall in 2010.
This year would also feature one all-ladies team in Singaporean Melissa Huang Shu Ming and Siti Zirwatul Iradah Awang Adinin of Brunei; who would be driving a Satria Neo for the Red Bull Rookies Team.
Qualifying would be held tomorrow with the race to be flagged off at 12 noon on Saturday. Entrance for spectators at the Main Grandstand is free.
words & pix: SIC