Extended night driving biggest challenge for Honda Racing

Published on August 4th, 2010

For former A1GP Team Malaysia driver Aaron Lim and his Honda Malaysia Racing Team (HMRT), the biggest challenge in the team’s quest for the race title at this year’s Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race (MMER) is the extended nocturnal driving hours.

Unlike the previous three editions of the MMER, participants of the 11th edition of 12-hour endurance race will have to face seven hours of driving in the darkness of night and just five hours of daylight.

Aaron said the night driving effectively demands additional focus from the drivers, thus placing more stress on them.

“Rain may also be an additional challenge for us, and it is unpredictable,” said Aaron in clear reference to the heavy three-hour early morning downpour in 2006. The downpour may have been the reason behind the organizers decision to switch the event from its midnight start to an 11am start the following year.

The 2006 race saw several cars skidding into the gravel beds in their attempt to maneuver themselves along the wet track and through the pelting rain. The race was won by Proton R3 Racing Team, Tengku Djan Ley Tengku Mahaleel, Faidzil Alang and Australian Damien French in their Lotus Exige 300RR.

“We are both hopeful and positive that HMRT can win in the MMER this year,” said Aaron, who will be making his fourth stint as HMRT driver this year, racing in the team’s Honda Civic Type R.

The 24-year old racer will be partnering Eddie Lew and Rueben Wong in their bid to reclaim the past glories of Honda Malaysia Racing Team. The team was the overall winner in 2004 and four-time winner of the old Class A.

The last time HMRT – one of the most recognizable team in the MMER – had lifted the trophy in Class A was in 2007, through the partnership of Eddie Liew and two Japan Super GT drivers Hiroki Katoh and Shinya Hosokawa. After a disappointing 2008, they came close to winning last year after leading the race by five laps, but was foiled by braking problems in the final hour and had to settle for second place.

HMRT will be supported by a full-fledge local crew of 22 personnel from its plant in Melaka and its headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. The team will be competing in the Touring Production class, which will feature a host of Honda Civic FD2s, Honda Integra DC5s and two-liter Toyota Altezza.

Aaron, who is currently running the RL Karting Team with his father, said that the other challenge for the 2010 MMER drivers would be the competition tyres as all competitors are required to use Pirelli tyres this year.

“In the past, every team could choose their own brand and type of tyres. But this year, the organizers have determined that all teams use the same brand of tyres. This is the first time that the HMRT team will be racing on Pirelli tyres and therefore we have to ensure that we conduct proper testing,” he said, adding that preparations have been smooth and that the team had adapted well to the new tyres.

“Honda Malaysia has a very professional racing team. The team members are well trained and they support each other throughout the race. Every member of the team knows his or her role well. They would also share their knowledge and skills, and everyone works together as a team.

“I always look forward to coming back to Malaysia to race, and the MMER is one of the biggest local racing events in the country,” said Aaron, whose interest in racing started when he was nine years old.

“My father has been my biggest influence. He is a big motorsports fan and he was the one who introduced me to racing. I raced in my first go-kart race when I was 11 years old,” said Aaron, declaring that he had always enjoyed the exciting and competitive atmosphere of the racing world.

“If I was not a racer, I would still want to remain in motorsports because that is my interest and passion. I want to wake up every morning looking forward to doing something that I enjoy doing!” he said.

Aaron, who idolizes the legendary Michael Schumacher, said that he was happy that his family fully understands and supports his passion for motor racing.

“I am very fortunate that my family is very supportive, they will even come to watch me race. Personally, I don’t think the job is dangerous. As a driver, we must understand that driving on the track is different compared to driving on the road.

“Racing and speeding may seem dangerous, but as a driver, I trust that my team will ensure that the race car is in good condition. Of course, it can get a bit dangerous in bad weather,” said Aaron, who voiced hope that Sunday will be a dry day.

HMRT team leader Loh Chin Wooi said that the team’s preparation, which includes the training of 11 new members, have been proceeding smoothly.

“This year, we have a total of 22 HMRT members – 11 seniors and 11 new members. All of them have a full time job in Honda, either at the Malacca plant or at the Sales & Marketing office in Petaling Jaya.

“They have to learn the ropes when they join HMRT. They have to acquire new skills; beyond what they normally do in their daily job. Of course, we are fully confident that the senior members in the team will be able to share and impart their knowledge onto the new members,” said Loh, adding that he is confident that his three drivers will be taking the team to the top of the podium.

“Both Eddie and Rueben have been racing for Honda since 2004, while Aaron joined the team in 2007. The drivers and HMRT have developed a great teamwork and have forged a strong bond over the years.

“We’ve definitely learnt from our mistakes last year. We need to continuously improve our performance because the other teams are catching up. There is still room for improvements, but overall, we are getting positive results during our testing and practice sessions,” he said.

The 2010 race will be flagged off at midnight on August 8, finishing 12 hours later at noon on the same day. The official free practice for the race will be held on Thursday, and the qualifying round will be held on Friday.

This year’s race will witness 36 contestants battling for the race title in three new categories – Touring Production class, GT class and the Sports Production class.

words & pix: SIC

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