MMER2010: Eleventh Edition with Eleventh Hour Drama

Published on August 10th, 2010

Endurance races is, as what endurance races are, has always been about persistence, accompanied by perseverance, with help from stamina, mental strength, and fantastic and resilient team. Without any one of which, then you can forget about competing in an endurance race.

The objective of such race is simply to endure, and the team with the most durable machine and stamina will cross the finish line screaming, victoriously. Because they have just proven, if not to the world, to themselves, that they are able to endure. They will cross the chequered line with the satisfaction of enduring one of the most difficult races in the world. They have endured.

When Sepang International Circuit introduced Merdeka Milennium Endurance Race eleven years ago, it was set to be one of the hardest races in Asia, and they were not far off from the boundaries. Malaysia’s heat has always been one of the biggest obstacles, and many race machines from various makes have perished, unable to withstand the scorching heat of Sepang.

Let’s not forget the unpredictable weather that has caused many races to be stopped or sent cars to the gravel. Yes, MMER has claimed its title.

Last weekend from August 6 to 8, MMER was held in Sepang International Circuit for the 11th time. The creators and founders decided that the race should start at midnight and end twelve hours later at noon, which means more than seven hours of racing in cool temperature, before the sun starts to scorch the tarmac with its familiar fiery heat.

This brings back memories of when the MMER was first introduced eleven years ago when the race was started at midnight, but the starting time was changed a few years after that due to accidents and other mishaps.

But this time around, Sepang International Circuit is brighter with more lights installed, but not quite enough to eliminate the challenges that will always appear when racing at night. Still, MMER have the reputation to deny victories from confident drivers, and last weekend it was not no different. MMER was set to claim those who couldn’t endure, and that was exactly what it did.

The race was flagged off by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek and was accompanied by Miss Malaysia World Thanuja Ananthan and top singer Faradina Mohd Nadzir (Dina) who performed the National Anthem before the race began.

On the starting grid, the monster Audi R8 LMS, driven by Frank Biela, Darryl O’Young and Marco Werner for Audi Race Experience Team Joest, caught on fire but were put out just in time. The R8 continued racing and finished second overall, completing 314 laps.

Other dramas unfolded throughout the night, with one in particular involving a Lotus 2-Eleven. The car came into the pit on its 56th lap, driven by Ashraff Dewal at that particular time, for a scheduled check, refueling and tyre change. A young woman in a short was busy taking pictures of a crew changing a rear tyre when fire suddenly broke out and engulfed the undercarriage of the 211. Fire rose quickly and rose to over twenty feet in height. It was right under the right section of SIC Media Centre.

The fire reappeared three times, fueled by high octane racing petrol. After the crew’s frantic effort, the fire was put out, and silence filled the pit lane. Three victims were rushed to the hospital.

There were other victims as well. Dilango Racing’s Lamborghini LP-560, driven by Dilantha Malagamuwa, Kota Sasaki and Jeffrey Lee, continued racing and finishing fourth with 302 laps despite running on a cracked gearbox.

A surprising turn of event saw Mok Weng Sun, Craig G. Baird and Richard Lietz of Porsche Club Singapore Team, driving a Porsche RSR, retiring after 119 laps.

The Chairman’s team, Kencana Racing, with drivers Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir, Sven Herberger and Dominik Farnbacher, retired their Porsche 911 GT3 after 129 laps.

The Petronas duo, BMW Z4 with 01 and 28 designated race numbers, started the race on the 11th and 13th positions respectively. Tatsuya Kataoka, Farique Hairuman and Melvin Moh were driving the 01 while Nobuteru Taniguchi, Masataka Yanagida and Imran Zaharias Shaharom were driving the 28.

Both cars took it quite relaxed on the first half of the race while others pushed their cars hard to acquire the lead position. Slowly and steadily, the Petronas duo bid their time and overtook one car at a time, consistently climbing the ladder. As one by one race machines retired into their paddock, the Petronas duo persevered to the very end.

But 80 minutes to noon, the 01 Petronas Z4M, driven by Melvin at the particular time, stalled on the track. Nails were bitten, eyes were wide with shock, but the inevitable happened, and the 01 Z4M had to retire to the paddock due to engine failure. Car 28 of Petronas Syntium Team was their last hope of achieving podium finishing.

It was supposed to be a battle of supremacy between Dilango Racing, Porsche Club Singapore, Petronas Syntium and Arrows Racing, but MMER do have the reputation of disappointing the confidents.

Tunku Hammam Sulong, Peter Kox and Christopher Haase, driving a Lamborghini LP560, proven quite a few people wrong by dominating the GT class during the MMER2010, crossing the finish line with 315 laps. This is the second time Tunku Hammam took the crown after winning it in 2002. Tunku Hammam was driving with Tommy Lee and Briton Nigel Albon for Naza-Jaseri Racing Team and dominated the 2002 MMER.

“It would definitely be much harder if Mok was still in the race. They definitely had the faster car. But, this race is not about out and out speed. It’s an endurance race. I am not too sure that I would be coming with the same team again next year. But, I will definitely come back. Hopefully, with these two guys again and hopefully, we will get a better car or we can use the same car to race next year,” said Tunku Hammam during the press conference.

Commenting on the use of the Pirelli tyres, Kox said: “We found a good set up for the tyres and it worked out really well for us. We didn’t have any problems with them.”

This was echoed by Haase, who said that the tyres were very stable and that they were able to take a few fast laps without any problem.

Tracy Sports, with drivers Masatama Kawaguchi, Masayuki Ueda and Adam Han, driving a Honda S2000, conquered the Sport Production Class with 273 laps. Commenting on his win, Adam said that he was ecstatic, saying that it definitely made up for the frustration that he had suffered in the last two races. “I definitely would come back again next year to defend our title,” he said.

The Touring Production class was topped by the Honda Malaysia Racing Team trio of Eddie Lew, Aaron Lim and Rueben Wong, in their Honda Civic Type R with 281 laps. “We’re happy, we’re very happy. The team did a wonderful job, and the supports we’ve received were tremendous. We’ll be back next year, and we’ll be better. But for now, we’re just glad that we made it through,” said Eddie.

During the press conference after the race, winners of the GT class (Arrows Racing, Lamborghini LP560), Touring Production Class (Honda Malaysia Racing Team, Honda Civic Type R) and Sport Production Class (Tracy Sports, Honda S2000), all commented that they would prefer if MMER were to stay as a 12-hours race instead of a 24-hours race.

All the teams also commented that additional cost, not to mention new upgrades to withstand a full day of the heat in Sepang, more stamina, additional willpower and a hundred per cent increase of strength will be needed to even consider racing a 24-hours race in Sepang.

The real question would be if there is an additional race that last for 24 hours, will the teams consider accepting the challenge? Surely, there will be a lot more cars retiring. But will it be worth it?

MMER2010 ended with a story worth listening to, and it will only get more interesting and more challenging, and we at Traffic Magazine Online are looking forward to it.

words: Al-mu Syahrisyawal Ahmad  pix: Syafril Ismail, Al-mu Syahrisyawal Ahmad & SIC  video: Jeo & Al-mu Syahrisyawal Ahmad

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