Defending champions Team Petronas Syntium featuring the partnership of Masataka Yanagida, Nobuteru Taniguchi and Dominic Ang is targeting pole position on top of retaining their coveted title at the 13th edition of the Merdeka Milllennium Endurance Race (MMER) at Sepang Circuit this weekend.
“Yes, we agree that it is going to be a long race. But, taking pole position is also important. So, that will be our target as well,” Yanagida told the MMER official drivers’ conference held at the circuit today.
He also pointed out that both Team Petronas Syntium entries will be competing on equal basis and that the partnership of Nobuteru Taniguchi, Fariqe Haruman and Melvin Moh were team-mates as well as rivals at the event, which opened today with the official free practice session.
Qualifying would be held tomorrow with all three drivers needing to make lap times for a combined total in deciding grid position for the race, which would be flagged off at 12 noon tomorrow.
Last year, the partnership of Yanagida-Taniguchi-Ang qualified second behind their more distinguished team-mates of Fariqe, Kataoka and German Bernd Schneider, who led the race until the 10th hour before encountering mechanical problems and allowed the second Team Petronas Syntium car to pass them and win the race with a record 321 laps.
“We aim to break that record as well … we hope to complete more than 321 laps this time round and win again. That’s our race plan,” said Yanagida, who acknowledged that the key to winning would be speed, consistency and luck.
At the official free practice today, the trio were, however, upstaged by two other teams as they finished third fastest with a time of 2 minutes 7.317 seconds in the Mercedes SLS machine. Team Clearwater Racing – with drivers Mok Weng Sun, Gianmaria Bruni and Matthew Griffin – clocked the fastest time at 2 minutes 5.163 seconds in their Ferrari 458 machine.
Hong Kong’s LKM Racing, featuring Siu Yuk Lung, Keita Sawa and Darryl o’Young, chalked the second fastest time around the 5.543-km Formula 1 track with a lap time of 2 minutes 7.167 seconds in their Porsche 911 GT3 machine.
Speaking at the press conference, Fahrizal Hassan, who is partnering Adrian d’ Silva and Daniel Bilski, for Nexus Racing also expressed confidence that his team would again come up top in battle for the Sports Production class.
“We have very a good first session today. The Aston Martin worked well and we are very happy with the performance of the Michelin tyres. We are really looking forward to qualifying tomorrow and the race on Saturday,” said Fahrizal, who noted that they would be having the only Aston Martin machine on the grid.
Run together with the GT class drivers, Nexus Racing was fastest amongst the Sports Production cars; clocking 2 minutes 19.531 seconds as their best lap time. Team FX Primus Aylezo – featuring the Lotus Evora, was second fastest with a time of 2 minutes 20.197 seconds.
“We had always known that the Evora would be our biggest challenge this year. We will have to see what happens on Saturday,” said Fahrizal, who is expected to take the biggest responsibility in driving duties with Adrian and Bilski both taking part in the support races as well.
While Adrian would be competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) race, Bilski would be racing in the Asia Classic Car Challenge (ACCC). Apart from the PCCA and the ACCC, the 13th edition of the MMER also features the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific as its third support race.
Representing the Touring Production class at the press conference, Singapore-based Team ST-Powered, which have a changed line-up for the race with the introduction of Derrick Ang, is putting Type R Racing as the biggest threat to their crown.
“In fact, they were running with mechanical problems at the tail end of the race last year; but still managed to finish second. They are very strong and very fast. They are the favourites this year,” said Desmond Soh.
True to the point stressed by Soh, it was the trio from Type R Racing – Boy Wong Yew Chong, Soh Kee Koon and Lai Wee Sing – dominating the official free practice session with their Honda Civic FD2 Mugen.
Boon’s best time of 2 minutes 29.234 seconds and 1.142 seconds slower than Type R Racing Team. Wing Hin Motorsports, featuring Kenny Lee, Rhommel Singh and Australian Chris o’Shannessy was third fastest with a time of 2 minutes 29.536 seconds.
words & pix: SIC