Overall winners in 2009 and 2011, PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM, returns to the 13th edition of the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race with their MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG GT3 machines, will be the hot favourites in 2012 crown as they go in search for an unprecedented hat trick at the prestigious 12-hour race.
Traditionally combining the driving skills and talents of its international and Malaysian Super Taikyu drivers, the team returns with Johor-born Fariqe Hairuman spearheading the team’s challenge in 2012. Having been amongst the powerhouses of the event; 2012 is expected to be no different for the PETRONAS team since they have a number of well experienced drivers.
Fariqe’s team as an example was about to win in 2009 but mechanical problems hampered them when there were only several laps to spare. While on the 12th edition of MMER, his team was pushed to the third place by the Belgian Audi Club which saw the trio of Frank Biela, Marcel Fassler and Marco Werner using their Audi R8 machine.
The PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM penned its name as the second team to win the trophy twice; equaling the achievement of Proton R3 Racing which won its first crown in 2005 under the umbrella of Amprex Proton R3 Racing Team, which had Tengku Djan Ley Tengku Mahaleel, Australian Tony Riccardello and Genji Hashimoto of Japan behind the steering wheel.
Tengku Djan led the team to a second and sweeter victory in the following year as the team won the crown as a single entity and having his close friend and Proton test driver Faidzil Alang as his partner. The third driver was another Australian, Damien French.
Hence, the question that would crop up on everyone’s mind this year will be whether the PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM can become the first team to score the hattrick in the history of the MMER and whether Fariqe Hairuman, with his long list of racing titles and accolades in Asia, can finally pen his name on the prestigious trophy.
To be flagged off at 12 noon on September 1, the 13th edition of MMER will definitely be different from last year’s challenge, which started the race under the floodlights for no less than seven hours. This time round, the teams will be competing with more daylight and one can expect the record to be further broken again.
Over the years, MMER had been the field where the best teams battle among another to achieve the best record status. Last year it was the two PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG GT3 machines recording the fastest lap times. The overall winner had 2 minutes 7.449 seconds as their fastest lap; which, is second to the time recorded by the trio of Kataoka, Fariqe and Schneider in the sister car at 2 minutes 7.403 seconds around the 5.543km Formula 1 track. The 11th hour mechanical troubles however saw them finish six laps adrift in the 12-hour contest for third place.
Leading the charge will be two of the 2008 winners – World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) driver, Darryl O’ Young and GT3 Asia champion Mok Weng Sun of Singapore, who is also a three-times Malaysian Super Series (MSS) winner; making his individually expert on the challenges provided by the Sepang track.
Darryl, who also raced in the FIA GT1 World Championship, clearly wants to make amends for last year’s frustration where he and his partner, Alex Yoong – the former F1 driver and Japan’s Super GT driver Seiji Ara, finished fifth overall with only 307 laps in the second Audi R8 LMS machine; entered by Belgian Audi Club.
Like Darryl, Mok, who is returning with Gianmaria Bruni and Matthew Griffin and his Ferrari 458 GT3 machine, will also have an agenda for redemption; though choose to take a cautious approach when asked to comment on the race.
“It’s a long race and we expect to face up against equally-prepared and qualified teams. So, I won’t go as far to predict a win. But, I can promise you that if reliability and luck stays on our side, we should be up there amongst the front runners,” added Mok, whose Ferrari machine had to retire after 284 laps.
Commenting on the afternoon start, Mok said: “I personally prefer an afternoon start as it allows for more day-time running and is better for spectators and attendance numbers.”
“It may be harder on the drivers and the machinery from a durability perspective but it is my distinct preference – I’m not a fan of the midnight start as I see no need for local drivers to have to adjust their time clocks to adapt to this start time, added Mok, who does not see his Clearwater Racing Team as favourite for this year’s race.
“We were in third place overall at the 11th hour when a drive shaft failure ended our race. The team was gutted as we were fighting world class teams with marquee drivers,” said Mok, who named the entire grid competing in the GT class as his challengers.
For the 13th edition of MMER, Sepang International Circuit (SIC), the organizer and promoter of the event, decided on further changes in regulations by introducing a new GT-X class, which will group the non-homologated GT and Sport Productions cars; injecting further interest and excitement into this year’s event.
The three other categories – GT Class, Sports Production and Touring Production – have remained with the Sports Production class looking set to be another round of battle between the Aston Martins and the Lotus machines.
Last year’s contest was topped by the Aston Martin with the partnership of Adrian D’ Silva, Mohd Fahrizal Hassan and the highly experienced Ian Ross Geekie in their Aston Martin Vantage machine. Completing 277 laps, the Nexus Racing Team trio simply outclassed second-placed Lotus 2-11 entry of Patrick Ng, Khoo Kay Hong and Marcus Chye Ao Hsiang of BTB Racing, which managed 256 laps.
For 2012, Marcus and Patrick will be partnering Zen Low, who is the team owner of FX Primus Aylezo and effectively bringing the two teams together in their quest to challenge the Aston Martins.
Commenting on this year’s, Zen said that the team would benefit from the experience of competing at the inaugural Gulf 12 Hours Race in Abu Dhabi.
“We came in second in that race, and that’s testament to our ability at not only finishing a top flight race, but also finishing at the top of the podium. Our team has been racing under the Aylezo banner for a little over two years now, and we have successfully completed multiple podium finishes in not only endurance races but also sprint races like MSS where we have consistently finished on the podium,” he said.
Speaking of his rivals, Zen said, “The other teams are very competitive; but because we will be racing in the new Evora GT4 we hope to have some advantage with it being new and proven to win in its class in other races outside of Malaysia.”
“Also, we have been actively participating in MSS and our crew are fully prepared to fight the battle to ensure our podium finish this year in MSS,” he said, adding that he hoped that there would be more teams in the Sports Production Class to make the competition more exciting.
The Touring Production Class, on the other hand, will definitely be the attraction amongst the fans as they wait for the country’s top racing teams – JC Racing, Type R Racing and Wing Hing Motorsports challenged the defending champions – ST Powered of Singapore.
The private battles of Eddy Lew, Boy Wong Yew Choong, Kenny Lee, Desmond Soh, Perajun Krishnan, Harry Chai and many more had always provided plenty of colour and excitement in the Malaysia’s motorsports arena especially the 12-hour battle at Sepang for the prestigious Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race.
This year’s race will also see the battle of the two tyre manufacturers, Michelin and Hankook. The teams will also compete to win the prestigious trophy sponsored by Tiffany & Co and this will definitely result in a high competitive spirit amongst them.
WINNERS OF 2011
Nobuteru Taniguchi/MasatakaYanagida/Dominic Ang (MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG GT3)- PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM
PODIUM WINNERS OF 2011 MALAYSIA MERDEKA ENDURANCE RACE
1. Nobuteru Taniguchi/MasatakaYanagida/Dominic Ang (MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG GT3) – PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM (321 laps)
2. Frank Biela/Marcel Fassler/Marco Werner (Audi R8) – Belgian Audi Club (321 laps)
3. Tatsuya Kataoka/Fariqe Hairuman/Bernd Schneider (MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG GT3) – PETRONAS SYNTIUM TEAM (315 laps)
1. Adrian D’ Silva/M.Fahrizal/Ian Ross Geekie (Aston Martin Vantage) – Nexus Racing Team (277 laps)
2. Patrick Ng/Khoo Kay Hong/ ChyeAo Hsiang (Lotus 2-11) (256 laps)
3. Shinichi Hyodo/Steven Chian/Kaziki Hiramane(Honda S2000) – Tracy Sports (217 laps
1. The Kian Boon/Aloysius Lek/Desmond Soh (Honda Civic FD2-R) – ST Powered (274 laps)
2. Wong Yew Choong/SohKee Koon / Lai Wee Sing (Honda Civic FD2 Mugen)- Type R Racing Team (273 laps)
3. Kenny Lee/Chris O’Shannessy/Wan Weng Yan (Toyota Altezza)- Wing Hin Motorsports (267 laps)
words & pix: SIC