After a seven-month hiatus due to the nationwide movement control order, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival returned to the Sepang International Circuit for Round 2 of Season 4 over the weekend. The event saw sunny skies on the first day but torrential rain in the second, setting the stage for close-fought racing and plenty of spills in the Vios Challenge.
The proceedings began with Race 1 of the professional Super Sporting Class, with debutant Mitchell Cheah taking a lights-to-flag victory for the 23 Motors team. The battles were happening behind him, however, as Telagamas Toyota’s Freddie Ang lost second place to Laser Motor Racing’s Mark Darwin, who finished just 0.7 seconds behind Cheah. M7 Japan Project Team’s Syafiq Ali then swept past Ang to take third, having started ninth.
Another fresh face, Sepang Talent Development Program driver Ady Rahimy, won the amateur Sporting race, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Starting on pole, he built a lead of about 4.5 seconds by the second lap before a collision brought out the safety car. From then on, Ady clung on to help 23 Motors take back-to-back victories, crossing the line just 0.6 seconds ahead of Dream Chaser’s Bradley Benedict Anthony. The latter got the better of Clement Yeo in the closing stages, with the Distinctive Model driver coming home third.
The Rookie Class, part of the Gazoo Racing Young Talent Development Program for kart and sim racers, was won by Naquib Azlan – his third consecutive victory. The 20-year-old held third for most of the race before passing Mika Hakimi late on as leader Putera Adam crashed out. Amer Harris completed the podium.
Drawing the most attention was the celebrity-filled Promotional Class, which saw actor Shukri Yahaya take a convincing victory ahead of Nabil Ahmad. The comedian battled with actor Zizan Razak in the early stages before coming together and forcing his rival into retirement with broken suspension. This brought out a safety car and promoted UMW Toyota Motor deputy chairman Akio Takeyama to third, before a collision with presenter Ahirine Ahiruddin allowed singer and actress Nabila Razali to get past to finish on the podium.
After the fair weather on the first day, the second day’s downpour caught many drivers out in the Super Sporting Class, with a number of crashes, slides and near misses on the opening lap. Amidst the action, Syafiq Ali swung past three other cars in the first corner to take the lead ahead of teammate Faidzil Alang, before the calamities brought out the safety car.
Behind them, Mitchell Cheah shrugged off a fallen rear bumper, passing Speedaddix’s Hayden Haikal after the restart before fighting hard with Faidzil and taking second. The intensifying rain then brought out the safety car and eventually the red flag, and despite the weather letting up, the race restarted under safety car conditions until the race’s time limit, with Syafiq, Cheah and Faidzil taking up the podium places. The Rookie Class was combined into the same race, with Amer Harris being the highest-placed finisher in seventh.
Race 2 of the Sporting Class also proved to be a challenge in the wet, but while most racers tiptoed their way around Sepang’s North Track, Crestmax Motorsport’s Adam Khalid was a sensation, storming from 15th on the grid to take the lead on only the sixth lap. Aylezo Motorsport’s Mirza Syahmi Mahzan and privateer Eric Yong finished behind in second and third.
The clouds gave way to the evening sun just in time for the Promotional Class race, but the thrills kept on coming with drivers crashing and overshooting corners up and down the order. Shukri Yahaya made it two wins in a row – starting fifth, he drove a clean and measured race and gradually picked off the others. Nabil Ahmad again finished second, some 7.1 seconds adrift, while Zizan Razak, burdened with ballast, had to settle for third.
Despite the event being closed to spectators, Round 2 again drew in more than two million online viewers, according to UMW Toyota. The pandemic-hit season will close off with Round 3, held at night on November 20 and 21.
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