“Nothing short of excitement” is the word for the opening round of Season 6 of the GR Vios Challenge at the Sepang International Circuit with four classes saw the rise of the young drivers claiming podiums. It was reported that more than 3.5 million viewers were tuned into the live streams of the race on Saturday and Sunday which also featured a line-up of five new celebrities, 6 new rookie drivers and a grid of 45 cars.
For many, it was back to back visits to the podium over the two-day race weekend while for others Season 6 could not have gotten off to a more challenging start having to concur with unwanted race incidents and post-race penalties. What was however apparent, was the outright pace of the young drivers throughout the weekend.
The evolution of these young drivers has come at a very rapid pace, more so over the past 3 years, due to the GR Vios Challenge’s unique format of a one-make race which levels the playing field between the experienced and young drivers. In the company of more accomplished racers has enabled the younger protégés to hone their driving skills and race craft at an accelerated learning curve.
Prima Pearl TD Racing’s Mitchell Cheah made the most of a reverse grid format in Race 2 which placed him at the front of the grid to lead the 20-lap race in the Super Sporting Class from start to finish. Cheah finished 0.4 seconds ahead of Laser Motor Racing’s Putera Adam while coming in third was Axle Sports’ and defending Super Sporting Class overall champion Hayden Haikal. Putera was subsequently handed a penalty dropping to fifth and that promoted Hayden to second position and Prima Pearl TD Racing’s Tengku Djan Ley into third spot.
Winning Race 2 makes up for the disappointment Cheah endured in Race 1 when a 10-second post-race penalty stripped him of a race win dropping him to 6th.
“It’s good to be back on the podium again. Technically I won both races but the penalty cost me the win in Race 1. Race 2 was tougher than I had expected because the younger drivers are very fast,” said the 25-year-old Cheah. “I had to manage an understeer towards the end of the race and had to do whatever I could to protect my position.”
In the Rookie Class, Ariff Azmi clinched victory in Race 2 ahead of Nazmir Azlan and Iman Danish in third position.
“Yesterday I was leading but halfway through the race I suffered an ABS failure which pushed me down to 6th and that wasn’t the result I was hoping for especially after claiming pole position,” said the 16-year-old.
“The transition from karting to saloon car racing has been challenging but with a lot of help I’ve received via the GR Young Talent Development Program and from so many people on the grid it’s been really good. It eased me into the car a lot better instead of just being thrown into a race without any development program. I have to thank Toyota for this opportunity they have given to develop drivers like us,” said the 2019 Rotax Max Malaysia junior champion.
The GAZOO Racing Young Talent Development Program was first started in 2020 and is designed to promote young drivers up the motorsports ladder. It has so far successfully produced 12 very talented young racers between the ages of 14 and 20 making their transition from the sport of karting and simulator racing to saloon car racing.
With the overall Rookie Class championship being won by simulator racers in the previous two seasons, Ariff also appears confident of becoming the first karter to win the title in 2023.
“I’m used to racing and I hope that my experience in karting is going to help me have an edge over the simulator racers. This doesn’t put any amount of pressure on me. I’ll just keep cool and get the job done!”
For simulator racers Nazmir and Iman, it was their second visit to the podium in two races. Nazmir finished third in Race 1 while Iman went on to win the opening Rookie Class race.
“Race 2 was a roller coaster ride. I got collected in an accident but I still managed to carry on. Overall, it was fun,” said 16-year-old racing driver and simulator racer Iman.
In the Sporting Class, Race Rally KL’s Mohd Syafiq Samsudin made the best of a front row start to lead the race and build a healthy 1.7 seconds ahead of Crestmax Motorsport’s Bradley Benedict Anthony by the very first lap. A safety car on lap 2 however, quickly erased all his hard work and despite pulling away to establish a 0.8 second lead when the race restarted three laps later, he was served a drive through penalty for a false start.
The turn of events essentially led to a showdown between Bradley and Season 5’s Rookie Class champion Nabil Azlan for the lead. Halfway through the 20-lap race, Bradley inched ahead with a gap of 1.3 seconds ahead of Nabil and 23 Motors’ Abdul Miqail in tow for third position a further 2 seconds behind
It was a straight fight to the finish but in the end, Bradley took the chequered flag 0.7 seconds in front of Nabil and Abdul Miqail claimed third.
“I was being pressured all the way from the start to the chequered flag. I saw Abdul Miqail really pushing. He started 9th on the grid but midway through the race he was already fighting for second position,” said Bradley. “I just did my best to maintain my tyres to ensure I retained the level of grip needed to get me to the finish.”
As the race commentators correctly put it, Race 2 of the Promotional Class was still a “Zizan-Shukri Show”, essentially being a repeat of Race 1’s result with actors Zizan Razak and Shukri Yahaya finishing in the top two positions and just 0.3 seconds separating the two drivers.
GR Vios Challenge newcomer Ezzrin Loy finished third in the 18-lap race, 13.3 seconds behind, but still successfully securing his second straight podium finish in two races.
“I expect this duel on the track to continue throughout the season. I have to admit that Zizan is a better driver. It is difficult for me to not only overtake him but to also get away from him when I am in the lead. Unlike Zizan, my only exposure to motorsports has been confined to competing in six seasons of the GR Vios Challenge,” said Shukri, who is also a former Promotional Class overall champion.
“What I can say however, is that the experience gained on the track has helped to enormously develop me into a better, more capable and confident driver, especially when I am on the road and I would like to thank Toyota for this giving me this opportunity.”
Meanwhile, actor and host Ezzrin who is also an avid motorcycle enthusiast said the experience of racing a saloon car has been an eye opener.
“Both driving and riding on the track is challenging, but what is important is to have a strong foundation. Personally, I would say racing a car is more challenging but if I keep focusing on making progress, I hope to continue being on the podium for the remaining four races,” said Ezzrin.
The GR Vios Challenge will resume with Round 2 from 2-4 June 2023, also to be held at the Sepang International Circuit.
For more information, visit the UMW Toyota Motor (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd website at www.toyota.com.my and the Toyota Malaysia and Toyota Gazoo Racing Malaysia Facebook pages.
SEASON 6, ROUND 1, RACE 2 RESULTS
1. Mitchell Cheah Prima Pearl TD Racing
2. Hayden Haikal Axle Sports
3. Tengku Djan Ley Prima Pearl TD Racing
1. Bradley Benedict Anthony Crestmax Motorsport
2. Nabil Azlan Axle Sports
3. Abdul Miqail 23 Motors
1. Ariff Azmi
2. Nazmir Azlan
3. Iman Danish
1. Zizan Razak
2. Shukri Yahaya
3. Ezzrin Loy