Thursday, November 5, 2009

Malaysia and Motorsports: The Rise

Thursday, November 5, 2009
Some 15 years ago, our then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir, had mooted an idea to bring the Formula One circus to not only our country, but to this region. There was a general feel of scepticism towards his idea. Yet, here we stand; having already hosted 11 successful Grand Prix’s in Formula One as well as being a permanent fixture on the premier motorcycling world championship calendar, the MotoGP.

Truth be told though, the Sepang International Circuit served as a catalyst to what would mean greater heights. Not long after its inception, Malaysians had their men to cheer on in Formula One and MotoGP respectively. However, the euphoria fizzled out and before we knew it, Alex Yoong and Shahrul Yuzy were out of race seats.

That seemed to be the end of it. There were no budding prospects that were groomed to follow in their footsteps. Apart from some occasional success in A1GP, there was nothing much to shout about on the international motorsports scene since then. Internal bickering among the motorsports affiliates in Malaysia only made the situation from bad to worse.

Whatever said and done, amid the doom and gloom, a bright ray of hope appeared. First, the selection for the wildcard entries into the Sepang MotoGP leg drew momentum. At the same time, Fairuz Fauzy was going guns in the World Series by Renault and to cap that off, our current Prime Minister announced that Malaysia were going to be represented on the Formula One grid next year. Many, including me, were incredibly surprised upon learning that we were going to undertake such a venture. I, for one, could not believe what I was reading in the newspapers and hearing in the news.

Recently, our two motorcyclists who took part in the 125cc class drove the race of their lives’ to come home in extremely commendable positions. There are offers on the table for them to continue featuring in the championship prominently from next season on. The best part is Datuk Tony Fernandes announced that they would be more than willing to pump in the cash to set-up their own team.

As for the case of the 1Malaysia Lotus F1 Team, it only gets better. The team are on schedule to roll out their car for testing, and Tony handed over duties of the team CEO to Proton’s General Manager. At the moment, they are finalising the drivers for their cars next year. My bet is that Fairuz Fauzy has done enough to secure his spot as he had one heck of a season in the World Series by Renault, finishing second overall in the standings. In Mike Gascoyne, they have one of the best technical men to lead their team too.

In the lesser echelons of the racing world, Malaysia has been rising slowly and steadily. One man that is bound to be a headline-grabber down the years to come is Jazeman Firhan Jaafar. He is a racing hotshot and has been tipped by many in the racing fraternity to bloom into a world beater. Then, we also have the Meritus racing team. They are the only Asian team competing in GP2 Asia and have won numerous awards throughout the years via virtually dominating the Formula BMW Asia.

Conclusively, Malaysian motorsports has got the potential, but not yet the resources, to rival and overwhelm the best in the world. I would put down a marker that in about eight year’s time we would definitely be a force to be reckoned with. This would inevitably translate to technological advances in our automotive industry among others.

The 1Malaysia Formula 1 initiative, together with the refined blueprints to fully compete in MotoGP, definitely are not tantamount to building castles in the air. The sure thing here is that through motorsports, Malaysia has the chance to be the best in the world, something that would be wishful thinking in the case of football and lately, hockey.

*This is an article that I had written and a revised version of this has been published in the Niexter pullout dated 3rd Dec. 2009.
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