9tro issue #7
Text by Cheryl
Photos by Cheryl
I have never thought of going around the Sepang track in a compact car of less than 880cc, let alone go around it for 24 hours. But that is what 45 compact cars did on 12 February 2011. Flagging off at 12 noon, the K4GP 24-hour endurance race saw teams from Japan and Malaysia compete.
The K4GP race is very special – originating in Japan and is more of a carnival where speed enthusiasts gather for a weekend of fun. The budget is kept low with cars of 880cc or less, and no in-car radio communications are allowed. Quantity of fuel is also controlled (limited to just 360 litres each) and all cars have to refuel at the same fuel station located in the car park outside of the pit building.
Held for the third time at Sepang, the K4GP is a non-sanctioned club level race with five categories and has a family-oriented light-hearted nature. Teams can have as many drivers as they want, with some having 20 drivers or more. To me, it is more of a 24-hour track day rather than a race!
Bumping into Singapore’s only Super GT driver Melvin Choo at the front of the starting line, he shared with us his reasons for being at K4GP. “I’m not here for competitive all-out racing; my team Thunder Asia Racing has entered three cars for this event. This is not serious competition but a casual and fun gathering of motorheads, like a track day. My role for the weekend is team owner and driver coach,” said Melvin.
Thunder Asia Racing’s first team consists of Sepang International Circuit’s CEO Chief Exective Officer Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali, Malaysian journalist Arnaz Khairul, former Formula 1 driver Alex Yoong’s sister Philippa Yoong and pioneer Red Bull Rookie driver Hiroko Nakamura, as well as Singaporeans Rhommell Singh, Eli Solomon and Dawn Goh.
Dawn is the winner of a contest ran in the local newspapers for a lucky reader to get a chance to drive for Melvin’s team. About 67 people wrote in to the papers about why they deserve a chance to drive the car and Dawn’s answer stood out from the rest.
The first car for Melvin’s team – named Spirit of McLaren – was a replica of the 1.3-litre single-seater McLaren M6A Chevrolet, which unfortunately encountered problems in the 18th hour and hence retired. However, it was able to go out for a conciliatory last lap for the sake of completing the race, totaling the lap count to 296.
“We spun a bearing and honestly, it’s a strain on the car to go at 24 hours continuously. Nonetheless, I like it and it’s like participating in historic car races like I usually do. I will want to return and do K4GP again,” said Eli, who is the author of the Singapore Grand Prix history publication titled Snakes and Devils.
The cutest thing about K4GP is not just the kei cars, but also the start of the race. All the cars were lined up in one row on one side of the track.
Unlike the typical races you watch on television, there is no qualifying session to determine grid positions. A practice session was held three hours before the race start and that was it.
As the first driver of each team gets into the car, another member of the team has to be dressed in a costume and stand across the track from the car.
Upon engine start, these mascots have to run across the track and tear a sticker off the car before the driver can move off and officially start the race.
There were some dressed in cosplay and others in Spiderman or dinosaur costumes.
As casual and light-hearted as the event was, I have to give it to them for being able to tolerate 24 hours in kei cars.
Having been at Sepang for all kinds of races from Formula 1 to Formula Pacific to GT3/GT4 to the Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race, this racing atmosphere is the first I’ve ever experienced – it is one that is calm, relaxed and simply “take your own sweet time”. The refueling station is all the way at the carpark; usually in competitive races the refueling is done during the pit stop and advantages are gained there.
The fastest lap was clocked by overall winning team Biba (#66) at 2:39.59 min, out of the 458 laps that they completed in 24 hours.
Promoting grassroot level of motorsports and genuinely allowing the masses to enjoy the sport, the K4GP has no restrictions on handicapped drivers who wish to participate. Team Adi Motorsports Racing is led by wheelchair-bound Adi Haslam, who was competing in his first car race after 16 years.
He was previously a leading Malaysian racer in both cars and bikes, until he unfortunately met with a motocross accident in Johor in 1997. Fellow handicap and former TV host Ras Adiba Radzi was one of Adi’s team-mates and together with the rest, they finished 378 laps and won the GP-4 class.
Moving forward, Melvin will be requesting for at least five Singaporean team entries so he can offer this opportunity to more Singaporeans. (Non-Japanese teams can only participate upon invitation by the K4GP race organisers.)
In the spirit of fun and amusement, the K4GP is perfect for your weekend family outing. You might want to get many drivers so the 24 hours will pass quicker!
There was no podium ceremony after all the cars gathered to celebrate the end of the race, they drove off with team members in the cars, waving to the spectators as they headed to a much-needed shower after packing up.
You may go and drop by to catch a glimpse of K4GP, but if you are used to excitement or if you find yourself bored with the 12-hour MMER or 9-hour S1K, then I suggest you spend no more than half hour at K4GP.
To quote someone, “The cars at K4GP are cute… and it ends there.” OUCH!
*This was first published in 9tro magazine.