It is time once again for the annual 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER), previously known as the Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race as it was inaugurated in 2000 as part of the Merdeka (Independence Day in Malaysia) activities.
This year, the 13th edition of the MMER sees a 30-car grid – 6 in the GT Class, 5 in the Sports Production Class and 19 in the Touring Production Class (including the 8 cars of the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup).
The reigning champions of the PETRONAS Syntium Team are back to defend their title, bringing back the same cars from last year. 2011 was when the team made the debut of the highly sought-after Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 in the region and they made the deal sweeter by clinching overall victory.
This marked the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3′s first ever victory in long-distance endurance racing worldwide and PETRONAS Syntium Team was rewarded for its achievement with the “Best Racing Performance” award at the AMG Customer Sports Season Finale. With the same car and same driver line-up of Nobuteru Taniguchi, Masataka Yanagida and Dominic Ang, the aim is to achieve a 1-2 finish for the team with sister car #28 of Tatsuya Kataoka, Fariqe Hairuman and Melvin Moh.
The title fight last year went down to the last third of the 11th hour before the PETRONAS Syntium Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Taniguchi, Yanagida and Ang emerged at the front of the field.
This was what happened:
Initially, the PETRONAS Syntium Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 of Kataoka, Fariqe and Mercedes AMG works driver Bernd Schneider was leading the race when they ran into mechanical troubles and had to give up the lead to the Belgian Audi Club and their R8. Then it was Audi’s turn to encounter a tyre issue in the last 20 minutes of the race, allowing Taniguchi-Yanagida-Ang to get back out front.
This year, there are no Audi cars in the MMER, but there are some Aston Martins as you can tell from the pit board.
Yes, “James Bond 007″ is in the house! This Aston Martin Vantage GT3 is run by Craft Eurasia Racing Hong Kong, with drivers Frank Yu, Alain Jacques Gilbert Li and Tomonobu Fujii.
Mok Weng Sun’s Ferrari 458 of Clearwater Racing is also back – after the car had to retire during the race last year – with former F1 driver Gianmaria Bruni and Ferrari GT driver Matthew Griffin as his team-mates. The other Ferrari is from Italian racing team AF Corse SRL.
Darryl O’ Young, who drove in one of the Audi works cars at MMER last year with Alex Yoong, will be on the grid tomorrow, but in a Porsche 911 GT3 with Keita Sawa and Siu Yuk Lung. I would also like to take this chance to congratulate Darryl – he recently got married! Sorry ladies…
Defending champions of the Sport Production and Touring Production classes are also on the grid, with Nexus Racing hoping to win the Sports Production title again this year in their Aston Martin.
Singaporean workshop ST Powered, winner of last year’s Touring Production class in their Honda Civic FD2R, returned to MMER with three cars this time (#11, #22 and #33).
ST Powered’s Desmond Soh very humbly acknowledged that they had the opportunity to win last year because the race leader Type R Racing ran into car troubles.
You can be sure that Boy Wong, Soh KK and Lai Wee Sing from Tyre R Racing will be hunting hard to redeem the potential win they lost!
Other Singaporean teams or drivers at MMER include BTB Racing’s Lotus 2-11 (Desmond Ng, Chong Khim Cheng, Tan Pye Sen)…
… and also Patrick Ng, deputy chairman of Pan-United Corporation Ltd, Council Member for Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Indusry, and Chairman of Marine Parade Community Club Management Committee, as well as team principal for FXPrimus Aylezo and their Lotus Evora.
It was nice to see the first Toyota 86 in MMER, by Wing Hin Motorsports.
Wing Hin Motorsports finished third in class and achieved a podium finish, hence the new 86 was brought in to MMER, backed by TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and heralded by Japanese Super GT drivers Takeshi Tsuchiya of TOM’s Toyota, Morio Nitta of Team APR and Akira Lida of Team Gazoo Racing.
I got in on Wednesday night and only went to Sepang on Thursday morning. It was the last day of official practice sessions, including one at night.
I was watching Melvin Moh of PETRONAS Syntium Team get ready for his practice session…
… ensuring that everything is in its place, even the tightness of the belt too.
Off the track Melvin is quite the sweet and cheer-me-up type of person… until he started dancing Oppa Gangnam Style in the middle of the paddock.
Melvin is a pioneer of the PETRONAS Fomula e(X)perience programme, the motorsports development initiative targeted at youths and in 2010 he made his foray into GT racing when he became part of PETRONAS Syntium Team and drove the BMW Z4M then. This season is his first time in the SLS AMG GT3 . (read more about Melvin here)
It is common to see teams offering joss sticks for their prayers of blessings…
I pray for all teams and drivers to stay safe!
The last official practice session was the one held on Thursday night and it was very interesting to see things so differently once the sun goes down.
Photo by Andrew Khoo for Sepang Official Photographer Team
Somehow the darkness creates a greater air of anticipation…
Other than the main MMER race, there are support races as well.
The 8 Volkswagen Sciroccos from the Touring Production class are from the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup..
… the Ferrari Challenge Asia Pacific Series…
… which has a few Singaporeans competing – the likes of Ringo Chong, Gerard Yap and Gregory Teo:
Then there is also the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia with Singaporeans Yuey Tan and Ringo Chong…
… and the Asia Classic Car Challenge which had really vintage stuff!
I squealed in delight when I spotted not one…
.. but TWO pink entries! Guess what? This pink panther did 2:22.030!!!
Qualifying started on Friday morning and everyone was just trying to push their best times out of their hands and feet, slipping and sliding in some corners, rustling some loose gravel around.
Determining the starting grid order is the average lap time of all three drivers’ best lap time. Securing pole position was Clearwater Racing, followed by both the PETRONAS Syntium Team cars.
It’s a long race and based on experience, anything can happen in an endurance race. Things like consistency, reliability and strategy are key, as well as keeping it smooth and safe to bring the car home and not end up like this:
Here are the overall qualifying results:
View more of my photos from MMER here.