Postcard from Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race 2012 – The 12-hour race

Written by Cheryl Tay on . Posted in Cheryl Tay Blog | Blog Post of Cheryl Tay

The glorious sunshine (ok I lied – it should be the MERCILESS sunshine) baked all that were present to witness the start of the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER) 2012.

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It was really hot for the spectators already – I can only imagine how hot it will be in the cockpits of the cars as they race.

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Masataka (Ma) Yanagida of the PETRONAS Syntium Team (who had a champion 2011 year with three major titles: Super GT500 champion, Super Taikyu champion and MMER overall winner) clearly expressed his ‘love’ for the heat.

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With such punishing temperatures, it’s amazing how the grid girls can remain so cute.

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Maybe wearing less helps to dissipate the heat better.

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Their main job is to shelter the drivers and make sure the heat doesn’t fry their brain. In this case, the grid girl had to shelter the driver and his wife, which meant less shelter for herself.

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Umbrella girl, check. Wife, double check!

Fortunately, there were very kind services by some of the models’ agents, who went around dabbing their beads of perspiration off.

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The heat was unbearable for most, but some were not even bothered by the heat at all, as they were occupied trying to spot their idols for their autographs.

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The grid was open for an hour before the race, so there was plenty of time to check out the 30-car grid and the various helmets. This is one from Singaporean driver Darren Ong in the ST Powered Civic #11.

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While Darren’s helmet was having a sunbath, this one was sheltered so its owner would not get too ‘hot-headed’ when he puts it on.

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I left the grid before it was closed, so I could head over to the first turn to catch the start. Walking along the pits to get there, I spotted what was probably the tastiest ‘lollipop’ in the pits for that weekend. Yum!

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It was a smooth start, with pole-sitter Clearwater Racing’s Ferrari 458 #3 (with ex-F1 driver Gianmaria Bruni, Ireland’s Matt Griffin and GT3 Asia champion Mok Weng Sun) pulling away from the PETRONAS Syntium Team’s Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 duo.

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Both the SLS AMG GT3s stayed close to the Ferrari, as it was a long race after all. 12 hours to be exact.

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The first stint for the SLS AMG GT3s #1 and #28 was driven by the professional Japanese GT champions Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka (both of whom are partners in the Super GT300 championship this year) respectively. They were driving similar lap times and made their first pit stop together.

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The SLS AMG GT3 #28 was just ahead of #1 when they came in and taking over for #1 and #28 were Dominic Ang and Fariqe Hairuman next. Dominic was out of the pits first and he stayed in second place, hunting the Ferrari down, with Fariqe close behind.

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In the third stint, Yanagida took over from Dominic and Melvin Moh took over from Fariqe, to continue the chase. They ran into a safety car period and unluckily for Melvin, the safety car came out right before him. That meant the leaders of the race could get away and form up at the back, effectively leaving Melvin one lap behind. Still, he kept on chasing.

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Elsewhere in the GT3 class, the Porsche 911 GT3 R (World Touring Car Championship driver Darryl O’Young, Japan’s Keita Sawa and also Alex Siu) ran into a blown tyre in the seventh hour and had to slowly crawl its way back to the pits as no towing of the car back to the pits was allowed during the race.

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They got the car fixed and it was on its way again.

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Clearwater Racing continued to lead the race, briefly losing it to PETRONAS Syntium SLS AMG GT3 #1 for a few laps before gaining it back. It went on like that for over eight hours, until disaster struck the Ferrari.

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It suddenly came into the pits for an unscheduled stop due to a power steering issue and the crew worked hard to fix it quickly.

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Significant time was lost and Clearwater Racing slowly dropped down the order.

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They managed to get out on track in third place, but the issue seemed unresolved and the car came back in shortly after. Finally, the car retired after 239 laps, to much disappointment. All this while, the PETRONAS Syntium Team went on their way, leading the field in first and second place.

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It was a clean run for the SLS AMG GT3 #1, with the race going according to plan and pit stops executed smoothly.

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However, their sister car #28 suffered a second bout of bad luck.

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The need to change brake pads resulted in an extended pit stop, but by then they had already built up a good gap from the third-placed Porsche so the positions remain unaffected.

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It was in this same order that the race continued in and PETRONAS Syntium Team was keeping their fingers crossed tightly.

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Driving at night is a lot cooler and easier, according to some drivers.

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I hope the guys from BTB Racing and Team Korea in their Lotus 2-11s did not fall ill after being exposed to the blazing sun and then to the winds of the night. Thankfully there was no rain at all.

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After failing to finish the race last year while chasing for the win, Type R Racing of the Touring Production category replaced the heartbroken memories of 2011 and took the class win with 270 laps.

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The smiles on the faces of the boys at Type R Racing (Boy Wong Yew Chong, Soh Kee Koon and Lai Weng Sing) said it all.

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Following up in second for the Touring Production category was the Australian team (of James Hunter, Gavin Bullas and Grant Johnso) and its Subaru with 267 laps.

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Third for Touring Production went to the Toyota 86 (of Akira Aida, Takeshi Tsuchiya, Morio Nitta) from Wing Hin Motorsports in 264 laps! The 86 had a crappy qualifying and started at the back of the grid in 25th, so a podium finish was indeed a job well done.

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Sadly, the 2011 Touring Production category winner ST Powered and their Honda FD2R #22 had their engine blown and had to retired after 219 laps. Of the three cars that ST Powered sent in this year, only one finished the race…

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ST Powered’s Civic #11!

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For the Sports Production category, Nexus Racing (Fahrizal Hassan, Adrian d’Silva and Daniel Bilksi) retained their title with their Aston Martin, coming in 6th overall with 283 laps.

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The rest of the Sports Production podium was occupied by the Lotus Evora #99 from FXPrimus Aylezo in second with 268 laps…

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… and the Nissan Fairlady (of Mohamed Nazir, Mohamed Ridzuan and Khairul Anwar) in third, despite some overheating of the brakes and a teeny flame there.

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So….

Now you know the winners of the Touring Production and Sports Production categories and you must be wondering how the GT class turned out eventually? You probably guessed it right…

PETRONAS Syntium Team took both cars home safely to take the chequered flag first, with their SLS AMG GT3 #1 clocking 319 laps and #28 with 317.

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Third in GT class and overall was the Porsche with 310 laps.

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The podium ceremonies had some funny moments:

Judging by Ma’s expression, this lady who presented the prize must have been really gorgeous!

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Others were so happy they ‘peed’ on their fellow podium finishers.

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The big grin of Dominic Ang’s (the youngest of the winning trio alongside Yanagida and Taniguchi) never left his face..

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I later found out why during the post-race press conference – it’s his 23rd birthday today! Hence, successfully defending the title was an early birthday to himself.

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Dominic made his debut in GT racing with PETRONAS Syntium Team last year, progressing from his days at the PETRONAS Formula eXperience (PFX), a racing programme for youths. In his rookie year, he was teamed up with Yanagida and Taniguchi, winning the Super Taikyu overall title as well as the MMER in 2011.

Happy birthday Dominic!

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Team principal of PETRONAS Syntium Team Dato’ David Wong was a happy, happy man..

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Here are the overall results of the MMER 2012:

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View more of my MMER photos here.

Cheryl Tay

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Singapore’s only female full-time motoring and motorsports photojournalist. Independent automotive consultant and prominent local motorsports personality Cheryl Tay is uniquely passionate about all things cars and motorsports. She also has a strong passion to share her interest and knowledge, hence having a dream to become the ‘Oprah Winfrey of cars and motorsports’ and create a multimedia platform for her sharing. - A female in a male-dominated world, Cheryl Tay is Singapore’s only female full-time motoring journalist and motorsports blogger and she regularly writes for prominent titles in Singapore, Asia and internationally. (See full list of titles that Cheryl Tay writes for here.)

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