There's v-room for more excitement after a year of highs - and lows

Last update: 21/12/2018

By Ahmad Syabil Sultan Noordin Ahmad and Ahmad Nazrin Syahmi Mohamad Arif

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 (Bernama) -- The year 2018 proved to be a breakthrough year for young motorcycle ace Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah when he created history by becoming the first Malaysian to compete in a full season of the MotoGP championship.

The Selangor rider did all Malaysians proud in his maiden season with team Monster Yamaha Tech3 when he nearly won the Rookie of the Year title after the final race of the season – the Valencia Grand Prix – in November.

Alas, Hafizh had to be content with finishing second, just four points behind EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider Franco Morbidelli, in the race for the Rookie of the Year crown.

Having joined Monster Yamaha Tech3 as a late replacement for Jonas Folger at the beginning of the season, nothing much was expected of Hafizh, not when he was up against the likes of 2017 Moto2 world champion Morbidelli (Italy), 2017 Moto2 runner-up Thomas Luthi (Switzerland) and Takaaki Nakagami (Japan).

Hafizh, though, managed to finish 10th in four races – at Termas de Rio Hondo (Argentina), Motegi (Japan),  Sepang (Malaysia) and Valencia (Spain) this season to be placed 16th overall with 46 points.

For next season, Hafizh is set to stay with Tech3, which will be known as Red Bull KTM Tech 3, but he will switch from a Yamaha bike to a KTM machine and this time he will team up with Portuguese rider Miguel Oliveira.

However, there was not much joy for Malaysian riders in Moto2 and Moto3.

In Moto2, national ace Khairul Idham Pawi of Idemitsu Honda Team Asia endured a dismal year when he could only finish 30th overall with just one point while national Moto3 rider Adam Norrodin ended up in 21st spot overall with 46 points.

The emergence of these three riders in the three different categories of the World Motorcycle  Championships this season certainly caught the imagination of local motorcycling fans.

The excitement fuelled crowd attendance on race day at the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix this year, breaching the 103,984 figure, and that has led to local race promoters Sepang International Circuit Sdn Bhd (SIC) to maintain the target for future editions.

This far exceeds the previous race day (Sunday) records of 97,457 last year and 95,316 in 2016.

Malaysia are set to make history next season when SIC field a team in MotoGP, with multinational oil and gas company Petronas as their official sponsor partner from next year until 2021.

This was announced by Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman at a press conference after the British Grand Prix in August, 

SIC chief executive officer Datuk Razlan Razali announced that Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo of France would ride for the Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing team and they will be astride the Yamaha YZR-M1.

The Petronas-SIC collaboration will allow the multinational company to use the World Motorcycle Championships to further develop its motorcycle oil lubrication technology in the same way it has done in Formula One.

Petronas has, in the meantime, played a pivotal role in spearheading the growth of the national motor racing scene through its involvement in the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, who won both the constructors’ and drivers’ titles for the fifth time in a row since 2014 in Formula One, thus equalling Ferrari’s record set from 2000.

Not to be outdone, three other national drivers – Jazeman Jaafar, Nabil Jeffri and Weiron Tan – also made history by becoming the first Malaysians and all-Asian line-up to win a World Endurance Championship (WEC) race.

They emerged victorious in the LMP2 class in the 6 Hours of Fuji race at the Fuji Speedway in Japan in October.

The trio, who are under the SIC’s Driver Talent Development Programme, had earlier given a warning of their true potential by clinching their first-ever podium finish in the same class when they came in second in the 6 Hours of Silverstone race at the Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom in August.

The excellence of all these national riders and drivers in the motor racing arena this year has only whetted the appetite of motoring fans for next season.