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How this Singapore team of amateur racers took on a 1,000km motorsport endurance race

Save for seven professional mechanics, the long-time friends are amateurs with a dream to race. Most of them are Singaporeans.

In the past 12 months, they diligently travelled nearly every month to the track in Sepang, Selangor – located 45km south of Kuala Lumpur, or 300km from the Tuas Checkpoint – to gear up for the gruelling race on Nov 25.

The annual event is open to cars below 1,600cc, with teams racing to complete 1,000km – more than 180 laps of the 5.5km Sepang circuit – within nine hours.

The rules allow two to four drivers per car. Each driving stint is limited to 75 minutes before a compulsory driver change.

While the drivers pushed both themselves and their cars to the limits on the circuit, the crew practised tasks like rapid tyre changes and refuelling.

Volunteer mechanics changing the front tyres of the No. 67 Honda Jazz, one of three Team 667 cars in the annual race.
Volunteer mechanics changing the front tyres of the No. 67 Honda Jazz, one of three Team 667 cars in the annual race.
The race organisers provide teams with two fuelling tanks, and the refuelling crew is working out how quickly the tanks can dispense the petrol during the race.
The race organisers provide teams with two fuelling tanks, and the refuelling crew is working out how quickly the tanks can dispense the petrol during the race.

Refuelling team member Ong Wei Han, 37, said: “I volunteered because I just want to see my friends win the race. We do not have many other opportunities to meet and do things together.”

This is the second year that Mr Ong, a bicycle mechanic by profession, is volunteering. Like the others in the pit crew, he paid his own way to be at the Sepang race.

Ms Monica Liem sharing a light-hearted moment with her husband, Mr Yak Tze Yih, the starting driver in No. 89, a grey Honda Jazz from Team 667.
Ms Monica Liem sharing a light-hearted moment with her husband, Mr Yak Tze Yih, the starting driver in No. 89, a grey Honda Jazz from Team 667.

Of the three cars entered by the team, No. 667 (below) – a Suzuki Swift Sport – was expected to put in the strongest performance. It was a proven machine, having taken third position in its class at last year’s event. The other two cars, both Honda Jazzes, made their race debuts in 2023.

In their previous lives, all three were regular road cars before they were modified to comply with race regulations.

While the grid is made up of cars from amateur teams like Team 667, there are also more professional outfits such as the factory-backed Honda Malaysia Racing Team, which fielded two specially built Honda City cars in the touring car class.

This is the fastest category on track, which allows the most extensive modifications. During qualifying, such cars were able to cover the 5.5km circuit in under 2min 35sec, nearly 10sec ahead of those in the lower categories.

Teams are mostly Malaysian, but drivers also hail from Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Mr Jonathan Teong, a driver from Team 667, tries to stay cool while waiting to take the wheel.
Mr Jonathan Teong, a driver from Team 667, tries to stay cool while waiting to take the wheel.

Race flag off was at 12.20pm under a sky that soon turned overcast.

Barely an hour later, the Suzuki Swift Sport – driven by the first of its four drivers, Mr Lawrence Lim Wei Jie, 38 – started showing signs of trouble.

Its engine temperature started climbing, said the Malaysian track enthusiast, who runs a tyre shop in Malacca.

By the time the second driver for the car, Mr Mark Ong, 43, got behind the wheel, the Suzuki was losing power and struggling to keep up. Mr Ong, a Singaporean stockbroker, pulled into the pits as the engine was clearly overheating.

The other two cars continued to push on without much incident.

The No. 511 Honda Jazz of Team Awesome Racing hurtling on, even after its rear bumper was damaged.
The No. 511 Honda Jazz of Team Awesome Racing hurtling on, even after its rear bumper was damaged.

The rain was getting heavier by this time, to the point where officials stopped the race as conditions were deemed too dangerous to continue the event.

Race drivers attending a briefing after the race was temporarily stopped due to bad weather.
Race drivers attending a briefing after the race was temporarily stopped due to bad weather.
Pit crew members using a leaf blower to cool off the drivers as they await the restart of the race.
Pit crew members using a leaf blower to cool off the drivers as they await the restart of the race.
It gets hot for drivers, who are required to wear fire retardant inner wear under their race suits.
It gets hot for drivers, who are required to wear fire retardant inner wear under their race suits.

With the No. 667 Suzuki in the garage, the crew, led by Mr Chester Chua, 44, went about pulling out its engine. Mr Chua owns a motor workshop in Singapore.

It was a scene of organised chaos as the team dismantled the front end of the car, disconnecting wires and draining the fluids to hoist the damaged 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine out from the bay. They then worked to disconnect it from the six-speed manual gearbox.

Mr Chester Chua, chief mechanic and strategist of Team 667, awaiting a replacement engine for the Suzuki Swift Sport that overheated less than two hours into the nine-hour race.
Mr Chester Chua, chief mechanic and strategist of Team 667, awaiting a replacement engine for the Suzuki Swift Sport that overheated less than two hours into the nine-hour race.

The team had brought along all kinds of spare parts to the track, but not a spare engine. This would prove to be a critical mistake.

One finally arrived from a workshop about an hour away, and the crew spent just over an hour getting the car fixed up (below).

Unfortunately, just as the Swift was ready to rejoin the race, the race official disqualified the car. The replacement engine had not been checked before the event started, which was against the rules.

No. 667 was out – one of 19 that eventually failed to complete the race.

“Well, that’s racing,” said a dejected Mr Chua.

Mr Tan Wei Ming (right) sharing some quick advice with Mr Kenneth Loh before handing over the wheel of the No. 89 Honda Jazz during the race.
Mr Tan Wei Ming (right) sharing some quick advice with Mr Kenneth Loh before handing over the wheel of the No. 89 Honda Jazz during the race.

Hondas No. 89 and No. 67 fared better, finishing 14th and 15th out of 27 entries in the class for standard production cars.

The overall winner of the event was the Toyota Yaris entered by Wing Hin Motorsports, a Toyota dealer and the distributor of Toyota Racing Development parts in Malaysia.

Mr Tan Wei Ming, 50, one of Team 667’s four drivers in car No. 89, said: “The real heroes are the mechanics and the pit crew who ensure that the car last the distance… The camaraderie in our team alone would make me keen to do it again in 2024”.

The pit crew from Team 667 having a quick meal during the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race.
The pit crew from Team 667 having a quick meal during the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race.
Produced by:

  • Andrea Wong
  • Andy Chen
  • Chong Jun Liang
  • Grace Tay
  • Joelyn Tan
  • Jananee Yega
  • Lee Nian Tjoe
  • Lee Pei Jie
  • Leonard Lai
  • Mark Cheong

Published by SPH Media Limited, Co. Regn. No. 202120748H. Copyright © 2023 SPH Media Limited. All rights reserved.



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