Even at the risk of being lynched, we’ll say it anyway – endurance races tax both journalists and drivers.
Yes, some might argue that journalists don’t have to jostle for position on the track, with the only jostling they are likely to experience coming at the media lounge’s buffet line.
But let’s not forget that a buffet can be fraught with peril, too. After all, expiring due to choking is a very real prospect.
So with that in mind, we followed Audi down to Malaysia’s Sepang Circuit over Malaysia’s Independence Day weekend (Aug 31) for rounds 7 and 8 of the Audi R8 LMS Cup Asia and, just after that, to watch Audi’s four entrants in the 12-hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER).
Like the racers, we came prepared. We had our journalistic equipment in hand and, more importantly, primed our stomachs for whatever Audi’s VIP lounge could throw at us. A good thing, too, because there was a seemingly never-ending supply of food and drink, a DJ playing funky tunes, and a bevy of beauties flanking the Ducati stand (Audi bought the Italian manufacturer over last year). In other words, wine, women and song – plus the very nice bonus of being around some extremely fast race machinery.
It could drive most people to distraction, but being the consummate professionals that we are, we remembered we had a job to do – starting with the Audi R8 LMS Cup Asia. This one-make race series is held across eight locations in four Asian countries. Aside from racing modifications aimed at increasing safety and mechanical durability, the R8s used are broadly similar to what you or I could buy from Audi’s swish showroom on Alexandra Road. (Although in our case, affording the road car would have to involve a fair amount of illegal activities including, but not restricted to, bank robbery or an e-mail scam.)
Into only its second year in the region, the R8 LMS Cup’s driver roster has expanded from 16 to 20, with the competitors ranging from seasoned professionals to amateur “gentleman racers”. This year’s participants included Malaysian ex-F1 driver Alex Yoong and some chap named Aaron Kwok.
In case you’re wondering, yes, that’s the Aaron Kwok. The Heavenly King might as well be called the Heavenly Speed King, too, because he finished second in his Amateur-class for both Sepang rounds.
The overall victory for both rounds of the R8 LMS Cup Asia in Sepang went to hometown hero Alex Yoong, who narrowly edged out Marchy Lee and Franky Chen in rounds 7 and 8 respectively. Despite the relatively short race (just under half an hour for each round), the action was fast and furious, at some points with three cars going side-by-side into a turn.
While the drivers were duking it out, we had a “sprint race” to contend with as well. With the varied “racing conditions” provided by Audi, we set out on “hot laps” of the buffet spread, managing to set several “lap records” in the process.
After having “refuelled”, we followed Yoong on a pit lane tour that included a walk-through of the R8 he’d be using for the MMER later (the race started at midnight).
He revealed that, in addition to a gearbox overhaul to ensure reliability during the gruelling 12-hour race, his car would be equipped with softer suspension bushes to increase comfort.
It would seem staying relatively comfortable is his recipe for success in endurance racing; his other hot tip coming in the form of staying adequately hydrated.
As day gave way to night and Yoong was settling in and drinking up for the long haul, we decided to follow his cue by adhering to a hydration plan of our own. We did that by supplementing the copious amounts of Coke we were consuming throughout the day with something a little more, shall we say, fermented.
Also key to a racecar driver surviving an endurance race is to not go too hard, too quickly – advice we also took to heart.
To finish first, you must first finish, the sagely old saying goes, so instead of making searing runs on the buffet, we went for a more measured approach by taking smaller quantities over a longer period.
Despite our best efforts at mental and physical preparation, our biggest test was to come during hours three and eight of the MMER, which incidentally happened while we were in our plush hotel beds.
While the drivers were battling the twin demons of sleep deprivation and other racers, we were struggling too, battling our twin demons of caffeine-induced insomnia and indigestion.
When we dragged our weary bodies back to the circuit the next morning, the MMER was almost at an end. The overall victory in the top GT3-class was eventually taken by the Clearwater Racing team and its Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
Unfortunately, Audi’s sole GT3-class entrant, an R8 LMS Ultra, was consigned to a seventh-placed finish despite finding itself in third spot at one point. Its less-than-stellar showing arose from a lengthy pit stop to fix a faulty brake cylinder.
The remaining three R8s racing in the GTC-class had a brilliant showing, however (although one of them retired after completing just under 11 hours of racing). They claimed the top two podium spots, with the car Yoong captained taking the class win. That victory brought Yoong’s tally to three for the weekend.
While Yoong and his co-drivers Asharff Dewal and Jacky Yeung performed their victory lap, we thought it appropriate to conduct one of our own, although for us it was on the buffet line, not the racetrack.
Going for that final push at “race pace” isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you consider that we consumed enough food in those two days to last us a week. Like racing, journalism is a tough job (we argue it’s even tougher than driving around in circles really quickly), but hey, someone’s gotta do it.