Sunday, 5 April 2009

The need for speed

It's motor racing season again. The second race of the Formula 1 Grand Prix is being held today at Sepang, Selangor.

Not many people know that there is another motor racing circuit of international standard in Malaysia. It is located in Pasir Gudang, Johor.

The Johor Circuit was built in 1986 by Johor Corporation as a means to promote motorsports in the state. In 1990, just after four years after it was built, the circuit was upgraded to comply to the strict FIM World GP specifications. Among the improvements made were lengthening of the track from 3.1 km to 3.86 km, introduction of new bends, reconstruction of run-off areas at some corners and improvement to the pit facilities. The track now has 12 turns or corners.

I was attached to the Engineering Department at Pasir Gudang at the time and hence became directly involved in the upgrading works. Our department was responsible for the construction of the track extension and supervision of the pit improvement works. The earthworks were carried out using departmental machinery and we worked round the clock to meet the tight schedule. The first race to be held upon completion of the upgrading works was the Johor International Formula 3 grand prix.

We managed to complete our portion of the works on time and I was proud of our in-house construction team. The completed track has to undergo an independent inspection before it can be certified to world standards.

One afternoon, I was at the track with two colleagues to check up on last minute preparations prior to the independent inspection. We completed our tasks earlier than expected and were taking a break sitting at the grandstand area while viewing the quiet and empty circuit. The tracks have been re-surfaced and the overall view was quite impressive.

Out of the blue, my colleague named Ismail remarked, "What a nice track and what a nice day..."

"Yeah," I said.

Ismail turned to look at me and asked, "You want to race?"

"You're kidding, right?" I replied. I looked at Ismail's face and saw that he was not.

And so I said, "Okay, let's race!"

It was a spur of the moment decision but it did cross my mind that we would never get the chance to take our cars for a spin once the track is formally opened. I had previously driven around the circuit before but those drives were more to inspect the progress of construction works by my staff. Now that the track has been fully re-surfaced, I'm itching to try out a spin at racing speed.

Ismail and I scanned the premises to make sure the circuit management staff were not around before we quietly sneaked in our cars onto the track. What we were about to do was something that was definitely against the rules. But hey... nothing ventured, nothing gained. We decided that the race shall be over 2 laps. Hopefully we can sneak out after those two laps without getting caught. Our other colleague named Samad declined to ride with either of us and so acted as the starter to flag us off. To show that he was serious about the race, Ismail even put on a motorcycle helmet.

I was driving a Mazda 323 Hatchback at the time. It has a 1.5 litre engine with manual transmission and was my first car. It was maroon in colour and had a rubber spoiler attached at the rear. Not a bad-looking car.

Ismail's car was a 1,000 cc Daihatsu Charade, the pre-cursor of our Perodua Kancil. To balance the mismatch in engine power, I agreed to take on a handicap by starting two grid positions behind him. I was confident that I could catch up by the end of the first lap.

How wrong I was! As soon as Samad flagged us off, Ismail's Charade took off at lightning speed. I gave chase with all my might. The Mazda's engine revved to the danger levels in a bid to squeeze every bit acceleration that it can deliver. When I reached the corners, I braked as late I dared and shifted gears downwards and upwards in near frenzy as the tyres screeched in mercy. It was constant gear-shifting between the 2nd and 3rd gears throughout. There was hardly any time to switch to 4th gear except for the long back straight.


Images of a Mazda 323 Hatchback and a Daihatsu Charade, mid-1980's model

As we reached the end of the first lap, I was nowhere near overtaking the Charade. We crossed the start/finish line on the first lap with me still 2 car lengths behind Ismail. Ini tak boleh jadi ni, I said to myself.

I floored the accelerator and coaxed my car to give its all. In a bid to make up the gap, I braked even later, causing the tyres to screech even louder. As we reached the last turn on the 2nd lap, I was side-by-side with the Daihatsu. I took the outside line, made a smooth gear change and stepped hard on the accelerator as we exited the last corner. I overtook my friend just as we crossed the finish line. The rush of adrenaline was indescribable!

Suddenly, I saw a man standing in the middle of the track with both arms spread out wide... an obvious signal for us to stop. It was Harvey Yap, the Track Manager. Crap, I thought... we're gonna be toast!

As we brought our cars to a stop, we heard Harvey yell, "Are you guys CRAZY! You want to kill yourselves?!!!"

Ismail quickly got out of his car, took off his helmet and approached Harvey. "Very sorry, Harvey. Very sorry," he pleaded profusely. We were like begging Harvey for our lives at that moment.

Mr. Yap, a retired race car driver, gave us a severe tongue-lashing but quickly cooled down. He let us off with a final reminder, "Next time, if you want to race, you let me know first! I'll show you how to do it properly."

We thanked Harvey for the let-off. He kept his word by not reporting our crazy escapade to our bosses.

And to this day, not many people know that the very first race on the upgraded Johor Circuit was run by two amateurs who, at that time, do not know the meaning of the word `insane'.

21 comments:

Andrea Wh@tever said...

Wow! I didn't realise there was a world-class racing circuit in Johor. Pretty challenging track too, if I may add. Nice straights with a rather tricky chicane.

I reckoned your cars must have been well-balanced at that point, otherwise, there would have been a nasty spin or skid, given all the hard-braking at the corners.

Pak Zawi said...

Oldstock,
I remember Harvey as the racer with the Ford Zakspeed. He did courses to train people on the aspect of safe driving. He himself never drove at more than 120 kph on the highway as he said 120 kph is the maximum controllable speed on the highways. I wonder where he is now.
Did you remember the street circuit of JB along the Lido Beach?

Oldstock said...

Andrea,

If you click on the track layout image, it will expand and show you the circuit in greater detail... but I guess you know this already :-)

The front straight up to the 1st turn is fairly flat. The back straight to Turn2 is a slight uphill. The gradient is steeper up to Turn3, Turn4 and Turn5 before going down again at Turn6. From T6 to T8 is a slight uphill before we meet a sharp downhill to T10. T10 to T12 is another uphill. At least that's how I remember it from 1990.

I'm not sure if our cars were actually well-balanced on that day... we were just two young men going out for a crazy spin! Luckily we did not spin off or crash into anything. But I'm sure my tyres took a lot of beating.

Oldstock said...

Pak Zawi,

Yes, Harvey Yap raced with the Ford team those days. I'm not sure if he is still part of the Johor Circuit management team. I've never been to the track for a long time now. I'm thinking of going to some of their events soon, just to rekindle the memories.

The Lido Beach street circuit was the original track of the JB grand prix but the races there were stopped before I could see any. The route pass by the Royal Johor Zoo (opposite Masjid Abu Bakar) and konon-kononnya, bunyi bising kereta lumba mengganggu binatang-binatang dalam zoo. But I suspect the actual reason the races were stopped has more to do with public safety.

Nurie said...

no wonder u still 'race' on the highways! ;-)

Madam Markonah said...

Wow! So you guys were the first to 'rasmi' the tracks! What a memory eh? Insane indeed!

Patricia said...

I remember Harvey Yap! And did you get in touch with him for a proper race???

I so envy you guys! That's what I'd love to get the chance to do. Just floor the pedal and zoom into the distance! The only thing that keeps me from doing that now is that there are too many idiots on the road, and too many innocent lives that could be in danger should I lose control.

You are one lucky guy!!!

Oldstock said...

Noor,

Race kat highway tu cuma bila bengang kat driver lain je :-)

Oldstock said...

Madam,

Looking back now, I still cannot believe I was crazy (or stupid) enough to do it. Darah muda agaknya...

But is not life a challenge? Once in a while, it's good to follow the tagline of Nike... Just Do It!

Oldstock said...

Hi Pat,

Yeah... lucky in the sense that we got out unscathed. We did not crash, we did not get hurt and apart from a ticking-off from Harvey, we did not get hit with any disciplinary action.

No, I did not take the chance to learn more about racing from Harvey. But I did get to ride in a test car with one of his staff and was taken round the track at full racing speed... the thrill was amazing! To use an old Malay term, kecut telur kejap... especially when taking the tight corners, phew!

Johor Circuit actually allows private drivers to drive around the track, for a fee of course. You can try it out Pat, to fill your own need for speed. If you think that would be too much, I suggest you try go-karting... less dangerous but still a whole lot of fun.

hanitha said...

salam bro, best ek dpt race gitu tp klu laju sgt takut gak huhuhu..
n kisah u nie mengamit memori i pd thn 1996 ( ya kot, lupa dah :)) )
one of our suppliers sponsor our company, safety driving at race track di batu 3, shah alam. best woooo.... camner nk handle kete semasa speeding, nk brake emergency n mcm2 lgk la, mmg thrill la..kecut perut ader tp yg pasti syiokkk...ehehehe

Jarod said...

Wow!!!! How exciting it is...

How many of us can do that? hehehe... Aiys!

Mind to ask, how much it cost to run a lap or 2 in the race track? :)

Patricia said...

Hahahah! I like how you describe how it felt to sit in the test-drive car!!! Malay is perfect for times like these :)

Hmmm, that's a thought - about go-karting. I wonder if my plus-size bum would fit in it, though!!!

I also want to go sky-diving. And go white-water rafting again!

And all of the above? Give my poor husband a headache! He'd rather have a wife who's only plan is to stay home and crochet a new tablecloth!!!

Oldstock said...

Hanitha,

Kitaorang memang betul-betul race... pecut giler, tak pikir sangat pasal kemungkinan eksiden ke apa. Memang thrill, tapi tak boleh buat lagi la. Nasib baik kete tak terbalik, heheheh.

Oldstock said...

Jarod,

As I said, the decision was made on the spur of the moment. If I had thought long and hard about it, if I had weighed the risks... then I most probably would not have done it.

I not sure about how much it cost to take a spin on the track but you can check their website for contact details, if you are really interested.

Oldstock said...

Pat,

Go ahead and try ride a go-kart. I'm sure your plus-size bum will fit. At the very least it will help lower your centre of gravity and improve stability *wink, wink*

And make sure you ask Chuan to drive one too! :-)

me or you said...

Hello,

I was browsing for the Johor Circuit track layout and bumped with this post.

Had my first taste of Johor Circuit last weekend on my Integra Type-R. It was fun. The track is very technical with couple of blind corners, which can be very dangerous if you overshoot.

thought of sharing this vids with all of you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sd78A_evz0s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rthJznsoSPg

anyways, thanks for the track layout!

cheers.

Oldstock said...

Hi there me or you,

Wow... you sure are a serious racer, dude. I did it just for the thrill.

Had a look at your vids and they sure bring back memories of my crazy stunt.

Next time you're in PG, do drop me a line. Maybe I can drop by at Johor Circuit to see you take your car out for a spin.

Thanks for dropping by and for the vids too.

Adian said...

As a late-90s/early-millenium racing driver I've always known that J-Circuit had an older, straight section but there aren't many people around anymore that know that. Was doing some research about it and came across your little story. It's incredible, and one hell of a tale! And you're a good writer man!

Bubbles said...

Hi all! Harvey is still living in Johor. Not involved in the Johor circuit anymore but is holding an advisory role for races in other parts of the region.

Oldstock said...

Hi Bubbles,

Didn't realise that this old post is still garnering page views. Good to know that Harvey is still in JB. Wonder if he still remembers this crazy episode of mine.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting.