When the Toyota Vios Challenge first started out a little over two years ago, nobody really knew what to make of it. At its core it was a one-make race, held on purpose-built street circuits that no driver had a particular advantage with. The fact that both A-listers in the Malaysian motorsports scene and celebrities alike were participating was an important endorsement, and the fact that many have retained their entries for a third season goes to show their commitment to the event.
But that doesn’t mean that it was without its teething problems. Street circuits are a particularly nasty environment for racing as there is little to no runoff, coupled with imperfect surfaces and debris. Poor line of sight and tight corners also make it challenging to commit, unlike a wide and open racetrack. The result was a number of on track incidents – some purely accidental and some without-a-doubt intentional – that threatened the integrity and image of the race series.
And yet the drivers persevered. New faces entered the series at the beginning of the second season, eager to prove themselves in Malaysia’s only true one-make race, where success would be attributed to driver ability rather than having a particularly advantageous car. Coming to the last quarter of 2019, season three of the Toyota Vios Challenge has kicked off in Terengganu, as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival, and with all racers transitioning to the new Vios model.
Freddie Ang in particular was a surprising entry last year given his racing background, and despite suffering numerous setbacks throughout season two, he has returned for the new season, once again with Telagamas Toyota. This opening round saw him redeeming himself in the Super Sporting Class, not only due to his experience with the car but with a better equipped team and crew. A good fifth place finish in race one put him in second place for the reverse grid start in race two, and he managed to hold this position to the chequered flag.
Fan favourite Tengku Djan has returned with 23 Motors following a hiatus in season two. The professional drifter has taken to the new Vios like a duck to water, giving Mark Darwin a good fight through race one that culminated in a second place finish, and driving a little more conservatively in race two with a focus on points.
Kenneth Koh, a name associated with rally – even climbing to international fame – has renewed his seat with Panglima City Racing Team for a third year. Being relatively cautious in his first year of racing in the Sporting Class, he went full swing the following season and came off being a little too aggressive. Last weekend’s races seem to be a bit of a Goldilocks moment for Kenneth as he took home a decisive victory in race one, and fought to an impressive third place finish for race two after the reverse grid order saw him starting in sixth.
The youngest racer in the field at just 15 years of age, Hayden Haikal also put on an incredible performance in the Sporting Class, flying the S&D Motorsports flag, and showed his rivals that he hasn’t spent his time slacking. Last year he joined the Vios Challenge with hardly any experience in saloon car racing, and Terengganu saw him placing a solid fourth in race one, and taking the win for race two despite starting in third.
In the promotional class, Shukri Yahaya and Shawn Lee have returned, and unsurprisingly dominated given last year’s stint in the Sporting Class. The two drivers fought tooth and nail, finishing second and first respectively for race one. With race two being half distance following a heavy dose of rain, the two drivers climbed two positions each on the reverse grid start, finishing third and fourth respectively.
Granted, the season has just begun – but the results have really set the tone for the races to come. Those new to the series will be scrambling to learn the ins and outs of the Vios as quickly as they can in order to set it up for each circuit. There’s even the possibility Toyota may introduce an all-new circuit for this season, which would really level the playing field between the old hands and the newcomers.
What was most striking was the lack of incidents with this round. Perhaps it’s an indication that the drivers have matured and adapted to the environment, learning where they can squeeze their opponents and how hard they can push before a minor tap becomes a race-stopping incident. The Toyota Vios Challenge will be following the Toyota Gazoo Racing festival around Peninsular Malaysia in the coming months, and we can’t wait to see how the season plays out.