Season 5 of the Toyota GR Festival Vios Challenge drew to a close last weekend, in the most dramatic fashion possible – the overall championship title in all four classes would be decided in the very final 20 laps of their respective races at the Sepang International Circuit.
While tickets to attend the event was limited, a record-high 3.1 million viewers tuned in online over the weekend to witness the crowning of four new overall champions.
Race 2 of the Super Sporting Class saw Prima Pearl TD Racing’s Mitchell Cheah finishing first, 7.3 seconds ahead of Telagamas Toyota’s Freddie Ang in a very intensely contested 20-lap race. Completing the podium line-up for the race was Laser Motor Racing’s Eddie Lew.
However, thanks to his huge lead in the championship, Axle Sports’ Hayden Haikal still managed to clinch the overall title, despite finishing fourth in the final race. “It feels just like 2020 when I won the Sporting Class. I couldn’t be happier,” said the 18-year-old newly-crowned champion.
“Going into Race 2 I felt that my car was slower than it was in Race 1 due to the weight penalty and I came under tremendous pressure from the field. The last two laps were the happiest of my life when two drivers had some problems with their cars and that allowed me to pass moving me up to fourth position with just enough points to stay ahead in the championship.”
It was also a weekend to remember for the Azlan family, as brothers Nabil and Naquib Azlan were both crowned overall champions in the Rookie and Sporting classes respectively, with Nabil finishing third in the final Rookie race, while elder brother Naquib drove to a second straight win that weekend, crossing the line just 0.4 seconds ahead of second-place Mirza Syahmi Mahzan from Carroof Motorsports.
“First of all, here’s a massive shout out and thanks to Toyota and giving all of the rookies this opportunity to transition from simulator racing to saloon car racing. It wasn’t an easy task but thankfully, everything went well for me. I learnt from the mistakes I made and that led to three race victories and four podium finishes in six races. I hope to continue racing next year,” said Rookie champion Nabil.
“Coming into this race and starting from sixth position, it was never going to be straight forward. Also with the overall championship in mind I really had to manage the risks that I took. I did not want to get into any incidents that could cost us the championship title,” commented Sporting class champion Naquib, who drives for Axle Sports.
“With 60kg of ballast, it was difficult to keep up with the faster cars and I had to be more imaginative to make the overtaking maneuvers stick. Towards the final laps of the race, I saw an opening and I just went for it.”
Winning the overall Rookie Class in Season 4 and clinching this season’s Sporting Class championship, Naquib is now looking forward to return to the Vios Challenge in season 6 with the hope of fighting for the championship in the Super Sporting Class for professionals.
As for the Promotional Class, singer Khai Bahar drove a drama-free race to finally clinch his first race win of the season, just ahead
of actress Ahirine Ahirudin and presenter Nabil Ahmad. That third position, however, was enough to earn Nabil the overall Promotional Class title with a six-point advantage over actor Zizan Razak, who again finished runner-up in his second successive season.
Season 5’s finale was held as a special and exclusive event opened to only 2,000 fans over the race weekend. The entire rooftop length of the Sepang International Circuit’s main paddock was transformed into a festival ground, with a myriad of activities ranging from celebrity walkabouts and meet & greet sessions, to the display and sale of Gazoo Racing and Toyota merchandises, and even two very special concerts.
“We’ve come a long way in five seasons of the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival and the Vios Challenge race series since it was started in 2017,” said UMW Toyota Motor President, Ravindran K.
“At the time of inception we wanted to change the thinking that Toyota cars are meant for the matured crowd. We wanted to build an ever better car that also makes it attractive for the younger buyers and today there has been a total shift. Of course, we also wanted to make a significant contribution to Malaysian motorsports.
“The Vios Challenge provides us with a very strong platform to evaluate and develop our future cars. We also want our young engineers to be able to contribute to the research and development of future models. We want our customers to enjoy a very safe, fun and powerful car to drive, in this case the Vios. The Vios Challenge is the right platform for people to see this and for a lot of young engineers to join us to build better cars for the future.”