The Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival, with its signature GR Vios Challenge races, is returning for a sixth season. This year, the Toyota GR Festival’s Vios Challenge calendar will consist of three double-header rounds (for a total of six races) scheduled in February, June, and September, with a grid made up of many fresh and young faces gunning for glory – for a share of the RM1 million prize pool.
In addition to the three rounds, the GR Festival series will also tie in with the Malaysia Championship Series with the GR Vios Sprint Cup, consisting of two rounds (four races) in May and June. Meanwhile, the season finale for the Toyota GR Festival will be held as part of the prestigious Sepang 1000km (S1K) race in November, with the third running of the GR Vios Enduro Cup.
In the one-make GR Vios Challenge, racing will again be divided into four classes: the Promotional Class for local celebrities, the Super Sporting Class for elite and professional drivers; the Sporting Class for amateur and gentlemen drivers, and the Rookie Class for young drivers from the marque’s own young talent development programme.
A total of more than 40 drivers will form the grid for Season 6 of the GR Vios Challenge. Among them are teenage driver Hayden Haikal, returning for his sixth straight season to defend the Super Sporting Class title which he won last year. He will represent Axle Sports in a two car entry alongside Naquib Azlan, who won last year’s Sporting Class.
The ‘Prince of Drift’ Tengku Djan Ley will also be returning for Season 6 with Prima Pearl TD Racing in the Super Sporting Class, in a pursuit of his fourth Class title alongside teammate Mitchell Cheah.
The highlight for this year is arguably in the Sporting Class, as it will feature an expanded grid of 18 contenders, featuring a large number of young drivers including Nabil Azlan – who was the Rookie Class champion for Season 5 – driving for Axle Sports, Abdul Miqail for 23 Motors, Crestmax Motorsports’ Bradley Benedict Anthony, Distinctive Model’s Aaron Haikal, Muhammad Amirul Haikal representing Super Evergreen Motorsports, and Muhammad Alif Shawqi with Todak Wheelstar Motorsport.
As for the Promotional Class, half of the grid will be made up by new faces, including professional ten pin bowler and drama actress Syaidatul Afifah; actor, TV Host and radio presenter Imran Aqil; actor and host Ezzrin Loy; actor, host, and television personality Hefsy Sahad; and actress and model Reen Rahim.
The newbies will be joined by class veterans including actor Shukri Yahaya, who will be defending his championship title this year; actor Zizan Razak; actress and television personality Ahirine Ahirudin, and television personality Ain Edruce.
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Round one of the Toyota GR Festival has already kicked off last weekend at the Sepang International Circuit, and as usual, it was packed with action and drama from start to end across all four classes. Race incidents and post-race penalties meant may not have been a challenge for certain racers, but for some others – particularly a group of young drivers – it was the start to the season that they’ve always dreamed off, with back-to-back visits to the podium across the two days.
In the Super Sporting class, Prima Pearl TD Racing’s Mitchell Cheah redeemed himself with a dominating race from start to finish in Race 2 thanks to the reverse grid format in which placed him at the front of the grid, especially after a 10-second post-race penalty in Race 1 stripped him of a race win.
He finished 0.4 seconds ahead of Laser Motor Racing’s Putera Adam, although a post-race penalty dropped Putera down to fifth place. Defending Super Sporting Class champion Hayden Haikal was then promoted to second in Race 2, while Cheah’s teammate Tengku Djan Ley was promoted into the third spot.
In the Sporting Class meanwhile, Race 2’s safety car incident in lap three jumble up the standings, and resulted in a mad dash across the finish line between Crestmax Motorsport’s Bradley Benedict Anthony and Season 5 Rookie Class Champion and Race 1 winner Nabil Azlan, with a photo finish of 0.7 seconds between the two.
They are joined on the podium by 17-year-old Abdul Miqail, whose second-place finish in Race 1 was taken away after a 30-second penalty handed to him after the race.
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As for the Rookie Class, 16-year-old Ariff Azmi clinched victory in Race 2 ahead of Nazmir Azlan and Iman Danish in third position. Iman Danish and Nazmir Azlan were also repeat podium finishers across the weekend, with the pair finishing first and third respectively in Race 1.
Rounding up the action for the weekend was the Promotional class, which – as many predicted – was still a “Zizan-Shukri Show”, as the two actors duelled their way to yet another photo finish. Zizan Razak won both races ahead of Shukri Yahaya, with just a 0.27 and 0.3 seconds gap in Race 1 and Race 2 respectively.
Joining them was newcomer Ezzrin Loy, who successfully secured two podium finishes in only two races under his belt, finishing third in both races.
Over the two race days, UMW Toyota said that over 3.5 million viewers tuned in live online to witness the action. The GR Vios Challenge will continue with Round 2 from 2-4 June 2023, which will also be held at the Sepang International Circuit.