News and views on motorsports

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Awards and Glory

The end of the year is usually noted for awarding outstanding drivers and teams for their achievements during the season. A time to reflect on the events that have transpired during the year. For the victors, its a time to bask in glory and revel in their achievements that no doubt have been hard won.

I'd like to turn my attention to little known awards dished out by the Sepang International Circuit, namely their Motorsport Awards. Amazingly, they have two team of the year awards. One for Honda Racing Malaysia and the other for Symphony Racing. I don't really know what G1 Symphony Racing's big achievement really is but I do applaud Honda Racing for their valiant efforts during the 2004 Merdeka Millenium Endurance race. For you international readers out there the MME is an endurance event over 12 hours held at Sepang to commemorate the Malaysian independence day.

This year the MME event was won by the Honda Malaysia Racing team who entered two Honda Civics. A superb effort by any standards beating out other competitors driving ubiquitous Porsches and outlasting the ridiculous Japan GT500 Lamborghini Murcielago, which quite frankly, is in the wrong race and should be trying to win the Suzuka 24 instead of bullying production cars in Malaysia.

If one analyses the Honda effort, one notes that they have a good driving team made up of Malaysians and Japanese drivers. The team of Hiroki Katoh, Eddie Lew and Fariz Fauzy not only outlasted the competition but also completed a record number of laps over the 12 hours. In addition to these drivers, they had a slick team headed by the boss of the Kunimitsu team, yes, the very same one that runs Honda NSXs in the Japan GT. If one observes the team in action, one would rapidly come to the conclusion that the pit crew is a well drilled machine able to turnaround cars rapidly whilst their competitors flounder in the pits. Well, it helps when the Civics have built in air jacks and proper racing fuel fillers.

Nevertheless, take nothing from them. They did a fine job running in Class A (for standard production cars over 1800cc) beating out open class cars. It was a classy victory and one that appeals because of the intelligence and capabilites of the team members. So, quite rightly, they picked up the team of the year award. Again, why Sepang felt the need to dish out another award for team of the year to G1 Symphony is beyond me. Honda Racing achieved a whole lot more employing drivers of ability instead of deep pockets. Bravo.

However, Honda, to my mind, sullies their achievements by making some bold, and if one thinks carefully, very ludicrous claims. The Star newspaper of 8th December had this to say: "Fielding two 2000cc unmodified Honda Civic i-VTEC, which were locally assembled at the Honda plant in Malacca, the team finished first....."

Unmodified? Errrmmmm..... nope. I just don't think so. The standard 2 litre i-VTEC produces some 150 bhp or so. Maybe a little more. They take on Porsches with some 360bhp (or even 460bhp in the case of one competitor) and almost matches their lap times in the race. The Lotus drivers were heard to say that the Civics serenely passed their Lotus Exige (with at least 190bhp on tap with ridiculously low weight) on the straights, apparently with very little effort. Unmodified? Bollocks.

Let's just come right out and say it shall we? Yes, the Honda body shells are locally made. (Are they? I'm not sure) But were they using the 2 litre i-VTEC engines installed in locally sold Honda Civics? Yeah, maybe in the marketing managers dreams.

The truth is, let's be honest, the MME Civics were fitted with K20C engines from Honda Civic and Integra Type-Rs. Yes the same ones with 220ps (in Japan) or 197 bhp (in the UK). Let's take the truth even further. 200 bhp Civics still aren't enough to challenge raced tuned 911 GT3 RS-es and Lotus Exiges, no matter what riceboys would like you to believe. So shall we say those engines were modified then. At least taking on Super Production Group N+ specifications. Who pray tell would supply the parts for such modification? Let's just whisper the name, Mugen. Yes, the famous Honda tuners from Japan owned by great Soichiro Honda's son. The same ones that power half the field in British Formula 3. The same Mugen that used to make Formula 1 engines that powered Olivier Panis' Ligier to victory and took Heinz Harald Frentzen to a fighting finish in 1999.

Well, now it makes perfect sense doesn't it? Quite why Honda Malaysia feels the need to hide this is beyond my comprehension. So what if people know about it? Personally, I think its great that my Honda can be equipped with go faster parts to make it quicker. It would still convince people to get one. After all, you need to buy one to put in those parts right? Honda Malaysia tries very hard to give the illusion that this was a very Malaysian effort. Not sure how that makes good marketing for selling their cars. I have news for the marketing peeps at Honda Malaysia. People don't buy Hondas because they are Malaysian or are assembled in Malaysia. They buy them precisely because they are Japanese. The average person in Malaysia who is considering a replacement for his/her Proton don't really want anything to do with Malaysian cars anymore. After the squeeks, rattles and atrocious quality of Malaysian made vehicles, he/she wants to move up. And that means buying an import. If anything, they should emphasize the Japanese connection. I certainly would be less interested in a Honda if the image I conjure in my mind is of a Malaysian made rattle-after-a-month-no-glove-compartment automobile.

By making claims that the MME Civics are of the standard Malaysian assembled variety, Honda Malaysia are being incredibly insulting. Anyone with a grain of intelligence would be able to deduce that something about the MME Civics is not quite what it seemed. If the MME Civics are indeed standard production, they defy the laws of physics. Well, at least the marketing manager makes it seem that they do.

But no matter. I suppose its easy to prey on the ignorance of the majority of buyers in the showrooms. Honda make loads of dosh flogging good cars (Integra Type-Rs as the Americans would say, rock... won't you guys please officially import it?) and they win races. So, all kudos to the Honda Malaysia team. If they tried to be more open about their racing, the public I believe would be even more receptive to them. Well, at least I would.

Moving along, spare a thought if you will for a chap named Lai Wee Sing. Winner of the Super Sixteen championships in the Malaysian Super Series. From what I can gather, here is a competitor who's in it purely for the spirit of motor racing. His charge is an old Honda Civic EG, the man wins four rounds of the 6 round series. Lai is not a person who can command the financial resources of some of the businessmen who race in the Super Series. In fact he who couldn't drive his race car back to his hometown simply because he couldn't afford to pay the motorway toll. His bank manager I would imagine, would be very much annoyed with him for regularly emptying his bank account for the sake of his racing. And yet, he does it simply for the love of the sport. And he wins races as well despite a desperate lack of cash.

If anyone deserves the award for Driver Of The Year, it should have been Lai Wee Sing. He had the will and the wherewithal to do it. Its easy when you can afford the best stuff with a bottomless bank account. To do it his circumstances is heroic. I guess if he were an influential businessman, he probably would have walked it and would probably have won Driver Of The Year. As it is, Lai should take heart. Most Formula 1 drivers including Senna and Schumacher were poor on their way up. But they just kept on winning.

So there goes the SIC awards. A rich businessman wins the Driver Of The Year award. Team of the year goes, curiously, to two teams. Roll on 2005 then. More of the same I suspect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was reading your opinion over the Motorsport Awards that was given by the Sepang International Circuit. No offence but I was amused by your comment over the Team of the Year Awards. No doubt Team Honda Malaysia had done a good job this year by winning the overall category of Merderka Millenium Endurance race but I suspect you may not follow closely to what had really happen to Team G1-Symphony through out the race and therefore had little knowledge of what the team had achieve given the circumstances. Firstly, G1-Symphony is a private team unlike Team Honda Malaysia. Hence apart from a few rather glamour looking car the team does not have any factory backing. Secondly, G1-Symphony has qualified 2nd and 3rd with its 2 Porsche GT3 cup car (class O cars, 2003 spec) and was 5th overall with its class A car A Porsche GT3 club sport road car (unmodified, interior was strip down for race purpose). Even though its not a surprising result (as these are 1 of the fastest car out there in the track) it at least proves that the drivers are quick. And if Im not mistaken car number 17 (Porsche GT3 Cup car of Team G1-Symphony) was all along the 2nd fastest car in the race just loosing out to the Amprex Murcielago GTR which was a car in its own league. And I would also to be able to recall that car number 17 even lap the Hondas at least twice every stint they went out. So even the drivers may not be as fast as the Japan GT drivers, they aren't as bad as you had imagined or described. So why would they have lost the race to the Hondas? Unfortunately, there is a couple of reason but there are 2 main reasons which are the most obvious. Firstly out of the 3 cars 2 of them (the Cup cars) encounter some serious technical problems and therefore need to pit in several times to repair it. Car 17 was hit by a fuel pump problem while car 18 was having some electronical difficulties. However due to some magnificent team work both cars was being repaired and return to the race. Even so the cars had lost out 1 and a half hours to its rivals. As a result the gap that both cars had opened during the early stage of the race was vanished and eventually was taken advantage by Team Honda Malaysia. Nevertheless both car have not given up hope through out the race and had push as hard as they could therefore slashing down the time penalties that was given because of the broke down. Eventually even though both cars lost to Honda but it had made a big effort of climbing the rankings (from sixty something to top 20 in less than 9 hours). Second reason for why the team has lost out to Honda was because of the refueling system. As its a private team G1-Symphony was running on a rather tight budget (sound funny as they have some rather glamour looking car but its true, there are a limited budget for the Team) hence was not able to provide equivalent refueling equipments as Hondas. The team had uses the traditional way to refuel and every refueling will means the cars will lose out about one and a half to two minutes to Team Honda which have a good refueling rig. This could be proved if you just look at the timing sheets provided from the circuit. Therefore even though all cars was faster during the race they were not able to win for the above reason (although by the end of the race car 19 was able to claim 2nd overall while car 18 and 17 was able to claim 1st and 2nd in their class). But I would say that their performances are respectable given the circumstances. Hence I wouldn't say that the Team does not worth the prize. It would be an insult to the team members who have work days and night for the race. Lastly even the MME was the most prestigious race in the nation its not the only race, Team G1-Symphony was active in other Malaysian races like the MME and has won the driver title with Adam Azman. Therefore the Team to my opinion deserves every right to the Prize. Thank you.