The 12 Hour Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race – Race Reports

After enduring one of the toughest battle in Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER) history, Petronas Syntium Team finally comes out on top in the pulsating 12-hour race, claiming their 2nd win in three years. No.15 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi, Masataka Yanagida and Malaysia youngster Dominic Ang crosses the finish line with 321 laps of the 5.543km Sepang circuit completed, breaking the total lap record registered by last year’s winner Arrows Racing by 6 laps.

The winning car No.15 Petronas Syntium Team at the grid moments before the race start.

The race started at noon on Saturday with Petronas Syntium Team duo of brand new Mercedes SLS GT3s were on the front row of the grid. No.28 spearheaded by 5-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider with Tetsuya Kataoka and Farique Hairuman had qualified first and was among the favourite to take the win.

Marcel Fassler having a conversation with DTM maestro Bernd Schneider before the race .

Dominik Schwager was the the first designated driver for LKM Racing Team.

When the lights turn green they led the front runners into the first corner in the hands of Kataoka followed by their soon to be nearest rival Team Belgian Audi Club WRT with their starting driver, 2011 Le Mans champion Marcel Fassler in car No.1 he shared with Le Mans legend Frank Biela and Marco Werner. Audi paraded three R8 LMS GT3 to try win the race they nearly won last year, with two car under WRT while the other represents Absolute Racing.

Not to be left behind at the start was Gianmaria Bruni of Clearwater Racing’s Ferrari 458 GT3 and FIA GT1 driver Dominik Schwager in his Lamborghini LP560 of LKM Racing Team backed by Reiter Engineering. They were racing very closely early on with position 2nd to 6th kept changing between them, the No.15 Mercedes, No.1 and the No.2 Audi of Darryl O’Young, Seiji Ara and former F1 driver Alex Yoong.

Another former Le Mans winner Seiji Ara of car No.2 Team Belgian Audi Club WRT.

On the hour mark, The leading No.28 Mercedes clearly had the fastest car on track and began to pull away. But overall its still a long a way to go and seven cars behind them were within striking distance to take the lead.

Audi car No.1 provided the early drama in the third hour when they hit the back of Craft Eurasia Racing’s Ford GT3 going into turn 9, sending the Ford spinning. Although they escaped with no real damage, race stewards were quick to analyze the replays and handing out a drive through penalty for the Audi. That relegates them to 3rd with more than a minute behind leader No.28.

Marcel Fassler coming out of the cockpit to change driving duties.

Four hours into the race and came the first sign of trouble when LP560 of LKM Racing couldn’t weather the heat of Sepang and forced to retire, unable to better their 257 laps completion in 2010. It was a disappointment for them as they were only 2 laps down on the leaders in sixth spot moments before.

The sole Ferrari 458 GT3 also had their own problem, a lengthy pit stop after Mok Weng Sun stint dropped them to fifth and 4 laps behind the two Mercedes and two WRT’s Audi. The four leading German’s racing car were now clearly in front of the field and fighting among themselves in the battle of the German.

Clearwater Racing’s pit crew prepares before their team scheduled pit stop.

The third Audi of Alex Imperatori, Jeffrey Lee and former A1GP driver Aaron Lim had to deal with recurring clutch problem after an accidental start in second gear after a pit stop. That derails any hope of challenging the leaders and more work and time were spent in the subsequent pit stops to keep the car racing as long as possible.

WTCC team Liqui Moly Team Engstler (Franz Engstler/Dominik Kraihamer/Andrei Romanov) started the race from the pits after a mechanical problem surfaced right before the rolling start. From there on their race was not on full swing, down 2-3 seconds from the leading team. Top ten finish was in the cards when their BMW Z4M GT3 finally gave up on lap 187, ending their campaign after racing more than 8 hours on the track.

BMW Z4M GT3 of Liqui Moly Team Engstler in action.

At half distance No.28 Mercedes still maintain a decent gap of about 2 minutes to the No.1 Audi, with the No.2 Audi not far behind in 3rd position. Another 30 seconds behind them were the sister Mercedes of No.15.

This battle continues on for a few hours till dusk opens up the night with another half of the race left to be completed.

No.28 Mercedes about to lap sister car No.15.

Approaching the eighth hour, more bad luck hit the Audis as the No.2 R8 LMS was heavily hit by a back marker. The damaged was so bad that the whole front left suspension had to be replaced, losing a lot of times that eventually put them out of contention for the win.

Its a cruel blow to the Audi team but this is endurance racing and as such accident do happen frequently, particularly at night when visibility is extremely low for the drivers.

With two of their car were more than 10 laps behind, the Audi challenge now fell solely on the shoulder of the No.1 car of Biela, Fassler and Werner with less than 4 hours remaining. The No.28 SLS GT was looking strong now that the race was nearing its conclusion.

Sunset at the Sepang circuit.

Clearwater Racing’s 458 GT3 now began to try bridging the gap to the leaders. But a series of mechanical problems began to surface with 3 extra pit stops had to be made and saw their challenge slipping away and trailed the leader by 6 laps.

This problems were eventually taking its toll on the car as the Ferrari stopped on track and retired with only a few hours on the clock to finish. This is the third year Mok Weng Sun’s team had a car issue and the second year running he retired from the race since he won the MMER back in 2008.

This year was foreseen as his best chance to claimed back the champion’s trophy, having a strong car in the 458 GT3 and being partnered by the experienced GT racer Bruni and Blancpain Endurance Series regular Matthew Griffin.

One can never predicts in an endurance race and true to that words the ever leading No.28 Mercedes finally had to give up the lead they strongly hold for more than 9 hours. A routine pit stop was performed on lap 261 and when Schneider took over, some mechanical problems emerged at the front end of the SLS GT3 as he entered back on track – forcing him to return to the pit to have his car checked and repaired.

This turn of event promoted the No.1 Audi to first place, and after completed the repair work the Mercedes rejoined the race albeit dropping to 4th place and 6 laps down.

Now with 2 hours to the chequered flag, it all comes down to a 2-way battle between the No.1 and Petronas Syntium Team No.15 car, with the latter trailing 54 seconds and the gap began to inch closer bit by bit.

Meanwhile with Schneider in the racing seat, the No.28 climb to 3rd place and consolidated that final podium position with the German registering blistering pace lap after lap before handing over the driving duty to Kataoka to finish the race.

The leading duo still maintain their respective position coming into the last hour, although the gap between the No.1 and No.15 was coming down to 40 seconds as the remaining teams racing through the darkness of Sepang.

The win was within reach of Team Belgian Audi Club WRT when the final straw of bad luck befell them. With only 18 minutes before the end, the No.1 Audi had a rear tyre failure in the hands of Fassler, forcing him to drive all the way to the pit for an extra stop to change the tyre.

Their 30 seconds lead was gone in a flash and Yanagida seize the initiative for Petronas Syntium Team to take over the lead. That lead was never relinquished as the No.15 Mercedes crossed the line at turn of the day to win with a 70 seconds lead over Fassler and the No.1 Audi.

Audi R8 LMS GT3 have won three endurance racing thus far this year; the Bathurst 12-hour, Spa 24-hour and Zolder 24-hour but could not add another title here in the demanding track of Sepang.

No.28 completed the top three with 6 laps behind while LP560 GT3 of Asia Pacific Arrows Racing (Billy Fung/Christian Jones/Akihiro Asai) a further 5 laps behind in fourth.

Finished in fifth position was the No.2 Audi, while Stefan Johansson led Craft Eurasia Racing finished in sixth in their Ford GT3. Partnering Frank Yu and Alain Li, the former F1 race and Le Mans winner had to endure a very tough race alongside his co-driver, as their race was hampered by no less than 4 collisions throughout the 12-hour period.

In seventh spot were Nexus Racing with their Aston Martin Vantage, a creditable results for Adrian D’Silva, M.Fahrizal and Ian Ross Geekie . They also comes out first in the Sports Production category, defeating their nearest rival by more than 20 laps.

AMAC Motorsports preparing their Mosler for the race. Unforunately their participant was cut short by mechanical failures.

Rocky Siow, Rhommell Singh and Frank Yee of S&D Motorsports were going to attack the race with their Lotus Exige GT3. But their participation in this year’s GT category of MMER lasted only 47 laps. Meanwhile Mosler MT900 of AMAC Motorsports had a terrible outing, only lasted for 2 laps before throwing in the towel with a major engine problems.

Masataka Yanagida : “I would like to first say thank you to the team, David and to PETRONAS. Also congratulations to my fellow teammates Taniguchi and my young Malaysian teammate Dominic Ang. For us, this is a home race so I am very happy with this win! I am also sad for my teammates in the No. 28 car, who suffered a problem in the race after leading for most of it. I am glad that they were able to recover and finish on the podium today. The race itself was quite tough for us as in my first stint after the start, the Ferrari collided with me and I dropped a position. At that point I knew that I had lost some momentum but I also know that this was a long race and we cannot predict how the race might turn out until the flag comes down at the end. So in endurance racing, the key is to stay cool, keep the car on the road, stay consistent and that is exactly what we did. And it worked out, so I am really happy!”

Nobuteru Taniguchi : “We had to two cars for this year’s challenge and the No. 28 car was the clear favourite. They were really quick all weekend and had a very good strategy. For the No. 15 car our strategy was not to push until the final two hours. We wanted to try to manage the car, protect all the different parts – the drivetrain, transmission and tyres, for example. In the end, the strategy did pay off and I am really happy that we won today. It is unfortunate what happened to the No. 28 car but happy that both cars were able to finish and give the team a win and a podium finish. I would like to thank the team, Mercedes, AMG, Yokohama, PETRONAS and all our partners for their support!”

Dominic Ang : “First of all, I want to thank PETRONAS and to David Wong for giving me the opportunity to drive this new car! I feel extremely lucky and proud that I could take part this weekend! In some ways we were quite lucky in the end but the strategy really worked out for us. I am so happy that we finished first today after a grueling 12 hours! In terms of performance, I know that there are still a lot of areas for improvement for me. I want to continue to improve and match the pace of my senior teammates.”

Frank Biela : “We were a bit unfortunate today. The only tire failure that has arguably occurred in the top part of the field today was the one on our car. We caught it just before the end. That’s racing. The race is only over after 12 hours, and not after 11:40. But it’s been great to take part in this event again. It was very hard for the drivers and the material. But that’s the special attraction of this race.”

Marcel Fässler : “The tire blowout has been following me since Le Mans. In France we were lucky but here at Sepang it was really unfortunate. I had to drive a complete lap. I think that otherwise I could have easily managed to keep our advantage. I didn’t even risk anything but just kept driving my rhythm. Then the tire quit without any advance notice. Incredible! The team, my team-mates and the car were very good. We would have certainly deserved victory. Even after a drive-through penalty at the beginning of the race we pushed forward again. We also had the quickest pit stop in the field – in other words everything you need to take victory. It wasn’t meant to be.”

Marco Werner : “For a long time it was a pretty good race, as is typical for Audi. We drove good stints and the car was reliable as usual. It looked like an Audi victory but it’s not over before the checkered flag comes down. We’ve got to be satisfied with that today.”

Vincent Vosse (Team Director WRT) : ” An endurance race is always a compromise of speed, experience, teamwork and the technical reliability of the car. And a bit of luck is part of it also. And that’s exactly what we were lacking here. We didn’t have the slightest technical problem with the cars. But just a few minutes before the end we had the tire failure. That’s a bitter pill. But we must be fair and admit that both Mercedes were very quick and also had their problems. But even though it’s very difficult for us, we’ve got to accept the outcome of the race.”

Editorial : Nazim Idris

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