The 2011 Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race Lowdown

BY Burnpavement

46 cars and 12 hours of non stop racing action, complete with a record-breaking finish!

Traditionally run in August in conjunction with Malaysia’s Independence Month, the 12th edition of Sepang's 12-hour endurance race was held in September to coincide with the Malaysian Day celebrations on September 16. This year's event kicked off at noon sharp, unlike last year. SIC Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali said that the revert to a day start is due to their decision to alternate starting times.

Some changes are made to the pit stop procedures this year. In lieu of the Team Empire Motorsports' Lotus Elise refuelling fire during the 2010 race - which caused severe burns to three of its crew members, only 3 crew members are allowed to be near the car when it is being refuelled at this year's race. The driver must exit from the car during the refuelling, which necessitated a driver change according to the rules.

The new measures also stated that the rest of the team must remain behind the yellow line in the pit until the filler cap is refitted. No repairs were allowed as well. Hence, pit stops took slightly longer this year, and for the first time, we witnessed crew members all lining up at the pit lane, ready to dash to the car and commence the needed repairs and replacements.

Special for this year is the 5th event (round 9 & round 10) of the Volkswagen Scirocco R-Cup China, with 17 Scrioccos taking up nearly 30% of the starting grid. Audi brought out three Audi R8 LMS to the party, two from Team WRT (Belgian Audi Club) and one from customer team Pauian Archiland Absolute Racing. However, many eyes on were the two latest additions to the grid: Petronas Syntium Team brought out their new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3, two days before the event started!

Only one thing remained constant: The heat of the racing pace. Even as temperatures peaked at a sweltering 35 degrees centigrade, the race pace was no less than blistering. Leaders often swapped places and as the race progressed, the strain of running at nearly full-tilt began to break some cars. To give you an idea, several of the cars that had to be pushed back included a Ferrari 458 GT3, Lamborghini Gallarado LP560 GT3 and even a familiar Mosler MT900 which we saw last year in strong form.

As night fell, the enormous stresses began to show on the car. The red-hot exhaust piping on many cars began to reveal themselves, along with the red-hot disc brakes on almost every car braking hard for the tougher turns on Sepang. We also noticed several teams were clocking faster laps at night than during the day.

While some cars buckled under the stress, others were involved in minor bumps and scrapes. Behind the crash barriers, various orphaned car parts were piling up, ranging from aerodynamic aids, bumpers, and even wheels. And for a dose of deja-vu, an Audi car was involved in an accident because no one saw it coming (Hint: 2011 Le Mans).

At roughly 7.45pm, the MediaCorp Audi R8 LMS #2 was about to overtake in a corner. However, a contender failed to notice the car and hit it, causing the Audi to sustain a broken swivel mount which required the whole front left suspension to be replaced, causing them to finish in fifth place.

That wasn't the end to Audi's woes, the R8 LMS #1 suffered a puncture just as victory looked eminent. Frank Biela, Marcel Fässler and Marco Werner had to admit defeat by 70.489 seconds, which is still a sterling effort compared to last year's results which saw Audi coming in a lap behind the leader. The #7 experienced a clutch failure after an accidental start in second gear after a pit stop, but finished in the top ten.

If there is something that both Team WRT and Petronas Syntium will be proud of from this years is a new record of 321 laps, beating the 2010 record set by the Arrows Racing Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 by a whopping 6 laps!

Was it an unexpected victory? Dominic Ang from Petronas Syntium Team said, “we were not hoping to win, but when we saw our team mates suffering problems at the pits, we decided to make our move and it paid off.”

Marcel Fässler (who was driving when the puncture occurred) from Team WRT had this to say: “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."