MALAYSIAN SUPERSTAR TURNS UP AT BIRA CIRCUIT
By Edd Ellison
There’s been a new name lurking in the paddock at Pattaya’s Bira Circuit And no ordinary name either, in fact it was a driver with global recognition, Malaysia’s former Formula 1 superstar Alex Yoong.
His arrival at Bira Circuit actually joined up a few of the dots of history as Khun Alex became the first South East Asian driver to join F1 since Prince Bira himself raced with success in grands prix half a century earlier, when he debuted at Monza for the Minardi team during the Italian F1 Grand Prix in 2001. After a late season programme with the little team from Faenza he again drove for them throughout most of the following year before going on to pursue his career in international racing series including Champ Car, A1 Grand Prix, GP3 Asia Series and Porsche Carrera Cup.
Today Alex is one of the best-known drivers in Asia and is currently embedded with Audi. He’s the reigning champion of Audi’s ‘R8 Cup’ pan-Asian ‘one make’ series and is leading the points standings thus far this year. That deep Audi connection doesn’t stop there, this year for example he led out the first ever all-Asian entry in the legendary Nürburgring 24 Hours driving an Audi R8 LMS Cup and in fact the crew came home an impressive twelfth overall. So really there isn’t anyone who knows the car better or can get more out of it.
The connection that brought him to Bira Circuit was pretty simple one too, Alex is a contracted Audi factory driver while B-Quik Racing is an Audi customer team, running the familiar ‘bumblebee’ black and yellow #26 Audi R8 LMS Cup in Thailand Super Series (TSS) for a second consecutive year driven by Henk Kiks.
“Henk was up in Malaysia at Sepang at the Audi Cup round which I race in and I think he was talking to Audi and Absolute Racing abut sorting out the car and they asked me and [factory engineer] Ruben [Silva] if we wanted to come down,” explained Alex. “Of course we wanted to come down and have a go and I’m always very happy to help.”
There were more dots joined up as B-Quik Racing this year is running a car in Audi’s ‘R8 Cup’ one make race series for the first time, which is also organised by Absolute Racing. Daniel Bilski, who is piloting B-Quik’s Porsche 997 GT3 Cup in Super Car Class 2-GTM this year, his debut season in TSS, is also driving the team’s debut entry in the Audi R8 Cup.
Alex joined the team for two days just as they was bedding in a new suspension system. “For me mostly it’s just been working with the engineers to make sure what we need to have on the car is actually on the car, and try out a few little setup things with the new dampers which give the team more scope to have adjustments for the future and a lot more flexibility to adjust the car for the conditions and also a bit of driver coaching,” he said.
For a driver that has raced pretty intensively across Asia over a long and successful career he hasn’t been on the grid at Bira Circuit before – although he did enjoy a few laps of the track more than twenty years ago. “I’ve never raced here, I’ve only ever driven here once, I think in 1993 or 1994,” he says. “I can’t remember what car it was, I had come to have a look at a race and they let me go around for a few laps and to be honest I don’t remember anything of the track.” Google isn’t helpful about this brief visit either.
However Alex, who has raced on most of the world’s leading racetracks, such as Silverstone, Indianapolis, Interlagos, Suzuka, Monaco and Long Beach, professed to have enjoyed the tight and twisty confines of Bira Circuit as his two-day test workload wound up on Thursday afternoon – although he admitted that he wasn’t pushing too hard and his priority was to take good care of the Audi.
“When I went round yesterday this track is quite interesting, it’s a very tricky track to drive it’s actually quite fun, there are nice elevation changes,” he said. “But it’s very unforgiving so we’ve been super careful because [if] you make a small mistake you can write off the car in the wall.”
Alex also reckons that Audi’s R8 LMS Cup, which was originally built for ‘one make’ level racing, suits the demanding nature of Bira Circuit, which plays to its inherent strengths. “It’s very good, if you look at Audi’s history it’s very good, it always wins Macau, it does well at the Nürburgring and especially in the wet,” he says. “It’s the fastest GT3 car I’ve ever driven in the wet and that’s because this car produces a lot of mechanical grip, so for these sort of conditions when it’s very bumpy and a lot of undulations this car produces a lot of grip and I can go as fast as I want over the kerbs and it doesn’t really throw it.”
Although this was just a short two day test session for Alex in his capacity as an Audi factory driver there is however the distinct possibility that in the future that he could well become the second former Formula 1 driver to race in TSS and that’s really a development which would be welcomed by the Pattaya’s many racing fans and it could really shake up the Super Car order.