Thursday, 20 March 2014 | MYT 9:02 PM
Malaysian riders ready to make history
Zulfahmi Khairuddin is returning for his fourth season in Moto3 as he makes his debut with Honda under the Ongetta AirAsia banner after two seasons with KTM.
THE floodlights will be switched on once again this weekend at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar to welcome the new MotoGP season.
But as the riders saddle up on their bikes for the first race of the season on Sunday (in the wee hours of Monday morning here), a small piece of motor-racing history will be etched in the books as four Malaysians take to the starting grid as full-season riders.
Zulfahmi Khairuddin is returning for his fourth season in Moto3 as he makes his debut with Honda under the Ongetta AirAsia banner after two seasons with KTM. Joining him in Moto3 will be 18-year-old debutant Amirul Hafiq Azmi, who will be racing with team SIC Ajo astride a KTM bike.
In the intermediate class, Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah will be making his season debut in Qatar after several wild card appearances last year in Moto2 with Petronas Raceline Malaysia. Azlan Shah Kamaruzaman will continue his second season with Idemitsu Honda Team Asia.
This is something all Malaysians can be proud of. But don’t get your hopes too high, yet.
Zulfahmi will be astride a Honda, one of the least competitive machines in the Moto3 last season. Honda supply only six riders in the championship this year and the best performing Hondas can only be seen at the Repsol-backed team Estrella Galicia, whose riders are Alex Marquez and Alex Rins, and Saxoprint RTG’s Efren Vazquez and John McPhee.
For the record, KTM have won all Moto3 titles since its introduction in 2012 and have dominated the pre-season tests this year. In fact in 2012, Zulfahmi finished the season in seventh overall astride a KTM.
As for Amirul, it is only his debut in the world championship after spending two good seasons in the Spanish National Championships and the rookie will be on a learning curve.
In the Moto2 class, Hafizh looks to have more to offer after his stunning fourth placing as a wild card in the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2012 and several podium finishes in the Spanish National Championships last year.
Hafizh is lucky as he will have the new Kalex chassis but only time will tell how he would improve throughout the season. But the 19-year-old is a quick learner with a positive mindset.
Unlike Hafizh, Azlan will have to make do with the 2013 version of the Kalex chassis. But the 29-year-old is an aggressive rider. Surprisingly, his team-mate Taakaki Nakagami gets to use the new Kalex bike and has been posting blistering times to be in the top five during the pre-season tests.
However, the race hasn’t started, so it’s not fair to pass judgment on these riders.
What I have laid out here is merely based on what they have in their garage and should not reflect how they will perform throughout the season.
After all, this is motor-racing and anything can happen.
Let’s just hope our boys can make us proud this year and, to borrow a term from the Hunger Games movie francise, “may the odds be ever in their favour”.