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Wednesday November 14, 2012

Shahrol: Zulfahmi can fight for the title

PETALING JAYA: He has a small physique but Zulfahmi Khairuddin can walk tall in the motor-racing arena knowing he has shattered the perception that Malaysians cannot compete on the world stage.

With the psychological barrier broken, former ace Shahrol Yuzy expects Zulfahmi to scale greater heights in the Moto3 World Cham­pionships next season.

The AirAsia-SIC-Ajo rider closed off his third season in style – with a second career podium finish in a thrilling Valencia Grand Prix race on Sunday.

Zulfahmi fought his way back from 17th on the starting grid to take a well-deserved third place.

His first podium – a second placing at his home race in Sepang last month – was a breakthrough as he was only denied the chequered flag at the second last turn by German Sandro Cortese, who went on to take the world title.

But his second podium was equally satisfying as he achieved it on a wet track and after struggling throughout the weekend.

Zulfahmi finished eighth overall with 128 points, an improvement from last year’s 18th placing with 30 points. It was no surprise then when he earned the Most Improved Rider in Moto3 award from the organisers.

Team owner Aki Ajo had offered a race seat in the factory outfit for the 21-year-old Malaysian even before he secured his first podium and his faith has been justified.

With better crew support and more confidence, Shahrol believes Zul­fah­mi can reap more success next year.

“He got the top bike this year and was able to produce competitive lap times. It’s just that he was a bit afraid to be aggressive in the first few races,” said Shahrol.

“But towards the second half of the season, we saw him leading races on a few occasions, though he could not hold on till the end.

“Winning the first podium at Sepang gave him the perfect confidence boost and now this. I watched on television and I was proud with the way he fought his way up in Valencia.

“It’s not easy handling a bike on a slippery track and, what more, in Spain – where the current world champions all come from.

“I believe Zulfahmi has what it takes to fight for more podiums and win races. If he starts doing that, there is a chance to fight for the championship next year.

“I am proud as he showed the world that Malaysians can be competitive if we have the right support, patience and commitment,” added Shahrol, who raced in the 250cc class of the World Motorcycle Champion­ships from 2000-2002 and now manages the Pachie Yuzy Honda Racing team in the AAM Malaysia Petronas Cub Prix Cham­pion­ships.

It was also Shahrol who discovered and polished Zulfahmi’s riding skills – paving the way for his entrance into the world stage.

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