HAVING watched Formula One (F1) races since 2006 and sometimes followed the MotoGP series, I am sure most motorsports enthusiasts would share my sentiments about illegal racing.
In my view, illegal racers make a mockery of the years of hard work and research, as well as the deaths, which had led to the numerous safety regulations that we see in motorsports today.
They make motorsports seem ludicrous when, in fact, they are the culmination of research and development, engineering brilliance and unique skills behind the wheel.
To emphasise just how important safety is to a motorsports series, F1 cars today, for example, weigh nearly one metric tonne (or 1,000kg) including fluids and the driver; making up most of this mass are the safety structures built into the car that are designed to protect the driver in the event of an accident.
Additionally, drivers are required to wear fire-resistant suits while driving so that they are able to escape without major burns in the event of a fire.
Compare these numerous layers of safety systems in sanctioned motorsports series to the incredibly poor safety of illegal racing, where riders do not wear any sort of fire-resistant clothing and sometimes do not even wear helmets, while racing on public roads in the presence of other road users, and in the dead of night on dimly-lit streets where participants can barely see 50 metres ahead of them.
What a mockery of all the safety standards motorsports series organisers have to implement every season.
Resolving the problem of illegal racing will thus not only prevent countless injuries and deaths on Malaysian roads, but also foster more respect for motorsports among Malaysians.
We can infer three factors contributing to the prevalence of illegal racing: the high cost of motorsports, poor enforcement of the Road Transport Act 1987, and the thrill and attraction of racing.
Motorsports have always been an exorbitant activity and, for a long time, have been reserved for the wealthiest of society.
A big factor in this are the regulations meant to make the sports safer and more competitive.
Racing teams spend millions on designing their vehicles around these regulations and paying their drivers.
Illegal racing is, however, devoid of such regulations, and is hence far more affordable for the average person.
In addition, these illegal races award sizeable sums of money to the winners so youths enter these events with the intent of making a quick buck.
It is also not far-fetched to suggest that a segment of these illegal racers have an interest in motorsports.
While motorsports are extremely difficult for the less privileged to enter, much less succeed in, they have always attracted a sizeable, passionate audience internationally.
Seeing vehicles travelling at incredible speeds fighting for top positions leaves the audience in awe of the drivers’ situational awareness and skills.
Many also appreciate the engineering genius that goes into designing, building and improving a good racing car to win races and championships.
Add peer pressure to the equation and the youths are eventually lured into the fast-paced world of illegal racing.
The “mat rempit” (illegal motorcycle racers) and “mat lajak” (youngsters who race modified bicycles on public roads) have learnt very quickly where and when best to hold these events: in the dead of night on quiet trunk roads.
By doing so, these illegal racers are able to skirt police patrols normally operating within cities or highways, and hold events during a time of day where such patrols are less common.
Therefore, the most important deterrent to their shenanigans is the tough enforcement of the Road Transport Act.
By having more night patrols that extend further into the suburbs rather than confining within cities, it will crucially be harder for illegal racers to plan and host events without the police crashing the party.
Another important step to curbing the problem of illegal racing would be to make motorsports more accessible to the masses, which would mean making it cheaper to enter series events.
This would attract those who would otherwise be illegal racers towards sanctioned motorsports, which are safer, provide more financially stable jobs and enable one’s driving skills to be noticed more easily than in illegal races, where lax technical regulations obscure the talent operating the vehicle.
Some racing teams are trying to mitigate the problem of cost for up-and-coming talent by launching drivers’ programmes that take in the best talent from lower feeder series and fund their future racing careers. McLaren Racing was one of the first to do so. Lewis Hamilton, the most successful F1 driver in history with 103 Grand Prix wins and currently competes for Mercedes, was able to go from karting to open-wheel racing via the McLaren Young Driver Programme.
It is commendable that the Transport Ministry had proposed amendments to Section 42 of the Road Transport Act, which would lead to stiffer penalties for illegal racers.
Action would also be taken against spectators and parents who allow their children under the age of 18 to join illegal racing activities, among other measures.
All these, if enforced strictly, would ensure the safety of all road users – something sanctioned motorsports take very seriously.
Ryan, 18, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team
Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.
1 Do you know the difference between fact and opinion? As you read the article again, identify three statements that can be taken as fact and another three that can be taken as the writer’s opinion.
2 How much do you know about motorsports? Go to the StarSport section of today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper. Look for five facts about motorsports. Then, using pictures and words from the newspaper, create a poster about motorsports with the title “Do you know these motorsports facts?”. When you are done, ask your teachers’ permission to pin up the poster in your classroom noticeboard.
Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.