Merdeka weekend was rather on the spectacular side for me this year, and not just for the undercurrent of 1Malaysia running through the lay of the land, but because I got to experience the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER) 2014 up close and personal.

Courtesy of Manoah and Ashraff Dewal, I experienced something I would never have dreamed of. Given the opportunity to get down and dirty in the pit of a 12-hour endurance race, while being coddled in comfort in Audi's VIP Lounge was an opportunity a teenage Arpita would have sold a kidney, and possibly half a liver, for! 

I'm sure all of us have seen clips of racing in action, be it the deafening roar of the engine, or the heart-stopping disasters which have been known to occur out on the circuit. Imagine all that and more, amplified to the tune of 12 hours of non-stop racing. The sheer adrenaline and stench of fuel which was practically tangible filled the air with an absolutely heady sense of excitement which is tough to match. 

And there we were, with the chance to follow the enigmatic and rockstar-esque journey of Ashraff Dewal, the 43-year old who led the charge of Audi's R8 LMS. It was all rather surreal. It's quite the out of body experience to be standing in the pit as the engines purr seductively, before the squeal of tires jolts you into the realisation that you will never in life be in a car that demolishes the tread of tires multiple times in the space of a few hours. 

So, in the blazing Malaysian heat and humidity, it was time to suit up and prep for the 12 noon flag off. 

Source: Tarrant Kwok

[Ashraff Dewal: Suiting up!]

Source: Tarrant Kwok

Source: Tarrant Kwok

[Battle Plan - Check!]

Source: Tarrant Kwok

Source: Tarrant Kwok

Source: Tarrant Kwok

[Ashraff Dewal in silent contemplation]

As the race pushed through its first hour, Ashraff behind the wheel of the incredibly beautiful Audi R8, we watched it all through the comfort of Audi's VIP Lounge. 


[Audi's VIP Lounge]


[The true definition of "Lounge" - Casey chilling on a beanbag]

The lounge acted as a buffer against the potentially deafening effects of a marathon event, and we got a prime spot from which to view the race.


Not to mention pit stops!


[Ashraff Dewal in the Audi R8 at its first pit stop]

As Ashraff later told us, the car was plagued with trouble from the outset of the race. There were issues with gear changes, with the car being stuck in third, followed by first; and no means of dealing with the issue in depth with just a pit stop on the cards. 

If anyone does anything in style, it tends to be Audi. Quite the spread was laid out, catered by Sheraton Hotel, for the guests of the lounge, and it would be a crime for you not to live vicariously!



[Broccoli Gratin]


[Beef Cheeks and Potatoes]


[Chicken Curry]


[Penne Bolognese]



[Green Tea Cheesecake]


[Coffee and Tea - And only the best of both!]




The nature of the race is such that "Endurance" is the operative term. Each driver has a 90-minute session in the car, and there are 3 drivers rotating shifts. Each of them has to start prepping 40 minutes prior to getting in the car which doesn't leave much time for rest. So, as the race wore on, they would each pop by the lounge to refuel before getting back into the game. 


And the lovely, iconic Audi ladies also stopped by. 


[The Audi Girls]

The race was held in Sepang, and for those of you who have managed to tear your eyes away from the action on the course, you would have noticed how absolutely serene and beautiful it is there.  


[A sight for sore eyes]

I was aware that a lot goes into getting everything right, but it wasn't until this point that I managed to see how much movement there is on all fronts, at all times. 


It truly does take the concentration of several hundred people to get everything right. At these speeds, any slip-up could mean forfeiting a life, so there is no room for distraction.


[Competition truly does fuel our species]


[Jacky Yeung after his stint on the track]


[Couldn't help making all and sundry feel bad that they weren't there at the race!]

While experiencing the event in comfort as a guest of Audi's was quite the life event in itself, the true perk of it all was meeting Ashraff Dewal and having him give us a personal tour of the pit! Yes, this is grounds for hyperventilation!


[DO NOT CROSS THE RED LINE!]

Unfortunately, the Audi R8 had to retire early after 109 laps due to technical issues which could not be managed without dissecting the car. And that was essentially what was in progress when we made our way down for a closer look. 


[Ashraff Dewal with the Dissected R8]

In order to discern the cause of the technical issues the drivers faced, every inch, nut and bolt of the car gets inspected to pinpoint the culprit. If that isn't attention to detail, I don't know what is. 

The first thing that hits you when you enter the pit is the smell of burnt rubber and fuel. For good reason too, as the columns of tires, both in reasonable condition, and worn to within an inch of their lives, are stacked on every corner. 


[What tires are meant to look like]


[What will never happen to your tires if you aren't in this line]

Ashraff was far more approachable than I would have imagined him to be. He was charismatic and incredibly enthusiastic about every aspect of the sport. Despite looking like he had been through his paces, as he had, he was good-humoured and very patient with our wide-eyed curiosity about what goes on behind the scenes. 


[Ashraff explaining the nature of the pit]


[The Discarded Rims]


[Dissection and Inspection in Progress]

Have you ever seen a race car stripped up close and personal? It's quite the difference. No longer sleek and smooth; it takes on a completely different life of what can only be described as a mechanical engineers wet dream. 

Haven't you been curious about what goes on in the car while they're driving? I know I have. You see it, but as Ashraff describes it, the atmosphere in there is too intense for you to be left alone. And so there is constant contact which allows them to touch base. 

Ever down to Earth and boyish in his humour, he didn't hesitate to give us an insight into the moments of doubt and fear that can creep into a driver's head when the pressure mounts. He mentioned that at some point in the race, all he needed was to know that someone was watching every movement and every acceleration he made to ensure that all would be well. Into his headset, he asked whether Ruben Silva (his Race Engineer) was there, and an affirmative response was all he needed for the moment of panic to subside. How would you react under such pressure? 


[Ashraff Dewal showing us the specifics of the interior of the car]


[Cooling System]

Without a doubt the day was hotter than most, and the track itself was a whopping 50 degress (celcius, mind you!). But in the car, that metal box, heat gets trapped. Ashraff told us that the temperature in the car soared to 65 degrees, and this cooling system kept their temperature regulated. Drivers have to wear multiple layers to ensure that they are flame retardant, and that can ironically overheat them, so they're plugged into this system which sends cold water in tubes running through their suits. 

Apparently even professionals forget the basics of ensuring their mirror and belts are all sorted, and so there's a little note stuck to the steering wheel as a reminder!


[If they need to ensure this is taken care of, so do you!]


[Audi R8 LMS - Deconstructed]


[Ashraff explaining that every piece that goes into the car can be found in multiples in these tool boxes]


[Fuel!]


[Ashraff Dewal and Ruben Silva (Race Engineer)]

We even got a tour of their private dressing room. Ashraff was gushing about how appreciative he was that the ladies in charge of keeping the room stocked for them went out of their way to ensure they were comfortable. 


[Dressing Room]


[Human Fuel]

I was rather tickled by the ingenious method of drying out helmets. They simply prop a stand fan up and let the helmet rotate on it!


[Helmet Drying Apparatus]

While they're strapped into the seat and there's a headrest which prevents their necks from snapping back too far, there's also a piece made of fibreglass attached to the front of their necks to prevent whiplash. 


[Ashraff explaining the prevention of whiplash]

We even got a look at how analytics are measured!


[Race Analysis]

The graph shows everything from when a driver breaks, to how hard he breaks, and how long it takes from him to pick up the pace. This is overlaid over other drivers' momentum in order to provide feedback which helps hone a driver's sense as to where he is going wrong. Ashraff was quite jovial about the fact that since the invention of such technology, they are no longer able to blame the car for mistakes they may be making. Technology for accountability!

And right before we left the pit, we were treated to a close-up tire change!



[Right up close!]

And it wouldn't be a complete event without a party, would it? Though a little subdued from the early retirement from the race, the atmosphere was still buzzing with energy from the strong start the team made thanks to Ashraff.



[Time to get the party started]



[Baked Fish]


[Chicken Satay]


[Beef Satay]


[Lasagna]


[Beef Ribs]


[A DJ, of course!]


[Casey: My partner in crime for the day!]


[Casey and Sin Dee - Our lovely hostess to ensured we were well looked after]


As the night wound down, there was electric in the air as the team looked to their next stop in Shanghai!

It was a true pleasure to meet Ashraff Dewal and the incredibly dedicated team behind the man. A priceless experience, indeed!

2 comments:

  1. I'm going to confess, I know little about racing but the food looks good lol


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    Replies
    1. Lol the food was amazing! We should go to the Sheraton and run wild!

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