Hafizh Syahrin

Malaysia’s first ever Mo­toGP rider Hafizh Syahrin in the race to be­come top Rookie of the Year

Top Gear (Malaysia) - - Contents - WORDS: THORIQ AZMI / PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: MONSTER YAMAHA TECH3

A trib­ute to our lo­cal Mo­toGP hero in con­junc­tion with his inau­gu­ral Malaysian Grand Prix this month

With the Ja­panese Grand Prix wrapped up, the 2018 Mo­toGP class’s ti­tle chase con­cluded early yet again as Honda’s golden boy Marc Mar­quez claimed his record-break­ing fifth pre­mier class ti­tle.

But, with three races re­main­ing, there’s an­other ti­tle chase go­ing on down the field, and there’s a Malaysian in­volved.

Call it a ‘lucky break’ if you like when Sopho­more Ger­man rider Jonas Fol­ger an­nounced his sab­bat­i­cal for health rea­sons just a week be­fore pre-sea­son tests kicked off in Sepang.

With Fol­ger’s seat va­cant in the Monster Yamaha Tech3 garage, team boss Herve Pon­charal needed a fit and wor­thy re­place­ment. And he needed him fast.

All roads led to Hafizh, who ap­peared ready to kick-off his fifth full sea­son in the in­ter­me­di­ate Moto2 class with the SIC Rac­ing Team ini­tially.

Fondly nick­named ‘El Pescao’ (‘The Fish’ in Span­ish) by peers and fans for his mas­tery in wet weather rac­ing, Hafizh had al­ready proved his met­tle af­ter scor­ing his first podium fin­ishes in the rain-hit San Marino and Ja­panese Grand Prix Moto2 races in 2017.

That was prob­a­bly on the minds of those who were in deep dis­cus­sion with Pon­charal in Sepang. Among them were of­fi­cials from Yamaha Asia, as well as SIC’s CEO Datuk Ra­zlan Razali.

What came next was Pon­charal’s in­vi­ta­tion to Hafizh to test the team’s satel­lite Yamaha YZR-M1 in Buri­ram, Thai­land just weeks af­ter. The rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Through­out the sea­son, there were some crit­ics who were ready to write off the young Malaysian merely as a ‘to­ken’ en­try. But Hafizh’s string of point-scor­ing fin­ishes has since si­lenced them. The 10th place Hafizh scored in Ja­pan was only his sec­ond best af­ter fin­ish­ing ninth in Ar­gentina.

For his achieve­ments, Hafizh has a lot to thank his father Ab­dul­lah Harun who went to great lengths to make sure his son’s tal­ents didn’t go to waste, bring­ing him out to lo­cal pocket bike races at an early age.

This even­tu­ally led to Hafizh’s suc­cess­ful ex­ploits in the Malaysian Cub Prix un­der­bone rac­ing cham­pi­onship and the FIM Asia Road Rac­ing se­ries’ 600cc Su­per­Sports class – all this be­fore he turned le­gal, mind you.

But it wasn’t un­til the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix that Hafizh burst onto the world’s radar. Some may re­mem­ber the turn­ing point where Hafizh stunned the Moto2 grid as a wild­card, lead­ing the rain-hit race at one point even. What came next were his ex­ploits in Spain’s highly com­pet­i­tive CEV na­tional rac­ing se­ries be­fore switch­ing to the World Cham­pi­onship full time in 2014.

Hafizh’s strong point-scor­ing fin­ishes this year have put him in the run­ning for the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award in the pre­mier class. Af­ter Ja­pan, he’s trail­ing by just two points from Ital­ian rider Franco Mor­bidelli who’s rid­ing a satel­lite-spec Honda for the Marc VDS pri­va­teer ef­fort and lead­ing the rookie rid­ers’ charge.

Again, with three races re­main­ing in Aus­tralia, Malaysia and Spain, Hafizh’s chances look good. Even if he doesn’t clinch the ti­tle, he’s got an­other rea­son to be proud of. And it’s one no­body can take away. He is, af­ter all, the first ever Malaysian to line up and com­pete in the pre­mier Mo­toGP class.

It’s safe to say that this year’s Shell Malaysia Mo­tor­cy­cles Grand Prix week­end in Sepang will be a lit­tle more spe­cial than past edi­tions. There’s fi­nally a Malaysian lin­ing up on the pre­mier class grid.

We’re talk­ing about 24-yearold Hafizh Syahrin who’s fight­ing for the right to be called Mo­toGP’s ‘Rookie

of the Year’. The Se­lan­gor-born speed­ster has si­lenced his crit­ics. Un­like the four other rook­ies join­ing the grid this year, Hafizh’s spot in the pre­mier Mo­toGP class al­most didn’t hap­pen.

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