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