TCR Malaysia Championship
24 February, 2019
Reigning TCR Asia Series champion Luca Engstler came into the final event of the new TCR Malaysia Championship with an almost insurmountable points lead, the young German needing just to keep his nose clean and claim points to win the title, but with returning rival Mitchell Cheah back in the field, the final event of the season presented plenty for the fans to celebrate and neither driver failed to deliver.
Cheah was incredible – as he had been during his 2018 TCR Asia Series campaign against team-mate Engstler – but despite top qualifying and running away with the opening race, Cheah could do little but watch his rival drive away to claim his fifth win of the year in round six, and with it, the title of TCR Malaysia champion.
Behind the two teenagers the focus shifted to the battle for TCR Malaysia Cup points where a setback for points leader Kai Jordan in race one allowed TCR Europe’s Martin Ryba, KCMG’s Paul Ip and local star Douglas Khoo back into contention, but ultimately the TCR Germany regular took his #3 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen back to the podium in round six to hand him his maiden title.
Despite providing mentoring services outside the seat across the opening two events of TCR Malaysia, Mitchell Cheah showed he had lost none of his customary TCR Asia Series pace on his return, concluding the hotly contested opening practice session just four one hundredths of a second off the pace of Luca Engstler, the two team-mates laying the foundations for an epic qualifying session.
Behind them KCMG’s impressive team boss Paul Ip was just three tenths of a second behind, leading a Honda Civic FK7 assault on the second row alongside Prince Racing’s Kenneth Lau.
Ip improved again to set the top time in opening qualifying with Cheah again four one hundredths of a second off the pace, whilst Engstler was third two tenths further back. Kai Jordan and new Liqui Moly Team Engstler team-mate Mark Darwin were next, with both Douglas Khoo and Michael Choi also within a second of the pace setter, new Viper Niza recruit Andrei Abaluev, Lau and Michael John Soong also making the cut for Q2.
Ultimately Cheah left his best till last, the impressive young Malaysian breaking former world champion Rob Huff’s opening round qualifying best to stop the clock with a best of 2:15.712 with an epic lap in the #29 Volkswagen.
Incredibly Douglas Khoo made it an all-Malaysian front row with his best ever TCR lap of Sepang, his 2:16.391 faster than Engstler by just eight one hundredths of a second to force the points leader back to the second row, Khoo enjoying his role across the weekend sharing driving duties in both the teams Cupra TCR and his LMP3 in which he was competing within the Asian Le Mans Series.
Paul Ip continued his impressive performance to start fourth alongside Engstler, with Kai Jordan alongside TCR Russia regular Andrei Abaluev in the second of the Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCRs.
Kenneth Lau continued his impressive weekend to out-qualify Prince Racing team-mate Michael Choi, the two Honda drivers though separated by just four one hundredths of a second – that result handing them a front-row start for the second, reverse grid top eight season finale.
Frustratingly for Michael John Soong in the second of the Team Engstler Hyundai’s, he missed that front row race two start by an agonising 54 one thousandths of a second, so too Engstler team-mate Mark Darwin who was just 25 one thousandths behind, positions eight through ten covered by just over a tenth of a second! It was that close..
Engstler got the best of the standing start to jump ahead of the slow starting Douglas Khoo and tuck in behind Mitchell Cheah, the young Malaysian though using his immense experience at Sepang to force his 2018 rival out wide as Engstler looked to go around the outside for a move into turn one.
Engstler was having none of it, banging doors with Cheah as they approached the braking point in order to try and force the Volkswagen driver into the apex early, giving the points leader a chance to close the door on the run into the turn two left-hander.
Cheah though was up to the game, holding the #8 Hyundai out to lead into turn two from Engstler, Paul Ip, the recovering Douglas Khoo, Kai Jordan and Martin Ryba.
The biggest loser off the start was Andrei Abaluev who was left stranded on the grid, the Russian stalling the car before regrouping to bring up the rear of the field into the first turn, although he was very quickly onto the tail of the pack to start working his way forward.
Behind the leaders Kai Jordan had locked onto the tail of Douglas Khoo for fourth, the German looking to make an attack in the battle for TCR Malaysia Cup points against his rival, the #3 Volkswagen locking in behind the Cupra TCR out of the tight turn nine right-hander to be under Khoo’s rear wing heading into the fast sweeping turn 13 right-hander.
Such was Jordan’s pace that he was able to drive around the outside of Khoo, the two side-by-side in the fast flowing corner that leads into the penultimate right-hander. Not considered an overtaking opportunity on the 5.543-kilometre grand prix circuit, Jordan almost made it stick but the two cars clipped as they went for the apex of the corner, spinning both to the outside of the circuit. Sadly it was also effectively game-over for both teams, Jordan with significant suspension damage to the right rear which forced his retirement, Khoo losing valuable time in pit lane as the Viper Niza Racing squad made repairs and changed a tyre.
What that did was open the door for Martin Ryba, the Slovakian had been unwell all weekend and well off the pace he’d shown in earlier rounds, something he felt may hand TCR Malaysia Cup rival Douglas Khoo an opportunity, but with both his rivals out of contention, Ryba discovered some extra pace to work his way back into the points race ahead of the final.
Up front Engstler did what he could to stay with Cheah, the young Malaysian though holding station at the front of the field to record the win by just over two seconds. Paul Ip made a return to the podium with a third placed finish and top TCR Malaysia Cup points, although he was coming under increasing pressure across the closing laps from Liqui Moly Team Engstler debutante Mark Darwin.
Kenneth Lau enjoyed one of his strongest runs in TCR Malaysia to get by Martin Ryba in the closing stages for fifth, Prince Racing Honda team-mate Michael Choi seventh, just ahead of Michael John Soong in the second Team Engstler Hyundai.
Cherry Cheung completed her debut race in a TCR car in ninth having found more speed in the TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen, whilst a frustrated Douglas Khoo was left to ponder what might have been after starting from the front row, to be the final classified finisher a lap down on the leaders.
Sadly for Andrei Abaluev, his strong recovery ended on the penultimate lap with a brake issue forcing the Russian back into pit lane after an off at turn four.
For Cheah though there was much rejoicing in pit lane, his return to TCR competition off the back of the recent announcement of his addition to the WTCR field at Sepang as a wildcard entry in the day-night season finale clearly motivating his impressive drive.
Engstler’s second-placed finish though and Kai Jordan’s retirement was enough to hand the young German his first title for 2019, adding the inaugural TCR Malaysia crown to his 2018 Middle-East and TCR Asia titles, although the young German lamented a setup change which made the car more difficult to drive as the reason he was unable to challenge his rival across the closing laps.
Sunday though was a different day, and without the concern of chasing championship points on his mind, and with a few tweaks to the #8 Hyundai, Luca Engstler was a different driver..
Starting from the third row, the Hyundai star made an incredible start to lead into turn one having gotten the jump on the two slow starting Prince Racing Hondas, 2015 TCR Asia Series champion Michael Choi also leaving the door ajar enough on the run into the right hand opening turn for the young German to lead into the testing turn 1-2 complex.
Behind him Kai Jordan also made a blistering start, the German Volkswagen driver looking to put the TCR Malaysia Cup title out of the reach of his rivals after losing 15 valuable points to rival Martin Ryba in race one, although he still had Michael Choi to contend with, the Honda driver though not looking to make Jordan’s life easy.
Whilst Engstler was comfortably off into the distance with a string of record setting early laps, behind him it took Mitchell Cheah some time to work his way through the traffic, the top qualifying Malaysian was only seventh by turn two and very nearly out at turn four after making contact with Martin Ryba as the Slovakian closed the door on the exit of the corner.
Cheah must have been wondering what he needed to do to cut a break after almost coming to blows with Paul Ip on the exit of turn 15, the KCMG Honda driver coming unstuck whilst locked in a battle for second with Michael Choi and Kai Jordan dropping him right back down the order.
By the start of the second lap Cheah had moved his way into third with just Choi separating the two Engstler drivers, with Jordan fourth just a car length clear of Cup rival Martin Ryba, the Slovakian clearly feeling much better than the opening day of competition which saw him well off his customary pace.
Ultimately Cheah would work his way past Choi and into second but by that stage Engstler was more than seven seconds down the road, the newly crowned TCR Malaysia champion romping away to a 13-second win over Cheah to make it five wins from six starts in what had been an almost perfect season.
Michael Choi held out Kai Jordan for third and maximum points in the TCR Malaysia Cup, although Jordan’s result was enough to give him the title by 15 points over fifth-placed Martin Ryba. Mark Darwin completed his maiden run in a TCR car with another impressive performance to claim sixth ahead of the recovering Paul Ip whose consistency across the weekend and strong opening race result gave the Hong Kong businessman third in TCR Malaysia Cup points.
Michael John Soong completed his return to TCR Malaysia with a solid eighth-placed finish having found more pace across the course of the two 30-minute races, whilst Cherry Cheung too improved to claim ninth ahead of the luckless Douglas Khoo who was left to lament what might have been after his best ever qualifying effort on Saturday.
Immediately after the final race of the six-round season, it was revealed that the 2020 motorsport calendar would begin again with TCR Malaysia on the Malaysian grand prix circuit with rounds to be confirmed at a later date.
With the maiden season of TCR Malaysia now committed to history, local focus switches to the opening event of the 2019 season of TCR Asia which will also be contested at Sepang International Circuit, with rounds one and two scheduled across April 5-7.
What the drivers had to say..
Luca Engstler – #8 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR
“Definitely happy! We checked data and the videos of Saturday’s race. It was super-hot outside, so we made some small setup changes which worked out quite well. I started from P5 and I could challenge the Hondas down to turn one. I pushed then for the first two laps and just controlled the gap from there. To win five from six races was an amazing feeling and gives me great preparation and confidence as I prepare for the year ahead.”
Mitchell Cheah – #29 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I am very happy that I am back racing as this is my first race of the year. Thank you to my sponsors, Sepang International Circuit, Axle Motorsports and Team Engstler for all their help. This was a really good morale boost before I go to TCR Germany [this season]. I haven’t driven since last October, but after this I have a feel for the car again, so I think I am well prepared for the season ahead.”
Kai Jordan – #3 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“Saturday was a bad day, but today I was very careful. I made sure to have a good start, make sure no damage, no overtaking and I followed the car in front of me and only looked for Martin Ryba and when the pit-box told me his position, I just maintained a consistent pace. My only thought is for the Championship, second overall and Cup Championship. That was my goal!”
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
Round#5/6 – 2019 TCR Malaysia Championship (23-24 February, 2019)
- 51. Paul Ip (HKG) – KCMG Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:16.289
- 29. Mitchell Cheah (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR – 2:16.337
- 8. Luca Engstler (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR – 2:16.506
- 3. Kai Jordan (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* – 2:16.757
- 11. Mark Darwin (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf GTi TCR – 2:16.869
- 65. Douglas Khoo (MAS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 2:17.048
- 7. Michael Choi (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:17.220
- 80. Andrei Abaluev (RUS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 2:17.517
- 2. Kenneth Lau (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:17.891
- 26. Michael Soong (HKG) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR* – 2:18.314
- 17. Martin Ryba (SVK) – Brutal Fish Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* – 2:18.474
- 10. Cherry Cheung (HKG) – TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* – 2:20.584
- 29. Mitchell Cheah (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR – 2:15.712
- 65. Douglas Khoo (MAS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 2:16.391
- 8. Luca Engstler (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR – 2:16.475
- 51. Paul Ip (HKG) – KCMG Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:16.679
- 3. Kai Jordan (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* – 2:17.152
- 80. Andrei Abaluev (RUS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 2:17.358
- 2. Kenneth Lau (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:18.286
- 7. Michael Choi (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* – 2:18.329
- 26. Michael Soong (HKG) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR* – 2:18.383
- 11. Mark Darwin (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf GTi TCR – 2:18.408
- 29. Mitchell Cheah (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
- 8. Luca Engstler (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR +2.079
- 51. Paul Ip (HKG) – KCMG Honda Civic FK7 TCR* +12.292
- 11. Mark Darwin (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf GTi TCR +13.941
- 2. Kenneth Lau (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* +36.602
- 17. Martin Ryba (SVK) – Brutal Fish Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* +36.608
- 7. Michael Choi (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* +41.473
- 26. Michael Soong (HKG) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR* +42.945
- 10. Cherry Cheung (HKG) – TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* +53.064
- 65. Douglas Khoo (MAS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 10-laps
DNF. 80. Andrei Abaluev (RUS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 9-laps
DNF. 3. Kai Jordan (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* – 1-lap
- 8. Luca Engstler (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR
- 29. Mitchell Cheah (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR +13.482
- 7. Michael Choi (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR* +18.637
- 3. Kai Jordan (GER) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* +23.889
- 17. Martin Ryba (SVK) – Brutal Fish Racing Team Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* +25.583
- 11. Mark Darwin (MAS) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf GTi TCR +33.469
- 51. Paul Ip (HKG) – KCMG Honda Civic FK7 TCR* +34.856
- 26. Michael Soong (HKG) – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR* +36.468
- 10. Cherry Cheung (HKG) – TeamWork Motorsport Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR* +1:07.549
- 65. Douglas Khoo (MAS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* +1:10.250
DNF. 80. Andrei Abaluev (RUS) – Viper Niza Racing Seat Cupra TCR* – 10-laps
DSQ. 2. Kenneth Lau (HKG) – Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR*
TCR Malaysia Driver’s Championship points (after six rounds of six)
- Luca Engstler (142.5-points), 2. Kai Jordan (68), 3. Martin Ryba (53), 4. Mitchell Cheah (48), 5. Paul Ip (44.5), 6. Douglas Khoo (38), 7. Michael Choi (35), 8. Robb Huff (33), 8. Kenneth Lau (24), 10. Brendan Paul Anthony (20), 10. Adam Khalid (20), 10. Mark Darwin (20), 13. Charlie Kang (19), 14. Michael Soong (9), 15. Henry Kwong (8), 16. Cherry Cheung (4), 17. Ahmad Azlee (3), 17. Theo Coicaud (3), 19. Gary Cheung (1), 20. Andrei Abaluev (0), 20. David Lau (0)
TCR Malaysia Series Cup Driver’s Championship points (after six rounds of six)
- Kai Jordan (97.5-points), 2. Martin Ryba (82.5), 3. Paul Ip (72), 4. Douglas Khoo (65), 5. Michael Choi (62), 6. Kenneth Lau (44), 7. Adam Khalid (30), 8. Charlie Kang (29), 9. Brendan Paul Anthony (24), 19. Michael Soong (22), 11. Henry Kwong (16), 11. Cherry Cheung (16), 13. Ahmad Azlee (4), 13. Gary Cheung (4), 15. David Lau (0)
TCR Malaysia Team’s Championship points (after six rounds of six)
- Liqui Moly Team Engstler (248.5-points), 2. Prince Racing (83), 3. Brutal Fish Racing Team (61), 4. Viper Niza Racing (55), 5. KCMG (505), 6. TeamWork Motorsport (49), 7. Indigo Racing (19), 8. Maximum Racing (4)
TCR Malaysia Car Model of the Year Championship points (after six rounds of six)
- Volkswagen (190-points), 2. Hyundai (180.5), 3. Honda (124.5), 4. Cupra (52)
2019 TCR Malaysia – calendar
Rnd#1/#2, 19-20 January – Sepang, Malaysia
Rnd#3/#4, 26 January – Sepang, Malaysia
Rnd#5/#6, 23-24 February – Sepang, Malaysia
Keep up to date with the TCR Malaysia Championship through the Series website – www.tcr-malaysia.com – through Facebook; www.facebook.com/TCRMalaysiaOfficial and Instagram www.instagram.com/TCRMalaysia
For more information on the 2019 TCR Malaysia Championship, please visit www.tcr-malaysia.com