Overnight rains and thunder had hung on until dawn. More showers were forecasted for the day but the rising sun burned off any remaining clouds and filled the rolling hills and South Malaysian farmlands. The Sunday morning turned into a serene but sunny one. Except at the KTM-Rimba Raid Asia Qualifiers venue sitting outside sleepy towns and villages, the air was buzzing with expectant energy.
A good turnout had gathered in the late morning. Race crew were busy installing transponders and tying up loose ends. Some racers chilled and chatted while others were doing last minute fixes on their bikes.
What was at stake at this Qualifier race? The full factory treatment at Rimba Raid in September. That meant, awaiting the fastest 2 Malaysian finishers and the fastest Singaporean, each, would be a race-prepared KTM 790 Adventure R, race crew support, sponsored race accommodations and race fee, among other prizes. KTM would be offering the same to the top adventure racers of Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea and Taiwan as well, a move that would boost the quality of competition of Rimba Raid 2023.
This qualifying event would be dedicated to multi-cylinder bikes above 500cc only. It turned out to be a blessing for big bikes got a much needed opportunity to race on fresh cut trail with truck loads of traction.
The racers were getting ready, Hairul said his race strategy was to take it easy and just enjoy the race. Bee and the others were making last minute preparations. Baba was chatting away about power mods, suspensions, fuel ratios, air filter flows rates and tyre pressures. Baba’s head is a treasure trove of bike setup gems. That he is so gracious and generous about sharing all of it is a wonder in itself.
The Malaysian riders were quietly confident, some opted to do their warmups on the semi gravel road leading up to the venue. Rimba Raid will have its fair share of semi tarmac, so why not warm up going fast on them.
There was visible but unhurried energy all around, everyone was in the zone. No game faces, just reassured conviction in the training hours, sweat that had already been poured out simulating terrain, simulating race pace and working on conditioning. Ben was practicing wheelies on the slope next to parc ferme before commencing his marshall duties.
Captain Nik, Faudzi and the Rimba Raid crew had made the trip down to check out proceedings. Reveling in the dream they had created many years ago on one of their weekend rides. “How nice would it be to have people racing on the bikes they toured”. That question and the passion that went with it have come a long way now, weathered the pandemic and are blossoming into this beautiful child that just has to be watched as it grows and becomes a force in itself.
The starter brought racers to order late morning. The sun was up. After all, the actual race in August would be a whole day endeavor for most racers. Why not stoke in some heat and see what riders down south are made of? Perfect plan.
Captain Nik flagged off riders in 30 second intervals from the starting ramp. First Malaysian, then Singapore riders. The transponder would capture start and lap times. A tight, twisty grassland welcomed riders right out of the start area. The layout was challenging but traction was phenomenal leading into the first plantation section of the day.
Palm plantations in this part of the world are always a wet affair early in the mornings. When it is not time to cash in on harvests, owners have other priorities to manage, leaving access trails a muddy mess for dedicated dirt lovers.
The course then threw up a couple of muddy step ups which the lead group cleared without even blinking. Marshalls did a great job clearing any back markers and having a great time doing it. The first river crossing went the opposite direction of the lead up event last year (see link here: https://rudemachinery.com/2022/08/22/flat-out-like-a-lizard-drinking/). It was easy enough with fewer bikes in the field and no enduro bikes to rip up terrain before big bikes got there. Love all you Class C riders.
The rest of the course alternated between tight, muddy terrain and slightly faster gravelly, rocky roads. Podium hopefuls rode on with determination while some racers stopped to help others who had dropped bikes or crashed. Overall, the trail was perfect for the time target format of the event allowing better riders to ride multiple laps while first time racers were able to test out their big bike handling skills. Racers were able to go quick but not Thai quick as the course was more technical than the typical Rimba Raid course.
Among Malaysian riders, Wong Ti Liang set a blistering pace from the green flag followed closely by Faris, Bee and the others. Ti Liang ended up winning the race from wire to wire, followed home by Fareez to take the top 2 Malaysian prizes. Kamil had a handy lead over the Singapore field well into the race. Hairul was following along executing his pre-race strategy to perfection. Baba, Morgan and the others pushed on steadily. Kamil was so close to the finish but crashed on his last lap and got hit with cramps. Hairul, steadily finished his final lap and won the Singapore section of the event.
The fact that there were no ladies in the field gives organizers and big bike designers something to think about.
The trail setters had done an impeccable job weaving the course through plantations, access roads, sand, mud, river crossings, tight shrubland, short and sharp climbs. Weather gods played along and result was a perfect day for racing.
Wheelriders, the organizers did everything they could to make this a successful event. Now the qualifiers are done, racers go back to their jobs, families, training, riding until the queen of the South East Asian dirt racing calendar – Rimba Raid – comes around in late August. Stay tuned for more.
Photo credits: Faudzi, Drider Chris, Adventure Bike Riders Group.
Vinod describes his strongest skill as the ability to learn. He revels in being a perpetual beginner in everything he does and in understanding things deeply. He believes equal parts in the law of averages and in being in the present. While on the motorcycle, he leaves testing lean angles and top speeds to his immensely more talented ride buddies.