Gymkhana – the budget motorsports event

One of the more interesting elements of gymkhana is that any car can enter so long as it passes technical certification.

IN 2006, a group of Kuching motorsports enthusiasts held a gymkhana event just for fun. After that one event, gymkhana activities in the state capital came to a halt.

It was six years later in 2012 that the Sarawak Auto-Enthusiasts Society (SAS) brought the event back after noticing that motorsports in Sarawak are lagging behind our neighbours.

SAS was formed by a group of friends who love motorsports. And since 2012, its gymkhana team – Koneattack – has been holding events several times a year to cater to motorsports at the grassroots level. Besides gymkhana, SAS also organises the Merdeka Auto Carnival annually.

The sixth Merdeka Auto Carnival 2017 was held recently with a host of activities, including an automotive exhibition, an auto-audio show, a ‘car limbo’, a colouring contest, a dance competition and drift demonstrations.

SAS president Wan Asraq Arif said these events were organised to allow young people to show their creativity in modifying and upgrading cars.

“We’re trying to encourage young people with the same interests to come together to strengthen bonds, share ideas and display their talents.

“Organisers and participants could come together as well to promote the local automotive sector and raise the profile of local talents.”

Wan Asraq added that the ample opportunities and benefits from gymkhana and auto carnival activities could help to create a harmonious community besides giving tourism in the state a boost.

“Auto-enthusiasts will also benefit in terms of teamwork, camaraderie, confidence and discipline.”

Gymkhana is an extremely challenging motorsport where participants race to get to the destination as fast as possible through a series of tricky obstacles.

In Australia, such events may be known as Motorkhana, while in New Zealand, the UK and Ireland, it is more popularly called Autotesting.

The idea is derived from the traditional horse-racing event where the riders would have to guide their mounts through various patterns in the fastest time possible.

This event is said to have originated from an earlier tradition of a war ceremony dance in which warriors on horseback held the dance to stir up their courage and mood before setting out to fight their enemies.

A common belief is that the event originated in the US during the post-WW II financial boom. Soldiers returning from overseas brought back small, nimble cars such as the British Triumph, MG, Mini Cooper and the Italian Fiat which were common in smaller European cities.

These smaller cars simply could not compete with the sheer horsepower of American race cars on the typical flat track raceways. So the smaller vehicle owners created a different kind of racing using their vehicles – one requiring nimble manoeuvring.

Basically, a gymkhana is any event featuring a starting point, a finish line and some sort of obstacles to get through, around, or by, all within a certain time limit.

The driver’s goal is to get through the course as quickly as possible with the fewest mistakes. Acceleration, braking, drifting, and grip driving are all necessary.

According to Wan Asraq, one of the more interesting gymkhana elements over other forms of motorsport is that any car can be entered so long as it passes technical certification.

“This is a sport one can spend a lot of money on if one wants to but doesn’t have to,” he said.

The small space required for a gymkhana course means it can be set up just about anywhere. A relatively open area with enough space to run a car. A large parking lot, an industrial zone or even an open field will do.

SAS holds an MAC 2017 roadshow at the old Sibu airport site. – Photos from SAS

Potential attraction

Wan Asraq could see the potential of motorsports in attracting new drivers and spectators to the raceway.

He said gymkhana had been around for quite some time in the state but it only started to gain popularity of late.

He noted that participation was on an upwards trend each year, putting the event on the right track.

“The response from automotive merchants is increasingly good – they are willing to sponsor drivers to our events. We have successfully attracted auto-enthusiasts from places like Serian, Sri Aman, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri, Peninsular Malaysia and Kota Kinabalu.”

Race track

The suggestion to build a race track has been made by SAS numerous times. The reason is to give local youths a proper motorsports venue.

This may be one way to curb illegal racing but Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah pointed out that constructing a race track in Sarawak may not be feasible because it’s very expensive.

Abdul Karim said he stood by the statement he made on the high costs of construction and maintenance when responding to a proposal by Tupong assemblyman Fazzrudin Abdul Rahman to build a permanent race track in the state.

The minister said he was unsure whether having race tracks in the state was a good idea as he believed it could be only looking at the existence of local motorsports enthusiasts.

He pointed out that logistically, having an international race track might not be viable, considering the state’s small population.

He said even for karting or small bike racing, it was still not worth investing in a permanent track that’s very costly to construct and maintain.

“How many races do we hold a year? Two or three the most? The rest of the time enthusiasts would just go for a spin on the track.”

Abdul Karim said he could not see how a proper race track would solve illegal racing or Mat Rempit activities.

He noted that in Kuala Lumpur where race tracks were open to public for free on weekends, the rempit menace was still around.

He believed rempit is a fad of racing on public roads.

He said the indulgers were not bothered about safety because they loved the thrill of swerving between cars.

But these reckless road racers would grow out of it once they were older, got married and have families, he added.

A gymkhana event in progress at the carpark of Giant Stutong in Kuching.

Low budget activity

Wan Asraq said SAS is still hopeful the state government or the relevant authorities would provide at least a permanent multifunctional empty space for gymkhana events.

He said grassroots level motorsport is a low budget activity where an empty space such as a car park lot would do.

“I can understand we cannot just keep asking for a racing track without proper planning. An investor will ask what are the returns like and we must have something to show to get their support.

“We cannot expect somebody to come up with money to build a racing track without first laying out a feasible plan.

“But if a racing track is to be built, I think Samarahan is a good area. When we have a venue there, we can start organising events more consistently. It would mean having a platform to grow the event much faster. For us now, the situation is that every few months, we have to look for a venue.”

He said sometimes they would go to Kuching Sentral, sometimes to Crown Square or places where people were willing to sponsor the venue, adding that since they catered mostly to the grassroots, they could not charge high entry fees or else no one would join.

Wan Asraq stressed they had to try their best to look for a free venue otherwise they could not hold any event.

“That’s why we hope the government could provide us an empty space. The car park of the new stadium near the shooting range would be just nice. It could be modified for motorsports. It’s good for other activities too.”

He understood that if SAS were to forward a proposal to the state government to build a race track, it must be able provide solid justification, including how it could benefit the state economically and socially.

“That’s why since its establishment, SAS has been trying to promote motorsports statewide. The response seems very encouraging.”

He said the local communities supported many of their events because small businesses had benefitted from them.

He added that they were also trying to expand to the other divisions, having already been to Miri and Sibu to organise gymkhanas, and were now planning to get the ball rolling in Bintulu.

“Any gymkhana events we help to organise are not necessarily under SAS. We just want to help by passing on the knowledge gained over the years, especially on public safety or technical matters.”

Wan Asraq is hoping to at least get some pointers from the authorities concerned on the criteria for promoting motorsports in the state.

“We could then look into the requirements and comply with them. In this way, I believe we could achieve our objectives faster.”

Defensive driving

SAS vice-president Kelvin Chen said if a proper gymkhana venue is available, drivers could work on improving their driving skills in a controlled and safe environment.

He believes many local motorsports talents are waiting to be discovered and providing the necessary facilities and support complement the talent-scouting.

“In Kuching, I don’t see any car park big and flat enough for motorsports events such as bike racing and go karting.

“It would nice if the government could modify the stadium carpark near the shooting range side. From our observations, every Sunday evening, a lot of motorbikers gather outside the stadium to hone their riding skills.

“Illegal racing in Kuching mostly involves drag-racing or racing in a straight line over say 400 metres. Among the hotspots are Sejingkat area while the road along Normah Medical Centre often sees motorbike drag-racing.”

According to Chen, quite often in middle of the night, the racers would gather at a starting point at Jamek Road.

Auto enthusiasts in a group photo at the MAC 2017 roadshow and KoneAttack Championship at Giant Stutong carpark in Kuching.

Different activity

He said gymkhana is a different kind of racing activity in that it sharpened one’s driving skills, adding, “It’s more like training in defensive driving.”

Participants, he added, could learn to anticipate the physical behaviour of vehicles in various motion patterns and this helped to improve their driving on the road.

“In short, a defensive driving lesson teaches one to drive defensively and make quick and safe decisions behind the wheel.”

Chen said a lot of accidents could have been avoided if the drivers did not panic, adding, “There is such a thing as a ‘recovery’ moment skilled drivers can use before an impact occurs.”

He said another good thing about gymkhana training for defensive driving is that illegal racers who had gone through it would most likely stop their irresponsible behaviour on the road.

“They realise they are exposing themselves to unnecessary risks and the consequences can be deadly. It’s like experiencing is believing.”

Chen said SAS is a non-profit organisation and members are volunteers.

“We do it out of love for our sport. We want to create community events to promote interaction among youths, especially when the digital era has reduced so much of face-to-face interaction, resulting in many young people growing up with very poor social skills.”

He believes an auto club or association is a good platform to share proper car maintenance, driving tips and road safety.

“Such a social activity which may include gatherings, vehicle convoys and family outings, is a good way to promote cohesiveness because the participants will learn that despite their different ethnic origins and creeds, human nature is fundamentally the same,” he said.

Wan Asraq (left), Chen (right), and MAC2017 organising chairman Galvin Amat.

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