Happy Malaysia Day, everyone! Even as this year’s national Merdeka day celebrations was combined with Malaysia Day celebrations this morning, the 2011 edition of the Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race (MMER, formerly known as Merdeka Millennium Endurance Race), normally held in end August, started today.

And with the end of qualifying, Petronas Syntium Team’s Mercedes SLS driven by Fariqe Hairuman, Tatsuya Kataoka and Bernd Scheider ended up at the top of the charts. Lining up alongside it tomorrow is the sister Gullwing driven by Nobuteru Taniguchi, Masataka Yanagida and Dominic Ang. The latter replaces Imran Zaharias from last year. This is the first time Petronas Syntium Team is fielding the SLS, after previously competing in BMW Z4M Coupes.

“Oh no, no rain! I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow (today). We have prepared our strategy for tomorrow (today). If it rains tomorrow, we just have to think about a new strategy for our tyres and set-up. Hopefully this time we will go a step further and win the MMER as a present for our beloved country this Malaysia Day,” said Hairuman.

Hot at the tail of the two Gullwings is the Le Mans champ trio of Marcel Fassler, Frank Biela and Marco Werner in the Audi R8 LMS. Belgian Fassler is the current Le Mans champion with Audi and Biela was last year’s MMER runner up with Audi Race Experience Team Joest.

“The race starts at lunch time and it’s unbelievably hot. For this reason, we have fitted in air conditioners. No matter what, it’s still hot with the temperatures around 35-40 degrees Celsius,” said Biela, referring to tomorrow noon start time. The 12-hour race ends at midnight. Here are the top ten qualifiers:

1. Tatsuya Kataoka / Fariqe Hairuman / Bernd Schneider (Mercedes SLS) 6:16.346s
2. Nobuteru Taniguchi / Masataka Yanagida / Dominic Ang (Mercedes SLS) 6:17.231s
3. Frank Biela / Marcel Fassler / Marco Werner (Audi R8) 6:18.421s
4. Mok Weng Sun / Gianmaria Bruni / Matthew Griffin (Ferrari F458) 6:18.829s
5. Siu Yuk Lung / Keita Sawa / Dominik Schwager (Lamborghini LP560) 6:19.413
6. Darryl O’Young / Seiji Ara / Alex Yoong (Audi R8) 6:19.753s
7. Frank Yu / Alain Jacques Gilbert Li / Stefan Johansson (Ford GT3) 6:22.946s
8. Jeffrey Lee / Alexandre Imperatori / Aaron Lim (Audi R8) 6:24.476s
9. Billy Fung / Christian Jones / Akihiro Asai (Lamboghini LP560) 6:24.662
10. Franz Engstler / Dominik Kraihamer / Andrei Romanov (BMW Z4) 6:31.997s

No need to pay for tickets – the MMER is free for the public, so head down to Sepang for a different kind of weekend activity!