Last weekend, the Toyota Gazoo Racing Festival returned after a year’s sabbatical due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Round 1 of Season 4, held at the Sepang International Circuit, was closed to fans for the first time since the TGR Fest started here in 2017.

The first ever livestreamed round of the TGR Fest saw more than two million online viewers tuning in over two days of Vios Challenge one-make-race action, UMW Toyota Motor (UMWT) claims. There were four categories of racing represented by pro racers, amateurs, young drivers and celebrities; as well as entertainment programming for non-race fans.

“On track especially, the suspense and quality of racing in the Vios Challenge has not diminished, in fact amplified even more, despite a one-year break. Brand affinity for Gazoo Racing has grown tremendously over three seasons of organising what is today recognised as Malaysia’s premier motor-racing series, and I would like to thank all our Gazoo Racing fans and online viewers for their continued support even in the absence of an on-ground festival,” said UMWT president Ravindran K.

Will TGR Fest continue purely online? They’re hoping that fans will be allowed back, but livestreaming is here to stay. “Looking ahead to the following rounds, we hope to bring spectators back to the festival and enhance our live broadcast reach in line with our mission to bring motorsports to the masses,” Ravindran added.

Round 1 consisted of two races, one on Saturday and another on Sunday. Race 1 saw the debut of five graduates of UMWT’s Gazoo Racing Young Drivers Development Program in the Rookie Class, as well as new famous faces competing in the Promotional Class. One of them, actor Zizan Razak, went on to win the class in his first ever Vios Challenge race, finishing ahead of UMWT’s own Akio Takeyama and fellow debutant Ahirene Ahiruddin.

“Because this was my first race, I was honestly just out to gain experience. The rain however, worked in my favour. I enjoy driving in the wet,” Zizan said. Sounds humble, but the Abang Long Fadil star then went on to win the dry second race for two wins in two races. Zizan finished Sunday’s 18-lap race with an unassailable eight-second gap over singer Khai Bahar. TV presenter Ahirene collected her second podium finish in as many races.

It was high drama in Race 1 of the pro Super Sporting Class, where the lead exchanged hands four times in 20 laps. On the final lap, Gazoo Racing ambassador and Season 3 Super Sporting Class defending champion Tengku Djan Ley overtook M7 Japan Project Team’s Syafiq Ali for the win. Coming in third was 16-year-old Hayden Haikal, making his debut in this top class.

The start of the race was delayed for 20 minutes due to a brief thunderstorm as the cars prepared to lineup on the starting grid. It started with two sighting laps behind the safety car for safety reasons, and then a rolling start instead of the regular standing start.

Djan made it 2/2 in Race 2. Starting from sixth on the grid, the Prima Pearl Auto driver played a waiting game before mounting an 11th hour assault for the race win, finishing ahead of Season 2 Super Sporting Class champion Boy Wong, who returns to the podium after a long absence. Laser Motor Racing’s Mark Darwin was third.

In the Sporting Class, Race 1 saw Adam Khalid (Crestmax Motorsport) finish ahead of Clement Yeo (Distinctive Model) and privateer Eric Yong. Race 2 was won by Haji Sutan Mustaffa Salihin, while Eric Yong and Adam Khalid finished on the podium again.

In the Rookie Class, Naquib Azlan had a dream debut weekend by winning both races. In Race 1, he was joined on the podium by Amer Harris and Mika Hakimi. In Race 2, Jwan Hii finished second and Amer Harris was third. “Sim racing helps me prepare before coming to a race track and with experienced trainers and a data engineer helping us out in the Gazoo Racing Young Drivers Development Program, I have learnt more about my driving. I want to learn more and proceed further,” the 20-year-old winner said.

Season 4 of the TGR Festival will have three rounds and six races of the Vios Challenge. For their first time, TGR will make its presence felt in the national racing series with the introduction of the Gazoo Racing Vios Sprint Cup (two rounds, four races), and the Gazoo Racing Enduro Cup, which will be run in conjunction with the annual Sepang 1000km Endurance Race.