Let’s face it. Amateur bike racing in Singapore has faced some challenges over the past few years. A death in a mass race, expensive event fees, and a struggling commercially viable racing series. But that hasn’t dampened the motivation of several organisations to keep trying. Last Friday night saw a unique new race format come to Singapore, with the running of the OCBC Super Sprints at the KF1 Go Kart circuit. An event run in conjunction with the Singapore Cycling Federation and title sponsor OCBC Bank.
I have to admit, I didn’t even know the event was on just a few days beforehand. A lunch catch-up with a friend who was due to cover the event as a journalist was the first I heard of it. How is this possible, in the country where cyclists are desperate to find races? So desperate that we often race in other countries.
The tight little go-kart circuit is just one kilometre long, with sixteen even tighter corners. Should make for an interest race venue, testing even the best bike handlers. Keen to get all the racing experience I can, I jumped at the chance.
KF1 Go Karting circuit, source Cheryl Tay
The format of the night was twelve, ten minute qualifying sessions, in which ten riders try to post their fastest ‘hot’ lap. The top 24 times would go through to the elimination rounds. Worried there would a queue of riders, I arrived promptly for the 5pm opening of registration. Maybe poor marketing, or poor interest, but as racing kicked off there were just eleven people registered. My early arrival had put me in the first session.
I have to admit, I was excited for the format, as the tight circuit would favour my car racing background as smooth high average speeds would be needed instead pure cycling power. By my calculations, in the ten minute session we would have time for five laps, giving us a lap or two to find a racing line. Just enough time to experiment with apexes and lines.
My first session was over before I knew it, posting three warm-up laps before making a hot lap attempt on the fourth. That was a huge mistake, three laps in the legs was one too many. But I still managed to post a respectable time; 1:35.3 putting me 5th overall after two sessions. But I wasn’t done, enlisting in two more sessions and improving my time by over two seconds. At the end of all the qualifying sessions I was a respectable 11th overall, with the majority of the top times held by eight members of the Pro Development Project (PDP) team, plus Bastian of the Specialized Mavericks.
Next came the business rounds, elimination finals. Three eight man, five lap races that would determine the nine that make it into the final. My elimination final would be the third, giving me a chance to watch the action in the previous two before suiting up and heading out. Clearly overtaking was rare, so one had to know their competition. Mine would be the cycling mastery of Mohd Yusoff. He might be older than most, but with decades of experience he would be a tough competitor. I wasn’t wrong.
The earlier finals were frantic, but all with a similar fate. The Pro Development Project guys would comfortably take the top two spots, making for a heated battle for the third qualification spot. In the first elimination round it was Messie against Kamyar, which went down to the last lap before the pace took it toll and Messie grabbed third. The second elimination saw Specialized Maverick, Bastian Dohling hunt the young Pro Development Project team before a fateful fall from a crank scrap saw three of the PDP boys go through the the final.
Lining up for my race, nerves got the best of me and I missed my clip-in off the line, putting me fifth into the first turn. Sensing quickly that Yusoff’s strategy was one of the conservative follower, I pounced at the start of the second lap putting myself up into third, a position that would put me in final. On every corner I could feel Yusoff’s presence, as he stuck to my rear wheel. All I could do was conserve some energy and take the defensive line. He struck on the inside of turn one on the final lap, but I surprised myself by taking the place back at the next turn. I held the lead through the tight hairpins and only had a slight right and a tight right between myself and the finish line. While I knew Yusoff was still there, I was thinking “Dam, I’m going to make the final. I’ll get my ass kicked, but I’ll make the final”. But I under estimated Yusoff’s, coming into the slight right he took me on inside and held the racing line. I’d have to out sprint him on the final straight. It was close, I got within a wheel, but I’d narrowly missed the final.
I couldn’t be too harsh on myself, Yusoff rode and smart race and had qualified two seconds faster than me. Overall I was over the moon with my result. I gained some great experience and had a chance to develop my handling skills. Plus the crowd was loving the hotly contested races.
The final would see an almost all PDP final, and the boys quickly worked themselves into a team train, continuously lifting the pace to shake off the others.
The night made for an awesome spectacle, something that’s been missing from cycling in Singapore for some time. I welcome the new event, and hope we can have something like this regularly. I can’t speak for my fellow racers, but I loved it. It’s the closest we’ve gotten to Crits.
What did everyone else think?