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Race to the next level

Malaysian racing icon Alex Yoong has found a new passion to fulfil his need for speed – and that is e-racing

31 May 2020 / 16:42 H.

ONE would think that a guy known for being a race car driver and water skiing enthusiast would be out of his mind after being stuck at home for two months, but that does not seem to be the case where Alex Yoong is concerned.

“As a sportsman, I am always travelling. The past three years, I have only spent five or six weekends at home. So for me I am not bored at all staying home, it is nice to be still.”

Yoong said that he is currently into e-sports, namely e-racing. The sport has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and several major corporations are now more willing to sponsor e-sports events rather than physical sports tournaments.

“Even when I was racing, racing simulators have been pretty [popular] for the past 10 or 15 years. I remember when they first came out, I used to get motion sickness all the time. So I didn’t really do any simulators. I am not a gamer at all, I am pretty much a sort of outdoors person.

“[However], we saw the writing on the wall about three years ago. We could see where the critical mass was going, especially in racing. E-racing is one of the few e-sports where the skills are transferable. It can go across the divide. We had to really pay attention to that.”

Yoong got into e-racing three years ago, and it helped that his son is into it as well.

Yoong helping a participant try out a racing simulator. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport
Yoong helping a participant try out a racing simulator. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport

Yoong recently lamented about what would happen to the local racing scene post-Covid-19 if no steps are taken to revive it.

Sports and the arts have one thing in common in Malaysia, they often end up as an afterthought in any budget consideration by the government.

“The sign of a mature society, a mature culture, is a thriving arts scene. That is very important. If you want to talk about big picture stuff, sports is apparently not ‘big picture stuff’. It is still good entertainment, and it is very healthy entertainment. It is a good outlet for people and their energies. Whether it is sports or arts, it results in a healthy community.

“Even if the government is not expressing much interest in grassroots motorsports, it is still a very big industry.

“There are several thousand people affected directly by the current situation, and the numbers go up to the tens of thousands for those who are indirectly affected.

He thinks future F1 drivers will come from the e-racing world. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport
He thinks future F1 drivers will come from the e-racing world. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport

“It is not one guy with a soccer ball in a field. It is manufacturing, it is industry. There is actually a huge industry within the sport itself.

“We just wanted to get more emphasis on motorsports, which has long been neglected [considering] the size that it is. I don’t think it is right to focus on promoting international events when our local industries are struggling. It is like building a pyramid, you need to ensure the base is strong.

“Otherwise you are just spending money that just leaves the country. We need to focus on our local stuff.”

Yoong hopes that the current situation might force us to consider what the future should be.

“My first love has always been the outdoors, things you can see, touch and do. But there are some very attractive things about e-sports. It is much more of an equaliser than normal sports. Certain sports are inaccessible to regular people, and require money to get good at, except for maybe football, and say, badminton.

Yoong and Belinda Xavier of Axle Motosport with Team Malaysia drivers Mitchell Cheah and Zen Low at the Bahrain International Circuit in 2018. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport
Yoong and Belinda Xavier of Axle Motosport with Team Malaysia drivers Mitchell Cheah and Zen Low at the Bahrain International Circuit in 2018. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport

“While [these] sports are out of reach for most people, e-sports changes that. I really love that it is a great equaliser. Anyone can do it as long as they have access to a mobile phone. For some of the more important games, you may need a personal computer and a monitor.”

He said that the ones putting in the effort are playing it at least three or four hours a day. They are the ones who are in it to win.

He added that all the race organisers around the region are going into e-sports. Yoong said by the time this pandemic is over, if a potential driver doesn’t have an e-sports background, he is not going to consider them.

He also believes that the ones who are really good at e-sports are capable of being exceptional when they get behind an actual car.

“They have the right mindset. They are not scared to try different things and fail. I can see that a lot of drivers in the future will be picked from e-sports.”

Yoong with Daim Hishammuddin (far left) and Mitchell Cheah, drivers under Axle Motorsport’s Talent Development Programme. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport
Yoong with Daim Hishammuddin (far left) and Mitchell Cheah, drivers under Axle Motorsport’s Talent Development Programme. – Courtesy of Axle Motorsport

Yoong was an F1 driver before anyone thought that a Malaysian was ready to do it. He then took up water skiing, a competitive sport not many Malaysians are known for.

What drives him to do things and be a pioneer?

“I like challenges, just to put it lightly. We are pioneers. We like to try new things. I enjoy that. I have always loved a challenge. Even if you don’t achieve what you wanted, it is the journey that I find is most fun.”

Yoong is a person who doesn’t want to live with regrets.

“That often gets me in trouble because I do things, until I realise I should have pulled out a long time ago. People always ask me if I could go back, what would I have done differently? I would say, nothing.”

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