He made history last year by winning a third consecutive Audi R8 LMS Cup championship. It all came down to the last race and the last lap of the season, under extreme pressures. Will Alex Yoong be able to repeat this feat and win a fourth title?
Under less stressful circumstances most certainly. But it’s the pressure on the track that makes Asia’s most successful racing driver perform at his best. “With all the experience I’ve had on the race track, I’m able to feed off the outside pressure and focus it on my driving. It really just gives me an extra boost to perform better and focus,” said hometown hero Alex Yoong as he gets ready to kick-off his Audi R8 LMS Cup campaign at Sepang.
It may be his hometown race, and in previous years he has always won Race One of the weekend. But there’s so many more factors, or should I say threats, that are sitting in their own cockpits determined to dethrone the reigning champion.
Take Alessio Picariello for example, who was the other title contender last year and had to settle for second place overall. The young Belgian only lost by one point, so he will be extra determined to make sure he’s at the top, above Yoong.
Then there is 21-year-old Estonian young-gun Martin Rump who finished a close third, and also made history by becoming the first driver to win both races on an Audi R8 LMS Cup weekend. A feat not seen in the six year the series has been running.
Throw into the mix Mitch Gilbert who made history last month by winning the inaugural Blancpain GT Series Asia, in an Audi R8 LMS Cup car, at Sepang. Gilbert is still riding high from that weekend and keen to stamp his authority on this series he has never raced in before.
So does Alex feel extra pressure now, or can he relax a little now that he has made history? “I can never relax, and I never want to relax. I’m a racer and I need to win. To me it doesn’t matter how old or what their level of experience is, all my competitors on the grid this weekend are very talented and I’ll be doing everything I can to make sure I finish in front.”
One advantage Alex does have over these upcoming stars is experience. Not only on the track, but more importantly, mental experience. The past few seasons Alex has always had the impressive ability to control himself mentally, both on and off the track. And it’s always paid off for him in the many close battles he has had, whether it’s fighting for the lead, or holding position further down the field. While other drivers let their frustrations get the better of them and make mistakes, Alex stays cool, calm and collected. Mr. consistency.
“Your mental state plays a much larger role in your racing success than most people think. There are so many factors being thrown at you during a race- keeping an eye on challengers at the front and back, monitoring your tyres, thinking of strategy, G-forces etc., that unless you are in full control of your thoughts and can keep calm under pressure, you’re just not going to score the points consistently that you need in order to win the championship.”
Like a few other drivers on the grid this year Alex is competing in two race series. The Blancpain GT Series Asia being the other one. Does this mean his mental approach and physical preparations are different or more exhausting? “Not really. It helps more actually because I’m in the car a lot more during the year, so I can stay sharper. I had the best pre-season training a couple of months ago when I competed in an endurance mountain bike race where I rode over 15,000km and over 7,000 feet in elevation through the New Zealand mountains. So I would consider myself the fittest I’ve been at the start of a season.”
With his TV role as co-host of the Fox Sports F1 broadcasts, his regular corporate appearances and racing in two series, what are Alex’s expectations for the year? Will he be able to fight for a fourth championship?
“This is probably one of the busiest years I’ve had, besides when I was racing in Formula One. But I’m prepared for it, and it keeps me on my toes. Whatever I’m racing in I always give 100% and aim to win. I think having my home race as the first round might be better for me because I can get that hometown pressure out of the way early on, leaving me to concentrate on racing for the rest of the year.”
As always, the reigning champion is cool, calm and collected. Not deterred by the hot new talent that will be hampering him at every opportunity, and not tired from his off-track commitments.
It’s fair to say that Alex Yoong could well win a fourth Audi R8 LMS Cup championship, and he is determined to do whatever it takes to make it.