Off the beaten track

It is a little past our appointed time when Weiron Tan breezes into the lobby of Traders KLCC with an apologetic demeanour.

“Were you speeding?” I ask cheekily. He shakes his head with a smile. “Normally I am a careful driver. Away from the tracks, there is no need for me to speed, and I don’t encourage anyone to, either,” replies Tan.

Although Tan makes his living as a motor racer, he is anything but a speed demon on his off days. Having just turned 24, this is one sensible young man, with a maturity that belies his age. This past year has seen Tan proving his prowess at sportscar racing, breaking through with dominant success in Japan.

But first, let’s revisit how this racing phenom came to be. It all started when Tan was introduced to go-karts at the age of 14.

His father brought him and his siblings to the Shah Alam Stadium Circuit, and Tan was spotted by circuit owner Ng Wai Leong. Ng persuaded Tan to pursue motorsport further and the rest, as they say, is history.

Before that fateful day on the go-kart circuit, Tan reveals that he was unsure of his ambition. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be; I was going with the flow. My cousin is (figure skating champion) Julian Yee and I used to go skating with him before I found my true passion.

“I stopped skating when I discovered motor racing. I found I was better suited for that sport and could make a career out of it,” recalls Tan, who names Spanish Formula One champ Fernando Alonso as his biggest inspiration.

One of the earliest challenges Tan faced was in juggling his school and training sessions. “I rarely had time to socialise with friends,” he muses. His motto in life, enthuses Tan, is to “believe in whatever you do”.

“Whether it’s sports or any other career, you have to work your butt off, before you can taste the reward. I don’t mind doing the hard work, as I know I will see the sweet side of it at the end.”

Alongside vigorous training, Tan has had to watch his weight. “In motor racing, the lighter you are, the faster you can be. Most drivers have to be very small as it’s beneficial for the car.”

At a height of 177cm, Tan says he’s considered “quite tall” for a motor racer. “Therefore, I can’t put on a lot of muscle mass, and I have to be disciplined about my diet,” explains Tan, who currently weighs 72kg.

He does cop, however, to cheat days. “I am a big foodie, and my favourites are curry laksa and chicken rice. I consider those my cheat meal once in a while, as long as I keep my training on point. It doesn’t help that I also have a sweet tooth; I think I got that from my mum,” says Tan with a laugh.

According to Tan, racing is considered one of the more expensive sports. “It was initially tough trying to find financial support. Although it’s been a long arduous journey, I am grateful to have found some supporters along the way.”

The hard work and sacrifices are indeed worthwhile as Tan has excelled and matured in his field, surpassing some of his older and more experienced peers.

Since 2009, he has had podium finishes in almost all the races he has competed in. In 2010, at the age of 15, Tan was the first Malaysian Champion in the PLUS Yamaha SL International Challenge, despite competing in the senior category meant for drivers aged 16 and above.

In 2011, Tan made his racing debut in Europe in the KF2 (a kart racing class for top drivers aged 15 and up), competing in the World Series Karting championship with the Works Kosmic Racing Kart Team. Tan is also the only Malaysian among six international drivers to be selected for the AirAsia Caterhaam F1 Driver Development Program in 2011.

In 2013, he embarked on the Protyre Formula Renault 2.0 Championship in Britain. He made a huge impact, scoring five race wins, four podiums and six pole positions, securing vice champion in his debut season.

In 2015, Tan made the move to the United States for the Pro Mazda Championship. Ahead of the start of the season, he competed in the five-race Winterfest. He immediately impressed, scoring two dominant race wins and three second places on his way to taking vice-champion honours. In the main series, he had a successful rookie year, finishing fourth in the standings and scoring four victories. He continued with the series in 2016, joining championship winning outfit Team Pelfrey.

Another feather in Tan’s cap is being selected as the “Friend of Corum Asia”. The boyishly good-looking lad was named the first “friend” of the prestigious Swiss brand in South-East Asia for its Admiral Cup watch collection. “To be associated with such an iconic brand is certainly very exciting,” says Tan, who naturally sported a Corum timepiece throughout our cover shoot. “Historically, the brand was more into sailing. With me onboard, they are venturing into more diverse sports including motor racing.”

Recently, Tan was roped in by Sepang International Circuit (SIC), which has taken the first step towards realising its aspiration of having an all-Malaysian team to race in the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours in France.

Tan is joined by Nabil Jeffri and Jazeman Jaafar in the renowned Jackie Chan DC Racing X Jota Sport team.

The trio is tearing up history books almost as quickly as they tear around the race track in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Last October, Tan played a key role in the first-ever victory for an all-Malaysian crew in an international FIA-sanctioned event at Fuji Speedway in Japan.

Tan had arrived in Fuji – an iconic circuit nestled in the foothills of the majestic Mount Fuji and steeped in motorsport heritage – in a determined mood, having come within a whisker of triumphing in the previous FIA WEC outing at Silverstone two months earlier.

He wasted no time in getting up-to speed behind the wheel of Jackie Chan DC Racing x JOTA Sport’s Gibson powered ORECA 07 prototype in free practice, immediately lapping on the same pace as more experienced teammates Jazeman and Nabil.

Tan shaved a full second off the trio’s best FP1 time in FP2 to go third-fastest as he gained in confidence, before Nabil and Jazeman teamed up in qualifying to put them a strong second on the grid in the fiercely-disputed, high calibre LMP2 category ahead of the following day’s “6 Hours of Fuji”.

Characteristically challenging – and changing – conditions greeted competitors for the start of the race, but the rain and damp track surface could not deter Jaafar, who was in the LMP2 class lead by lap four. As the circuit increasingly dried, Tan and his teammates went on a charge.

 

Consistently extending their advantage, even an ill-timed Full Course Yellow in the closing stages was unable to dent their dominance. Ultimately, they took the chequered flag just under half-a minute clear of the closest car in front of the 52,800 appreciative spectators thronging the Fuji grandstands.

“We made history simply by taking part this season – and we made history again by winning. I genuinely could not be any prouder in that moment,” recalls Tan.

“I speak on behalf of the team when I say it was a hugely emotional moment when Jazeman took the chequered flag. It was an awesome achievement, and I was over the moon that my family was able to be there too, to witness it all.”

Asked whether he practices any superstition before a race, Tan answers:

“When I was younger, I used to get into the car from a certain side or put my helmet on in a certain way. But I grew out of it.”

Away from racing, Tan enjoys spending time with his family. “I travel so much and rarely get to see them.”

His advice to young people who want to follow in his footsteps is fairly straightforward.

“Don’t give up as you never know the opportunities that could present themselves in the future. When it comes to difficult situations, it’s okay to fail sometimes, as long as one keeps on trying.”

He pauses, thinking back to that victorious Fuji moment. “Standing on the top step of the podium was just the most amazing feeling – and going forward, that’s all the motivation we need.”

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