Sepang Diary

  2004 Petronas GP of Malaysia

 by Steven N. Levinson
March 23, 2004

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As I boarded Singapore Airlines flight SQ 19 from LAX last Wednesday night, it immediately occurred to me that I was in for a real treat despite being confronted with the world's longest commercial flight of 9,006 miles. Singapore Airlines is not only famous for its service, but also for its spectacular contingent of flight attendants. The whole flight makes it a continuous fashion show and beauty contest.

I was greeted at the door and taken to my seat by one of the lovely "Kebaya" wearing attendants. The airbus 340-500 accommodates 181 passengers, which makes for spacious seats (37 inches apart) and seats that generously "recline" in its "Executive Economy" section. The flight left the ground at 8:20PM and 17 hours and 15 minutes later we touched down at Singapore's Changi International Airport at 5:35AM Friday morning. All in all, the flight was very relaxing. Between sleeping, the 99 video channels, numerous audio channels, two meals and an open lounge area with continuous drinks and snacks, it was a great trip!

2004KLGPMalaysia031.jpgUpon arrival, I hustled my way thru the airport, amid Uzi toting Singaporean security guards, and caught an earlier flight for the 184 mile trip to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) arriving at 7:30AM. KLIA is located in the Sepang area (pronounced "suh-pang") and is adjacent and parallel to the Sepang F1 Circuit.

SNLinKL.jpgKuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia. Malaysia is a tri-ethnic country of 24 million people that had been a British colony until Independence at midnight of August 31, 1957. The British colonial powers governed by the principle of "Noblesse Oblige" (the obligation of honorable and responsible behavior to native peoples) thereby insuring that the "English" language became the norm. (I'm sure it was less honorable than that. Probably some British General saying.."Teach the bloody savages the King's English").

2004KLGPMalaysia054.jpgThe British had huge rubber plantations and imported laborers from southern India and China's southern and coastal Guandong and Fujian provinces. (Note: the seeds for the rubber trees had been taken surreptitiously from the Amazon jungle rubber plantations near Manaus, Brazil, when Brazil was a Portuguese colony). So that today, the population is made up of the indigenous Malays, Indians and Chinese.

KLPeacock.jpgSepangConcessionStand.jpg60 per cent of the country is Muslim, but, according to some Chinese friends, no attempt is made to enforce Islam on non-Muslims. In fact, in last Sunday's elections, the ruling coalition and ethnically mixed Barisan National Party handily defeated the the more hard-line Islamic party.

KLIA has a direct rapid transit link to Kuala Lumpur (referred to by locals as "KL"). It is 34 miles and takes 28 minutes. For the Grand Prix, the KLIA EKSPRES makes available a 3-day pass for RM 80, instead of the usual fare of RM35 for a one-way trip. The currency is the Malaysian "RINGIT" which converts to 3.762 RM for one US dollar.

KLCCLobbyDisplay.jpgThis special pass allows a GP fan to travel to the circuit on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a little over $26, including a shuttle service from KLIA to the Sepang Circuit. When I arrived at KL's main train station known as "KL SENTRAL," I took a taxi to the Twin Towers to buy my GP ticket. The Twin Towers are owned by the GP sponsor PETRONAS (pronounced petro-NAS, with the emphasis on "NAS"). I wanted to immediately go up to the towers, which is the tallest building in the world, but they limit the number of people every day, so I obtained a free ticket for the 4:15PM tour. In the meantime, I had the taxi driver take me around the city for a 2 hour and 15 minute tour of the city.

On this mini-tour, I saw the National Museum, the King's Palace, The Bird Park, the Orchid Garden, the National Mosque, The Royal Selangor Club(former watering hole for the Brits), The Moorish styled court house and the KL Tower before checking into my hotel which was centrally located in the Bukit Bintang section of the city. Many areas of the city have wide streets and boulevards, making travel by car fairly easy. Of course, the central city is always crowded in rush hour, but not as bad as other Asian cities such as Bangkok, Singapore or Manila.

PetronastwinTowers.jpg2004KLGPMalaysia037.jpgAfter checking into the hotel, It was a 20 minute walk to the Petronas Twin Towers. The "view" was somewhat of a disappointment, since we were only allowed to go as far as the 41st floor. This is where the "bridge" that connects the two towers is located. The purpose of the bridge is to connect the towers in case of an emergency, and to provide stabilization when the towers sway. It was the KL Tower , however, which provided the most dramatic high rise view of this thoroughly modern city. The KLCC ( Kuala Lumpur City Centre /indoor shopping mall )gives away nothing to the finest shopping areas anywhere in the world. All the famous designer shops are represented.

2004KLGPMalaysia040.jpg2004KLGPMalaysia044.jpgKL is a city of skyscraper office buildings, and apartment/condominiums. The government has made tremendous civic and infrastructure investment in the mono-rail, and the transportation systems. You do not see any extensive 3rd world slums in the greater KL metropolitan area. I am not sure where the money comes from. Some say that Petronas is bigger than Shell/Exxon. Others say that Malaysia's oil production is not among the world leaders and that it is palm oil, rubber, and electronic assembly as well as oil that is responsible for the country's wealth.

KLMonoRail.jpg2004 KLGPMalaysia038.jpgSaturday morning I took the mono-rail from the Raja Chulan station to KL Sentral , then to KLIA and finally transferring to the waiting shuttle bus for the Sepang F1 Circuit. The circuit is impressive to say the least. If you don't get a ticket for a covered grandstand with a TV screen, you could be in the dark about the on track events. Nonetheless, you can still have fun with the friendly Malaysian people as well as people from all over the world who have come to Malaysia to see the race and go on holiday.

The weather on Saturday morning for the 10:00 AM practice was very hot and humid under the intense tropical Malaysian sun. It must have been my lucky day, for I was in section K-2, under a "Nestle" umbrella, with a folding chair (commandeered from security) and also under a giant palm tree. In addition, a marvelous cloud cover descended over the track at around 1:00PM as well as a refreshing breeze. Between that and the "ice cold" Tiger Beer, it was much better than expected. The temperature was in the low 90's until the respite provided by the cloud cover. The weather was similar to Rio's Jacarepagua Circuit.

Saturday night, there were various GP attractions throughout the city. In fact, Dunhill was doing a promotion just around the corner from my hotel. Needless to say that event abounded with many attractive women.

Sunday morning I checked out of the hotel, and again took the mono-rail to KL Sentral and then to KLIA where I stopped to store my suitcase in "LEFT LUGGAGE" to avoid taking it to the circuit.

MalaysianTifosi.jpgAt the circuit, I proceeded to my spot under the shady palm tree, that was already loosely occupied with race fans at 10:00AM for the 3:00PM start. But the local fans were very friendly and I met some new friends to spend the day with. These guys definitely follow F1, and are very knowledgeable. I saw all the major ethnic groups represented. In fact, I even saw one female "TIFOSI" in her Ferrari Shirt and a "RED" Muslim head covering. (See Photo).

MalaysianAirForce.jpgPrior to the race there were two support races. One was an open wheel series known as "Formula Malaysia" (12 cars), and the second was the "Porsche Carrera Cup Asia". Then an aerobatic demonstration by the Royal Malaysian Air Force. 8 minutes before the race, there was some mild rain, that put the crowd, and perhaps the teams on edge. It quickly ended and the 2004 Petronas GP of Malaysia was under way.

2004MalaysiaGPTheStart.jpgOh, I almost forgot. The Jumping German in the Red Car won again. The "Temperamental Hot Headed Latin" was second, and the UK's new "hope" made his first ever podium appearance. The "two future World Champions" from Finland and Spain were non-factors today.

I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and I definitely want to return to KL for the 2005 edition of the Petronas GP of Malaysia. After all, I missed a visit to the "Batu Caves", the site of the century old Hindu Shrine. KL is quite the surprise, I must say. Logistically, it's easy for the race fan.

I returned to Singapore on Sunday night. The plane was packed with race fans from Singapore, Bangkok, England, Australia, and many other places.  Everyone in their favorite team shirts and hats. As the plane approached Singapore for arrival, the flight's purser announced, before thanking everyone for their patronage..."PLEASE BE REMINDED THAT THE PENALTIES FOR ILLEGAL DRUG POSSESSION IN SINGAPORE ARE SEVERE".... Yes Indeed...............execution.

Monday morning, I departed Singapore at 9:45AM making a one hour stop at Tokyo's Narita Airport, and then back to Los Angeles, arriving LAX at 11:15AM the same day. It is now 10:45 PM as I finish this report.

The author can be contacted at SteveL@autoracing1.com

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