Up Close And Personal With Alex Yoong, Former F1 Driver

In the lead up to this weekend’s inaugural GT Nations Cup, a seriously fast motorsport race featuring competing nations, we speak to the man in charge of trade.io-sponsored Team Malaysia.

trade.io is the title sponsor of Team Malaysia at this weekend’s inaugural FIA GT Nations Cup as the team gets ready to speed through the tracks at the Bahrain International Circuit. The team consists of popular drivers Zen Low and Mitchell Cheah in the drivers’ seat, and is led by the well-known and successful Alex Yoong.

In an exclusive interview, we chat to Alex about his preparations for the race, and get up close and personal with Asia’s most successful racing driver.

A Fusion of Speed and Precision

The sponsorship was announced by our Chief Strategy Officer, Mohan Singh, a few weeks ago. With the race itself having only been announced late this year, Alex had to move fast to secure the backing his team needs to propel themselves up the grid.

So just how did the sponsorship with trade.io come about?

It really all came about a few months ago because one of the drivers we managed, Mitchell Cheah, was keen to participate, and we were keen to get him in because he’s one of the fastest silver drivers in the region.

And of course, I know Zen Low very well. He actually sponsored me when I was getting into F1. I put [Zen and Mohan] together, we tried to make a deal happen, and it happened!

I was very lucky to meet Mohan, and like all things that are worth doing, they need to be done right and they need to be done fast. Thanks to trade.io, we were able to put it together quickly.

And here we are racing in the first ever inaugural FIA GT Nations Cup.

Yoong Love — A Devotion to Speed

This weekend is the latest in a long list of moments that Alex’s career has built up to.

In typical racing fashion, the 42-year-old Malaysian’s motorsport journey began from a young age. At just three years old, with his sister by his side in a pram, young Yoong was already plotting his career.

Alex laughs when he remembers falling in love with motorsport, all those years ago.

“There’s nothing more dramatic than seeing 20 race cars racing against each other. I was hooked from that moment on.“

As the epitome of motorsport, Formula 1 is a series not many drivers are privileged to experience — but the story of one man’s route from humble beginnings to the top reads like a dramatic movie.

“I read a stat once that there have been more people in space than have driven F1 cars!”

Alex is the only Malaysian to have ever raced in F1, debuting at the 2001 Italian Grand Prix with Minardi, a huge milestone that remains in Alex’s life and racing history.

Alex Yoong, Minardi-Asiatech PS02, Grand Prix of Japan, Suzuka Circuit, 13 October 2002.

To say it was a surreal couple of years for the driver would be an understatement. He has raced alongside some of the world’s finest, including team-mates Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber.

Alex is canny enough to evoke these romantic times. He describes newly-retired king of motorsport, Fernando Alonso, as “the most naturally talented driver I’ve ever seen”.

With more than a hint of nostalgia in his voice, he reflects on his exhilarating two years at the pinnacle of motorsport.

“I’ve always said that if I could race turtles, I’d race turtles!”

Though it may seem impossible, Alex’s career outside F1 yielded even honors. The Malaysian has shown flashes of brilliance throughout. And it’s not just his skills behind the wheel that sets him apart — in equal measure, it’s also his mature attitude and mental fortitude.

In 2013, Alex reeled from the brink of triumph to personal devastation. On the verge of sealing the Audi R8 LMS Cup Championship, he suffered a horrendous crash, as his car careered into the barriers at qualifying for the final race in Macau. Fortunately, Alex walked away from the crash uninjured, but his car was beyond repair and in no condition to compete in the race. Alex lost the championship by two points that year.

From incredible highs to a debilitating low: in a revealing answer, Alex explains how he coped with seeing a dream so close, shatter in the blink of an eye. And how he accomplished the ultimate comeback — the sweet taste of victory.

The great thing about sports is the highs and lows.

The lows are very low and they kind of infect your life and are very difficult to forget. But it’s what spurs you on to keep pushing, and I’ve always used my most challenging points, failures you could say in the past, to push me on to greater heights. And when you do succeed, it makes those highs ever-so much more special.

You mention in your question that I missed out on the championship in 2013, in the Audi Cup when I crashed in qualifying, so I couldn’t really compete and I missed out on that title by one point. That was a really difficult thing for me, and in motorsports, you have to have a very strong control of your mind and your emotions. I remember at the time I was thinking ,“Okay, listen it’s a big defeat to take, a big loss to take!”.

So I remember I was like, “Okay, I’m going to put it in a special box in the back of my mind, so I can use that to power me on for the following year, but not let it affect me in a negative way”.

Those sorts of defeats can crush you if you don’t handle them right, and I had to put them in a box where it wouldn’t affect me, but [instead] use it to draw on some more power.

And it worked really well. The next year, I didn’t think about it at all, I just focused on what I had to do in the following year and I went on to win the championship the following year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

This tumultuous phase of his life led him to fight “sweat, blood, and tears” to drive his super-fast R8 LMS Ultra on his way to the prestigious trophy that he so nearly missed out on in 2013, for the next three consecutive years.

He tells us:

I remember that first championship when I did win following that defeat, after I had won it sitting down, and going, “Okay, now I can finally allow myself to think”, and experience the emotion of that loss the previous year and deal with it mentally… process it in a healthy way, because I had put it on hold for a year, just so I could be more productive the following year.

There is a lot of mental strength and energy needed to deal with the highs and lows, because dealing with the highs can be challenging as well, so you don’t lose motivation the following year. But, I enjoy that, I really do.

In life there are highs and lows, like there are in sport. Dealing with stress, failure, and success is a large part of life, and through sport it’s allowed me to deal with the normal stresses of life a lot more constructively.

It’s tricky to pinpoint the highlights of Alex’s career. His instinct for speed and adventure behind the wheel has given the world some thrilling on-track moments. Outside of the car, his calmness and good sense when leading teams continues to deliver more electrifying races.

If there’s one sportsman that’s done it all, it’s Alex Yoong. From water skiing; to racing; to his regular stint as a commentator for Fox Sports Asia — a job that he’s described as being trickier than driving a race car — it seems he’s taken it all in his stride.

So let’s understand the mindset behind an overall dynamic, and perilous, sporting career…

I think it’s fair to say that I love sport. Not only have I reached a pretty good level in motorsports, I love water skiing as well and I competed in water skiing, SEA Games –where I’ve been a gold medalist — so I’ve always loved competitions, many kinds of competitions. I’ve always said that if I could race turtles, I’d race turtles! It’s a really positive and constructive way to exercise that natural instinct that everyone has to compete. So that’s been a lot of fun to do.

In the latest chapter of the Alex Yoong saga, he finds himself responsible again for pulling a team together, using his patience, courage, strength, and decades of experience to ensure Team Malaysia is ready for the challenging days ahead.

Most competitions normally allow ample time for a team to prepare, long in advance of a race, however the GT Nations Cup was announced late this year.

The drivers have never driven the Audi GT3 — and in Mitchell Cheah’s case, he’s never driven a GT3 car at all — but Alex seems confident that his team can fly the Malaysian colors high this week.

Alex Yoong displays his national flag during a presentation ceremony at the A1 Grand Prix on April 2, 2006 in Shanghai, China. Yoong won the Sprint race of the Shanghai.

How is everyone feeling moving into this weekend? All I can say is, very excited!

We participated in the Audi RA LMS Cup last weekend and did some testing, which allowed Zen and Mitchell to at least get familiar with the car heading into this weekend It’s not ideal preparation, but we couldn’t resist or pass up the opportunity to take part in this first GT Nations cup.

Cool As Ice — Staying Focused

It’s been an overwhelming career to say the least — the Malaysian has raced in every continent except Antarctica, driving cars such as F Nippon, Champ Car, Le Mans in a LMP, Australian V8s and the A1 GP circuit, where he took five wins for A1 Team Malaysia — and it’s not over yet.

Let’s find out if the driver plans on making it to Antarctica, or if he has other, bigger dreams he hopes to realize.

I get asked a lot about future goals and to be honest, I struggle to talk about future goals right now. Sometimes goals can be very scary, absorb your life in a way that you have no control over.

The big step right now is to keep pushing Axle motorsport, develop young talent, or develop any kind of talent in motorsports — that’s our tagline — #realisingdreams

You could argue that making it into F1 is a pretty big dream, but there are lots of other dreams that are equally important to people. At the moment, our number one focus right now this week is the FIA GT Nations Cup and Team Malaysia.

Please stay tuned! We have other programs in our pipeline for next year and we will keep on doing what we do.

trade.io is thrilled to be the proud sponsors of Team Malaysia and we’re all set and ready for the two-day festival ahead! Our petrolhead intern David Alonso will be filming live video updates from inside the pit in Bahrain.

By: Dalia Hilmi
Content Manager