Long recognised as one of the top Cub Prix riders in Malaysia, Fazli is now embracing a 'rookie' status in the Asia Road Racing Championship as he undergoes his first full season in the SuperSports 600cc class. Having twice won the national title, expectations were understandably high for the ___-year-old.
However, a bad crash in the season opening leg of the Malaysian Cub Prix months ago, caused serious set-backs for the Taiping-born rider. Because Fazli had to grit his teeth and endured the pain through several rounds of competition, his learning curve astride the Yamaha R6 had been delayed.
"I am fully recovered now," said Fazli when we caught up with him in Round 2 in Indonesia, "I am still undergoing physiotherapy to get my strength back but otherwise, I am able to ride at my full capacity."
So far, the PETRONAS Hong Leong Yamaha Malaysia rider has managed to finish within the points but only once been able to reach the top-10. After two rounds, Fazli is ranked 15th overall, but interestingly enough, is one rung higher than the more experienced Md Emir Firdaus Hasan who rides for Musashi Boon Siew Honda Racing Malaysia.
"Adapting my riding style to the SuperSports 600cc bike is certainly one of the toughest challenges in my career so far. We don't really have enough on-track practice time and because of that, becoming fully competitive on the bike may take up to a year or two because I am literally learning as I race."
Apart from on-track technicalities, Fazli is also immersing himself in yet another aspect of being a well-rounded rider. "I am learning more about how to give feedback to set up the bike. For this, I am literally starting from zero because in the past, I worked with a team manager who is really good at adapting machine settings to the track conditions and my riding style. By this, I mean Mr. Yong Ying Hoe, team owner of the Maju team, also the man who was responsible for discovering my talent and developing my skills up to this level. I have tremendous respect for him, especially in the way he seems to instinctively know what needs to be done in order to get the best performance from each rider. But because of that, I find that I may have allowed my bike setting skills to turn a bit rusty. This is a process that every rider must go through and I aim to master it as quickly as I can."
Also another rarity for Fazli is the fact that he keenly feels the pressure of racing in the Asian series. "I hardly feel any nerves in Cub Prix because that is a playing ground which is very familiar to me. I know most of the tracks well, and more importantly, I know my competitors very well. Here in Asia, I find myself in the deep end of the pool, trying to find my pace against the best in Asia."
"But despite the challenges, I have never once thought of giving up. The team has really rallied around my efforts and my mechanics from Hong Leong Yamaha have been very supportive. My new team mate especially, Zamri Baba, has been generous with his advice. We have been competitors for many years in Cub Prix but this is the first time Zamri and I are together in one team. He has been teaching me a lot, even as he himself works hard to improve his race craft."