BEST EVER: Zulfahmi scorches to second spot as Hafizh defies the odds to finish fourth from 27th on the grid
Moto3 rider Zulfahmi, 21, had already created history by qualifying as Malaysia's first pole sitter in any world championship in motorsport and yesterday he produced the first ever podium finish by a Malaysian when the AirAsia-SIC-Ajo Motorsport rider finished second to Germany's Sandro Cortese, who effectively sealed his first Moto3 World Championship title.
There was not one soul among the 77,000 spectators who was not behind Zulfahmi as the Sepang Circuit also hit record decibels as a frenzied crowd got fully behind the local hope and were sent into a delirium when he crossed the finishing line just missing out on a sensational victory after being overtaken by Cortese at the penultimate turn.
Inspired by that, 17-year-old Hafizh of the Petronas Raceline Malaysia team gave the crowd an even bigger sensation, defying his status as a wild card in the Moto2 race to battle his way from 27th grid position in wet conditions into the lead by the ninth lap as the partisan crowd, even if out of disbelief, sent out an ecstatic roar never before experienced at this circuit.
Hafizh, later acknowledged that even amid the noise and the thick cover of his helmet, he could hear the crowd get behind him, inspiring him to produce what was the shock result of the season. He also lived up to his nickname of "Pescao" or Little Fish, earned because of his ability to ride well in wet conditions while racing in the Spanish CEV Buckler Moto2 Championship this year.
It could have easily been a victory for Zulfahmi, who also surpassed his targeted 100 points in the season with 112 points, consolidating his seventh spot in the championship, and meeting his pre-season target of bagging his first podium ever. This was also only the second podium finish in his entire career, the first one coming four years ago in the Malaysian Cub Prix Championship.
"I knew we had the power and the right set-up for this race and I was able to be in the front pack. Starting from pole helped. I was just biding my time in the early part of the race as I learned from my experience, that I should take the lead too early. So I allowed Jonas Folger to lead in the first nine laps," said Zulfahmi, who is from Banting.
"Then I saw some drops of rain hit my visor and I knew if it began to rain, the race would be stopped. That was the moment when I pushed and took the lead, but in the end, it didn't really rain until after the race. I know I could have won, but for a mistake that led me to slip on the penultimate corner, which allowed Cortese to take the lead.
"At that moment I tried to regain the lead, but I almost slipped as I hit a bump and we were at the last turn, so I thought it would be better to take second spot rather than crash and get nothing. I'm pretty satisfied with this result and I know the victory will come soon, maybe in the next race. I'm also really proud to have achieved it in front of such fantastic home support."
Zulfahmi's performance sent the best vibes possible down the pitlane into his younger compatriot Hafizh, who also drew inspiration from his favourite condition - rain which began to fall at just the right time.
"When I saw what Zulfahmi achieved, I just believed that I could do it too. Everything else didn't matter. And when it began to rain, my mechanic called out 'Pescao, come here' and he showed me that it was raining. That drove my confidence up even more," said Hafizh.
"From the start, the conditions were really my favourite and I just began overtaking them one by one, I didn't care that I was starting from 27th, I just believed that I could do it each time I saw a rider in front of me," said Hafizh.
"But the effort in pushing from 27th to first spot had caused a lot of degradation of my rear tyre. Then when it began to rain again, I didn't have the grip I required from the rear tyre. It was hard to hold on and I dropped down to fourth after I was overtaken by Alex de Angelis, Anthony West and Gino Rea."
Hafizh earned a massive roar of approval from the grandstand for his thrilling performance, as they made their feelings heard as he crossed the track to bow and thank them after the race.