Revved up for the revival of Brunei motorsports

BRUNEI - "The reason I'm here today is to highlight what we did, something for the history books," says the elderly man seated across me. He doesn't look tired, despite having just come in from the heat outside.

The man, (Mohd Syuraih) Suresh Jananardan, is not an unfamiliar person in Brunei. A former household name in Brunei racing sports in the 60s and 70s, he nurtures a young lion in the shape of his 39-year old son, Muhd Jeffrey Abd Suresh.

These days, Jeffrey is the man to beat in the go-kart (small version of a racing car with a minimal, lightweight frame) tracks. His overall elite championship title was wrapped up at 2013's Brunei Darussalam Karting Championship, even before the final race took place on November 17.

His father splays out a few pieces of paper on the desk in front of me, and in his piercingly sure tone, explains exactly what it is he came to tell me.

"This is the car that won the International Grand Prix in Brunei," he says, underlining with a finger an old photograph of what looks to me a vintage car.

"I was with the first people to build such a car, this 'Brunei-Tuned' car. The engine was from Cosworth England. The five-speed gearbox was from Germany ZF. Four shock absorbers. We threw away all the braking systems and put in a dual masterpump..."

I write this all down without understanding any of it but it seems to me that in 1976, a team of racing enthusiasts stripped down a Mitsubishi Colt Lancer, a car with a long and glittering history in rallies beginning from the seventies, to its bare body. They refitted it with racing parts, resulting in a speed monster that earned their car the title of Fastest Race Car in the International Grand Prix event of the year.

That is a fair bit of history, though I sense he has more to tell than his leaf in the history books.

Despite a dip in popularity after Suresh's hey-day, motorsports has always been on the calendar even from the 90s when Brunei hosted regional tournaments.

More recently, through go-karting events over the past few years, the sport has somewhat gained revival in Brunei, with more fans turning out at the races to see local heroes outpace each other on the tracks.

Suresh hopes to capitalise on this and hints surreptitiously at a planned event that would remind people of what Brunei achieved almost 40 years ago.

"I'm applying (for permission from authorities) in Tutong for a saloon car sprint event to be held for the Sultan's birthday celebration next year," he says.

"We pulled a crowd of 30,000 people to see our World's Fastest Car in the stadium in a similar event some years back. For this one I'm planning though, instead of 400m, we'll do 200m, which is safe for the public. A normal car would face no problem, but..." he laughs, before explaining.

"We're talking about high speeds... High speed means you need a downthrust. If you go so fast, your car will lift up. I tested the car in 1976 on the straight runway of the old airport to create extra downthrust at a speed of 170mph. That car went around beautifully on race day," he recalls, crediting the ability of Bruneian mechanics pictured in the old photographs he shows me.

We spend some time looking at the photographs, as he traces out the names of the people in them.

Suresh, who used to be part of the Royal Brunei Motor Club and Adventure Motor Club, claims that these clubs are no longer active but seems certain that a suitable organiser can be found for the upcoming saloon car sprint.

He doesn't say anything about the car he'll use, except that his son Jeffrey will take the wheel.

The man's not shy about Brunei's capabilities either: "There should be entries from Miri, Kuching... The last event itself, international drivers came... from Japan... but when they saw the Brunei cars, they withdrew from the event. People in Brunei are car crazy."