So, Can Kiwis Really Fly?

Maybe not that little non-descript pear-shaped, flightless bird with long legs and a pointy beak, but there is a Kiwi living close to the equator that is ruffling a few feathers in the fast paced world of Superbike racing.

Liam MacDonald, a 19 year old Malaysian born Kiwi has definitely stirred up the local Superbike scene by going from a fresh rookie in 2016 to the Supersport Open Category Champion in 2018 – achieving in two years what many others fail to do in ten.

This success has not come easy and is the result of sacrifices, dedication and hard work by Liam and a dedicated group of supporters, trainers – but mostly believers.

Where did this all start? For Liam it started some years ago, being around a family of motorsport fans he was exposed to the thrill of racing, speed and acceleration on a regular basis. This was sometimes in front of the Sony’s Playstation 3 (PS3) and sometimes in the passenger’s seat of his dads 800hp R33 Nissan Skyline – either way there was an affinity with speed from an early age.

Liam’s introduction to taking part in motor sports was January 2014 on a motocross bike with training from Darcy Steinhardt at the Sepang motor cross site. Darcy’s first thought was “Here’s a 14 year old that will just want to play around…” but by the end of the day he did say he was impressed with Liam’s focus and ability to learn the skills required. The main skill was each time he fell off, he got straight back on and tried harder. From that point Liam wanted to be a professional racer – cars, bikes or anything but as long as he could race!

The first half of 2015 was a time for Liam when anything would be better than school… As a result of much soul searching by parents, teachers and some great councillors, he finished formal education (at that stage) in June 2015. What followed was six months of relaxing, regrouping and a general resetting of goals and expectations.

Liam’s journey into circuit racing started in February 2016 when he kept pestering for a motorbike, so he could “learn riding skills on the road”. This was NOT going to happen, especially if you have experienced Malaysian traffic. But it did start the chain of events that went from an earnest plea for help on the local “KL Expats” Facebook page to witnessing the fastest Kiwi in Malaysia… in between was, and still is, a bit of a roller coaster.

The Facebook plea led to meeting Colin Bandeen, an avid biker from Scotland, who was trying to set up motorcycle training programs in Malaysia, focussing on safety and riding technique. Liam started doing some training with Colin on the basics of bike riding, which included some riding time on the Elite Go Kart track under the watchful eye of Lee Ching Hooi – five times Malaysian Superbike Champion. It was during these training events that Liam’s natural talent surfaced and the next step was to take part in some local track days at the Melaka International Motorsport Circuit, where his first outing resulted in his first podium.

Following this new found talent meant that to improve, the focus shifted to training and fitness. The surprising result was the overnight dismissal of fast food, soft drinks and the nights out at Barfly with his school mates. In came regular training with Lee and the Sportsrider Racing Team (SRT), including motocross, track racing and his first foray into the Malaysian Superbike series (MSBK). September 2016 saw Liam join Round 3 for his first event in the 600cc Supersport category and with his anxious parents in the grandstand, he won his first 3rd place podium. This was followed by another 3rd and 4th placing in the combined Round 4 & 5 in December 2016 and 5th place in the overall championship for that year.

 

This provided the incentive to take part in the 2017 MSBK season as a Rookie in the Supersport category where he subsequently came first place in his class, in all of the 10 races to take the overall Championship with maximum points. The 2017 season proved to be the catalyst for Liam to mature both as a racer and as a young man. Over the year he developed his own individual style, improved his racing skills and started to understand the tactics and strategies required to be a successful racer. Liam also had the continued support and coaching from people like Lee Ching Hooi and fellow racers Dhiraj Tan, Keith Parrot, Ismael Smajli and Sauli Lehtinen to guide him as he continued to show his natural talent.

The 2018 MSBK season started in May and saw Liam promoted to the Open Class, up against seasoned veterans and long-time campaigners like Ismael Smajli from BikeArt, Muhammad Helmi Azman and Fakhrusy Syakirin Rostam from SCK Rapido Hi Rev Honda Racing. After the first round it was obvious that Liam was being limited by the aging Kawasaki ZX6R, so a replacement was found with the help of Sauli Lehtinen, who provided a well prepared Yamaha R6 just in time for Round 2. With little preparation time available and no real track time on the bike, Liam still managed podium places in both races despite a mechanical failure on the final lap of the second race.

With only 6 weeks until the next round, an impressive effort by Sauli and Vesa Kallio meant a race prepared stock engine would be available on time. After many phone calls and 6 hours of navigating the KLIA inward freight system, the engine was located and sent to Melaka where Sauli fitted it and prepared the bike just in time for Round 3. With the new engine and minor set up changes, Round 3 saw Liam improve lap times, qualify in 3rd position on the grid, this was again converted to podium places.

Round 4 and 5 were combined into 1 weekend in early October, which had a demanding schedule of qualifying and practice on the Friday, two races on Saturday and two on Sunday. With Liam getting used to the Yamaha R6, the new engine and the latest set up, he set an amazing qualifying lap time of 2m 12.592s, an impressive 2.31 seconds ahead of the next fastest rider! His supremacy in qualifying gained him pole position for all the four races and put him in serious contention for an overall Championship win.

Race 1 and 2 on Saturday saw Liam lead from the start and win by a convincing margin of over 30 seconds in each race and Race 3 on Sunday resulted in another win with a margin of 8 seconds. This meant that Liam had to just finish with at least 3 points in the final race to clinch the championship – he rode a strategic race to safely finish in 5th place and clinch the MSBK Supersport Open Championship for 2018 by 18 points.

His story is one of those that reinforces these words from Steve Jobs… “The only way to do great work is to love what you do” … and Liam has done great work racing a bike and loving what he does.

To take the MSBK Rookie Championship in his first year of racing and then the MSBK Open Class Championship in his second year was quite an achievement for this young man of kiwi heritage who is just loving what he does on the race track – and ruffling a few feathers on the way…

Where to from here will depend on a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, with a lot of luck thrown in – but one thing we do know for sure, is the sky’s the limit for this flying kiwi….