The D24 duo consisting of two close friends – Francis Lai a.k.a. Keng and Ong Boon Keat a.k.a. OBK a.k.a Orang Banyak Kelakar .. is no stranger to the rally world now. Their sense of humour and yet astounding result has sent their names spreading to all the rally teams and spectators alike, just like the smell of D24 durian, Mmmmm …
Many people have seen their jokes about flying kite, using spanner as microphone, and OBK’s infamous yet unmistakable “nama saya OBK sebagai co-driver” hand motion, as well as even more extreme ones like the Spongebob Squarepants and Turtle helmet
Photos courtesy of Along
I have had the privilege of knowing them for a long time, in times when rallying to us was just a video game pastime, and the thought of doing it for real never even crossed our minds. Brought together by our appreciation for driving and the fine art of car control, our days were usually filled with conversations about driving, about vehicle engineering, about Do-It-Yourself mods, and of course, about our Bluebirds. Yes, we EACH have in possession of our very own Nissan / Datsun Bluebird 910 SSS. One had turned into Lotus Esprit, one had lost its axle, engine, gearbox, suspension, and left just the chassis, another one has a kickass fuse panel in the middle and a powerful heart but had not yet seen a chance to rip the tarmac.
With many obstacles and stumbling blocks in our pursuit of motorsport passion, our efforts eventually slowed down. Car projects took longer to complete, and conversations got less interesting, we started to wonder if our fire has died down.
Then on the 20th June 2009, Keng and OBK made a decision. They auditioned for the Zero2Hero reality show that aims to search for the next rally driver. Pretty much like the “American Idol” of rallying, or perhaps “So You Think You Can Rally”. I was like …. WHAT?
It was a brave decision, which has now turned out to be a decision that has changed their lives forever.
The reality show required the participants to travel all around Malaysia for various challenges, and has pit the partnership and bond between the driver and co-driver to the utmost test under stressful conditions. This is when the friendship and trust between Keng and OBK is truly tested.
All 3 of us loved driving. We’re the ones who would do heel-and-toe on the way to tapau lunch, treats handbrake and bald rear tyres as our next best friend, and watch re-runs of Hot Version and Best Motoring instead of Prison Break or House M.D.
However, in a rally partnership, there can be only one driver. Somebody has to be the co-driver. OBK always wanted to be a driver (who doesn’t ?), but in this situation he demonstrated maturity and self-sacrifice to the greater good of the team, and accepted his role as co-driver instead of lamenting that he doesn’t have the opportunity to drive. And accepted it well he did, always surfing the web and reading magazines on tips for pacenotes, or things that may help in rally co-driving.
Keng on the other hand, is no stranger to performance driving. Having dabbled with front wheel drive drifting, rear wheel drive drifting, I-don’t-know-what-else drifting, having a car out of control yet in control is second nature to him. Rallying thus comes as a natural progression in his driving where it allows him to combine drifting with finesse in order to achieve fast stage times.
Keng’s determination and resourcefulness have never ceased to amaze me. This is a man who could not only drive, but possibly do drifts while fixing a wiring short circuit at the same time. Despite all the distractions in the society, this is a man who sticks to what he loves most and pours his heart and soul in it.
Together, they managed to persevere into the final challenge of Zero2Hero season 2, where their rally run ended when Keng landed the car into a ditch. Disappointed, no doubt, yet just after a day he bounced up saying “Hmm .. I have thought back on what mistake we have made” and grew from it. What carried them this far has always been their positivity, their ability to look at a sucky situation and turn it into a learning opportunity.
And so, their strength and will has not failed them. They were announced the winner of the Zero2Hero season 2
OK, their pose could be kinda lame sometimes, but winning is winning, it doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or by a mile .. Eh where have we heard that line from ??
So, year 2010 .. is a year that carries new hopes and new goals for them in Malaysian Rally 2010 (MR10). For in this year, they have joined an active rally team, team MRU Motorsports, headed by Muhammad Rafiq Udhaya who himself is also competing in MR10 in a Subaru Impreza. With a new level of maturity and experience, combined with experts and backing from the team, it would be a great platform for the two of them to grow even further personally and technically.
The amazing thing about motorsport is that it challenges oneself not only physically, but emotionally and also personally, very often in a bigger magnitude than challenge on the skills and techniques of driving itself, especially in motorsport that involves such close bonding as rallying. Just by observing their progress in APRC alone, I could already sense the calm and confidence in them as they gain more experience and continue to build on more trust between them. As their knowledge grows, their ego shrinks, for they know with every mountain climbed there is another higher mountain to strive for, with each new level they venture in, they are bound to encounter new experts, gain new insights.
Perhaps what D24 has given to the world is not just another pair of rally partnership, but a testimony that great things can be achieved with humility, determination and persistence, and great obstacles can be overcome with courage, faith, trust, a positive outlook, and teamwork.
As an observer and as their friend, I hope to see them soar high, and wish them nothing but the best, and at the sideline be able to document the journey of this exciting duo. Best wishes!
As an ending treat, here’s a good run by D24 on SS13 Tai Tak Saujana from the APRC / MR10 Round 1 in Johor