There are some moments in life that embed themselves into our souls.
We keep them tucked away for a rainy day when we need a little boost of happiness. And like an old-school movie camera, the light-flared film plays out on a projector so vividly in our minds and takes us right back to that twinkle of pure bliss.
Iñigo Anton, the 16-year-old racing phenom from the Philippines, kept calm as he carefully took each curve of the track. His team watched every heart-pounding minute and gave him subtle jabs of encouragement along the way. All the while, rival Yas Heat was hot on Anton’s tail. Axle’s # 21 car had worn tyres, which seemed to add even more adrenaline to that final push.
As Anton made the last turn, the iconic green of the Rolex banner came into clear view and his entire team erupted into a symphony of cheers.
It’s hard not to get emotional when you see it for yourself.
“I think what we were all experiencing there was just such a big relief for everyone. It was… I would say the most frustrating minutes of my life,” laughed Anton and his teammates while joined on a call following the race.
“After 24 hours, it all comes down to the last lap. Being in the Top 10 is such a big achievement but reaching fourth and being six-tenths of a second away from fifth was just an incredible way to finish 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual.”
Axle’s founder and team manager, Alex Yoong, was in awe of the collaborative effort from each of the boys.
“We are over the moon, obviously, with the result. When we first started LMVS this year with the new Goodyear Tyre, we knew we were a little bit behind the eight ball. We were struggling for pace. I don’t think we had a handle on the aero of the LMP especially,” recalled Yoong.
“But we made great progress after Sebring and really got a handle on what the car required, so coming into the weekend, we’re like, ‘You know, I think we can be Top 10. Top 8, even.’ And to get fourth was beyond what we thought was possible.”
Axle Sports was founded in 2008 by Yoong, who was the first Malaysian to ever compete in Formula 1. He’s also a three-time Audi R8 LMS Cup champion and has competed at the real-world 24 Hours of Le Mans event.
Yoong created Axle in hopes of showcasing drivers from the Asia Pacific region and their incredible skillset on a worldwide scale. By participating in 24 Hours of LMVS and finishing fourth, that dream became a reality.
Yoong credits the team, consisting of Iñigo Anton, of course, as well as Ar Muhammad Aleef, Josh Purwien and Naquib Azlan, for the endless hours of preparation and hard work.
Purwien, an Australian sim racer who has been with Axle for roughly 18 months, says this was the most effort they had ever put into a race.
“We’ve been practising for this since Sebring (17th December 2021) and since then, basically almost every day after that.” Minus a few days for Christmas break, thankfully.
“And we’ve done a lot of endurance racing, especially over the past year on rFactor 2, to get us prepared for everything. You had to do a lot of engine saving in that race. There was also the aspect of the stings and how rFactor 2 works, just getting the experience to avoid making those same mistakes in the race.”
On the surface, Axle Sports looked like an underdog in comparison to some of the other big names on the entry list. However, after spending quality time with the boys, it’s easy to see the admiration and respect they all have for each other.
They truly race together as one.
Watching the reaction video to their P4 finish highlights the importance of celebrating every single win. Those wins include claiming a Top 4 spot that some would say isn’t even possible unless your team is considered one of the “monsters” in sim racing.
Purwien says the accomplishment sends a message of hope and inclusiveness to drivers everywhere.
“I’m from Australia and there were a lot of Australians in the race. But, there are only four or five drivers from Southeast Asia. They don’t have as much exposure in sim racing, especially when I first started racing in the Southeast Asian tournaments back in 2020. They weren’t very well known. So, to get to the point now, this shows a statement to the world that this region can compete at this level.
“This kind of shows a message that we’re here; we can compete against you guys and we’re looking forward to doing it more.”
Naquib Azlan, like Anton, races professionally. He made the jump from sim racing to real life and praises Axle for affording him the experiences to do so. Naquib’s brother, Nabil, also joined the Axle squad and participated in 24 Hours of LMVS in the GTE car.
“I never expected in my life that I’d be in a proper sim racing team,” said Nabil. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity and, hopefully, for the near future, we’ll be fighting even more.”
Big brother Naquib reiterated his words and says that after every adversity the team overcame this past season, the fourth-place finish was a true testament to what it means to be part of the Axle family.
“For me, I think it’s a huge honour. Even though there are not many people in our team, I think we all have big dreams. It’s amazing how motivated everyone was during this championship. We all really wanted to do well. We all didn’t want to let any of the others down, in a way. So, it was an amazing environment to be in. It was really mesmerising to be in a team like this.
“It’s an experience that I’ll cherish forever.”
Axle Sports is the definition of teamwork. Each driver oozes passion for motorsport, but it’s the hard work, determination and admiration for their fellow teammates that shines, even over a computer screen via Zoom.
There are moments we are afforded in this life that will stay with us forever and replay in our minds when we need a little inspiration to keep going.
For the team at Axle Sports, this moment will go down as a Top 10 of all time.
Scratch that. It’s definitely Top 4.
Image source: Motorsport Images