Yamaha Champions Riding School At Sepang

Nick Ienatsch and crew go international.

Can you imagine starting 2020 any better than this? Early January lapping Sepang International.BHH Collection

We hopped out of the vans in the Petronas gas station and stared across the highway at the Sepang International Circuit sign outside the Grand Prix racetrack in Malaysia. The sun was just rising and we had some significant setup work to do before the school started at 9 a.m., but our excitement was palpable.

The night before we’d gathered in my room at the Sama-Sama Hotel and reviewed last year’s MotoGP race so we could get a handle on the track layout. Chris Peris, our lead instructor, had lapped Sepang two months previous during a vacation to Asia with his wife Jenn—a terrific advantage for the rest of our instructor crew (myself, Ben Walters, Eziah Davis, Michael Henao, and MotoAmerica racer Cody Wyman) who had watched Sepang GP races for years but never dreamed of riding there. Ten minutes after entering the hallowed grounds, Chris was lapping with us in the diesel van with a five-speed manual and right-hand drive. That was pretty hilarious.

This dream school came about because of one man: Rex Tan, owner of Singapore motorcycle dealership Ban Hock Hin. Rex had attended Yamaha Champions Riding School and jumped at the chance to become a certified coach when we announced the 3C (Champions Certified Coach) program two years ago. Rex and his wife Stephanie had been working on getting Sepang Champ School rolling for more than a year and here we were with a sold-out school of 24 students. Thanks, Rex and Stephanie, and kudos to Chris Peris for the US coordination; these three made it happen.

As always in this column, I think pics tell the story best.

The day before the (very long) flight to Sepang I discovered that the travel agent had put my name as Mr. Ienatsch Nicholas! Could that be a problem? Yes, as it turns out. The United Airlines agents scrambled and made it right, allowing me to get from Colorado to California to catch the All Nippon Airways flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, via Tokyo.Nick Ienatsch
After 25 hours in airplanes and 45 minutes in a car from the airport, we checked into our first hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Chris Peris is at the desk, Michael Henao in the MotoAmerica shirt, and Cody Wyman in the black shirt. Our plan was to stay two days seeing the sights in KL…Nick Ienatsch
…and then the transition to the Sama-Sama Hotel near the track for three more days, two of which were school days. The first two days were to accustom ourselves to the time change (an almost 12-hour difference) and, as I found out, visit as many bars as possible! Chris is obviously a great tour guide!Nick Ienatsch
One secret of defeating jet lag is to get on the local time and stay awake all day, so off we went to the Batu Caves, protected by Lord Murugan (the Hindu god of war), whose legs are visible. Left to right: Michael with a fresh coconut drink, Chris and Eziah Davis showing their matching shorts, Ben Walters and Cody. Behind us are 272 steps to the caves and Hindu temples.Nick Ienatsch
How do all the items get to the gift shop at the top of those 272 steps? The enterprising owner spies young, fit men and then cajoles them into carrying cases of water and other sundries! Jet lag plus a case of water equals a great pre-ride workout. Their payment was a free bottle of water.Nick Ienatsch
The climb is worth it: Hindu temples and intricate dioramas—plus some not-bashful monkeys—hidden inside the cool and majestic caves are a welcome respite from the equatorial humidity. KL is one of the fastest-evolving cities in Asia, and the Batu Caves’ mystery was a great juxtaposition to the Petronas Towers—next on our tourist list.Nick Ienatsch
Scooters far outnumber motorcycles on the streets of KL, and the driving/riding has a beautiful and almost always calm flow as bikes and cars fit together in the space allotted. In our walking and riding we saw no road rage and heard very little horn honking despite the crowded roads. We also enjoyed watching the occasional supercar flash by.Nick Ienatsch
On the street of KL: Nicky love—forever and everywhere.Nick Ienatsch
We signed up for the Petronas Towers tour, eager to see KL from 1,400 feet and doing our part to support the Petronas Yamaha MotoGP effort. The architects wanted to represent the Islamic principles of unity, harmony, and rationality in these structures. Total height is 1,483 feet (Nick has more than 88 stories—Editor).Nick Ienatsch
This is the view of KL from the suspended walkway, a walkway that is not firmly attached to either tower so that it can adjust for wind and perhaps even earthquakes. After stopping here, we were shuttled even higher in the structure where we noticed that the gift shop has seriously underrepresented the MotoGP team significantly! We all hoped to get Fabio Quartararo’s autograph; maybe next time.Nick Ienatsch
This was just half of our allotted garage space at the Sepang International Circuit…Nick Ienatsch
…and this was just one of our three classrooms, used here to get everybody up to speed on body position and body timing (Eziah lecturing from Rex’s amazing and well-setup R1—a bike Cody dragged his elbow on in turn 15). Just before this we had the students working on stops in the paddock, and just after this we rolled onto the amazing smooth, wide, and consistent Sepang pavement.Nick Ienatsch
Are we dreaming—or actually rolling out onto the Sepang MotoGP circuit? Turn 1 is a long-radius, tightening right-hander followed immediately by an amazingly slow left turn. This fires you into an accelerating, downhill turn 3 that gets you tickling fifth gear by the time you shut it down for the right-hand turn 4.Nick Ienatsch
Yes, the YCRS staff is packed with riding talent (Pikes Peak 750cc record holder Michael Henao seen here), but there are processes to learning a new track quickly. We must jump our eyes out and back to feed our brain, roll off the throttle to the brakes because we aren’t hurt if we enter the corner too slowly, adjust our entry speed and position to maximize the exit, continue to up our entry speeds until our knees are dragging, and then make minor and major adjustments between sessions. By the second time out, my team was rolling quickly with a high level of safety. It isn’t the number of laps, it’s the quality of the lapping.BHH Collection
Motorcycle passion is alive and well in Malaysia, as student Raniel Resuello illustrates (Philippine Superbike champion) on his tricked-out Aprilia RSV4. The 24-student school had some very quick racers, advanced and new trackday riders, and a handful of street riders that included some low-hour beginners.BHH Collection
How about we start the film lap in one of the most iconic corners in the world? Sepang’s turn 15 was a great location to launch students for each day’s filming. Ben (without helmet) launched the students and encouraged me (center, yellow helmet) to “just run laps.” Okay! Meanwhile, our two fastest instructors Chris (#8) and Eziah (left) filmed.BHH Collection
The Sepang Gang starting 2020 with two amazing days in Malaysia.BHH Collection
Here are two hard-working motorcycle enthusiasts: Rex and Stephanie Tan, who brought this whole crew together with professionalism and a strong sense of enjoyment. Their BHH family-owned dealership is celebrating its 80th year in business. If you get to Singapore, stop in and say hello; great peeps.Nick Ienatsch
On the day of Chris Carr’s life celebration in Atlanta, I was in Sepang…with these terrific and fast instructor friends. So much of the joy of two wheels is connected to the people involved; these guys, plus the Tans and our enthusiastic students, made this trip especially amazing. I thought of Chris Carr a lot, especially in the downhill, tightening-radius turn 5—a corner he would have loved. Lifelong memories were created on and off the track in Malaysia, especially karaoke on the last night when Rex taught us, “Yam seng!”Nick Ienatsch

More next Tuesday!