Once we headed down to Simpang Pulai it was mandatory to have lunch at Ipoh's Nasi Ganja joint. We did not eat at the actual venue but the corner lot restaurant which was just as good only without the crowd. As the last scoop of the tasty curried rice got pushed into my mouth I had the time and pace to reflect on what we had just done. We live a rigid mundane routine on a day to day basis. Work, domestic errands, obligations, and in the middle of it all traffic, traffic and more traffic. We are proper car enthusiasts, driving enthusiasts. We wish to express ourselves and our lifestyle without any confinement and more importantly without endangering others. This one trip gave us the opportunity to do just that. A carefree run of 550km, with great company, amazing cars and food. It was the much needed (almost) mid-year rejuvenation. As I cruised towards KL at my own pace, still buzzing from the high of the 'nasi-ganja', listening to classic tunes, I felt good, real good. Not every car was a street tuned or track tuned car. Some cars were bog standard. But what made the difference was the DRIVER behind the wheel. Be it the heavily worked on Beemers, or the bog standard Putra or the Twin Inspira's, no excuses were given. All we had was one common factor, our idea of fun was an endless supply of amazing roads with us behind the wheel of our beloved rides, and it was great. Well the next GranTurismo......
Sg Koyan to Ringlet (Episode 6 - Route 102)
This was the route we were out to find. Supposedly a bikers paradise, and also frequently trekked on by a particular supercar group in Malaysia, it seems to be only mentioned in whispers. From Swift Sport drivers right up to a gentlemen with a Porsche GT2, both related to this road with equal enthusiasm. It didnt disappoint. Route 102 was literally a highway amongst the clouds. It's open, smooth flowing, and unbelievably picturesque. We totally lost ourselves for the entire 80 km of this stretch. Since the group of 11 had varying horsepower, we divided the group into two. Group A was for the above 150bhp cars, and Group B for below 150bhp. Heading Group A was my Peugeot 208 GTi, and for Group B the Chevrolet 'McClane' Malibu performed the commanding duties, with a sweeper at the very end (Thank you Zhanwei!) Even I was surprised with the speeds we achieved on what's essentially a road that goes towards Cameron Highlands. Group A disappeared from the view of Group B pretty fast, but there was no shortage of fun factor. Everyone was grinning ear to ear on both stops we did en route to Ringlet. I will detail the more technical aspects in a dedicated article for this stretch, but for now, I can only say that this route was well worth the 4.30am start time!
How did it begin?
"Malaysia where can drive this kind of car one??" This is the very line I'm allergic to. The mandate of the Route Hunters Operation is to snuff out the greatest driving roads in Malaysia and to catalogue them as various Episodes. Our argument is that we in Malaysia do have roads that rival the likes of Stelvio Pass, Col de Turini, and the Evo Triangle in Wales. The hardest of the hardcore enthusiast are well aware of them but very few roads are ever documented, beyond the obligatory Ulu Yam to Gohtong route. So far under the Route Hunters Operations we have had a series of Touge Sprint events. Short, high intensity drives on routes that cancel out horsepower advantages with their technical layout, they really separate the men from the boys when it comes to proper driving. Episode 1 - 4 have been precisely this. Episode 5, although big in distance was still in search for roads like these. Episode 6, which takes place almost a year after the formation of Route Hunters, falls in an entirely new category.
Ringlet to Blue Valley
This leg was less of a Route Hunt, but more of a Toilet Hunt, Breakfast Hunt, and Fuel Hunt. Since parking was a limiting factor for us, we pitted at the Bharat Cameron Valley Tea House. If you're coming up here with your better half, do make a stop here it's an amazing place with an unrivalled ambiance for the price. And of course the parking. A word of caution, do NOT enter Cameron Highlands past Brinchang on a school holiday or a weekend beyond 11.30am. Kea Farm and the Cactus valley gets traffic backed up right to the edge of Brinchang and its excruciating to endure. Imagine, stop and go traffic, on 12 % gradients, with manual gearbox. Oh yea, some of our boys were running racing clutches, fun times.
Blue Valley to Ipoh
After the very forgettable trek across Cameron Highlands, we hit the downhill stretch that will lead us to Simpang Pulai and onwards to Ipoh. Now this section was the much needed adrenaline shot. Snaking smoothly on the other side of the Titiwangsa range, this route is pretty high paced, with lots of room to manoeuvre, and offer spectacular views mostly on your right. A tip though, if you see a local supply truck or a bus, stick with them. You will learn the best possible driving lines on that road without having to put yourself and others at risks. These guys totally understand this route, trust me. The road surfaces, at worst will be slightly rippled, but nothing much to panic though. Weirdly, like Mount Akina, the further down the mountain you go, the more narrower the course gets. As you get towards the Asli villages slow right down as the course changes from being open and flowing to tight and twisty, mirroring that of Kuala Kelawang. Also watch out for ditched bikers out here, you will find one or two of them.
4.30am was the arrival time at Publika. With plenty of parking and void of crowd, bar some still sobering up individuals from Friday night, almost everyone was right on time. With a quick brief and a beefy breakfast (for yours truly at least) we rolled out at 5.30am towards the Karak Highway. For the first part of the journey it was a singular convoy with 3 marshal cars. The lead car for this leg was the Chevrolet Malibu, courtesy of the kind folks of Chevrolet Malaysia. The 2.4 liter luxury saloon was one of the biggest surprise of this trip, but I will be detailing that in a separate story. So with Lt John McClane leading the way, we proceeded to cross the border into Pahang.
GrandTurismo, as car enthusiast will know, refers to fast and luxurious automobiles, but where the word really originated from was the rite of passage tour of Europe undertaken by young upper class men in the 1600's. Fittingly Episode 6 is where Route Hunters break free from their Sprint-based confines and venture above and beyond. Our round trip covered 3 states, 2000m of elevation, and a whopping total of 550km in one single day. The objective was to cut across the Titiwangsa range via Cameron Highlands whilst attempting to document a hidden gem of a road in those mountains. And to our very own surprise, there was a total of 11 cars that willingly followed our quest, with 5 more pulling out last minute due to unavoidable emergencies (how are they this many crazy people in the Klang Valley!?).
Route Hunters: GrandTurismo Tristate (KL-Sg Koyan-Cameron Highlands - Ipoh-KL)
The 6th Episode of the Route Hunters run has many significance about it. On the 22nd of May 2014 I was standing at the shoulder of the Simpang Pulai - Cameron Highlands route thinking to myself that one day there should be a Route Hunters expedition (at that time Route Hunters was barely 3 weeks old) on this road with more serious cars. Fast forward precisely 1 year 1 day later and I am carving up the turns downhill on that very stretch with my GTi, with 12 other 'special' individuals with questionable priorities, with radio's and a pro snapper in a rather enthusiastic manner. I guess you indeed have to be careful about what you wish for, cause you just might get it.
Bentong to Sg Koyan via Raub
We arrived at the Bentong toll on the Karak Highway at 6.30am. There onwards we took Route 8 that links Bentong to Raub. It would be more fun to trek on the Sang Lee route (Episode 5 Plus) but we were pressed for time and 11 cars in darkness there is not really advisable. But this route though, right before dawn, was something special. Left and right is acres of cleared plantation. Beyond that, forests shrouded with mist. Up ahead, a straight open stretch of road, that dips down and up looking like the default wallpaper picture. Above, the skies pink and blue with the first rays of the sun. It was very liberating. A quick pit stop (for the bladder) at a gas station outside Raub, we proceeded another 50km towards the Sg Koyan Felda settlement. This time the road gets much interesting. Route C5 is no longer the wide open road it was between Bentong and Raub, but rather narrower but with more twists and turns along the way. I'd advise you to keep the pace pegged down as its still a main road for the villagers but never the less still an entertaining drive. One portion of this route has the same up down undulation's that one see's from the 1000 lakes rally in Finland. It was almost see-saw-ish between those palm oil trees.