Rewind 27 years, ahead of the first-ever Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix and the world was a very different place.

In 1991 the Shah Alam circuit hosted GP racing for the first time in Malaysia when John Kocinski won the 500cc race but endured a tought start with three of the big names – world champion Wayne Rainy, Kevin Schwantz and Eddie Lawson – all missing the race.

Nirvana’s Nevermind album is released on the same week as the race while Valentino Rossi had just started winning minimoto races aged 12 in Italy.

Syahrin was yet to be born, but by the time the Malaysian race switched to the Sepang International Circuit in 1999, where it has remained an ever-present fixture on the MotoGP calendar, it would still be four years until he caught the eye racing minibikes.

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Fast-forward to the start of 2018 and Malaysia was about to celebrate its first premier class MotoGP rider, but wasn’t set to realise it until the dawn of the new season.

Winter testing was well underway when Jonas Folger made the shock call to withdraw from the entire season – effectively destroying his own MotoGP career in the process after an impressive rookie campaign that was prematurely cut short by illness which initially left doctors baffled.

Nobody would fancy Folger’s dilemma but health is the ultimate wealth and the German rider gave Syahrin an unexpected golden chance. In early February he joined the team in a pivotal pre-season test at Buriram which led him to securing a full-time ride just three weeks later.

Shining on your test debut on an unfamiliar bike, at an unfamiliar circuit and with an equally unfamiliar team is no easy task but Syahrin showed enough promise for supreme talent-spotter Herve Poncharal to sign up the Malaysian for the season to compete alongside last year’s standout debutant Johann Zarco.

Syahrin says there was no pressure or demands given to him ahead of his first MotoGP bow, a fair call given he had just six official days of testing under his belt on the YFR-M1, but it didn’t stop him from impressing almost immediately with a ninth-place finish in his second race – beating all of his fellow rookie rivals in Argentina.

Despite a mid-season dip in form, which Syahrin describes as ‘tough because we couldn’t arrive in a good place for qualifying’, and a dressing down from team boss Poncharal, the 24-year-old has already experienced a full range of highs and lows – captured in his crash from eighth place during last week’s Australian round while chasing the pace of the podium-fighting group.

“At the beginning of the season we didn’t expect the results I can do so I feel really good and really strong as a rookie but we are still some points behind Morbidelli for top rookie spot,” Syahrin told Crash.net at Phillip Island. “I am still pushing really hard and I believe over these last few races anything can happen.

“In some of the races at the beginning of the season we have been good but in the middle of the season it was a bit tougher because we couldn’t arrive in a good place for qualifying. Also we had two or three races where we scored a lot of points and then no points so that was disappointing for me. I kept working hard to improve my strengths physically over the summer.

“I came back with a really good feeling in Thailand and also Japan so this gives me a strong motivation ahead of my home GP. Let’s see what happens but I’ll try to be ahead of the rest of the rookies.”

Heading to the penultimate round of his rookie MotoGP campaign, the 24-year-old is the homegrown hero preparing for his first local race in the top category.

A range of media and sponsor commitments will take up Syahrin’s time during the build-up and the home favourite accepts the race will be met with pressure to perform but also an honour to make history.

“Of course we have more motivation and at the same time we do have a little bit of pressure,” he said. “But for me when we are on the bike we always do our best and the pressure that we have will hopefully be gone when we give it full gas in Sepang.”

The rider who proudly races with a Malaysian flag on the top of his helmet and on the back of his leathers has benefitted from Malaysian’s investment in MotoGP having been backed by the Petronas Raceline Malaysia team since his Moto2 debut in 2011.

But in 2019 Syahrin will be competing directly against the Petronas-backed Sprinta squad when he sticks with Tech 3 in its switch to KTM while the new SIC team takes up the satellite Yamaha position vacated by Syahrin’s squad.

Rumours had tipped Syahrin to reunite with the Sepang squad, providing a rookie team with his years’ worth of experience in MotoGP on the Yamaha, but the Malaysian has gone his own way.

It effectively doubles his nation’s home favourites to support when last year both SIC squads and Malaysia riders remained in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes.

Syahrin is hopeful of retaining a friendly rivalry with his former Malaysian team and is pleased to share the moment representing Malaysia at the highest level.

“Of course it is good for them and good to have a Malaysian team and they’ll have some experienced mechanics on that team,” he confirmed. “But for me it will be the same – okay a different colour on the grid – but we’ll try to give them a challenge.

“I’m happy at the same time for them because we now have a Malaysian team, I can’t say anything more, but we will try to enjoy our time in the paddock together.”

In an ever-emerging and key market for MotoGP, with a bumper crowd expected again this weekend, Syahrin represents a legacy of development which was triggered by the sport’s first visit to the country 27 years ago.

Since then the Malaysian round has flourish with its first-class facility providing accountant-pleasing numbers for crowd figures, triggering further investment in the sport through multiple strands in local racing, Asian Talent Cup representation, and Sepang’s own Moto2 and Moto3 teams – leading to next season’s hotly-anticipated Petronas Sprinta SIC Yamaha squad with Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

There is no doubt Malaysia acts as the sport’s modern success story, and perhaps a blueprint for similar plans across the region in booming motorcycle markets in Thailand and Indonesia.

Syahrin is the latest trailblazer for others to follow.

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