During the Australian MotoGP at Phillip Island, Crash.net sat down with Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Hafizh Syahrin to talk about life as Malaysia’s first premier class rider, the steep learning process he’s experienced and his role in the country’s continued rise in the sport ahead of his home debut.

Syahrin became an 11th-hour replacement at Tech 3 for Jonas Fogler, who withdrew from the 2018 MotoGP season due to illness, handing the Malaysian rider the surprise opportunity to make history.

How do you assess your rookie MotoGP season has gone so far heading into your first home race?

Hafizh Syahrin: 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 the top rookie spot. 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 strength 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.

Any key moments across the year which you saw as a big learning point?

HS: I try to improve everything, always, I try to take the good things and improve myself or something with the bike that we can improve. Putting that all together means we can get an extra advantage.

You are the first Malaysian MotoGP rider so this week’s race will be a huge moment for you. Do you seen it as a pressure or an honour, what are the emotions ahead of Sepang?

HS: Of course we have more motivation and at the same time we do have a little bit of pressure 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.

For sure it will be crazy for my home race and I can’t wait to arrive there to have good weather, hot, as it is too cold here in Phillip Island as I got sick. So I will try to be ready for my home GP.

Looking to next year, will it be a new start or do you hope to build on this year despite switching to KTM machinery?

HS: I will continue in the same way as this year but we will work more in the winter as next year we’ll use the KTM bike which I’m yet to ride. This bike is quite competitive and over the past few races they’ve improved on something so I think for next year we will be strong. We will try to, at the very least, do better than this year or do the same as this year.

Seen the KTM on track plenty of times this year, anything that has impressed you?

HS: At some tracks I get the impression that this bike is improving and they are working really well but as the KTM team only has two bikes and two riders this year but next year they have two more riders so we can develop the bike more so they’ll be stronger.

For us it will not be easier exactly but it will be interesting for the championship.

When is the first time you will rider the KTM?

HS: The first time I will ride the bike will be at the Valencia MotoGP test on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Expect you may have to change riding style?

HS: I’m not sure yet. I will try to as I normally ride the Yamaha M1 but if there is anything we must change on our style or for different set-up on the bike we will. My team and I will need to learn a lot so we’ll be keen to improve a lot over the winter.

2019 also welcomes the Sepang team running Yamahas in MotoGP. With the popular race, yourself and a new Malaysian team how do you see it working?

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

Will it feel unusual competing against them?

HS: Yes, 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.