When I heard about the passing of Harvey Yap (81) on 28 March 2023, I wondered if I could bring myself to write a short piece on his racing career. Was I even qualified to undertake such a thing? I don’t have the credentials of the local gurus of racing in Singapore and Malaysia, nor the skill to put pen to paper and come up with something remotely suitable for publication. What I had was an album of his photos, and I knew him personally. He was, after all, my first race instructor at the Harvey Yap School of Advanced Driving at Pasir Gudang. We’d kept in touch over the years, until I missed the 2020-2022 Christmas gatherings organised by his dear friend Norma.
The writer’s windscreen decal from the late 1980s.
So where does one start about one of Asia’s top racing icons?
Said former racer (and winner of the 1967 Macau Grand Prix) Tony Maw of Harvey: “I watched Harvey develop as a driver. He approached his racing carefully and with determination. As always, it was difficult for local drivers to gain a foothold unless they had independent means… which some did. I always thought we owed a debt to the sport and should foster up-and-coming drivers. There were many fine bike riders in Malaysia… I guess the financial commitments were less demanding… they just could not make the jump into open wheelers. I tried several times in KL to obtain the sponsorship necessary to bring a local driver into our various teams but never succeeded. Harvey would have been my choice.” There are countless such quotes accumulated over the years, and several hours of tape recordings I’ve never gotten down to transcribing.
I remember Eric Ooi [https://rewind-media.com/2022/03/04/remembering-eric-and-eddie/], another icon of Malaysian racing, talking about Harvey. It concerned the weight advantage both he and Harvey had over the competition. “Come to think of it,” Eric said, “we were all ultra-light. In Series Production Cars, ten pounds makes a hell-of-a difference. Harvey [Yap] is tall but hell-of-a-skinny. So am I.”
Harvey Yap and Eric Ooi, teaming up for a rally in a Datsun.
A legend in his time, Harvey Yap was Malaysia’s top saloon car racer of the 60s and 70s. I’m no expert on Malaysian racing history but I’d date Harvey’s early racing to the early 1960s, with a Morris Minor, a Mini and a BMW 700. He later progressed to Datsuns for Tan Chong Motors, then to various Ford Escorts (first with the ex-Allan Moffat Escort – see NESCAFE FOR ESCORT), and later on, an RSR Porsche [see SUPER SALOON BIG BANG]. In 1979, backed by Rothmans and Ford, Yap obtained a Gp5 Zakspeed Ford Escort which he campaigned in the very popular Super Saloons and Unlimited Saloons series in Malaysia and Macau to varying success. All this is very well documented by the racing experts on social media, as well as in the various articles I have uploaded on www.rewind-media.com.
Harvey Yap’s BMW 700 at the Third TAR Circuit Race, Petaling Jaya, 1964.
The Works Datsun SSS in action at Shah Alam.
Tan Chong’s team in Singapore. Harvey is to the left of Eric Ooi (the tall chap with the baseball cap).
Tan Chong’s Semi-Works line up consisted of Harvey, Abdul Malek and Jim Hunter. Clearly one of the SSS crew had gone missing.
The Works Datsun 240Z on Singapore’s Upper Thomson Road in 1972. Harvey Yap went on to win the Sports & GT race against rather feeble opposition.
Harvey Yap in his newly acquired Gp2 #90 2-litre BDA Nescafe Ford Escort at the Malaysian Grand Prix held over 6-7 April 1974. Bending down in front of the car is Bill Santuccione, to assist Harvey. Bill was Performance Programs Coordinator in FASPAC – Ford Asia-Pacific Inc., and was responsible for the purchase of the car as well as its related participation going forward. This car was the second Ford Escort Harvey raced, the first one (with square lights) was the ex-Allan Moffat car that Moffat raced in Singapore in 1973 (with a Cosworth FVA motor). See NESCAFE ECCORTS
Rothmans backing was significant, not just as title sponsor but for the drivers and the cars Rothmans funded. In fact, Harvey Yap sprung a surprise when Rothmans backed his entry in the single-seater for the Malaysian Grand Prix in March 1975 with the 722-tubbed March the company purchased for Percy Chan to race in April the previous year. This was Harvey’s debut in top flight Atlantics and he wasn’t far off the pace, qualifying third, behind the more powerful cars of John Macdonald (Brabham BT40) and Albert Poon (Chevron B29). See RIDES OF MARCH
Brands Hatch for a refresher course and familiarisation with the new Escorts…1977
The ill fated Mk2 Escort that was raced at Shah Alam in 1977.
Rothmans ‘adopted’ the Selangor Grand Prix events for cars for the GP held over the 23-24 September 1978 weekend. To spice things up, Armin Hahne was brought in to race his Gp5 Zakspeed Ford Escort in the Super Saloons supporting event. His presence provided a “real edge” to the meet, the first time a German works driver was in action at Shah Alam. Hahn stuck the car on pole, shaving over a second off the record set by Takahashi in a works Datsun SSS Turbo in 1974. By lap 4 the Zakspeed had lowered the lap record further, down to 1:27.7 and easily won the race. Rothmans Malaysia acquired the car and on 5th November 1978, Harvey Yap made his racing comeback at the Rothmans Sprint in this Zakspeed Escort at Batu Tiga.
Harvey Yap’s second outing since his lay off. Victory in 1983 in the 350bhp 3.2-litre Rothmans 935 RSR in the 20-lap Super Saloons Unlimited race, beating Nobuhide Tachi, Ian Grey, Zul Hassan (Toyota Levin 1.6) and Louie Camus (Toyota Celica-Elfin Silhouette 2TG 2.0). Penang took no prisoners. See GRILLED SIRLOIN, KING PRAWNS & SANDBAGS
But who was this soft-spoken fellow? He never tooted his horn, there was no need to brag about his racing successes, and he never spoke about the crash in 1977 that changed his life. Sensationalising wasn’t his thing. I had difficulty extracting information about his life beyond racing – like when he was the Club Captain for the Malaysian Motor Sports Club in the early 1970s (he first appeared on the MMSC Committee in 1969, becoming Club Captain for the 1971 season), or the formation of the Pasir Gudang race circuit in Johor in 1986, or even his race school. You could tell that his was a steely character, very much like our common friend, the late Rodney Seow (LUNCH WITH CHAMPIONS). In fact, Rodney and I would visit Harvey at his Perling home in Johore on my regular trips down from Hong Kong. Put him together with Rodney and Eric Ooi and you would have enough content for a bloody good drama, just not printable.
To all Harvey’s close friends and family, my sincere condolences. His legacy will forever live on in Malaysian (and indeed Asian) motor sports.
PS Knowing Eric Ooi, he’s probably got Harvey already on board in the firmament with Billy Mei, plotting a new circuit (and a driver school) to rival Batu Tiga/Shah Alam.
Lunch with Anne Wong and Harvey in Singapore in 2018.
Visit to Johor over Christmas in 2018.